Monthly Archives: December 2007

Huckabee, Still A Bigot

Mike Huckabee reiterated on Fox News Sunday that he is still a bigot:

GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee said Sunday he won’t run from his statement 15 years ago that AIDS patients should have been isolated.

Huckabee acknowledged the prevailing scientific view then, and since, that the virus that causes AIDS is not spread through casual contact, but said that was not certain. He cited revelations in 1991 that a dentist had infected a patient in an extraordinary case that highlighted the risk of infection through contact with blood or bodily fluids.

“I still believe this today,” he said in a broadcast interview, that “we were acting more out of political correctness” in responding to the AIDS crisis. “I don’t run from it, I don’t recant it,” he said of his position in 1992. Yet he said he would state his view differently in retrospect.

Huckabee, as a Senate candidate that year, told The Associated Press that “we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague” if the federal government was going to deal with the spread of the disease effectively. “It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population, and in which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents,” he said then.

So Mike Huckabee still believes AIDS patients are more dangerous than rapists.

Don’t worry though, the Republican Party will probably nominate him based on these statements alone.

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.

Libertarian National Committee Invites Ron Paul To Run As A Libertarian

Via Third Party Watch:

In a move most unusual for this body, the Libertarian National Committee just adopted a resolution encouraging Ron Paul to seek the Libertarian Party presidential nomination. The LNC is meeting in Charleston, SC this weekend.

The resolution recognized Paul’s standing and history with the Libertarian Party. It also recognized a renewed passion that Paul has ignited across America.

The resolution states:

In the event that Republican primary voters select a candidate other than Congressman Paul in February of 2008, the Libertarian National Committee invites Congressman Ron Paul to seek the presidential nomination of the Libertarian Party to be decided in Denver, Colorado during the Memorial Day weekend of 2008.

Paul, of course, was the Libertarian nominee in 1988, but he’s said repeatedly throughout this campaign that he does not plan to run for President as anything other than a Republican in 2008. The fact that he continues to raise money for a Congressional re-election campaign would seem to be an indication that, if he isn’t the Republican nominee in November 2008, the only other office he’ll be running for is his Congressional seat in Texas.

Nonetheless, it’s an interesting move on the part of the Libertarian Party. I don’t think it will amount to anything, though, mostly because nothing the LP has done for 20 years has amounted to anything.

Huckabee wanted to isolate AIDS patients

Tax Hike Mike advocated isolating AIDS patients in a previous campaign:

Mike Huckabee once advocated isolating AIDS patients from the general public, opposed increased federal funding in the search for a cure and said homosexuality could “pose a dangerous public health risk.”

As a candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in 1992, Huckabee answered 229 questions submitted to him by The Associated Press. Besides a quarantine, Huckabee suggested that Hollywood celebrities fund AIDS research from their own pockets, rather than federal health agencies.

“If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague,” Huckabee wrote.

Let’s see…Mike Huckabee lobbied to free a convicted rapist who later murdered a woman but now blames , but AIDS patients and homosexuals…they are the real threat in his eyes.

I am anxiously awaiting for Andrew Sullivan (a conservative, a homosexual and an AIDS patient) to chime in with his opinion.

Germany’s War Against Scientology

CNN reports that the German Government is moving to ban Scientology:

BERLIN, Germany (AP) — Germany’s top security officials said Friday they consider the goals of the Church of Scientology to be in conflict with the principles of the nation’s constitution and will seek to ban the organization.

The interior ministers of the nation’s 16 states plan to give the nation’s domestic intelligence agency the task of preparing the necessary information to ban the organization, which has been under observation for a decade on allegations that it “threatens the peaceful democratic order” of the country.

The Church of Scientology, in a response sent to CNN, denounced the German proposal, calling it out of step with various international court rulings.

Now I don’t hold much grief for Scientology and find most of what I know about it to be, well, just a little bit wacky. But then I find most of what most religions believe to be a little bit wacky.

But that doesn’t mean that Scientologists shouldn’t have the right to be Scientologists.

This, you see, is what happens in a nation where freedom of religion doesn’t really exist.

Quote of the Day: Mitt Romney’s Bigotry

Mitt Romney was deluged today with questions about yesterday’s speech on faith, specifically about the statement that: “Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom.” “It was a speech on faith in America, first of all,” Romney said, during a testy exchange with reporters after a town hall forum here. He said he was paraphrasing what John Adams and George Washington once said and added that, “For a nation like ours to be great and to thrive, that our Constitution was written for people of faith, and religion is a very extraordinary element and very necessary foundation for our nation. I believe that’s the case.”

