Monthly Archives: November 2011

Climate Gate 2.0 – What is it, why does it matter?

The hacker or whistle-blower who leaked a tranche of emails several years ago has struck again, releasing 5,500 emails and an encrypted set of 22,000 emails into the Internet. The proponents of Anthropogenic Global Warming are claiming it is old news, with emails being taken out of context and that due to the number of investigations that exonerated the scientists involved, the matter should be ignored.

This is very wrong. The emails are worth studying in full, because they raise very serious questions about the credibility of the IPCC, the journals publishing papers on climatology, the government scientific bodies commissioning research into climate and the news organizations covering them.

Moreover, the emails call into disrepute the assertion, frequently made, that the warming of the climate over the past century is known to be “unprecedented”. While it is possible that it is unprecedented, we do not know this for certain, since the proofs advanced are provably flawed. » Read more

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.
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Book Review: Slackernomics, by Dale Franks

Those of you that have been around the libertarian blogosphere for any length of time will recognize the name Dale Franks. His main writing gig is over at QandO, where he spends the bulk of his time writing about the economy. In addition, he’s a bit of a gunblogger, and runs a separate blog for motorcycles.

At one point a few years ago I had noticed a link to a book Dale has written called Slackernomics: Basic Economics for People Who Think Economics is Boring. Given that I’m not the type who thinks economics is boring, but had enjoyed his blogging, I wanted to get a chance to read it. At that time, the book was only available in print at a price above $20. It took a spot on my “buy when I get around to it list”, and sat there for quite some time, but I never pulled the trigger. Then, more recently, it became avaiable for the Kindle at only $2.99 — I no longer had an excuse not to buy it. So onto the Kindle it went, and after several long months of sitting there taking up space, I’ve finally gotten around to reading it.

Slackernomics is a primer on basic economic theory that, as the title suggests, is written for people who think economics is boring. It’s written in a convivial tone, and the illustrative examples that Dale uses reminds one more of Freakonomics than of Adam Smith. Don’t let that fool you, though — the book is not a “sideshow” like Freakonomics — it gets to the heart of the matter. I liken it to be similar to Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics in one Lesson”, but written for people who may not be interested in the more formal writing style of Hazlitt. In addition, having been written many decades after Hazlitt’s book, it’s obviously much more up to date.

The book covers everything from price theory, minimum wage & rent control to monetary theory and the business cycle, Keynesianism, taxes / deficit spending, savings & investment, and economic statistics. He continues with a great defense of free trade and a bit of entrance into politics (touching a tad on public choice theory). In all, for being a relatively short book, he hits all the major notes that anyone looking for an introduction to economic thought would need to learn.

But the big question, for readers of this blog, is whether it’s worth it to buy. “Am I going to learn anything new?” And I can honestly say that despite the fact that I read economic books & blogs for leisure, and that I’ve blogged a fair bit about economics myself, I learned some new things from Slackernomics. Dale’s fourth chapter, unwinding the mess of the myriad of economic reports and statistics he’s constantly posting on Twitter, Google+, and at QandO, was wonderful. I’ve looked at many of these reports merely reading analysts *reaction* to the numbers (Higher jobless claims? How unexpected!), but rarely understood which group (public or private) was putting out certain reports nor how they all fit together. For me, a layman who is conversant on a lot of economic theory but not as perhaps on the technical reports, I have never seen an explanation of the reports that come out each week and each month as simple and readable as that chapter. That was more than worth it for my $2.99.

So my recommendation is simple: at $2.99, if you have a Kindle (or a device with a Kindle app), it’s hard to pass it up. You’re almost assured to get your money’s worth from the book. Even further, if you know someone in high school or college that may not have received good schooling in economics (which is, unfortunately, most of them), and who isn’t exactly about to tackle The Wealth of Nations, find a way to get them a copy of Slackernomics. Dale’s writing style will keep them interested.

All in all, it’s a book that lives up to its title, and goes well beyond.

Tweet of the Day: #heblowsalot Edition

“Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.”

I designated the above tweet by 18 year-old high school senior Emma Sullivan tweet of the day, not due to the content itself (it’s actually quite juvenile), but for her refusal to write an insincere apology letter to Gov. Brownback under pressure from her principal.

Go here for the rest of the story.

