Monthly Archives: March 2008

Earth Hour — What They SHOULD Have Said

Allow me to engage in a bit of strawman-bashing. In the comments to Don Boudreaux’s excellent post at Cafe Hayek, a rather idiotic argument came up. It is the same argument that many of our own contributors received when we opposed Ron Paul, and commenters told us “If you don’t like Ron Paul, you must tell us who we SHOULD vote for.” It’s a strawman, of course, because criticizing one idea doesn’t obligate you to posit your own. But that’s not good enough for some people, as this comment to Don’s post shows:

Congratulations!

Instead of bringing forward some better and more rational proposals that will help to avoid that hysteria that indeed clouds the environmental issues and could cause the remedies to be worse than the sickness, and help the world to be able to use scarce resources wisely and effective… you live up to your role as an educator, as a beacon of light… and just make fun of it all.

As if the folks at Cafe Hayek haven’t offered their own positive ideas on a whole host of topics, one bit of criticism gets the “well, what would YOU do about it?” response. Laughable…

…but I’m going to offer a suggestion anyway. I’m going to offer the free-market environmentalist answer.

Here’s what the World Wildlife Fund should have said:

Greetings. In our modern world, we are faced with many problems. While the work of caring environmentalists and improved technology has done a lot to improve the environmental situation in the Western world, we have much farther to go. Rising populations and increased worldwide standard of living are only adding to the strain that humanity is placing on our planet. Oil and coal have served us well to bring us to this point, but exact a heavy toll on the planet to extract and use. These sources of energy are the past; they are not the future.

Conservation is one part of the solution to this problem. Conservation helps the environment by reducing demand, and helps individuals by reducing the prices they pay for the resources they use. Taken in the aggregate across society, reduced individual energy use helps to ensure that we can move from today’s needs to the future, and do so in a smooth transition. We hope that our recent Earth Hour event reminds humanity that they should be ever-mindful of their impact on the planet, and do what they can to minimize that individual impact, for the good of their pocketbooks and the planet.

But conservation is not enough. The pressures of increased population and increased prosperity will only lead to higher energy consumption. In order to protect our Earth, we must find alternative energy sources, with a smaller impact on our environment. To ensure widespread acceptance, the solution must be both environmentally-friendly and cheap. Our current solutions show promise, but are too expensive to be deployed on a wide scale. Thankfully, rising prices of oil will make it more economically feasible to explore alternatives, and the work of firms such as Massachussetts’ Konarka Technologies are helping to bridge the gap between today and the future.

Environmentalism and energy consumption are not mutually-exclusive. The crucial factor, however, is technology. We can solve these problems, but it won’t be done by politicians or policymakers. It won’t come from Washington or Brussels. And it can’t be done by mandate. The solutions will come from hard-working, caring, dedicated scientists and engineers. It will come from those in the private sector who stand to make a profit from cheap, clean energy.

Those who care about our planet have many options open to them. For those who are still young, with their careers and lives ahead of them, we encourage you to study physics, materials science, and engineering. You can directly impact the problem by researching, developing, and implementing the technologies which will help us solve these problems. For those who may be too late to change their career path, there are countless investment opportunities in the companies working on these problems. The beauty of these options is that it offers you both the opportunity to profit and enact a social good.

Turning off your lights for an hour is a reminder of what you can do in the short term, and of the important problem that we must solve. But if you really want to help, it’s time to get your hands dirty and start making the long-term solution a reality.

Those of us on “the right” are often lambasted as uncaring when it comes to environmental problems. We are not. We are simply cognizant of the fact that the solutions “the left” offers are typically damaging, counterproductive, and anti-prosperity. The real solution will come from the same place all solutions come — the long-term work by people trying to improve their own lives, and by extension improve the world for the rest of us.

Google “Doing Their Part” For Earth Hour

Seen today:

google.jpg

“Earth Hour” is a worldwide event where individuals are asked to shut off their lights for an hour. Ineffectual, pointless, but that’s what we need to do “for the planet”.

So what does Google do? Do they run some of their servers in a lower-power mode, perhaps sacrificing the speed of search results in order to reduce energy use? Nope. Do they even do the politically correct but economically idiotic idea of buying “carbon offsets” for the energy they use for that hour? Nope. Does blackening their home page even save energy? Nope. In fact, outside of changing a few lines of very simple code, it doesn’t appear that this gesture has taken any effort at all.

What have they accomplished? Well, they’ve “raised awareness”. Good work, fellas, because without Google, I may never have known about the idea of conservation!

What a joke.

Others covering this: Don Boudreaux & Billy Beck

How Saudi Justice Is Sometimes More Merciful Than American Justice

In the field of professional executioners, the Saudi executioner has one of the more brutal reputations since he uses a sword to cut off people’s heads. This is not the clean antiseptic push-button executions of the U.S. but one where the executioner has to physically exert himself, gore splatters and the smell of blood fills the air in front of a howling mob. One can hardly imagine a more barbaric spectacle, and would imagine that the executioners must be brutal men who love killing.