- Hotline On Call December 7, 2007

h/t: Ryan Sager

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

The Mortgage Bailout — Isn’t

The plan coming out of the administration and treasury to prop up the mortgage industry has caused quite an uproar. In particular, there’s been a big debate even within the ranks of contributors to this blog about exactly how smart of an idea this is.

The problem, however, is that we were largely arguing in a vacuum. The particulars of the plan were largely unknown (or not fully understood), even last night as I was writing my own post on the subject. Thus, in a vacuum people are throwing out terms like “bail-out”, and voluntary vs. forced renegotiation (hereafter I will use the term “modify”, as that appears to be the agreed-upon industry term). In general, we were arguing the rhetorical point about government intervention in the market, without really having a handle on what the government was proposing.

Enter a post by Tanta over at Calculated Risk. First, before you continue reading this post, click on the link and read it. Then come back.

As far as I can understand, it boils down to a few key points:

1. Due to the regulatory/contractual structure, lenders did not know whether they could modify loans without violating the contract of the debt instruments they’ve sold to investors.
2. Investor contracts (Pool & Servicing Agreements, or PSA’s) are not uniform, but most are designed such that loans can only be modified under certain circumstances (when in danger of foreclosure). This is due to the fact that the investments are tax-advantaged, and there are very specific rules within the tax code regarding the regulation of such instruments.
3. Lenders and investors wanted a way to modify loans (instead of foreclosing), but they weren’t sure if they could do so, as the typical language in a PSA says “you can follow agreed-upon practices that don’t violate REMIC standards or jeopardize the investment’s Q-status.”
4. The government decided to clarify the meaning of their tax regs and say that such modifications would not violate said standards.

That’s basically it. It looks like lenders and investors were very confused about whether the actions they wanted to take (modifying loans to avoid foreclosures) could legally be done without violating their current contracts. When they’re confused, they often simply don’t act. The government came out and said “yes, what you want to do is legal”, and now the lenders feel more comfortable going forward.

This is why there are three classes of borrowers, and that borrowers capable of refinancing are not eligible for the rate freeze. Those who are capable of refinancing their loan are not considered “in danger of foreclosure”, so they cannot be legally modified within the bounds of the PSA. Their only hope is refinancing. For those with low FICO scores, or other conditions that make refinancing impossible, but are in danger of foreclosure, this gives lenders the ability to modify their loans without fear of legal action under the PSA.

But this isn’t really all about helping borrowers, it’s about letting lenders find a way out of this mess without going belly-up. Which, if you think about it, is entirely consistent with a Bush administration proposal: help the corporations, whether it improves the economy, the housing market, or not. It appears this is a lot more complicated than what fits into a 2-minute sound bite on MSNBC. And like most government actions, between a thin veneer of “public interest”, it’s really about helping out the lenders and investors, not the borrowers.

Of course, the Administration is selling this to the public as if it’s all about helping borrowers. They’re politicians, and they want the public to believe they’re “doing something”. The media isn’t interested in in-depth analysis of the situation, and your average newspaper reader isn’t very interested in getting knee-deep in PSA, REMICs, Q-status, and the like. So only out in the blogosphere does anyone have an incentive to actually call this a non-action, which is what it is.

This isn’t a giveaway to borrowers.
This isn’t a violation of investors’ contracts with lenders.
This isn’t costing the taxpayer money.

This isn’t a bailout.

House Passes SAFE Act — Do You Feel Safer?

Have a small business offering wifi access? Have a home wireless connection that you’ve not secured? Well, consider yourself “deputized”. You may not know how to even track your who is using your internet connection, but you may soon be legally required to do so:

What’s SAFE? It stands for the Securing Adolescents From Exploitation-Online Act, and its reach could be unprecedented. Namely, it holds that anyone offering any public electronic communications service (including an open Wi-Fi connection or internet kiosk) must create a sort of dossier on anyone they suspect might be viewing child pornography over their network and submit it to the government. (Presumably the culprit would have to be caught in the act; the bill doesn’t really say.) The service provider will also have to maintain an archive of all the suspect’s files for use as evidence.

It sounds bad at first, but the definition of child pornography in this case is especially surprising. Per Cnet’s Declan McCullagh, the definition of such images include those featuring fully-clothed children in “lascivious” poses and even drawings of such obsenity. (That would include the popular form of hentai anime.)

Failure to comply could result in a first-offense fine of $150,000 and $300,000 after that. That means every library, coffee shop, and even private homes that offer open wireless access could face crushing penalties if they don’t eavesdrop on their clientèle. In other words: The government wants you to do its dirty work and play Big Brother on its behalf. Creepy.

