Category Archives: Democracy

A Referendum on Secrecy and Entitlement

Virgina Senator Jim Webb offers up one of the best perspectives on Scott Brown’s win tonight:

Calling the race “a referendum not only on health care reform but also on the openness and integrity of our government process” Webb said Democrats need to hold off on further action until Brown is formally sworn in to the chamber.

“It is vital that we restore the respect of the American people in our system of government and in our leaders. To that end, I believe it would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated,” he said.

At the end of the day, I don’t believe health care has much to do with Scott Brown’s win. It may be the issue of the day, but Brown put out a message that resonates much more deeply in the American soul:

GERGEN: If this bill fails, it could well be another 15 years before we see another health care reform in Washington. Are you willing under those circumstances to say ‘I’m going to be the person. I’m I’m going to sit in Teddy Kennedy’s seat, and I’m going to be the person who’s going to block it for another fifteen years.

BROWN: Well, with all due respect it’s not the Kennedy seat, and it’s not the Democrats’ seat — it’s the people’s seat. And they have a chance to send someone down there who’s going to be an independent voter and an independent thinker and to look out for the best interests of the people of Massachusetts.

A month ago, this election was not even on the political radar. Martha Coakley was bound to win because the Democrats were entitled to Ted Kennedy’s seat. It was obvious that the seat would be passed from the Lion of the Senate to a political heir apparent, carrying forth his will for the next two years. How could it be any other way?

The Democrats made the mistake of making public their sense of entitlement. They pounded the idea that it was Ted Kennedy’s seat into the ground. They won in 2008 and they would keep winning. They believed they had the modern equivalent of the Chinese “Mandate of Heaven“.

The people of Massachusetts were ready to begrudgingly accept the inevitability of a Coakley win as little as two weeks ago. Then they heard a message that was as old as the American Republic: Heed no royalty. Scott Brown started campaigning for “the people’s seat” while the king-makers in the Democratic political machine were still crowing about their entitlement to “Ted Kennedy’s seat”.

But the message resonated even more deeply than that. The last decade has been one of secrecy and back-room deals designed to enrich and empower politicians at the expense of the ordinary citizen. Fourteen months ago, Barack Obama won an election on his promise to change that. So far, he has failed to live up to that promise. The people see a government united under a single political party that believes it is entitled to plow through an agenda without scrutiny from the average citizen.

Scott Brown, by running for “the people’s seat” and promising to be “the 41st vote against Obamacare”, provided the people of Massachusetts a chance to send Washington a message on secrecy and entitlement. The message was clear: enough is enough. What are the odds that the triumvirate at the top of the Federal government will heed it?

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Just because people make bad choices…

…Doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have any choice at all. The first freedom is the freedom to fail…

And when it comes to choosing our leaders in this country… whoooo boy have we failed big time, for a long time.

So fellow gunblogger Tam, being an Ovarian American, got a bit tweaked at a comment over at Travis Corcorans site (for those who don’t know, Travis is a somewhat radical libertarian… and for that matter so is Tam) t’other day:

“I think that female suffrage has been an unremitted disaster – all of the socialism that we’ve experienced in the US has happened since, and because women have been allowed to vote.”

Excluding snark, Tams comment boiled down to “correlation does not equal causation”; which normally I am one of the first to trumpet… but in this case there is a causative link… Or at least most major studies of voting demographics seem to show one.

The other part of her comment was that she (nor anyone) shouldn’t be denied the right to vote (which is not, in fact, a right; but a privilege as a member of society. It can be granted by society, taken away by society, and does not exist in any context without society, therefore is not a right.) because of the choices some might make.

And in that, I’m entirely with her.

But we really do need to look at why women, in the significant majority, vote for the nanny state; and on the larger scale in general, why people who vote for nannyism do so.

The three major events or major societal changes in 20th century that did more to advance the nanny government than all other events combined were:

1. World War 1
2. Womens suffrage
3. Massive expansion of university education

I note “directly” above, because indirectly the 16th and 17th amendments (income tax, and direct election of senators) may have had an even greater effect; and enabled and encouraged such nannyism… in fact the current nannystate would be impossible without them… but were not direct contributors to voting for nannyism.. In fact income taxes tend to push voting away from nannyism… at least for those who actually pay those taxes.

