Monthly Archives: February 2009

The Silver Lining Of Libertarianism

Kevin Drum wonders why Republicans are recalcitrant obstructionists:

Republican senators have a modest proposal for Hilda Solis: that if she’s confirmed as Labor Secretary, she recuse herself from any advocacy for the Employee Free Choice Act.

That’s quite the suggestion. Rather like asking Robert Gates not to advocate for the armed forces, or Judd Gregg not to champion American business, or President Obama’s environmental picks not to support stricter fuel-efficiency standards. But then, Republicans’ opposition to unions is close to clinically pathological.

These guys just don’t know when to quit. Don’t they ever get embarrassed by this stuff?

You know, one of the advantages to being a libertarian is that I’ll never have to complete intellectual backflips to support my guys playing political games while then deriding my opponents’ guys for playing political games. Changing your morality to support your guys in power isn’t necessary when you’ll never have guys in power.

Quote Of The Day

Will Wilkinson, on the Democrat [and media’s] spin regarding the stimulus package:

It’s Porkulus or starvation, nation. Choose sides carefully.

The statists have honestly succeeded in framing the debate this way. Thus, those of us who are against the stimulus are accused of being willing to wreck the economy rather than engage in a little deficit spending. Protestations of distrust in the efficacy of the stimulus, or even arguments that it’ll make the problem worse, are unheeded. The left says it’s this stimulus or it’s economic depression, and we’ve let them get away with that characterization.

Hat Tip: dispatches from TJICistan

UPDATE 2/6 10:52 AM: Fixed a glaring misuse of words… Thanks for catching that, Akston!

1,000,000

Early this morning, The Liberty Papers recorded our millionth unique visitor. A visitor from Terre Haute, Indiana. I’ve got fond memories of Terre Haute; from a mardi gras party at Rose-Hulman [I attended Purdue, but visited a friend there] and a visiting Indiana State coed… But that’s a story for another time.

The Liberty Papers was started in November 2005, just over three years ago. In the interim, we’ve written almost 3,000 posts, had nearly 27,000 comments, and the blog has grown from a little outpost on the libertarian frontier to at least a midsized suburb around the libertarian center of action.

I’d like to thank the contributors of this blog, both past and present, for everything they’ve done to make this site what it is today. I’d also like to thank the regular readers and commenters for helping to make this a conversation. Finally, of course, I’d like to thank the founder of the site, Eric, for having the thought to create The Liberty Papers in the first place.

Where are we headed in the future? I’m not sure that the roadmap is clear, but I do know that we’re kicking around ideas. We’d like to see The Liberty Papers ascend to become a more regular stop for those who appreciate liberty, as well as a site where our political opponents are welcomed for cordial debate. We’ll continue to work hard at what we do, and to try to expand the scope with new ideas and new contributors over time, and hope that one day The Liberty Papers will move out of the ‘burbs and into a mid-town high-rise.

A Tenth Amendment victory?

This may be the only time that President Obama doesn’t try to undermine the sovereignty of individual states granted by the Tenth Amendment, but I’ll take it:

Drug Enforcement Administration agents this week raided four medical marijuana shops in California, contrary to President Obama’s campaign promises to stop the raids.

The White House said it expects those kinds of raids to end once Mr. Obama nominates someone to take charge of DEA, which is still run by Bush administration holdovers.

“The president believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws, and as he continues to appoint senior leadership to fill out the ranks of the federal government, he expects them to review their policies with that in mind,” White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said.

Medical use of marijuana is legal under the law in California and a dozen other states, but the federal government under President Bush, bolstered by a 2005 Supreme Court ruling, argued that federal interests trumped state law.

Unfortunately, people like Charles Lynch (his story has been covered by Reason) are facing jail time for operating legally under California state law, but against federal laws (Lynch was convicted on federal charges).

Another point to be made is that Obama actually shares common ground some of the “conservative” members of the Supreme Court who voted in favor of state sovereignty in Gonzales v. Raich. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his dissent, “Our federalist system, properly understood, allows California and a growing number of other States to decide for themselves how to safeguard the health and welfare of their citizens.”

The Democrat is more for “state’s rights” (I don’t like that term) than his Republican predecessor. Who would of bet on that?

Open Thread — Gas Prices

When oil went into freefall, dropping from $147/bbl last year into the $40/bbl range, I wasn’t surprised to see gas make an enormous downward trend, and (as usual) trail the oil price by 1-2 weeks.