Yep. You’d better know what people are using your internet connection for, or you might be in trouble. The government doesn’t have the time nor resources to catch criminals on their own, so you need to do it for them!

Personally, while this might get a lot of airtime, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. A government too incompetent to catch criminals on their own will most likely be too incompetent to catch you if you don’t understand that someone is using your internet connection for nefarious purposes. I’d say that I don’t care and would continue to offer free wi-fi, but I’ve kept my own connection secure just as general principle since I’ve had it, so it doesn’t affect me much.

Oh, but one little bit takes the cake on this one:

Additionally scary: This legislation never received a committee vote or public hearing and was never made available for public review. Way to sneak one past the goalie, Congress!

I don’t know what’s more sad… The fact that Congress often passes bills like this (without review), or the fact that the original author didn’t quite realize that Congress often passes bills like this. After all, they want to make sure you don’t get any crazy hentai through your connection to the series of tubes.

Hat Tip: Doug
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Subprime Restructure Resistance – How Much Is Punishment-Driven?

It’s clear to everyone with reasoning ability that our subprime mess is, well, a colossal mess. We’re talking about a credit bubble that’s enormous, and the fallout of a big-time POP will put our nation into the question of major recession vs. hyper-inflation.

This is not a good thing. This is not good for the American people, this is not good for homeowners, this is not good for lenders, this is not good for economy in general, and this is not good for the government. Investors and lenders are already feeling the effects, as you see major mortgage companies writing off billions of dollars of losses. This is not good for homeowners, as many are facing foreclosure as their payments reset to rates that they can no longer afford. And it’s not good for the economy, because a major credit crunch will shut down the engine that allows us to escape the effects of this downturn (albeit only temporarily, but that’s a factor of our screwed-up monetary system in general).

I personally believe that while this is a bad situation, there are things we can do to minimize the downturn. One of those things is for lenders to take a pro-active approach to people who took on bad loans and are facing foreclosure, in order to find a way to restructure the loan to terms that are acceptable. This is obviously a good thing for the borrower, as they can meet their current payments and a restructuring allows them to keep their home in their possession and keep their credit rating intact. This is also a good thing for the lenders, because in a stagnant or downward housing market, foreclosures are a losing-money proposition for the lender. Foreclosing on a house, holding the property for several months or taking a huge loss on the sale, and then also forgoing the future interest on the loan is a pretty big downside for them. For investors, a restructure is a bad thing, but potentially a less-bad thing than the lenders failing and their investments becoming worthless.

Yet there has been a lot of resistance to such an idea. And while I hate to say it, that restructuring appears to have some desire for punishment, rather than a desire to help people work things out, which I find troubling. A few examples:

Second, in part because of the housing bubble and in part because of simple bad decision making, people were buying houses they really couldn’t afford and entering into loan transactions that were not in their best interest.

Two parties are involved here and both deserve what they have coming to them.

essentially, the government is trying to ruin everybody’s credit for the benefit of a few morons. Great!!!

these Bush socialists want to rewrite real estate contracts, effectively reward people for being greedy idiots, punishing those who chose higher interest, fixed loans.

so the politicians can appear to be “sensitive” to poor people who are apparently too stupid to read the documentation when buying their house or can’t handle their own finances.

Now, all of those quotes came from one post and one comment thread. Taken individually, none are really all that noteworthy. But taken together, there’s an underlying thread of anger and scorn there that is rather troubling.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very worried about the aspect that government brings into this mess. I think the term “bailout” is still premature, but I worry that if lenders don’t follow the government’s “suggestion” here, that they’ll quickly move to a more active role. There are definite problems with the government getting involved in this mess.

However, the negative reaction to a restructuring of loans is something that I’ve noticed for at least the last month or two, even before the government aspect came into the picture. There seems to be an underlying punitive aspect, as if these borrowers and lenders should simply have to feel pain due to their decisions, even if there are reasonable ways to avoid the pain.

In this deal, there were a lot of culpable parties. Borrowers were buying houses that were going up in value, so they had some (perhaps bad) belief that they could sell and get out if things got bad. They were buying the loans from brokers, many of whom were getting paid more to funnel borrowers into these “creative” loans, and who also were selling those same loans on the back end, so they had no incentive to make sure the borrowers were creditworthy. The lenders did relax standards for loans they were buying, but at the same time they were simply slicing-and-dicing those loans into CDO’s and SIV’s and selling them on a secondary market, spreading the risk out to people who were willing to take it. And this was all underwritten by loose monetary policy borne of a government that was searching for anything that might take it out of the post-9/11 slump.