I’ve talked about point 1 before (along with about a hundred scholarly books, phd. dissertations etc…). By depriving most of Europe of a full generation of its healthiest, most aggressive, and most ambitious men; an environment was created that was dominated by the risk averse, and those who were hurting and suffering… and the entirety of Europe has never really recovered. Basically, the ’14-’18 war took the guts out of the continent, and they haven’t come back, (bar a minor resurgence for the second great war… and it sadly was a minor resurgence. Just look at England).

Everyone and their uncle has looked at point 3.

Point two though… it’s one of those third rail topics. You can’t talk about it publicly or you risk being eviscerated by… well by Tam for example, never mind the lefties.

So first things first. Point two is true, by all available statistics. Historically speaking, women vote for more nannyism at about 2/3 to 1/3.

HOWEVER, just because item two is true (and some rather exhaustive demographic studies have been done showing that it is) doesn’t mean women shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

American blacks and hispanics are more likely to vote for leftists idiocy too (over 80% to 20% for blacks, hispanics are highly variable), that doesn’t mean they should be barred from voting either.

The first freedom is the freedom to fail. That includes the freedom to make bad choices; even if those bad choices effect other members of society (this is where the anarchists, Spoonerists, and Rothbardites usually jump up and down and start yelling).

The thing is this: It’s not that women, blacks, or hispanics are inherently more socialist than white males; or are less capable of making good political judgments. It’s that they perceive (I think, in general, wrongly) that their interest is better served with leftist policies.

In general, over the long term, and free of interference or distortion; people will vote their perceived interests.

The “more vulnerable” of society (which up until recently included the majority of women, blacks, and hispanics) will almost always vote for more “safety” than more freedom; because as I said above, the first freedom is freedom to fail, and they have historically been more likely to suffer under the negative consequences of failure, and therefore perceive the risk/reward metric differently than white males have historically.

Also, both the most wealthy, and most educated members of society (who believe either that the negatives impacts of leftism wont effect them greatly; or that they can benefit more from the “system” if more government control is in place, at the expense of the slightly less educated risk taking capitalists that would otherwise dominate), and the poorest and least educated members of society (who generally believe that they will not be able to succeed to a greater degree than the government would provide largess), generally, vote for more protectionism, socialism, leftism etc…

This is true even in rural “white” “bible belt” America, where protectionism, unions, government works projects and the like are seen as good business economically; even while voting for socially conservative policies and politicians.

Also, this split is by no means stable. As I said, people will tend to vote their perceived interests. Men will vote left and women will vote right, if the positions floated match their perceived interest. Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected by landslide four times. Reagan was elected by landslide twice.

The problem then is not that women, minorities, and the poor vote left, or vote for socialism necessarily.

The problem is that they perceive (generally incorrectly) that their interests, and at least to some extent the interests of society, are better served by leftism.

So the task for us, is making the large majority of the people understand that leftism, even in the soft and limited forms of it like public works projects, job protection policies, tarrifs etc… is not in their interest, or the interest of society as a whole.

That’s a rather difficult task; because for someone who is naturally risk averse, capitalism (and specifically libertarian free market based capitalism) seems very risky… Heck, it IS very risky, that’s the point. You take risks, you fail, and you have the freedom to get back up and take more risks and succeed (or fail again).

Many people out there would happily vote for a “guaranteed” living, even if it was less than half what they could be making without a “guarantee”, and even if you could prove to them the “guarantee” was really false. It’s just the way they’re wired, and no amount of facts or logical arguments are going to convince them.

Many others are willing to accept a bit of risk, but they want a great big “safety net” underneath them for when they fall.

These people, even if they are shown it isn’t really true… they WANT it to be true bad enough, that they are willing to try and force that vision on the rest of us.

Those people (and by conventional estimate they make up about 40% of the population) are ALWAYS going to vote for the “safety and security” lie. They are going to vote for the nanny no matter what.

On the other hand, there are about 40% of the population who are always going to vote for the riskier path, that they can reap more reward from.

Even in Reagans 49 state landslide vs. Mondale, he only got 58.8% of the popular vote.

Nixon crushed Mcgovern 49 to 1 as well, and it was still a 60%/40% split.