But since then, I’ve seen little appreciable movement in the oil price, but gas has been trending back upwards (at least here in south Orange County, CA). At the trough, gas was about $1.79/gallon locally, and it’s moved up to about $2.23/gallon. These are same-store prices, for a station I pass every day to/from work. Other stations have seemed to follow a similar trend.

So, for that, I have two questions:

1. Is this gas behavior common nationwide? I know there are a lot of reasons why the California gas market are screwed up, so if other areas of the country aren’t seeing this, I won’t be overly surprised.
2. Why is this occurring? What are the market forces driving the gasoline upward in price while the oil price has remained low?

There are a lot of potential thoughts — overshoot on the downtrend, increased demand, etc. But with oil stagnant, I don’t see (and haven’t adequately studied) the change, so I’m relying on The Liberty Paper’s readership to offer your thoughts.

Off Topic Public Service: Parents Please Watch Your Children

As a father of a toddler, when I heard this story on the radio this morning, I was completely heartbroken for this mother:

SANTA ANA, Calif. — Authorities are investigating the death of a 4-year Mission Viejo girl who was killed at home when she climbed into a front-loading washing machine that 15-month-old brother turned on.

Kayley Ishii was taken to Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center about 3 p.m. Monday and died at 8:30 p.m., said Jim Amormino of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Her 15-month-old brother either bumped or pushed the button to start the machine.

Amormino said the machine’s controls were only 20 inches from the floor and the start switch was a simple push button. The girl was in the water-filled, tumbling machine for at least two minutes before her mother found her.

An autopsy Tuesday found Kayley died of blunt force trauma and the death was ruled accidental.

The girl’s mother was home at the time, Amormino said.

I know that some might be quick to blame the mother for the child’s death but remember, the little girl was only in the washing machine for about 2 minutes before her mother found her and 2 minutes was all the time that was needed to take the girl’s life. Anyone who has young children should understand how easy it is to lose track of their whereabouts and activities for such a short time.

So how can such tragedies be prevented in the future? It’s not government regulations such as safety locks*.

The only answer as far as I can tell is for parents to be even more attentive and vigilant than they already are. Tragedies like this will still happen but it’s my hope that others will be prevented due to this story.

» Read more

Utah To Replace Private Club Booze With Big Brother Booze?

After reason.tv’s first foray into the explanation of the idiocy of Utah’s blue laws, the Hit&Run blog has followed it up with Utah’s proposal to finally end the “Private Club” craziness that they put people through. But is the cure worse than the disease?

A plan to do away with Utah’s private club law and replace it with electronic identity checks has the backing of Utah bar owners.

But they’re troubled that the card scans could gather thousands of names and addresses of their patrons and dump them into a law-enforcement database.

Under his plan, everyone entering a club, whether they’re 21 or 101, would have to swipe their identification to verify it is genuine. The patron’s name, address, driver license number and date of birth would be logged into the database, along with the time and place they were drinking.

That information would be saved for somewhere between 10 days and 30 days — Valentine hasn’t decided yet — and then be purged.

Valentine said the scanning would help cut down on underage drinking and could give investigators a tool, if a patron leaves the bar and causes an accident, to show where and when the person was drinking.

It could also be used in traffic stops. If an officer suspected a driver might have been drinking, the officer could run the license and determine if the driver was coming from a bar.

Why stop at time and place they were drinking? Why not have it log each drink they buy? Perhaps those who drink “too much” can get be referred to the Mormon church — they’re undoubtedly in need of “saving”, are they not?

And how will this work for out-of-staters? Will these scanners be completely updated with all 50 states’ license barcodes (for those who have them)? Or is this just assuming that something like REAL ID will end up going through, and the figure they’ll have the data they need?

If this goes through, I might as well stop going to any bars with this requirement if I go to Utah. I’m just not willing to put myself through that. No Polygamy Porter for me, I guess…

Even worse? This proposed change hasn’t softened the anti-alcohol forces one bit:

Art Brown, president of the Salt Lake County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said he would like to see the card scans with the central database on top of the existing private club laws.

Wouldn’t it be nice if some of these folks simply came out and stated the true purpose? They want to bring back Prohibition.

“Socialism on Trial” Will Necessitate Republican Defendants

About the direction the Republican Party should take, Craig Shirley said:

“The 2008 campaign was never an honest choice between conservatism and liberalism. Really, it was just a referendum on George Bush,” said Craig Shirley, a consultant and author of a forthcoming book on the 1980 presidential campaign.

Shirley thinks equating Democratic values with socialism is a formula for victory. “What Republicans want to do and need to do is put socialism on trial,” he said.

“Socialism has been a conservative talking point since the late 1880s,” one House GOP aide added.