Lenders and borrowers have a potential way out of this mess. And if they are able to stabilize the situation long enough to turn a sharp housing crisis into a long housing stagnation, the wider economy might at least avoid some major unpleasant shocks. But it seems like some individuals are SO focused on the punitive aspect that they would rather watch the whole mess come crashing down than support individual lenders and borrowers do what they can to avoid it.

Again, I’m somewhat conflicted on this issue. Since selling my house for a whopping three-figure profit earlier this year in order to move to California, I’m stuck in a tiny apartment with a wife and baby, hoping that there is a major housing crash so I can afford to buy a condo. I want there to be enough pain that prices come to a point that allow me to get into the market, which is something I cannot do right now. To do this, we need a serious correction, not just a protracted stagnation.

Yet I still don’t understand the desire that some people have to watch people get thrown out of their homes and their credit ruined. I understand if they made bad decisions so egregious that there is no recourse, but these are mostly people who are making their current payments and just looking for a way to avoid watching their whole world come crashing down. And the lenders are absolutely hoping that they don’t have to foreclose on wide swaths of property, because they know that they’ll lose their shirts in that sort of market.

It’s not a good situation. But why do so many people want to see punishment, rather than see voluntary agreements between borrowers and lenders that might allow lenders to stay afloat and families remain in their homes? I realize that we are conservatives, and we don’t want to see people insulated from the consequences of their actions by government action, but so much of the reaction that I see seems to be a desire for punishment, rather than understanding. America is a land that values fairness, but it is also a land that values compassion. Why have we swung so far away in this case?

Destroying The Evidence

Today’s New York Times reports that the Central Intelligence Agency destroyed videotapes showing the use of harsh interrogation techniques on suspected al Qaeda members:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 6 — The Central Intelligence Agency in 2005 destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two Al Qaeda operatives in the agency’s custody, a step it took in the midst of Congressional and legal scrutiny about the C.I.A’s secret detention program, according to current and former government officials.

The videotapes showed agency operatives in 2002 subjecting terror suspects — including Abu Zubaydah, the first detainee in C.I.A. custody — to severe interrogation techniques. They were destroyed in part because officers were concerned that tapes documenting controversial interrogation methods could expose agency officials to greater risk of legal jeopardy, several officials said.

The C.I.A. said today that the decision to destroy the tapes had been made “within the C.I.A. itself,” and they were destroyed to protect the safety of undercover officers and because they no longer had intelligence value. The agency was headed at the time by Porter J. Goss. Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Goss declined this afternoon to comment on the destruction of the tapes.

Moreover, the tapes may have been withheld from the 9/11 Commission and a Federal Judge:

The recordings were not provided to a federal court hearing the case of the terror suspect Zacarias Moussaoui or to the Sept. 11 commission, which had made formal requests to the C.I.A. for transcripts and any other documentary evidence taken from interrogations of agency prisoners.

C.I.A. lawyers told federal prosecutors in 2003 and 2005, who relayed the information to a federal court in the Moussaoui case, that the C.I.A. did not possess recordings of interrogations sought by the judge in the case. It was unclear whether the judge had explicitly sought the videotape depicting the interrogation of Mr. Zubaydah.

Mr. Moussaoui’s lawyers had hoped that records of the interrogations might provide exculpatory evidence for Mr. Moussaoui — showing that the Al Qaeda detainees did not know Mr. Moussaoui and clearing him of involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001, plot.

In other words, the CIA broke the law, lied about it, hid the evidence, and then destroyed it.

Welcome to George Bush’s America.

Mike Huckabee: God’s Preferred Candidate

Mike Huckabee revealed that he is the preferred candidate of Jesus Christ in a QandA session at Liberty University on December 4, 2007.

h/t: Doug’s place.

Also added a new category, Huckabee Watch, to follow the most dangerous man running for president this year.

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.

A Religious Test For Office

Doug has posted over the last day or so about Mitt Romney’s speech on religion and politics… Romney, as a Mormon, is facing some interesting attacks from the evangelical wing of the Republican party, who don’t regard Mormons as “true Christians”. Doug’s opinion is that such a worry is pointless, and that voters should spend more time worrying about his policies than his piety.

Such an idea is echoed by the founding fathers, and enshrined directly into the Constitution.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Now, in another comment thread, Doug and I both believe that what’s going on is not a religious test as described in the Constitution.

But should voters consider religion when they decide who to vote for?

In a democracy, I would think that voters would most definitely consider religion when voting. After all, religion is a core belief system tied at the root level to morality for most voters, and putting someone into a position of power who shares your morality is the best way to ensure that your morality is that which is law.