‘Before an execution I give the victim’s family a chance too.’
‘I ask them if they will forgive. Sometimes this happens at literally the last minute. My thoughts and prayers are concentrated on the fact that they will forgive the criminal. I hope that they forgive him and feel joy when they do,’ he adds earnestly. Rezkallah will take it upon himself to visit the victim’s family in order to obtain a stay of execution.

‘If I get the chance, and most of the time I do, I go and ask the family to give the criminal another chance. It has worked many times and the family has forgiven the criminal at the last minute.’ He smiles for a moment, recalling one such occasion.

Following a successful stay of execution, the crowd, somewhat surprisingly given the fact that they’ve turned up to witness a brutal death, breaks into rejoicing.

‘There is clapping and cheering,’ says Rezkallah. ‘The scenes of happiness are indescribable.’

In America, this quality of mercy, permitting the victim or victim’s family to forgive transgressions is wholly absent. Horror stories include the lifetime registration as a sex-offender of the man who was convicted of the statutory rape of the woman who is now his wife, and the man facing attempted murder charges despite his victim’s adamant testimony that the shooting was an accident.

When a family does beg for clemency, the process is far more involved. Rather than the stay of execution automatically being granted, the family must go before a governor and or a board of pardons and plead for the criminal’s life. Their wishes are irrelevant. The state alone determines what is justice. The victim’s wishes need not be respected, and are often ignored.

Yes, the Saudi legal code, with capital crimes like whitchcraft, is barbaric. But it is shameful that the U.S. legal code is less accommodating of the victims’ pleas for mercy.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

The FBI Hyperlink Honeypot, and what you can do to stay safe

This post is intended to help internet users who make legitimate, non-criminal use of the internet avoid being caught by the FBI’s hyperlink honeypot. While there are methods that can be used to cover deliberate criminal activity on the internet, I will not post them here.

Declan McCullagh brings scary news of the latest tactics from the FBI (via Instapundit, via Classical Values):

The FBI has recently adopted a novel investigative technique: posting hyperlinks that purport to be illegal videos of minors having sex, and then raiding the homes of anyone willing to click on them.

Undercover FBI agents used this hyperlink-enticement technique, which directed Internet users to a clandestine government server, to stage armed raids of homes in Pennsylvania, New York, and Nevada last year. The supposed video files actually were gibberish and contained no illegal images.

This is serious stuff, and not for the reasons you may think. The FBI is operating from the assumption that one IP address equals one household. It’s also operating from the assumption that all HTTP requests are user initiated. Both are wrong.

First, with NAT routing and WiFi, one IP address could be several houses, or even a sizeable chunk of an apartment building. The way most homes are set up with broadband and wireless is pretty simple and extremely open to abuse. The broadband connection comes in the home and has a single IP address. The device closest to the connection is a modem, which acts as a bridge between the home network and the broadband provider. The device after that is a wireless router, which takes traffic from all devices that connect to it and channels it to the modem.

This means that, to anyone on the other side of the modem, like web sites, your ISP, or the FBI, all the traffic looks like it’s coming from a single source. Since someone has to pay for that broadband connection, all the traffic is automatically assumed to come from that person. So, as a user, it’s in your best interest to be in control of all the traffic going over your internet connection, which leads us to…

TIP #1: Lock down your wireless network with WPA

In a utopian world, free love and free WiFi might seem like wonderful things. With creeps running around and the FBI trailing after them, not so much. Since people are actually getting jailed for clicking on hyperlinks based on their IP address, it’s time to get serious about making sure only the people you want get on your network.

WPA stands for Wireless Protected Access, and it is the only secure way to prevent access to your wireless network. WPA works using a pre-shared key (PSK) of up to 63 characters to encrypt network traffic. This means that any device must have the key before any traffic can be sent or received on the wireless network.

(Don’t confuse this with WEP, which is so-called Wired Equivalent Protection. WEP has been thoroughly broken and can be cracked in less than 5 minutes.)

If you need a good, strong password, I highly recommend visiting GRC’s Perfect Passwords page. This page provides extremely secure pseudo-random passwords that make password attacks almost impossible.

If the FBI can’t tell what behind an IP address accessed a given URL, they probably can’t tell whether the user initiated the access or whether the machine did automatically. In addition to making sure that there aren’t machines on your network doing things out of your control, you have to make sure there aren’t things on your machine doing things outside your control. This brings us three more tips…

TIP #2: Scan your system for viruses and malware

Any software on your system can request any web address at any time. Well-behaved programs only do so at the user’s command. Malware, however, doesn’t. Most malware running today exists to use compromised machines as a platform to run the creator’s software on a mammoth scale, usually to generate spam. (You didn’t think there were actual people typing up those ads for Vi4g00, did ya?)

A piece of malware could very well access a honeypot link and get you, the user, into trouble. So, install that anti-virus software and run it, often.

For those who don’t want to load down their (Windows) systems with bloated software like Norton or McAfee, I personally recommend Avast‘s free anti-virus. It’s lightweight and does a good job of catching crud.

Also, no matter what anti-virus you use, be sure and keep your software up to date. Anti-virus software works best when it has the latest virus definitions.

TIP #3: Turn off the preview pane in your e-mail program.