Ron Paul CNN National Security Debate Highlights and Observations

For those of us who value our liberties, there were a plethora of things said in last night’s debate from candidates not named Ron Paul to be very distressed about. For starters, there was the debate about the USA PATRIOT Act and whether it should be renewed, strengthened, or abolished. Unsurprisingly, Paul explained how civil liberties have eroded due to the act and lamented how willing the other candidates were to surrender even more liberty in the name of security. Paul held up Timothy McVeigh as an example of a terrorist who was tried in the traditional criminal justice system and ultimately convicted. In response, Newt Gingrich said “Timothy McVeigh succeeded.” (How he would have stopped the OKC bombings is anyone’s guess but I can’t imagine it would have been inside the framework of the Bill of Rights.) Paul’s response was spot on.

Then Rick Santorum advocated the notion of racial, religious, and ethnic profiling. Paul once again brought up Timothy McVeigh as an example of someone who would not have fit Santorum’s profile and pointed out some of the “careless use of words” being used by the other candidates (i.e. “we are at war,” naming individuals “terrorists” without due process etc.) is further compromising our liberty.

Other topics included Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the foregone conclusion that the U.S. should intervene anywhere and everywhere there is a regime our government doesn’t like, the assumption that not a single penny should be cut from the “national defense” budget, and the drug war violence in Mexico (I really wish someone would have brought up Fast and Furious).

Overall, the debate was very unsettling but Ron Paul once again was the voice of reason and responded well to his challengers.

Reducing OWS Economic Equality Demands to Their Absurd Conclusions

While I’m sympathetic and agree with some of Occupy Wall Street’s grievances, too many of their solutions are fatally flawed. Louis DeBroux over at United Liberty has written some grade A quality snark concerning OWS’s demands for economic equality. DeBroux says he had an epiphany while watching some of the ESPN coverage concerning the NBA lockout: what if the NBA adopted the OWS model?

The most obvious reform he mentioned would be to pay all the players equally regardless of talent and contribution to his team. But why stop with pay? Why not change the rules of the game itself in the name of fairness:

This new equality should not be limited to just to salaries though; it should extend to the basketball court. While winning is fun, losing just stinks. It makes the losers feel like, well, losers. Sometimes players even cry when they lose. It hurts their self esteem and makes them feel inferior to the winners. To solve this horrible injustice, I propose that at halftime of each game, the total points scored by that time be redistributed equally among the players of both teams. Then, with one second left on the clock, just before the game ends, the head referee will call time out and the official scorekeeper will once again redistribute the points evenly among the players of both teams.

Think how great this would be! Everyone that plays will be the high scorer. Never again will an NBA player experience the sadness of losing! Every team will be the L.A. Lakers or Boston Celtics, and no team will have to feel like the Washington Wizards or Toronto Raptors. Every team will go 82-0, and every player will be an MVP! It’s perfect! Just like PC-kiddie-soccer leagues, everyone is a winner and everyone gets a trophy. Isn’t this awesome?

Obviously, this would be the death of sports if such changes were implemented. As awful as that would be, DeBroux points out life and death consequences if the notion of competition was taken out of our culture completely:

There might be the occasional sacrifice that hits closer to home when little Sally, who always wanted to be a surgeon but could never quite remember the names and anatomical characteristics of the various human organs, accidentally mistakes the aorta for the appendix and snips that sucker right out of there. Oops! That’s gonna make a mess! Alas, poor mom, we loved you and will miss you, but the loss of your life was the acceptable price for keeping Sally’s self-esteem intact by letting her become the surgeon she always wanted to be, even if she never quite mastered the minutiae of performing surgery.

We would be all worse off to be sure, but hey, at least we would all be equal!

The Johnson Campaign Perpetuates the “Public Airways” Myth in Response to Latest Debate Exclusion

There’s very little doubt in my mind that the MSM and the G.O.P establishment have been doing all they can to keep certain candidates from challenging the establishment and ultimately win the nomination. Early in the campaign I wrote a response to Hugh Hewitt’s post where he suggested that the RNC should exile Herman Cain, Gary Johnson, and Ron Paul from the remaining debates. His argument was that these were all “marginal” “1%er’s”* who “don’t have a prayer” of winning the nomination.

Isn’t it interesting that “1%er” Ron Paul has won several straw polls and has even cracked the top 3 or 4 at various points during the campaign and is almost always polling in the double digits? Ron Paul is hardly a 1%er despite efforts on the part of the sponsors to limit his exposure (in the most recent debate, Paul had a whopping 89 seconds to make his case on national television).

Then there’s Herman Cain the other “marginal” candidate who until the most recent couple of weeks following accusations (whether legitimate or not) of sexual harassment along with some other missteps on foreign policy was neck and neck with the establishment favorite Mitt Romney. Cain may have fallen from grace but he isn’t a 1%er without a prayer of winning neither.