As an example, look at the fight between those who desire sharia law and those who do not. Many Muslims in the mid-east regard Islam as a religion that cannot be separated from law. Even in Western society, artifacts such as blue laws show that there is a desire within human nature to mandate or prohibit that which follows your core beliefs, as described by your religion.

Humans, by their very nature, will gravitate to politicians that agree with their own religious beliefs. I, of course, am no different. I am an atheist, and believe in a secular, reason-based justification for individual liberty and natural rights theory. Thus, my religious test for a candidate is one that puts his own reason and respect for individual rights above that of his religion, at least as it pertains to his goals for governance. I realize that in America in 2007, I am not going to find a candidate in any major party that self-describes as an atheist. But at the same time, in America in 2007 there are many people inside and outside of politics who view their religion as less of a driving force in their lives, and more of a social activity. Thus, I do not fear electing theists to office, but I certainly fear those who I believe would decide policy based on faith, and not on reason, like Mike Huckabee (and George W. Bush).

One may suggest that evangelicals should not automatically rule out Romney due to his Mormon faith, and that is true, if one considers reason and liberty to be the goal of America rather than upholding a Christian society. However, that belies a misunderstanding of the evangelical movement. An evangelical may not be primarily in favor of the sort of liberty someone like I might favor. After all, I’m in favor of civil unions for gays and pro-polygamy. I have no problem with drinking, gambling, or the legalization of drugs. I think that Sunday is a great day to buy beer, because the last thing I want to experience is a Super Bowl party without beer!

For me, I will vote for a politician who I believe will vote for liberty, regardless of whether he’s a Christian or a Scientologist. As long as I believe that a politician will place the value of individual liberty above his personal religious beliefs (given the non-piety of most Americans, usually this is not a difficult test), I can vote for him.

But this says that I value individual liberty more than religious beliefs, not surprising for a self-described atheist. This is not the case for many devoutly religious people. They value piety to the Lord above individual liberty, and thus have a much different calculation when they head to the polls. They would never vote for an atheist, a Muslim, a Wiccan or a Scientologist, because they view the goals those politicians to follow as opposite to the goals they want to achieve.

To argue that one should not take this into account when voting is a futile argument. The fact that Romney is or is not a viable candidate is an effect of a change in American society, and not a cause. To argue with current evangelicals whether they should vote for Romney is bound to be fruitless; it’s like arguing with a vegetarian whether you should get your steak medium rare or well done. At best, the argument that many are making to the evangelicals about voting for Romney is like arguing to a vegetarian that eating fish is okay, because fish isn’t quite like a normal animal (and thus that Mormonism is “close enough” to their brand of Christianity to vote for him over some godless heathen Democrat).

The simple fact is that we’re talking about core principles here. I refuse to vote for someone like Mike Huckabee, because I believe that he is guided primarily by his religious principles, and his interpretation of religion guides him far away from individual liberty (as his nationwide smoking ban proposal shows). For an evangelical, someone like Mitt Romney may be simply too far away from their core principles in order to receive a vote, as they view Joseph Smith as a heretic to their true religion, not a prophet.

When you’re talking about core principles, the only way to argue is on the principle level. That can’t be done in the sound-bite world of today’s politics.

Quote Of The Day: Religious Liberty Edition

Ron Paul with, so far, the sanest thing I’ve heard anyone say on the subject of religion and politics:

“We live in times of great uncertainty when men of faith must stand up for American values and traditions before they are washed away in a sea of fear and relativism. I have never been one who is particularly comfortable talking about my faith in the political arena, and I find the pandering that typically occurs in the election season to be distasteful.

Our nation was founded to be a place where religion is freely practiced and differences are tolerated and respected. I come to my faith through Jesus Christ and have accepted him as my personal savior. At the same time, I have worked tirelessly to defend and restore individual rights and religious freedom for all Americans.

The recent attacks and insinuations, both direct and subtle, that Gov. Romney may be less fit to serve as president of our United States because of his faith fly in the face of everything America stands for. Gov. Romney should be judged fairly, on his record and his character, not on the church he attends.”

Further thoughts on faith, politics and religious liberty can be found here.

Faith, Religious Liberty, And Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney gave his much anticipated speech on faith and politics today:

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Republican Mitt Romney, confronting voters’ skepticism about his Mormon faith, declared Thursday that as president he would “serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause,” and said calls for him to explain and justify his religious beliefs go against the profound wishes of the nation’s founders.

At the same time, he decried those who would remove from public life “any acknowledgment of God,” and he said that “during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places.”