“As a populist anti-Washington party, we’ve always done best,” Shirley continued.

Being out of power allows Republicans to explore a populist side they were unable to with the previous administration.

While I certainly don’t agree with many other items on the GOP agenda, I found this advice sage enough to try to convince members of the right to heed Shirley’s words.  However, if socialism is to be placed on trial, we should probably take a quick peek at who some of the indicted co-conspirators will be:

Former President George W. Bush

Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin

Governor Mike Huckabee

Governor Bob Riley

A sizable stack of GOP governors

A probable stack of GOP senators

Mind you, this is just a very short list.  For example, one would need to look carefully at each and every Republican legislator who voted for any of Bush’s bloated spending packages.  When John McCain referred to Barack Obama as a socialist, most libertarians I know just laughed.  As the old saying goes, “It takes one to know one.”

H/T to The Other McCain

Obama-little — Economic Sky Is Falling If Stimulus Doesn’t Pass Soon

Obama: “We need to do something!”
Congress: “This is something.”
Obama: “That’s good enough for me.”

The president rejected several complaints about the plan, including arguments that tax cuts alone would solve the problem or that longer-term goals such as energy independence and health care reform should wait. Obama opposed such piecemeal approaches.

Instead, he argued that recalcitrant lawmakers need to get behind him, saying the American people embraced his ideas when they elected him president in November.

“A failure to act, and act now, will turn crisis into a catastrophe and guarantee a longer recession, a less robust recovery, and a more uncertain future,”

Just how does this square with his own quotes, as Reason points out:

Last fall Barack Obama said the nation’s economic troubles had occurred because “everyone was living beyond their means,” including politicians who “spent money they didn’t have.” Last month he regretted “our collective failure to make hard choices” and heralded “a new era of responsibility.”

So which is it, Mr. President? Should we rush headlong into a stimulus bill without major debate, a bill that appears to be little more than a giveaway of pork to industries already reeling with cholesterol from the Bush days? Or should we make some “tough decisions” about “spending money we don’t have”? Perhaps we should usher in a new era of fiduciary responsibility to follow the spendthrift ways of your predecessor?

I seem to remember the Democrats showing regret after the Patriot Act was passed, suggesting that it was offered up in haste and crisis by Bush, and that they’d wished they’d debated it a little bit more. Now that their own is in power, will we actually see the promised “change”?

Managing to Fail

The alarmist, emotionally manipulative tone, and shallow nature of this report offends me; but I have to say, if anything, the picture they paint of DHLs operations is actually nowhere near bad enough. They’re only focusing on the impact of the closure here without ever asking why.

I know from the inside.

I was a contractor at DHL for over a year (and excuse me if I’m a bit vague. I have to be careful what I say and how I say it, so as not to violate my confidentiality agreements). During that time, I and my team re-architected their entire security infrastructure; along with much of their data warehousing operations, and the open systems components of their dispatch and tracking systems. We made several hundred million dollars in capital expenditures, and spent well over a hundred thousands man hours (at anywhere from $75 to $150 an hour) in doing so.

At the end of the project, what we had was 4 or 5 times more efficient and effective than what they had before, and would have saved the company hundreds of millions of dollars; and they scrapped it, because it would have cost several hundred jobs in Germany and the EU.

Instead, they took a special inter-EU deal with the Czech Republic, and started over from the beginning; spending several hundred million more dollars to redo the work we had already done (and several billion dollars in total), only with mostly EU workers, in Prague.

DHL took a profitable, growing, fortune 500 business in Airborne Express; and they ran it into the ground from the beginning.

I don’t believe I’m violating my confidentiality agreements to tell you that DHL was the worst managed company I have ever seen; and that’s really saying something, as I’ve worked primarily in financial, medical, defense, and government.

The essential conflict was that at all times, DHL was managing to the interests not of making the American operations successful (or rather keeping those operations successful, as they had been originally); but of protecting the jobs of German workers, in Germany.

I’m dead serious. Every single decision management made was expressly in the best interests of German workers (or to a lesser extent Swiss workers, formerly of Danzas overocean); not for the company as a whole, not for profit, not for any benefit to the American operations.

During the time I was there, it was entirely acceptable to spend a million dollars to protect a single German job. We constantly had to work around the systems they had in place, and go through these arcane rules for finance, staffing, personal interactions… everything.

On the other side of things, we couldn’t EVER do anything more efficient if it would threaten a single German job. The company would rather lose ten million dollars, than a single German job; and that is no exaggeration. We presented management with many such opportunities, and in every case, the decision was made to protect German jobs rather than the company.