The only one of the three who is truly a 1%er unfortunately is Gov. Gary Johnson. Of the three Johnson is the only one who has been successfully excluded from all but two of the nationally televised debates. Up to this point, the Johnson campaign has encouraged supporters to write and call the debate sponsors to encourage them to reconsider but to no avail. In true libertarian freedom of association fashion, Johnson, though disappointed with his exclusion, respected the right of the debate sponsors to exclude him.

Now it seems the Johnson campaign has had enough with The Gary Johnson Rule and it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy. The Johnson campaign has now filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in response to Johnson’s most recent exclusion from the South Carolina CBS debate.

Here are some excerpts from the complaint filed with the FEC:

On Saturday, November 12, 2011 Respondent CBS televised on its national network another debate, but instead of including all leading candidates has elected to arbitrarily and capriciously exclude some candidates and include others. In so doing, CBS is, without any other explanation, choosing to support certain candidates. By excluding viable candidates like Complainant, who has been included by cable networks in their debates CBS is directly and significantly supporting those candidates it favors, and advocating the nomination of one of their favorites and opposing the nomination of Complainant, whom CBS evidently disfavors. In so doing, CBS is making an illegal corporate in-kind contribution to those favored candidates. The value of this contribution vastly exceeds the contribution limit that applies to any category of lawful donor.

2 U.S.C. §431 (8) (A) (i) defines a “contribution” as “any gift, subscription, loan, advance, or deposit of money or anything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office.” No rational person could possibly argue that exposure during an hour-long debate televised in prime time on the CBS network is NOT something of value. Indeed, CBS sells advertising spots during prime time for huge sums, and makes and reaps significant revenues in doing so. By any standard, this airtime is a thing of value within the ambit of that phrase in this statute. If all viable candidates were being included in the debate that might lead to a different conclusion, but by excluding candidates CBS disfavors –opposes—and including those it favors –supports—Respondent is violating the Act.

I believe the Johnson campaign has a very valid point in this complaint to the FEC. Whether we like the campaign finance laws or not, Johnson is bound by them and must abide by them; it only seems fair that CBS must be legally obligated to follow them as well.

Gov. Johnson’s complaint to the FCC, however; is much more bothersome IMHO.

Here are some excerpts (from the same link as above) from the FCC complaint [Much of the language in the FCC complaint is identical to that of the FEC so I’ve omitted those parts]:

The Federal Communications Commission has the authority to regulate fair access to the airwaves of broadcast by network television networks.

[…]

The public owns the airways over which CBS broadcasts, and the public deserves to be free from bias- favoring some candidates over others- as well as illegal support of certain presidential candidates on national network television. Unfair access to the airwaves of broadcast by network television is clearly an issue within the FCC’s mandate. The illegal corporate contribution CBS is making in including some candidates and not others is addressed in a separate formal complaint to the Federal Elections Commission. The FCC should take appropriate action against CBS.

The public owns the airwaves? Yes, I understand that this is the accepted conventional wisdom but this is not something I would have expected from perhaps** the most libertarian leaning candidate to ever seek the nomination for the Republican Party!

I fully and completely understand the frustration because as a Gary Johnson supporter, I too am frustrated with how the Johnson campaign has been treated by the establishment. I take it damn personally that the candidate who best advocates and represents my views has been excluded from these debates while big government, freedom hating, torture supporting, war mongering fools like Rick Perry and Rick Santorum make idiotic assertion after idiotic assertion on national television often unchallenged . I often wonder if Johnson might have had similar success as Ron Paul or Herman Cain had his (and by extension, my) voice been heard in these debates.

We will probably never know.

But to write the FCC and make the argument that Gov. Johnson has some sort of right to participate in the debate because the public “owns” the airwaves just makes me cringe. This comes far too close to the so-called “Fairness Doctrine” for my comfort. The public doesn’t own the airwaves, the broadcasters do. CBS buys the licenses and is supported by advertisers – not the public.

If the debate was sponsored and aired on PBS and/or NPR the Johnson campaign would have a legitimate point because those stations are supported by the public (i.e. taxpayers and viewers like you) but this is not what we are talking about here.

Maybe the Johnson campaign believes the ends justify the means but I would rather Gary Johnson lose following his small government principles than win by compromising them.

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Are You or Someone You Know a Victim of the Drone Mentality?

Are you or someone you know a victim of what Glenn Greenwald calls “the drone mentality”?