In a speech less than a month before the first nomination contests, Romney said he shares “moral convictions” with Americans of all faiths, though surveys suggest up to half of likely voters have qualms about electing the first Mormon president.

“I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it,” Romney said. “My faith is the faith of my fathers. I will be true to them and to my beliefs.” Nonetheless, he strove to clarify his personal line between church and state, recalling a similar speech delivered by John F. Kennedy in 1960 as Kennedy sought to become the first Catholic elected president.

“I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith, nor should he be rejected because of his faith,” Romney said at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, 90 miles from Kennedy’s speaking site in Houston.

“Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin,” Romney said.

He added: “If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause and no one interest. A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.”

It will be interesting to see watch the reaction to this speech. On the whole, I thought that Romney did a pretty good job of answering the unjustified questions that some have asked about his faith — and this is coming from someone who opposes Romney’s candidacy. Whether that will be enough to change the minds of Evangelicals who continue to believe that Mormons are not Christians is another question.

As Andrew Sullivan notes, though, Romney’s plea for religious tolerance has one very big gapping hole:

A president of the United States does not just represent people of all faiths, he also represents those who have none. There is a lacuna in Romney’s vision of religious tolerance, and it is a deliberate lacuna. In order to appeal to evangelicals, he places himself on their side against the other: the secularists. But that is simply another form of the religious test. By insisting on faith – any faith – as the proper criterion for public office, Romney draws the line, oh-so-conveniently, so as to include Mormonism but exclude atheism and agnosticism. And so he side-steps the critical issue in the debates over religion in public life: what if there is no unifying faith for a nation? What if faith itself cannot unify a nation – and, in fact, can divide it more deeply than any other subject? That is our reality. An intelligent and wise conservative would try to find a path to a common discourse that does not rest on religious foundations.

Exactly. And this is the problem with the Republican Party today. Because it has tied it’s fortunes to the continued loyalty of a group of people to whom religion is not only important, but who believe that the lack of religion is an sign of moral defectiveness, Romney turns the idea of religious tolerance on its head — under the new definition it doesn’t mean that you’re entitled to believe whatever you want, including nothing but that you are entitled to believe in something.

Romney is right to argue that being a Mormon does not make him less of an American, and that his faith should not be an issue in this political campaign. In listening to his speech, though, its clear that he would not extend the same right to an athiest or an agnostic running for political office who believed in the American ideals of individual liberty and freedom of thought, but refused to believe in the civic religion that some Republicans seem to think exists in this country.

There’s one more problem with Romney’s argument and it lies in this quote from his speech today:

“There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation’s founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator. And further, they discovered the essential connection between the survival of a free land and the protection of religious freedom. In John Adams’ words: ‘We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion… Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people.’

“Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”

You’re wrong there Governor. Freedom, in the sense of individual liberty, does not require religion and more than it requires one to believe in the existence of extraterrestrials. Individuals possess rights because of their nature as individuals, not because of doctrines established 1,000 years ago at a religious conference. And, more importantly, one can believe in individual liberty without believing in any god.

Before he continues down the path that he laid out in his speech, perhaps Romney should consider the words of America’s 3rd President:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.

It’s time to extend that wall and separate religion and politics.

Contrasting Quotes Of The Day: How Times Have Changed Edition

John F. Kennedy on September 12, 1960:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute–where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishoners for whom to vote–where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference–and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish–where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source–where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials–and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew–or a Quaker–or a Unitarian–or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim- -but tomorrow it may be you–until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end–where all men and all churches are treated as equal–where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice–where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind–and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

Mitt Romney, in a speech to be delivered this morning:

“We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They are wrong.

“The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation ‘Under God’ and in God, we do indeed trust.

“We should acknowledge the Creator as did the founders – in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from ‘the God who gave us liberty.'”

George W. Bush Channels Richard Nixon

Back in the 1970s, Richard Nixon decided to solve the inflation crisis by arbitrarily freezing wages and prices. Today, President Bush will announce a plan to address the subprime mortgage crisis that pretty much does the same thing with interest rates:

President Bush will announce this afternoon an agreement with major mortgage firms to freeze interest rates for five years for financially troubled homeowners — a plan advocates say will help forestall a major foreclosure crisis but some conservatives say amounts to a bailout of people who made bad financial decisions.

The plan would apply to homeowners who got adjustable-rate subprime mortgages between Jan. 1, 2005, and July 31 of this year and are facing a sharp jump in their rates before July 31, 2010. It would also offer to put them on a fast track to refinance their mortgages through lenders or through state and local housing authorities, according to several people briefed on the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal has not been officially announced.