This one’s an inconvenience, but it’s important. If your e-mail program is rendering e-mail without your specific instruction, it’s accessing addresses without your specific instruction.

Every time an e-mail has an image or other embedded content, your e-mail program has to fetch it from the internet. If the FBI were using a JPEG image as the honey pot, all it would take your e-mail program rendering an HTML e-mail with the image in it to make it look like an attempted access.

Once the preview pane is turned off, it’s still your responsibility to delete suspicious messages without opening them. (Hey, sometimes it’s tough to do. Personally, I’m always open to a little chuckle from the latest generic drug scams and variations on the always classic Nigerian money scam. Now, I’m going to behave myself.)

TIP #4: Turn off link prefetching

If you use Mozilla Firefox, iCab, or Google Web Accelerator, your computer is accessing links without your knowledge. This feature is called link prefetching. In a perfect world, this would be a good thing for the user. Not so when a person can be arrested for being associated with the IP that accessed a link.

Here are the directions for turning off link prefetching in Firefox. Google Web Accelerator should be completely uninstalled to prevent prefetching.

These are just the things I can come up with for preventing accidental ensnarement in this despicable FBI trap. I’d appreciate any more tips and tricks for preventing you might have.

Also, for those with a larger interest in security, I highly recommend Security Now! with Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte. It’s a weekly podcast that deals solely with security, and the archives are a wealth of information.

(If you have a few minutes, please come by and check out the new blog at http://pith-n-vinegar.blogspot.com/)

Why Mike Gravel Is Not A Libertarian

This list seems to sum it up nicely:

  • The Fair Tax. Anti-Libertarian redistribution of wealth by another name.
  • Single-Payer Medicine. No. No, no, no, NO. There is a libertarian proposal for medicine, and this is just about the exact opposite.
  • Social Security. He’s pro. Libertarians are anti.
  • Carbon tax. Another anti-libertarian value. Sin taxes by any name.
  • The US acting as a guarantor for the demilitarization of Israel’s border with a future Palestinian state. Again, no. Libertarian value = stay the fuck out of other people’s business.
  • That the US should immediately sign the Kyoto Protocol. Again, no. Anti-libertarian agenda through and through. (This doesn’t even Begin to touch on the fact that the Kyoto Protocol is by all measurable standards an absolute failure, including the standard of the impact it would have had if successful.)
  • At the February 2007 Democratic Presidential Candidates Forum he has said that he is in favor of some degree of public financial assistance to the campaigns of Presidential candidates. This, again, is an anti-libertarian view. No subsidizing campaigns with taxpayer money. (Yes, I am aware this is already done via funds-matching. We’re against it.)
  • Senator Gravel proposes an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and an accompanying Federal Law to bring about a means of citizen-initiated national lawmaking in addition to the existing means of lawmaking through the institutions of representative government (i.e., Congress and the President). — Democracy is a principle which while many view beneficial, in many cases is viewed by libertarians as anti-freedom. There’s a simple reason for this. “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what’s for dinner.”
  • His position site states: “One thing we know for sure: No Child Left Behind has left too many children behind. It needs to be reformed and adequately funded. ” I.e.; he wants to expand spending here. We’re already spending so much we’re getting nothing done. This is throwing good money after bad. No.
  • Net Neutrality. Like it or not, the net neutrality legislation is actually anti-libertarian. It expands the authority of the government to inform businesses how they may or may not operate. This is the literal definition of fascism.

I’ve honestly got to say that by welcoming the likes of Gravel into it’s ranks, the Libertarian Party has pretty much abandoned it’s principles.

Newt Gingrich: Federal Control Of Education Is A National Security Issue

There are some things that Newt Gingrich has said over the years that I agree with, and I’m somewhat a fan of his alternate history novels, but this is just plain daffy:

Newt Gingrich gave a luncheon talk about education at the American Enterprise Institute today.  Among other things, he said he’d “argue with any conservative” about the role of the federal government with respect to education.  It’s a matter of national security, he said.  He called on the secretary of defense to give a speech every year on the state of our schools.

You want an argument on this one Newt ?

I say bring it on.

So Much For That Theory

Well, it looks like President Bush’s theory that the phony economic stimulus package would actually accomplish anything will be proven to be untrue:

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Tax rebates are the centerpiece of the government’s plan to stimulate the economy, but many Americans are planning to put the money in the bank or use it to pay off debt, according to a survey released Monday.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll found that 41% of respondents plan to use their rebates to pay off bills, and 32% will put the money in savings. Just 21% of those polled intend to spend the money, while 3% said they will donate the extra money to charity.

Come on Americans, don’t you realize that what your President wants you to do is be entirely irresponsible and use that stimulus check to go out and buy a nice new high definition TV ?

If you don’t spend it all within 24 hours of getting it, you’re letting the terrorists win.

Or maybe you’re realizing the truth, which is that the entire economic stimulus package is a sham.