[Emphasis original]

I was predictably deluged with responses justifying Obama’s drone attacks on the ground that they are necessary to kill The Terrorists. Reading the responses, I could clearly discern the mentality driving them: I have never heard of 99% of the people my government kills with drones, nor have I ever seen any evidence about them, but I am sure they are Terrorists. That is the drone mentality in both senses of the word; it’s that combination of pure ignorance and blind faith in government authorities that you will inevitably hear from anyone defending President Obama’s militarism.

If you are or have been a victim of this mentality don’t feel bad. I was once a victim of this mentality myself. I once believed that the government was completely incompetent domestically but somehow very efficient in its execution of the so-called war on terror.

The article continues [Emphasis original]

As it turns out, it isn’t only the President’s drone-cheering supporters who have no idea who is being killed by the program they support; neither does the CIA itself. […] Obama’s broad standards for when drone strikes are permitted, and noted that the “bulk” of the drone attacks — the bulk of them – “target groups of men believed to be militants associated with terrorist groups, but whose identities aren’t always known.” As Spencer Ackerman put it: “The CIA is now killing people without knowing who they are, on suspicion of association with terrorist groups”; moreover, the administration refuses to describe what it even means by being “associated” with a Terrorist group (indeed, it steadfastly refuses to tell citizens anything about the legal principles governing its covert drone wars).

Kill ‘em all, let [insert deity here] sort ‘em out…is this the policy for combating terrorism now? Is anyone else reading this disturbed by this?

[T]he internal dissent [inside the U.S. government] is grounded in the concern that these drone attacks undermine U.S. objectives by increasing anti-American sentiment in the region (there’s that primitive, inscrutable Muslim culture rearing its head again: they strangely seem to get very angry when foreign governments send sky robots over their countries and blow up their neighbors, teenagers and children)[…] Remember, though: we have to kill The Muslim Terrorists because they have no regard for human life.

Nah, that can’t be it. They hate us because of our freedom. Just ask John Bolton, Rick Santorum, and the rest of the Neocons who are chomping at the bit to start a war with Iran.

How is it that this drone mentality persists and what is the cure?

This is why it’s so imperative to do everything possible to shine a light on the victims of President Obama’s aggression in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere: ignoring the victims, rendering them invisible, is a crucial prerequisite to sustaining propaganda and maintaining support for this militarism (that’s the same reason John Brennan lied — yet again — by assuring Americans that there are no innocent victims of drone attacks). Many people want to hear nothing about these victims — like Tariq — because they don’t want to accept that the leader for whom they cheer and the drone attacks they support are regularly ending the lives of large numbers of innocent people, including children. They believe the fairy tale that the U.S. is only killing Terrorists and “militants” because they want to believe it…

For far too long, I believed this fairy tale myself. I couldn’t handle the truth but I eventually saw the error of my thinking. Government is just as blunt an instrument on foreign battlefields as it is in virtually every domestic aspect of our lives but even more destructive and deadly.

How about you, can you handle the truth?

The truth (according to sources cited in the article) that between 2,359 and 2,959 people (nearly 200 of whom were children) have been killed in 306 documented drone strikes, 85% of which were launched during the administration of the Nobel Peace Prize winner President Barack Obama?

If you are willing to confront the drone mentality head on, I would strongly encourage you to read the rest of Greenwald’s article.

Quote of the Day: Libertarianism Edition

“Liberty. It’s a simple idea, but it’s also the linchpin of a complex system of values and practices: justice, prosperity, responsibility, toleration, cooperation, and peace. Many people believe that liberty is the core political value of modern civilization itself, the one that gives substance and form to all the other values of social life. They’re called libertarians.”

-From Cato Institute’s new website libertarianism.org

I haven’t had much time to check it out yet but I can tell there is some very, very, good stuff there. Essays, video, and audio from great thinkers such as Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, F.A. Hayek, Murray Rothbard (just to name a few) as well as contemporary libertarian thinkers provide something for those who are curious about libertarian ideas and long time libertarians alike.

The Challenge of Creating an Economically Sound, Simpler, and More Just Tax Code (Part 3 of 3)

Part 1
Part 2

The challenge of creating an economically sound, simpler, and more just tax code, be it the existing code, 9-9-9, a flat tax, or a sales tax will remain an impossibility if tax revenues is the only focus of any reform. The problem that dwarfs any notion of how tax policy is implemented is how the money is spent by the government.

As I write this, the national debt is approaching $15 trillion. That’s $47,810 per citizen or $132,927 per tax payer.