Eligible homeowners are those with enough income to pay their mortgages at lower rates but not so wealthy that they could afford the increase in monthly payments. The plan would be offered only to people who live in their homes, an effort to exclude real estate investors and speculators.

This is a bad idea on so many levels it’s hard to know where to begin. As I’ve noted before, a large share of the blame for the what’s happened in the subprime mortgage field specifically, and real estate in general, can be narrowed down to two things. First, for far too long Americans believed not only that housing prices would continue to rise, but that they would continue to rise at the rates that, in retrospect, were clearly historical aberrations. Second, and partially because of the irrational exuberance in the housing market, individual homeowners were purchasing homes they couldn’t afford and entering into loan transactions that, frankly, were unwise. When the housing bubble popped, it’s no surprise at all that people who were living on the edge to begin with starting falling into default and, eventually, foreclosure. Now that the economic chickens have come home to roost, Bush wants to re-write the rules.

Some people, it seems, are noticing:

Darren McKinney, 48, a renter in the District, said he has been waiting for housing prices to fall so he can buy a condo without resorting to a dubious loan. He turned down an opportunity to buy his 600-square-foot apartment for $310,000 in late 2004 because he thought it was “absurdly overpriced.”

Now the government is rewarding people who made irresponsible decisions and bought homes beyond their means, he said.

“There are those of us who purposely sat on the sidelines during the course of the last three years while the senseless frenzy was going on, and we presumed the free market would be allowed to correct itself,” McKinney said. “The government is now meddling in the market and looking to prop up lenders and borrowers alike, and those of us who wisely bided our time get screwed.”

You and the economy, sir.

Thoughts On Mitt Romney’s Religion Speech

Later this morning, Mitt Romney will give what the media is, perhaps, inaccurately calling his Mormon speech addressing questions that have arising regarding his faith. On some level, it seems absurd that he should have to do this at all, but Romney’s presence in the race has made it clear that, more than 40 years after America elected it’s first Catholic President, religious bigotry is still alive and well in the United States:

PALMYRA, N.Y. — Mormon missionary Laura Bergeson is getting used to The Question. It comes from the curious who wander into this rural outpost of western New York to explore the exhibit hall of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church.

” ‘So, are you guys Christian?’ ” Bergeson repeats The Question with a weary smile. The answer, Mormons say, is emphatically yes.

The question is on the minds of voters on the religious right as Mitt Romney, a Republican presidential candidate who is also a Mormon, prepares to deliver an address today designed to convince evangelical Christians that he shares their religious values.

That could be a tough task, because many of those voters, a core Republican constituency, believe Romney’s church lies far outside the bounds of Christianity. His task has taken on a new urgency since GOP rival Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, has soared in the polls with less than a month before the Iowa caucuses.

Almost one-third of Americans of all faiths surveyed in August by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press said they do not regard Mormons as Christian. Among white evangelicals who attend church at least weekly, more than half said they believe that the Mormon religion is not Christian.

The funny thing is, they were saying the same thing, and worse about Catholics back in 1928 when Al Smith was running for President and then again in 1960 when JFK ran for office. I don’t support Romney, but that’s because of his record of Governor and what the policies he proposes, not because of his religion. It would be nice of the rest of the country judged people the same way.

William F. Buckley Jr.: Tobacco Prohibitionist

The founder of National Review, who has called himself a libertarian conservative in the past, calls for tobacco prohibition and makes the most absurd Nazi analogy ever in the process:

Stick me in a confessional and ask the question: Sir, if you had the authority, would you forbid smoking in America? You’d get a solemn and contrite, Yes. Solemn because I would be violating my secular commitment to the free marketplace. Contrite, because my relative indifference to tobacco poison for so many years puts me in something of the position of the Zyklon B defendants after World War II. These folk manufactured the special gas used in the death camps to genocidal ends. They pleaded, of course, that as far as they were concerned, they were simply technicians, putting together chemicals needed in wartime for fumigation. Some got away with that defense; others, not.

Those who fail to protest the free passage of tobacco smoke in the air come close to the Zyklon defendants in pleading ignorance.

The biggest problem with Buckley’s analogy, of course, is that people who smoke cigarettes do so voluntarily and, given the attention the health effects of smoking have gotten over the years, with more than enough information to lead to the conclusion that, in the long run, smoking is bad for you. Despite that, they choose of their own free will  to light up on a daily basis.  The victims of Zyklon B didn’t exactly have a choice.