Even in Roosevelts “New Deal” landslide against Hoover, he only got 57.4% of the popular vote (in ’36 against Alf Landon, 60.8%, the biggest landslide since the civil war. In ’40 against Wendell Wilkie, 54.7%. In ’44 against Thomas Dewey, 53.4%).

The 40% on either side is a pretty stable number; barring major events in society that temporarily distort it, like wars and disasters…. And even then, in the last 110 years, in every national election, the left has never had less than 35%, and neither has the right… And neither have had more than 60.8% either.

The fact is, some people will believe what they want to believe, or what they’re afraid to believe, over the truth; no matter how clear the truth is made to them.

It’s the remaining 20% that we need to get to, and teach them that it is ALWAYS a lie.

In a society where the government does not artificially force the private economy into failure, the government cannot possibly do better for you than you can do for yourself. Giving the government more power, and more control, is NEVER in your best interest, or in the interest of society.

Saying that “womens suffrage caused socialism” (which isn’t what Travis said exactly, but it’s certainly what a lot of people would hear from what he said) isn’t exactly helpful in that.

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

Bruce Bartlett, May Your Chains Set Lightly Upon You

Ezra Klein quotes approvingly from Bruce Bartlett’s new book, The New American Economy: The Failure Of Reaganomics And A New Way Forward:

The reality is that even before spending exploded to deal with the economic crisis, the government was set to grow by about 50 percent of GDP over the next generation just to pay for Social Security and Medicare benefits under current law. When the crunch comes and the need for a major increase in revenue becomes overwhelming, I expect that Republicans will refuse to participate in the process. If Democrats have to raise taxes with no bipartisan support, then they will have no choice but to cater to the demand of their party’s most liberal wing. This will mean higher rates on businesses and entrepreneurs, and soak-the-rich policies that would make Franklin D. Roosevelt blush.

Shorter: “Hey conservatives, you’ve completely and hopelessly lost the spending war. If you don’t play nice, you’re going to get even more screwed by the tax man than if you sit at the table.”

To which Samuel Adams might have responded: “If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animated contest of freedom — go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen!”

In short, Bruce Bartlett has surrendered. He has taken the view “posit a giant welfare state — now what’s the best way to pay for it?” He suggests that if conservatives try to set the menu at — as Billy Beck would call it — the cannibal pot, that MAYBE they’ll just lose an arm and not the leg to go along with it.

All in all, Bartlett’s view is probably the calmest and most peaceful answer. But it gives us a nation that is so unlike America that I’m not sure I want a part of it. The peaceful way out is to accept that Democracy has given us a giant welfare state, that Democracy is never going to rescind it, and that therefore we might as well pay for it. He’s taking Mencken’s quote at face value:

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

Bartlett is arguing that if we’re all to be slaves, it’s best to suck up and hope for the job of overseer, holding the whip rather than tasting its lash.

But I’m not ready to surrender.

Bruce Bartlett says that if we don’t find a way to pay for the monstrosity growing out of Washington, the whole system will come crashing down. I say I’d prefer that to the “success” of the system as the social democrats want it to exist.

Bruce Bartlett says that the “starve the beast” tactic doesn’t work, as the beast keeps on growing. Well consider me a cancerous tumor hoping to infect the populace into becoming an ever-growing resistance that eats away at the beast’s insides until it dies of rot.

Bruce Bartlett wants conservatives to make sure they have a seat at the table to divvy up the “spoils”. Well, if he wants to be a good little Tory, that’s his choice. He’s taken sides, and despite his pleas, the fight will rage on.

Somewhere deep inside, despite a century of statism trying to weaken it with bread and circuses, the spirit of America still exists. Until that’s no longer the case, I’ll take the side of Freedom.

Good News On Health Care Reform: They Don’t Have The Votes Yet

This is a good sign:

WASHINGTON – A House leader says Democrats haven’t yet lined up enough votes to pass their health care overhaul bill.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland says the vote that House Democrats had scheduled for Saturday could slip to Sunday or early next week.

Hoyer acknowledged to reporters Friday that Democratic leaders don’t yet have the 218 votes needed to pass President Barack Obama’s historic health overhaul initiative.

Let’s make sure they never get those votes.