In the process, all the contracts and relationships that Airborne had built up over the years in the fulfillment industry, in the computing industry (EVERYONE used to use Airborne for their RMAs), in the film industry, in heavy shipping; all of them were flushed down the toilet.

Every interaction DHL had with its major customers, and its major vendors, was loaded with arrogance and condescension. Everything was slow and ponderous and loaded with red tape and doubletalk. Everything had ridiculous reams of paperwork and layers of approval and huge convoluted contracts associated with it.

Why?

Because DHL is a division of the “Private” (private in name only) German company Deutsche Post; who assumed the German postal monopoly. I say private in name only, because controlling interest in the company is held by the German state owned “development bank”.

The entire ethos of the company was that of a civil service, semi-socialist, state sponsored monopoly. All major decisions were made by German (and other EU) bureaucrats, guided by that ethos. They managed not as businessmen running a business, but as politicians pandering to their constituents.

This is what happens when the state controls private businesses. Every time. The state acts in the interest of the state, not of the business; and that business will fail, in this case taking an Ohio town down with it.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Threat Of Budget Cuts Always Hit The Popular Programs

Michigan’s in some trouble, and as usual, when government starts threatening budget cuts, it’s always to the programs people like:

Under Granholm’s proposal, this year’s Michigan State Fair, which runs Aug. 28 to Sept. 7 at the corner of Eight Mile and Woodward Avenue in Detroit, would be the last after 160 years. The state is already in discussions to sell or lease the 164-acre parcel.

The prospect of closing the fair is painful to longtime fairgoers, who came every year to see the “World’s Largest Stove,” the storied band shell and the popular Miracle of Life exhibit where children can see farm animals born.

“I love it all. We sit out there in our wheelchairs all day and see the sights,” said Irma Henderson, 72, of Detroit, who has shown her quilts at the fair. “It’s the only thing I look forward to in the summer. Why is the governor taking the State Fair away from us seniors?”

Ahh, yes… Because when the State stops throwing huge expensive parties, it’s ‘taking something away’. Especially when budgets come up, the government “tries” to axe the politically popular programs. The goal is to get enough of an uproar from the public that they don’t have to cut anything. It’s the typical false dilemma fallacy, where the choice is cut here or don’t cut at all.

The article points out, though, that maybe this is a time to call their bluff. The State Fair is superfluous in a state which hosts several agricultural fairs, including one at a state university much closer to the ag centers of Michigan. Detroit is not very near to the center of agriculture, and most Detroit residents aren’t farmers.

If Governor Granholm is really trying to make a tough political call here, more power to her. But if not — if she’s just trying to send up a political weather balloon — I hope it crashes down on her head. She can be known throughout Michigan as the grinch who stole the State Fair.

Hat Tip: dispatches from TJICistan

Execute Michael Phelps

I’ll assume that US News and World Report writer Mary Kate Cary despises the people on this list (which was provided by Radley Balko):

Barack Obama, president-elect.  Bill Clinton, 42nd president of the U.S.  John Kerry, U.S. Senator and 2004 Democratic nominee for president.  John Edwards, multi-millionaire, former U.S. Senator, and 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president.  Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, 2008 Republican nominee for vice president.  British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly, and and Chancellor Alistair DarlingJosh Howard, NBA all-star.  New York Governor David Paterson.  Former Vice President, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Oscar winner Al Gore.  Former Sen. Bill Bradley, who smoked while playing professional basketball.  Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and former New York Governor George Pataki. Billionaire and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Cary probably hates George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor, and Franklin Pierce, too (source).

After all, here’s what Cary has to say about Michael Phelps (and the people who defend him):

Does she not realize how many middle- and high-school kids look up to Michael Phelps? That he’s on the front of Wheaties boxes right now? That we all warn our kids about the dangers of drug use? Most parents find that photo sad and disappointing and will use it as a Teachable Moment for teenagers. What Michael Phelps did was a shame, but adults’ defending—and even encouraging—his drug use are far more shameful.

The last time I checked, that Obama guy has a much more important position than being a silly Wheaties model.  Same for those assorted Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, etc. guys.

However, there is another reason to go after Phelps.  He’s the perfect poster child for Marijuana Amotivational Syndrome.

For a verrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyyy long list of Cheetos-eating slackers just like Phelps, check out this list (and read all of the comments).

Disclaimer: While I have smoked marijuana (and did inhale), it just ain’t my thang.  For those of you looking to buy me a birthday or Christmas present, here‘s my drug of choice.