Bush Administration Proposes Mortgage Bailout Plan

The Bush Administration appears to be on the verge of proposing a bailout in response to the subprime mortgage crisis:

Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. unveiled new details of the Bush administration’s mortgage-relief plan yesterday, including a proposal that would grant new powers to local governments to refinance the mortgages of struggling homeowners.

Paulson spoke publicly for the first time on the strategy that would temporarily freeze interest rates for many troubled homeowners or help them refinance, a plan that is gaining momentum among federal regulators, leaders of the mortgage and housing industries, and lawmakers of both parties as the mortgage crisis worsens.

And the details of that plan, it seems, essentially would be to allow borrowers to re-write the terms of their loans and shift risk more decisively to lenders, who traditionally use things like higher interest rates to account for the fact that a given borrower is a high credit risk:

Many homeowners with subprime loans could apply to freeze their rates or refinance their loans quickly under the deal being worked out by Treasury officials and the Hope Now Alliance, a coalition of consumer counseling groups, investors, nonprofits, and lenders such as Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Countrywide Financial.

The major sticking point is the investors who buy securities made up of subprime loans. For years, they provided the financial backing that allowed mortgage firms to expand their lending. No type of loan made more money for investors, or was as risky, as subprime mortgages, because they required homeowners with shaky credit to pay more interest.

If lenders agree to freeze loans at lower rates, investors would lose out on the higher payments promised under the original loans, which could give them grounds to sue the lenders.

“While the devil in the details, this is the first time the administration is devising a plan that meets the magnitude of the problem,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). “If investors can be compelled to go along without long legal delay, it has the potential to make a real dent in the problem.”

In other words, let’s screw the investors.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — the only “problem” that exists in connection with the subprime mortgage crisis is the fact that it is the inevitable outcome of two bad ideas. First, for nearly a decade we were living in a real estate bubble where housing values were rising at rates that were, to any rational person looking at the numbers, not sustainable. Second, in part because of the housing bubble and in part because of simple bad decision making, people were buying houses they really couldn’t afford and entering into loan transactions that were not in their best interest. As a result, when the bubble popped and rates started rising, people started defaulting on their loans.

None of this should come as a surprise, and the rational response to all of this should be to let the situation play itself out. Instead, everyone involved — Congress, the White House, Wall Street, the banks, and the real estate industry — wants to come up with a plan to delay the inevitable reckoning that we’re already in.

And this is coming from a Republican President and a supposedly conservative Treasury Department. I’d like to say that I’m surprised, but I’m not.

From A Revolution To A Movement

I’ve said more than once that libertarian-oriented Republicans need to do a lot more than concentrate on Ron Paul’s Presidential campaign if they want to bring about real change in America. The Presidency, after all, doesn’t amount to much if Congress is in the hands of statists of the Republican or Democratic variety, and state governments can do far more damage to individual liberty than some people seem willing to admit.

Which is why its encouraging to see two developments aimed at ensuring that pro-liberty Republicans get the support they need.

First, there’s Paul Congress, a group that describes itself as follows:

A Ron Paul Presidency, and by default the American public, will benefit greatly from a Congress filled with Ron Paul Republicans (traditional Republicans), Libertarians, and Ron Paul Independents. Maxed out your contributions to the Paul Campaign? Want true Constitutional representation across the board? Maximize your peace, liberty, & prosperity.

What is the best way to get these candidates elected? Financial contributions and volunteering. Realize the neocon & neoliberal corporate-payrolled candidates become media darlings because of all their connections and all that cash, and not their principles. Our liberty loving candidates need the effort and contributions of many honest voters just to get an even footing. Please take time to donate to them and sign-up to get active on their web sites now.

So far, there are only two candidates on their endorsement list, but its a start.

The other group is called Liberty Slate `08:

The Republican Party has abandoned the principles of fiscal discipline, committment to limited government and individual rights, and social tolerance. In an effort to rejuvinate the GOP’s committment to these principles, LibertySlate08 was founded to:

1. Recruit at least a dozen small government Republican candidates for CONGRESS in 2008 to challenge Republicans in state primaries.

2. Provide Republican primary voters with a choice of contrast between credible, energetic small government candidates and old, outdated Big Government incumbents.

3. Emphasize key issues such as a return to fiscal discpline, an end to the War in Iraq, opposition to the draft, and Congressional term limits.

4. Spark a NATIONAL DEBATE within the GOP about the party’s future. (Gain press for our candidates, our issues, and our goals.)

5. Provide a challenge to incumbent politicians that have NOT been challenged in decades due to gerrymandered districting.

If you’re interested in this project, please contact aulibertarians@aol.com . The time to present our alternative to Big Government Republicanism is NOW. Please step up and join Team Liberty.

Sounds like a good idea to me.

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