The Cult Of The Imperial Presidency

whitehouse

Over the past 30 years, America has seen Presidential scandals ranging from Watergate to Iran-Contra to Travel-gate, Whitewater, the Lewinsky scandal, and the Valerie Plame affair. We’ve learned the truth about some of the truly nefarious actions undertaken by some of most beloved Presidents of the 20th Century, including the iconic FDR, JFK, and LBJ. And, yet, despite all of that, Americans still have a reverential view of the President of the United States that borders on the way Englishmen feel about the Queen or Catholic’s feel about the Pope.

How did that happen and what does it mean for America ?

Gene Healy does an excellent job of answering those question in The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power, making it a book that anyone concerned with the direction of the American Republic should read.

As Healy points out, the Presidency that we know today bears almost no resemblance to the institution that the Founding Fathers created when they drafted Article II of the Constitution. In fact, to them, the President’s main job could be summed up in ten words set forth in Section 3 of Article II:

he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,

The President’s other powers consisted of reporting the state of the union to Congress (a far less formal occasion than what we’re used to every January), receiving Ambassadors, and acting as Commander in Chief should Congress declare war. That’s it.

For roughly the first 100 years of the Republic, Healy notes, President’s kept to the limited role that the Constitution gave them. There were exceptions, of course; most notably Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War but also such Presidents as James Polk who clearly manipulated the United States into an unnecessary war with Mexico simply to satisfy his ambitions for territorial expansion. For the most part, though, America’s 19th Century Presidents held to the limited role that is set forth in Article II, which is probably why they aren’t remembered very well by history.

As Healy notes, it wasn’t until the early 20th Century and the dawn of the Progressive Era that the idea of the President as something beyond what the Constitution said he was took forth. Healy documents quite nicely the ways in which Presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to Woodrow Wilson to FDR went far beyond anything resembling Constitutional boundaries to achieve their goals, and how they were aided and abetted in that effort by a compliant Supreme Court and a Congress that lacked the courage to stand up for it’s own Constitutional prerogatives. Then with the Cold War and the rise of National Security State, the powers of the Presidency became even more enhanced.

One of the best parts of the book, though, is when Healy attacks head-on the “unitary Executive” theory of Presidential power that was advanced by former DOJ official John Yoo in the wake of the September 11th attacks and the War on Terror. As Healy shows, there is no support for Yoo’s argument that the Founders intended for the President to have powers akin to, or even greater than, those of the British Monarch that they had just spent seven years fighting a war to liberate themselves from. The dangers of Yoo’s theories to American liberty and the separation of powers cannot be understated.

If the book has one weakness, it’s in the final chapter where Healy addresses only in passing reforms that could be implemented to restrain the Cult Of the Presidency. I don’t blame Healy for only giving this part of the book passing attention, though, because what this book really shows us is that no matter of written law can stop power from being aggregated in a single person if that’s what the people want and, to a large extent, we’ve gotten the Presidency we deserve.

Healy’s closing paragraph bears reproducing:

“Perhaps, with wisdom born of experience, we can come once again to value a government that promises less, but delivers far more of what it promises. Perhaps we can learn to look elsewhere for heroes. But if we must look to the Presidency for heroism, we ought to learn once again to appreciate a quieter sort of valor. True political heroism rarely pounds its chest or pounds the pulpit, preaching rainbows and uplift, and promising to redeem the world through military force. A truly heroic president is one who appreciates the virtues of restraint — who is bold enough to act when action is necessary yet wise enough, humble enough to refuse powers he ought not have. That is the sort of presidency we need, now more than ever.

And we won’t get that kind of presidency until we demand it.”

And, if we don’t demand it we will find ourselves living in a country where the only difference between President and King is merely the title.

A symbolic victory in a sea of defeats

The governator sent a letter to the California State Assembly where he, er, told them he would “strike” them. Carnally.

To the Members of the California State Assembly:

I am returning Assembly Bill 1176 without my signature.

For some time now I have lamented the fact that major issues are overlooked while many
unnecessary bills come to me for consideration. Water reform, prison reform, and health
care are major issues my Administration has brought to the table, but the Legislature just
kicks the can down the alley.

Yet another legislative year has come and gone without the major reforms Californians
overwhelmingly deserve. In light of this, and after careful consideration, I believe it is
unnecessary to sign this measure at this time.

Sincerely,

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Now that you’ve read the whole letter, read the first column of letters.