“They Still End Up Gettin’ Drunk” In Utah

Utah is a beautiful state. I have traveled there quite a few times over the last few years — I”ll be there next week, in fact — and am always struck by the amazing scenery available just traveling in the Salt Lake City area. I’ve driven through the salt flats, and have stayed up in Park City (albeit during the summer, not for skiing/snowboarding). It’s a gorgeous state. It’s also the fastest-growing state in the US, and has a strong growing business climate (which is what brings me there).

As a homebrewer and beer connoisseur, though, Utah doesn’t suit me. The domination of the state by the Mormon church has led to some of the most draconian alcohol laws in the US. My former home, Atlanta, although known itself for some strange blue laws, looks like Vegas when compared to Salt Lake City. In Utah, even homebrewing is illegal.

Luckily, it is not a dry state. Liquor is allowed, but the myriad of strange laws restricting its sale — described below by the bartender interviewed by Reason.tv’s Ted Balaker — are quite confusing. The below even leaves out the requirement of “joining the private club” within most bars in order to have access to the good stuff.

And as the bartender says, it doesn’t seem to stop anyone who desires from getting drunk. But I’m sure the Utah Department Of Alcoholic Beverage Control staff feel really good about their mission.

“Swing Vote” On The Economic Stimulus

The improbable plot of Swing Vote, where a small-town man somehow becomes the deciding vote in a Presidential election — causing the candidates and media to swarm him like, well, politicians for votes — may be becoming reality. While I haven’t seen the movie, my understanding is that the character of Bud, played by Kevin Costner, realizes the gravity of the situation and reaches out to the rest of the country for help with his decision.

One thinks, though, that the real version may not be so heartfelt and reflective:

When GOP congressional aides gather Tuesday morning for a meeting of the Conservative Working Group, Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher – more commonly known as Joe the Plumber — will be their featured guest. This group is an organization of conservative Capitol Hill staffers who meet regularly to chart GOP strategy for the week.

Wurzelbacher, who became a household name during the presidential election, will be focusing his talk on the proposed stimulus package. He’s apparently not a fan of the economic rescue package, according to members of the group.

I’m as aware as anyone of the danger of letting well-meaning technocrats “run” the country. They often weight their own beliefs too heavily, and discount the criticisms of those opposed. Whether Republican or Democrat, they walk into the echo chamber and eventually start to believe their own bullshit. It’s one of the primary ways we get bad policy.

The answer, though, is not then to turn to a plumber whose chief determining characteristic — in the mold of Sarah Palin — is that he’s an “everyman” with no real expertise. If you can’t trust the experts, neither can you trust the novices. The problem of government isn’t whether it’s an expert or a novice wielding power; it’s that the power wielded is too great to be fully understood be either.

Joe the Plumber is going to be lecturing the Republicans on economic stimulus, and they think this will help get them back into power?

Hat Tip: Economist’s Free Exchange blog, and later on my co-blogger Doug’s site.

The Latest Stimu-pork Earmark

Louisiana Looter, I mean Senator, Mary Landrieu has asked for nearly a doubling of the Army Corps of Engineers budget for more “flood control projects” (ie. pork barrel spending). The earmark is not intended to create any jobs immediately, but instead to repay Louisiana’s political bosses for helping her get reelected last year.

Louisiana’s “conservative” and “reformer” Governor Bobby Jindal, while supposedly against the stimu-pork bill, is willing and ready to slop at the Federal trough as well. For those who don’t really follow Bobby Jindal, such profiles in courage are common from him.

Meanwhile in the House of Representatives, six out of seven Louisiana Congressmen opposed the stimu-pork bill.

Landrieu and Jindal should ask themselves who really represents Louisiana, them or the six out of seven Congressmen who opposed the pork bill?

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.

Administration Declares War On Middle Class Dissatisfaction

…or something like that:

For years, we had a White House that failed to put the middle class front and center in its economic policies.

President Barack Obama has made it clear that is going to change. And it’s why he’s asked me to lead a task force on the middle class.

America’s middle class is hurting. Trillions of dollars in home equity and retirement savings and college savings are gone. And every day, more and more Americans are losing their jobs.

For the backbone of America, it’s insult on top of injury. Over the course of America’s last economic expansion, the middle class participated in very few of the benefits. But now in the midst of this historic economic downturn, the middle class sure is participating in all of the pain. Something is seriously wrong when the economic engine of this nation – the great middle class – is treated this way.

[wipes tear from eye] I feel so, so, so loved! They really do care about me!

Does this mean I’ll get my billion of stimulus money? Because I know in the next few years, I’m going to be paying for it. As Bill Cosby once explained — because they come for the “regular people” first:

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