Mutual Enemies Of Freedom: The Hillarys And The Huckabees

Cato’s David Boaz has a great column about the mutual threats to freedom posed by the philosophies of the left and the right:

[D]espite [America’s] heritage of freedom, we’ve always got the Hillarys and the Huckabees and the other people who think they could run our lives better than we can. The Huckabees on the right continue to resist the cultural changes of the 1960s, and the Hillarys on the left continue to resist the economic changes of the 1980s.

The “Huckabees” want to censor cable television because they don’t think you can be trusted to decide what your family should watch. They support bans on drugs, pornography, gambling and violent video games because you just don’t know what’s good for you. They want prayer in the schools and sound science out. They want to subsidize heterosexual marriage and ban gay marriage. They want government to take the place of God and stamp out sin on earth. Former Sen. Rick Santorum, a classic Huckabee, complains about “this whole idea of personal autonomy, … this idea that people should be left alone.”

The “Hillarys,” meanwhile, want to raise taxes because they think they can spend your money more wisely than you can. They don’t believe in school choice because you don’t know how to choose a school for your children. They think they can handle your retirement savings and health care better than you can. They think, as Hillary Clinton has advocated, that the government should produce video lectures on how to burp a baby and how to brush your teeth and have them “running continuously in doctors’ offices, clinics, hospitals, motor vehicle offices, or any other place where people gather and have to wait.”

The Huckabees want to be your daddy, telling you what to do and what not to do. The Hillarys want to be your mommy, feeding you, tucking you in and setting your curfew. But the proper role for the government of a free society is to treat adults as adults, responsible for making their own decisions and accepting the consequences. And the good news is that mostly we do that.

Free men and women, of course, don’t need a mommy and daddy. They just need a government that will keep civil order and otherwise get out of their way.

A Bob Barr For President Update

Former Congressman Bob Barr is now talking seriously about running for the Libertarian Party’s Presidential nomination:

On an Internet site called Anti-War Radio, former Georgia congressman Bob Barr confirmed on Wednesday that he’s “very seriously” looking at joining the race for the White House as a Libertarian — and had harsh words for both the Iraq war and for the Bush Administration’s defense of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

(…)

On a presidential run, Barr said:

“There’s been a tremendous expressed to me both directly and indirectly on the Internet. I take that support very seriously, and I think it also reflects a great deal of dissatisfaction with the current candidates and the current two-party system. So it is something, to be honest with you, that I’m looking very seriously at.”

Barr said a Libertarian candidacy would essentially be an extension of the Ron Paul campaign.

“Ron Paul tapped into a great deal of that dissatisfaction and that awareness. Unfortunately, working through the Republican party structure, it became impossible for him to really move forward with his movement. But we have to have ….a rallying point out there to harness that energy, that freedom in this election cycle,” Barr said.

On Iraq:

“What we’ve fallen into in recent years — not just since 9/11, but particularly since 9/11 — is this notion that, in order to protect ourselves, we have to preemptively go into and — in the case of Iraq — occupy another sovereign nation,” Barr said. “Simply saying, ‘Gee, it’s better to fight over in this other nation and destroy another nation, so we’re not potentially attacked here, is the height of arrogance.”

As for the Bush administration’s refusal to define waterboarding as torture, Barr referred to the practice as “sophistry of the worst and rankest order.”

You can listen to the full audio of the interview over at my personal blog.

Mike Gravel: Libertarian ? — The Round-Up

Reason’s David Weigel catalogs some of the reaction to yesterday’s announcement that Mike Gravel had joined the Libertarian Party and is running for the LP Presidential Nomination.

This statement from Presidential candidate Wayne Allen Root fairly sums up how I feel about the idea:

Gravel is in no way, shape or form a Libertarian. He’s just a big government, big-spending, redistribute the wealth, liberal- big difference. He’s clearly stumbled into the wrong party. Worse, he’s a Green Party supporter and potential candidate as well. The Green Party is not in any way compatible with the Libertarian Party. They are polar opposites of the political spectrum.

Anthony Gregory says pretty much the same thing:

[I]n his announcement to supporters of his intentions to run as an LP presidential candidate, he writes, “The fact is, the Democratic Party today is no longer the party of FDR. It is a party that continues to sustain war, the military-industrial complex and imperialism — all of which I find anathema to my views.”

This is just hysterical. Of course, FDR created the military-industrial complex. To the extent the Democrats are no longer the party of FDR, that is a good thing — and indeed, one could argue the GOP became the party of FDR with Nixon, Reagan and the two Georges Bush.

Of particular interest are the comments of several non-libertarians, such as this from The New Skeptic:

Libertarians have a serious image problem, and people like Gravel and Ron Paul have not helped. Besides that, the Randians (oh no a word I just made up!) are in that “big tent” and stink the whole thing up. People who are serious but realistic about small government and civil liberties want nothing to do with the kooks. It’s one thing to say, for instance, that the Commerce Clause is a strict limit on congressional power; it’s another to formulate a reasonable interpretation of that provision while dealing with and changing the system currently in place. Getting rid of the FDA overnight = kooky; not just kooky, but intellectually immature. Criticism is not the final step in political theory, and if libertarians cannot construct a viable ideological system from the rubble of rejected ideas, then they offer nothing worth overhauling our government for.