H/T The widely read libertarian culture site Urkobold.

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.

Why Federal Government Spending Will Never Be Cut

Economist Bruce Bartlett had a column in Forbes outlining why he thinks spending won’t be cut.

Every time I write about the need to raise revenues to pay for federal spending, some nitwit always demands to know why we don’t just cut spending. That is not a viable option to deal with our fiscal problem.

The first point that people need to understand is that we live in a democracy. We don’t have a dictator who can just wave his hand and abolish government programs. We have a president who may propose spending cuts, but before they take effect he must get agreement from both the House of Representatives and Senate, both of which may be controlled by a different party. Congress’ efforts to cut spending on its own are futile without prior agreement from the president to support them, as Republicans found out the hard way in 1995.

Direct presidential control over spending is extremely limited. By law, he must spend every dollar appropriated by Congress. And presidents have no control at all over three-fifths of the budget devoted to interest on the debt and entitlement programs–those like Medicare for which spending is automatic. Even Congress can’t reduce spending for entitlements unless it changes the law governing eligibility and programmatic operations.

So 60% of the Federal budget cannot be touched in the budget process. The national debt must continue to be serviced and entitlements (ie. Social Security and Medicare) can only be touched by changing eligibility and the actual operations and only as stand alone legislation for the most part. So what about cutting the other 40%? Won’t work…

Looking at last year’s budget, only 38% was classified as discretionary; that is, under Congress’s control through the appropriations process. All the rest was mandatory: entitlements and interest on the debt. Within the discretionary category, 54% went to national defense. Just $37.5 billion, 3.3% of the discretionary budget, went for international affairs including foreign aid. Over the years I have encountered many conservatives who thought that abolishing foreign aid was just about the only thing needed to balance the budget. Obviously, that’s nonsense.

Domestic discretionary spending amounted to $485 billion last year. With a deficit last year of $459 billion, we would have had to abolish virtually every single domestic program to have achieved budget balance. That means every penny spent on housing, education, agriculture, highway construction and maintenance, border patrols, air traffic control, the FBI, and every other thing one can think of outside of national defense, Social Security and Medicare.

Obviously that will never happen because most of the above programs have a constituency that supports them.

Bartlett also points out that it would help the situation if some of the proponents of budget cuts knew what the hell they were talking about:

Many of those favoring budget cuts have ridiculous notions about how much of the budget can be cut without reducing services. A recent Gallup poll found that Americans generally believe that 50% of the budget is wasted. This suggests that they believe the federal budget could be cut in half without cutting anything important like Social Security benefits or national defense.

Just so people know the round numbers, total spending this year is about $3.6 trillion. At most, $200 billion of that represents stimulus spending, so even if there had been no stimulus bill and the economy had done as well as it has done, we would be looking at a $3.4 trillion budget.

Revenues are only about $2.1 trillion, so we would be looking at a substantial deficit even if the stimulus package was never enacted. Revenues would be even lower if Republicans had gotten their wish and the stimulus consisted entirely of tax cuts. How tax cuts would help people with no wages because they have no jobs or businesses with no profits to tax was never explained. But many right-wingers are convinced that tax cuts are the only appropriate governmental response no matter what the problem is.

It would also help matter if Republicans weren’t hypocrites:

This means that it is impossible to get control of spending without cutting entitlement programs. Many Republicans agree, but they never make any serious effort to do so. On the contrary, they defend entitlements when Democrats suggest cutting them. The Republican National Committee has run television ads opposing cuts in Medicare because Obama proposed using such cuts to fund health reform. Many demonstrators at right-wing tea parties were seen carrying signs demanding that the government keep its hands off Medicare.

Last year, we spent $456 billion on Medicare, and it is the fastest growing major government program. How likely is it that the people protesting Obama’s Medicare cuts will stand with Republicans if they propose cutting that program even more to balance the budget? They will switch sides in an instant. The elderly will fight anyone who tries to cut their benefits even as they hypocritically demand fiscal responsibility and rant about the national debt. The elderly are the reason why we have a national debt.