Even more staggering, the sum total unfunded liabilities for Social Security and Medicare is just over $116 trillion. The prescription drug part of Medicare is over $20 trillion by itself!

Other than the Federal Reserve creating money out of thin air, what tax policy can possibly begin to support this kind of spending? It seems stupid to even pose the question.

Yet the only answer the Obama administration seems to have to pay down the debt or turn the economy around is to raise taxes on the wealthy and continue the reckless spending. The Republicans for their part offer modest tax cuts and modest spending cuts that will have no noticeable impact on the debt.

It’s high time that we as citizens tell our public servants that the out of control spending has to stop. We must demand serious structural reforms to entitlement programs or phase them out over time.

We must also recognize the difference between military spending and true national defense spending. We can no longer afford to police the world. It’s time to tell Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea, Japan, and others that they are now responsible for their own national defense and domestic security.

That’s just a start; there’s a great deal more spending that should be cut. But before any significant cuts can be made, we need to decide just how much government we want in our lives and what we are each willing to pay. For those who believe that individuals who make under a certain income level should be spared from paying any taxes at all (i.e. too small to tax) maybe it is you who should be out front in demanding a whole lot less government.

The Challenge of Creating an Economically Sound, Simpler, and More Just Tax Code (Part 2 of 3)

Part 1

Is an economically sound, simpler, and more just tax code even possible?

The truth of the matter is that there are too many people on the Left and the Right who do not want a simpler tax code that treats everyone equally.
It’s probably not because the defenders of the existing system necessarily think the existing code is good economic policy nor does a better job funding the federal government. The most likely reasons why there is so much resistance have to do with political pandering, vote buying/special interests, and social engineering.

It’s not too difficult to figure out why the Left panders to the working poor because the poor always outnumber the wealthy regardless of how well the economy is doing overall. What would happen if there was such a tax code where everyone paid the same rate without any tax credits or loopholes and without any hidden or embedded taxes? I’m guessing it would be more difficult to raise taxes on the evil rich if it meant that everyone received the same percentage tax hike. When it comes to the tax code, equality is the very last thing the Left wants.

If there is anything I agree with the Occupy Wall Street crowd or the Left more generally it’s the special treatment politically connected individuals and businesses receive via the tax code and/or subsidies. So you say you want to get money out of politics or do something about the role of corporate lobbyists in Washington?

I do too.

The simple answer IMO is to eliminate all taxes on business and all subsidies that benefit business. If there are no taxes or subsidies, there is no reason for businesses to lobby for special tax treatment or subsidies; the main reason most industries send lobbyists to Washington in the first place. If we would like to go any further in limiting influence of special business interests, maybe just maybe we should get the government out of regulating just about every aspect of business* and restrict the government to its limited constitutional powers. What a novel concept!

Finally there’s the social engineering aspect of the tax code. Frankly, I’m not sure if those on the Left or the Right are worse when it comes to using the tax code as a tool to encourage the American people to engage in particular activities. Even with Perry’s flat tax plans, there are a handful of deductions that are sacred cows. The home interest, charitable giving, and state and local taxes are preserved for those who earn up to $500K. Those who earn under $50K can choose not to file under the 20% rate with a $12,500 per family member deduction (which would eliminate all if not most tax liability under the existing rate for those in this tax bracket). With these deductions as part of the plan, the Perry plan can hardly be called a flat tax.

While I’m critical of keeping these deductions in place (he probably could get by with a smaller rate without the deductions), it’s not difficult to figure out why Gov. Perry keeps them in place. Voters would raise all sorts of hell at the thought these deductions would go away. Maybe there’s a good argument to make that charitable giving should be deducted since these funds help people who might otherwise be on government assistance.

But the home interest deduction? Why is that held sacred? Is there some sort of right for homeowners to get a break because they choose to buy a home rather than rent? I suspect that the realtor and home building lobbies and those in government who truly believe that every person should buy a home perpetuate this notion to a point to where now home owners think they are entitled to this special treatment.

Perhaps the most sacred cow of all of the deductions is the child tax credit. This deduction is a feature of every tax reform I mentioned in part 1 (even the Fair Tax prebate is based on family size). In the last presidential debate, Rick Santorum said in so many words that the federal government should promote families via the tax code.

Is this really the sort of thing the government should be concerned with? Should the amount of taxes an individual pays have anything to do with marital status or number of dependents s/he is supporting? Is it fair to make a single person pay more taxes because s/he doesn’t have dependents?

I don’t think there is an answer that will satisfy everyone.

Part 3
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