Monthly Archives: March 2008

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. 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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