Oh, I know, Mike Gravel is hardly the best representative of the party. But still, libertarianism often marginalizes itself, and that’s bad, because some of its ideas need to be implemented if we want any hope of surviving China, the collapse of Social Security, and an Islamic Europe.

And at least one Democrat is glad to see Gravel go:

As the resident Democrat around these here parts, I want to thank the Libertarian Party for taking this certifiable nut-case off of the Democrats’ hands.

(…)

Seriously though, I don’t mean to knock the Libertarian Party because I believe that we need more than just two political parties engaged in the debate over the direction or our nation. However, with Mike Gravel now in the Libertarian Party’s ranks, it makes it a bit more difficult for the Libertarians to be considered as a viable third option for disenchanted Republicans and Democrats. You need more Bob Barrs and Neal Boortzs and less Mike Gravels.

The thing is that the Gravel move isn’t all that surprising. The LP clearly enjoys the publicity of having a former Senator among their ranks now. The fact that he shares absolutely none of the core principles that the party stands for doesn’t seem to matter to them.

And that, above all else, seems to be evidence of just how useless that Libertarian Party has become.

It’s Time To Call For An Olympic Boycott

Over at The Crossed Pond, Rojas gets on the bandwagon:

After some reflection, I think I’m now ready to fully endorse a boycott of the 2008 Summer Olympics. I don’t do so lightly. For one thing, I like sports. For another thing, I don’t like the corruption of non-governmental enterprises by political concerns.

The bottom line, however, is that there’s no point in pretending at this stage that these Olympics are apolitical. The Chinese regime views them entirely as a means of establishing its international credibility and prestige. And based on various reports, they have proven willing to do anything and everything awful to maintain that prestige–from the forcible relocation of thousands of citizens to a vehement crackdown on any possibility of dissent. There is simply no case to be made anymore that the Olympics exert a moderating effort on Chinese policy; they are clearly and demonstrably having the opposite effect.

China wants these Olympics for the same reason that Moscow wanted them in 1980 and Nazi Germany wanted them back in 1936 — to give an aura of international legitimacy to a dictatorship that has no intention of reforming.

We shouldn’t give it to them.

Mark Your Calendars

Tax Freedom Day is April 23rd:

Tax Freedom Day, the day on which Americans have earned enough money to pay all their federal, state and local taxes for the year, will fall on April 23 this year, according to the Tax Foundation’s annual calculation using the latest government data on income and taxes.

Tax Freedom Day is calculated by dividing the official government tally of all taxes collected in each year by the official government tally of all income earned in each year. Governments—federal, state and local—took 29.6% of income in 1970, 30.4% of income in 1980, 33.6% in 2000, and so on. This percentage is the nation’s total tax burden. We then use the historical trend and the most recent economic data to make a projection of what the tax burden will be in the current year and we convert that burden into a date—a percentage of the year—on which Americans will have earned enough income to pay their total tax bill for the year.

This year’s Tax Freedom Day falls three days earlier than in 2007. Fiscal stimulus rebates and a projection of slow growth in 2008 are the principal reasons for the earlier celebration. However, if the large projected deficit for 2008 were counted as a tax in the current year, Tax Freedom Day would fall on May 3.

More importantly, as the chart below reveals, Americans spend more on taxes at all levels than on any other category of spending:

In fact, taxes take up more time than Housing and Health Care combined.

Truly depressing.

The Threat To Limited Government In 2008

The Cato Institute’s William Niskanen points out that limited government is unlikely to fare well regardless of who’s elected in November:

An administration and Congress of either party is likely to approve a federal program of universal health insurance. Such a program was endorsed by most of the presidential candidates in both parties, was implemented by former Gov. Mitt Romney in Massachusetts, and has been promoted even by our friends at the Heritage Foundation — despite the prospect that it would substantially increase federal spending, the relative price of medical care, and both price controls and nonprice rationing of medical care. The failure of any presidential candidate or more than a few members of Congress to criticize the $150 billion debtfinanced “stimulus” package as ineffective or possibly counterproductive suggests that there is a broad bipartisan indifference to responsible fiscal policy. Another major threat to limited government that will probably be approved next year, whatever the outcome of the November election, is a first-stage national commitment to reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases; this ineffective but potentially very expensive policy is being promoted as a moral obligation, rather than the best of the alternative feasible responses to global warming.

Each of these would, of course, vastly increase the size, scope, and power of the Federal Government and none of the remaining three candidates who will occupy the White House on January 20, 2009 has pledged to eliminate or even reduce a single federal spending program.

The logic of what we’re likely to face in the future is summed up here:

Bruce Katz, director of the metropolitan policy program at the Brookings Institution, has claimed that “Chicagoland [and other major metropolitan areas] simply [do] not have the power or resources to achieve meaningful reforms to metroscale problems such as crushing traffic gridlock and inadequate work force housing on [their] own. . . . The federal government has a powerful role to play in helping metros address these and other issues — through smart investments, market-shaping information and environment-strengthening regulation. This potential is not being realized, since for too long the federal government has been strangely adrift and unresponsive to the dynamic forces at play in our country.”