As for the great spending cutters Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, well not so much:

When I raised these facts with a prominent Republican recently, he countered that Reagan had cut spending. But he didn’t. Spending rose from 21.7% of the gross domestic product in 1980 to 23.5% in 1983 before declining to 21.2% in 1988. And that improvement came about largely because favorable demographics caused entitlement spending to temporarily decline from 11.9% of GDP in 1983 to 10.1% in 1988. (Last year it was 12.5% of GDP.)

When I noted these facts, my friend pointed to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as someone who showed that spending could be slashed. But she raised spending from 42.4% of GDP when she took office in 1979 to 46% of GDP in 1985. Only in her last years in office was spending cut to 38% of GDP. But keep in mind that Thatcher was in office for 10 years, longer than a U.S. president may serve, and had compete control of Parliament the whole time–something Reagan could only dream about.

Since it is not politically possible to cut Federal spending there are only three choices, from the argument laid out in the article:

A) Raise taxes massively which would likely crush the American economy and continue to perpetuate the cycle of government growth consuming resources out of the private sector.

B) Default on the national debt causing a national and global economic collapse.

C) Continue the current cycle of bread and circuses of spending and spending more until options A and B come due.

However, I see Bartlett’s argument as too defeatist in nature.

Neither of the three options is pleasant and fortunately, we don’t have to choose between the three but that requires the American people and politicians making hard choices (which they don’t seem to know how to make).

Solving the long term financial crisis that will lead to national bankruptcy will take a grand bargain of sorts where every political faction will get some of what they want but will have to swallow some things they don’t.

The left will have to swallow budget cuts to social welfare programs but they will applaud the tax increases that will be needed overall.

The right will have to swallow defense cuts and higher taxes but they will applaud overall budget decreases.

Libertarians will have to swallow a government not quite as small as they want and higher taxes but will applaud a shrunken Federal government both in size and scope both at home and abroad.

Populists will not like any of this because populism whether it be right-wing populism, left-wing populism, or even libertarian populism is predicated on the concept of having one’s cake and eating it too. Populism is generally anti-intellectual and solving the serious long-term financial problems of this nation will take more than a slogan or a media celebrity. I don’t see a role for populists in solving this nation’s problems because they are generally the cause of them.

Over the coming weeks, I will lay out what I see as the ingredients of the great political grand bargain that will be needed to avert national bankruptcy.

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.

Honduras sheds light on Obama

Juan Carlos Hidalgo asks the question of the day in a post at Cato@Liberty:

What Principle is Guiding Obama’s Honduras Policy?

The Obama administration is threatening not to recognize the result of Honduras’ presidential election in late November unless Manuel Zelaya returns to the presidency beforehand.

The presidential poll was already scheduled prior to Zelaya’s (constitutional) removal from office last June. The candidates had already been selected by their parties through an open primary process. The current civilian interim president, Roberto Micheletti, is not running for office and plans to step down in January as stipulated by the Constitution. Both major presidential candidates supported the ouster of Zelaya. The political campaign is playing out in an orderly manner, and there’s a significant chance that the candidate from the opposition National Party will win the presidency. The independent Electoral Tribunal is overseeing the process.

And yet the U.S. Department of State is signaling that it won’t recognize the result of the poll in the name of defending Zelaya’s return to power.

The Obama Administration has been going out of its way to be on the wrong side of both the law and morality when it comes to Honduras. Obama has his first chance to rebuke the shameful history of the US being propping up dictators in Latin America and what does he do? He goes out of his way to prop up a would-be dictator who had neither the support of the people nor of the Honduran Constitution. He’s laid sanctions on the Honduran people. He refuses to recognize the legal, constitutional government of a country.

Why would he do this? Zelaya was the elected President of Honduras. He had been given the power, through the vehicle of democratic election, to shape Honduras.

Let’s cast it again: Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. He has been given power, through the vehicle of democratic election, to shape the United States.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Remember this incident from the early days of the Obama administration:

President Obama listened to Republican gripes about his stimulus package during a meeting with congressional leaders Friday morning – but he also left no doubt about who’s in charge of these negotiations. “I won,” Obama noted matter-of-factly, according to sources familiar with the conversation.

Obama won. Zelaya won. To the victors go the spoils. There is no higher principle behind the US Government’s abuse of the Honduran people, just that.

Even more worrisome, though, is what the Obama Administration’s treatment of Honduras means for us when we try to hold them to the limits of our Constitution.