Odd — with all these skills and resources, one might think that the federal government would already have solved the major problems of the programs for which it has a clear constitutional responsibility.

You might think that, but you’d be wrong.

The Libertarian Case Against John McCain

It would seem to be axiomatic, but Reason’s Matt Welch makes the case for why libertarians shouldn’t cozy up to John McCain:

BEHIND any successful politician lies a usable contradiction, and John McCain’s is this: We love him (and occasionally hate him) for his stubborn individualism, yet his politics are best understood as a decade-long attack on the individual.

The presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party has seduced the press and the public with frank confessions of his failings, from his hard-living flyboy days to his adulterous first marriage to the Keating Five scandal. But in both legislation and rhetoric, Mr. McCain has consistently sought to restrict the very freedoms he once exercised, in the common national enterprise of “serving a cause greater than self-interest.”

Such sentiment can sound stirring coming from a lone citizen freely choosing public service. But from a potential president, Mr. McCain’s exaltation of sacrifice over the private pursuit of happiness — “I did it out of patriotism, not for profit,” he snarled to Mitt Romney during the final Republican presidential debate — reflects a worryingly militaristic view of citizenship.

As Welch notes, McCain’s disdain for individual rights over claims of “national greatness” can be seen in what is possibly the most significant piece of legislation that his name is attached to, McCain-Feingold:

When people raised First Amendment objections to the law, which prohibits citizen advertisements that so much as mention a federal candidate’s name within 60 days of an election, Mr. McCain responded, “I would rather have a clean government than one where quote ‘First Amendment rights’ are being respected that has become corrupt.” When the Supreme Court questioned the law’s constitutionality, he complained in a legal brief that ads were targeting “candidates in close contests — and almost invariably in a partisan manner.”

A competitive political system ? How shocking.

For some libertarians, though I am not one of them, there may be a reason to vote for John McCain in November. On economic issues, he is better than either Hillary or Obama but, after eight years of George W. Bush and twelve years of Republican control of Congress, there’s no reason to believe anything that any Republican says when it comes to taxes and spending.

One of Glenn Reynolds readers makes this point:

I can see a libertarian case against McCain, but you go to an election with the candidates you’ve got. Does Matt really think McCain would be *more* of a libertarian disaster than “It takes a village”/”We’re doing it for your own good” Clinton or the “it would be a mandate, but it’s a *voluntary* mandate” Messiah of Change?

The argument, of course, is that they’re all equally bad for someone who believes in free minds and free markets, and there’s no need to vote for any of them.

Mike Gravel Joins The Libertarian Party

Former United States Senator, and Democratic Candidate for President, Mike Gravel has, apparently, joined the Libertarian Party:

I just got off the phone with Libertarian Party Executive Director Shane Cory and he confirms the following information: Former US Senator and Alaska House Speaker Mike Gravel has joined the Libertarian Party. Cory says he’ll provide more in a media release to be expected over the next few hours.

And here’s the official LP Press Release:

Washington, D.C. – Mike Gravel, a former Alaskan Senator and Democratic candidate for president, has joined the Libertarian Party.

“I’m joining the Libertarian Party because it is a party that combines a commitment to freedom and peace that can’t be found in the two major parties that control the government and politics of America,” says Gravel. “My libertarian views, as well as my strong stance against war, the military industrial complex and American imperialism, seem not to be tolerated by Democratic Party elites who are out of touch with the average American; elites that reject the empowerment of American citizens I offered to the Democratic Party at the beginning of this presidential campaign with the National Initiative for Democracy.”

Gravel served in the United States Senate from 1969 to 1981. Most recently, Gravel was a Democratic presidential candidate, though forced out of national debates by Democratic Party leadership and the media. Gravel officially became a member of the Libertarian Party today.

Gravel is the most recent former member of Congress to switch to the Libertarian Party. In 2006, former Republican Congressman Bob Barr joined the Libertarian Party.

“It is a distinct honor to have another former member of Congress within the Libertarian Party,” says Barr. “Just as Senator Gravel believes Democrats have lost touch with the American public, I too concluded Republicans had lost their core principles, and could no longer associate myself with the GOP. While coming from opposite sides of the aisle, Senator Gravel and I definitely agree on the fundamental need for systemic change in our political system, and that the only way we have of effecting that change is by supporting and working in the Libertarian Party, which is the only political party in America that consistently works in word and deed to maximize individual liberty and minimize government power.”

While this move is interesting, I agree with the guys at Freedom Democrats that there needs to be some skepticism about what Gravel is actually up to here:

Not surprisingly, Gravel’s campaign team has already announced Gravel’s intentions to possibly seek both the LP and Green Party nominations, to run a “fusion” candidacy. As I obliquely alluded to in my original post, skepticism is warranted in digesting the possible motives of Gravel in making this move. Is this legitimately about Gravel identifying more with the Libertarians now or is this more about Gravel smelling some of that Ron Paul fundraising cash.

A fusion between the LP and the Greens ? How would that even be possible without one or both parties abandoning some of their core principles. The Green Party is unlikely to welcome economic liberty, and the Libertarians, unless they want to sell their soul, would seem to be unwilling to accept an agenda that says, among other stuff, things like this:

Consumers have the right to adequate enforcement of the federal and state consumer protection laws. Health and safety are of paramount importance, so we oppose lax or inappropriate regulatory actions.

a. Consumers should have the right to participate in decisions that affect their lives and protect their interests, beyond simply voting on election day.

b. We support the creation of consumer advocacy agencies in order to protect the interests of consumers against corporate lobbyists who have too often successfully argued before regulatory agencies against consumer rights. We would require legal monopolies and regulated industries (including electric, gas, water, and telephone utilities) to set up statewide consumer action groups to act on behalf of and advocate for consumer interests.

c. We call for better information for consumers about the products they buy, and where and how they are made. We endorse truth in advertising, including the clear definition of words like “recycled” and “natural.”

d. We defend the rights of individuals to participate in class action lawsuits against manufacturers of unsafe products. We call for restrictions on secrecy agreements that may prevent lawsuits by not revealing damaging information.

e. We support laws to protect “whistle blowers.”

Or this:

We have a special responsibility to the health and well-being of the young. Yet we see the federal safety net being removed and replaced with limited and potentially harsh state welfare programs. How will social services be adequately provided if local resources are already stretched thin?

We believe our community priorities must first protect the young and helpless. Yet how will state legislatures and agencies, under pressure from more powerful interests, react? We believe local decision-making is important, but we realize, as we learned during the civil rights era, that strict federal standards must guide state actions in providing basic protections. As the richest nation in history, we should not condemn millions of children to a life of poverty, while corporate welfare is increased to historic highs.

The Green Party opposes the privatization of Social Security. It is critical that the public protections of Social Security are not privatized and subjected to increased risk. The bottom 20% of American senior citizens get roughly 80% of their income from Social Security, and without Social Security, nearly 70% of black elderly and 60% of Latino elderly households would be in poverty.

If that’s the kind of future Gravel would bring to the Libertarian Party, he would, effectively, destroy it as an advocate for individual liberty.

Update: The New York Times has picked up the story and reports that Gravel intends to run for the LP’s Presidential Nomination:

Fed up with being excluded from the debates and otherwise marginalized, former Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska announced today that he will seek the Libertarian Party nomination for president.

That’s right, we said Mike Gravel, who had been running as a Democrat – not Representative Ron Paul, who has run on the Libertarian ticket in the past, but recently submitted his name to appear on the ballot in the remaining Republican primary contests.

Skyler McKinley, a Gravel spokesman, said that Mr. Gravel would try to pursue the Libertarian nomination at the party’s convention, which will be held in Denver on May 22-26.

Whether or not some of our delegates will accept Mike Gravel with some of his positions, that has yet to be seen,” said Andrew Davis, a spokesman for the Libertarian National Committee, adding that Mr. Gravel’s advocacy of universal health care, paid for with a national retail sales tax, could turn off some Libertarians.

Frankly, the fact that the LP is even welcoming this crypto-socialist into the party is strong evidence that it no longer deserves to be taken seriously.

Gordon Brown Resists the EU’s Biofuel Targets

The Guardian- Gordon Brown is preparing for a battle with the European Union over biofuels after one of the government’s leading scientists warned they could exacerbate climate change rather than combat it.

In an outspoken attack on a policy which comes into force next week, Professor Bob Watson, the chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said it would be wrong to introduce compulsory quotas for the use of biofuels in petrol and diesel before their effects had been properly assessed.

“If one started to use biofuels … and in reality that policy led to an increase in greenhouse gases rather than a decrease, that would obviously be insane,” Watson said. “It would certainly be a perverse outcome.”

Under the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation, all petrol and diesel must contain 2.5% of biofuels from April 1. This is designed to ensure that Britain complies with a 2003 EU directive that 5.75% of petrol and diesel come from renewable sources by 2010.

But scientists have increasingly questioned the sustainability of biofuels, warning that by increasing deforestation the energy source may be contributing to global warming.

Watson’s warning was echoed last night by Professor Sir David King, who recently retired as the government’s chief scientific adviser. He said biofuel quotas should be put on hold until the results were known of a review which has been commissioned by ministers.

“What is absolutely desperately needed within government are people of integrity who will state what the science advice is under whatever political pressure or circumstances,” he said

Suspending my skepticism of the man made global warming phenomenon for a moment; the scientists make a very important point in this article about how government should think first before acting. The problem is that governments don’t think; people think. If the people of the U.K., the U.S. or anywhere else for that matter believe they can depend on the government making intelligent decisions on their behalf, this biofuels boondoggle is only the latest example of why those who would outsource their thinking to the government are mistaken.

Fortunately for the U.K., they have a prime minister in Gordon Brown who is willing to resist the knee jerk reaction to go along with the European Union and actually listen to scientists rather than seek out scientists who will tow the popular party line.

The prime minister made clear that Britain is wary of the target when he said last November: “I take extremely seriously concerns about the impact of biofuels on deforestation, precious habitats and on food security, and the UK is working to ensure a European sustainability standard is introduced as soon as possible, and we will not support an increase in biofuels over current target levels until an effective standard is in place.”

Unfortunately for us here on the other side of the pond, President Bush took the opposite approach: he caved. In 2007 President Bush signed legislation which would require the production of 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022. As Brad pointed out in his recent post on this subject, E-85 ethonal in particular wastes a tremendous amount of water.

What the biofuels proponents fail to tell consumers is that E-85 ethanol is horribly inefficient. As George Mason University Economics Professor Walter Williams points out, this particular fuel cannot be piped (because of pipeline corrosion from leftover water) but must be shipped by trucks and trains, damages engines not specifically designed for ethanol (again because of the leftover water), and is 20 to 30 percent less efficient than petroleum. Williams goes on to explain that to produce one SUV tank worth of fuel with E-85 requires 450 pounds of corn; enough corn to feed one person for an entire year!

Despite all of this, the politics is leading the way rather than the science and the free market. The farm subsidy lobby is very powerful in Washington in both political parties (and is apparently powerful in the EU as well).

And that’s really the dirty little secret. But for government subsidies, E-85 ethanol would have no chance of competing in the free market. Biofuel production displaces the basic economic resources of land, labor, capital, and entrepreneurial ability which could otherwise be used to better address the energy problem. British scientists are already thinking about the possible consequences of the EU’s biofuels policies. How much pain can be avoided if only policy makers will have the courage to listen before allowing such a disastrous policy from moving forward? The only way to solve the energy problem is for governments to get out of the way, allow innovators to innovate, and let the free market pick the winners and losers.

Hat Tip: Cato Daily Dispatch

Why Can’t Government Deal In Cyberspace?

As a member of the internet generation, I do more things online these days than offline. In the world of commerce, there are a host of simple and useful tools, created by companies, that make it very easy for me to accomplish what I want to accomplish. Need a map? Google. Need information on where to go for dinner & drinks, and then what entertainment to take my wife to celebrate special occasions? Citysearch, ticketmaster, etc. Hotels, airfare, and vacations? A host of sites provide me with information, pricing, and simple booking. I can communicate with fellow homebrewers or fellow Boilermakers on a number of message boards. Buying and selling of goods and services can be done on a host of sites (my favorite being craigslist). Even banking, a form of commerce as old as money, is available and convenient online. I can’t remember the last time I actually wrote a check, stuck it in an envelope, added a stamp, and sent it off to pay my bills.

But when it comes to making things easier for “consumers”, one area of our society lags far, far behind: the government. Outside of a few bright spots, government-service web sites are largely cumbersome and useless. Why? Well, the economist points us at the usual suspects: lack of competition, lack of accountability, and a tendency to spend money without actually ensuring the results are achieved.

Governments have few direct rivals. Amazon.com must outdo other online booksellers to win readers’ money. Google must beat Yahoo!. Unless every inch of such companies’ websites offers stellar clarity and convenience, customers go elsewhere. But if your country’s tax-collection online offering is slow, clunky or just plain dull, then tough. When Britain’s Inland Revenue website crashed on January 31st—the busiest day of its year—the authorities grudgingly gave taxpayers one day’s grace before imposing penalties. They did not offer the chance to pay tax in Sweden instead.

But shame and beauty contests are still weak forces in the public sector. Failure in bureaucracy means not bankruptcy but writing self-justifying memos, and at worst a transfer elsewhere. Bureaucrats plead that just a bit more time and money will fix the clunky monsters they have created. That kind of thinking has led to the botched computerisation in Britain’s National Health Service, where billions of pounds and millions of precious hours are spent on a system that at best will be substandard and at worst dangerously leaky with patients’ private medical data.

That reflects another problem. In the private sector, tight budgets for information technology spark innovation. But bureaucrats are suckers for overpriced, overpromised and overengineered systems. The contrast is all the sharper given some of the successes shown by those using open-source software: the District of Columbia, for example, has junked its servers and proprietary software in favour of the standard package of applications offered and hosted by Google.

Not that such an indictment of the system will surprise any regular readers of this web site, of course. Systems don’t work when the incentives don’t force them to work, and the political incentive to operate efficiently simply doesn’t exist. I would, of course, add one additional point. I added emphasis to the article’s point on bureaucrats’ use of overpriced, overpromised, and overengineered systems. In addition, it’s quite often that these systems are not chosen for their technical fit in the required application, but are chosen because of who is supplying the system, and what politicians they have lobbied. Or, as is common in the military, the politically-correct need to source products from “small disadvantaged businesses” leads to perverse incentives, where either sub-optimal solutions are chosen, or the implemented solution has needless overhead in the cost because it must be purchased through a qualifying distributor.

As is usually the case with government, it’s not that incompetence or malfeasance is the direct cause of the failure of a system. It’s that the system is not designed to operate in the way we expect it to. Our elected officials and the bureaucrats they appoint are not supermen. In fact, those who believe the internet is a series of tubes simply shouldn’t be expected to implement sound e-government policies.

Quote Speech Of The Day

Two Hundred thirty-three years ago today, Patrick Henry delivered his most famous speech:

No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony. The questing before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the House. Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne! In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free– if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending–if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained–we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!

They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable–and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace– but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

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