Supreme Court May Overturn Previous Rulings On Campaign Finance

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear re-argument in a case that could lead to a big change in campaign finance law:

The Supreme Court’s unusual hearing Wednesday on the role corporations can play in influencing elections carries the potential not only for rewriting the nation’s campaign finance laws but also for testing the willingness of the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. to defy the decisions of Congress and to set aside its own precedents.

The court will consider whether the “proper disposition” of a case — pitting a conservative group’s scorching campaign film about Hillary Rodham Clinton against federal campaign finance laws — requires overturning two decisions that said government has an interest in restricting the political activities and speech of corporations.

(…)

Roberts’s instincts have been to move incrementally, Lazarus noted. But such a narrow and consistent chipping-away approach — Roberts and Alito have voted for every challenge to campaign finance laws since joining the court — may simply be a way to make more-sweeping decisions appear inevitable.

“I don’t think people should underestimate the chief justice’s ability to look down the road,” said Washington attorney David C. Frederick, who frequently argues before the court. “I think he’s got a larger constitutional vision. He’s relatively young and looking into the future.”

(…)

Roberts’s instincts have been to move incrementally, Lazarus noted. But such a narrow and consistent chipping-away approach — Roberts and Alito have voted for every challenge to campaign finance laws since joining the court — may simply be a way to make more-sweeping decisions appear inevitable.

“I don’t think people should underestimate the chief justice’s ability to look down the road,” said Washington attorney David C. Frederick, who frequently argues before the court. “I think he’s got a larger constitutional vision. He’s relatively young and looking into the future.”

The case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, has already been heard once by the Court. However, in June, the Court took the somewhat unusual step of asking the attorneys for both sides to re-brief and re-argue to address the question of “whether the court should overturn its earlier rulings on limiting corporate and union contributions in federal elections.”

As I said at the time, this seems to indicate that there’s at least some sentiment on the Court for revisiting previous ruling and, perhaps, putting a stake into the heart of one of the most invidious pieces of legislation of the past decade.

One can only hope so, at least.

Reelection Is More Important Than Legislation

In the health care debate, the question has somewhat changed within the Democratic party from “what do we want?” to “what can we actually pass?” Because they’re relatively sure there’ll be no help from Republicans, this puts them in an awkward spot, and as Bruce of QandO points out, highlights a point showing how all politicians are duplicitous self-serving assholes (emphasis added):

But the exclusion of Republicans doesn’t mean smooth sailing for Democrats. Numbers-wise they certainly have the majorities they need in both houses to pass legislation. This particular legislation, however, has become fraught with political danger. Many Democrats are very wary of it because of the demonstrated unhappiness of their constituencies and the probable 2010 impact that may have. This is especially true of more conservative Democrats, even those is primarily Democratic districts. And “Blue Dogs” who managed to win in historically red districts are terrified.

That sets up the conflict of political interests the Democrats face. They believe, now that they’ve brought it up and the president has made it one of his signature issues, that unless they pass it (or something they can call “health care reform”) they’ll have set him up for failure. However, they are also coming to realize that passing something now despite a majority of Americans saying slow down and start over could be hazardous to their political health – and majorities.

I’d say that a majority of both Democrats and Republicans believe that they know better what is good for us mere citizens than we do. It’s clear that Democrats have been waiting for the opportunity to vote for health care ever since 1994, and I’d say that sentiment likely extends to many of these Blue Dogs. In fact, I’d go one step further and suggest that there’s more than a handful of Republicans in the House and Senate who’d like to join them, because megalomania knows no party lines.

So I think it goes without saying that likely a majority of House and probably a supermajority of the Senate (when counting Snowe, Collins, etc) support health care reform, and when pressed probably including a public option.

So why is it faltering? Because these politicians who speak of the selfless sacrifice they make for the nation are too afraid to make a vote that might get them tossed from office. Getting reelected is more important than doing what they think is right.

Cocontributor Doug Mataconis posted at his home blog, Below The Beltway, a quote from Eric Massa (D-NY) speaking of the voters in his district that I have to at least respect his honesty:

Massa: I will vote against their opinion if I actually believe it will help them.

He’s blatantly admitting that he thinks he knows better than us, and that he intends to live up to that promise. That’s admitting to his megalomania, and as we all know, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.

But how cowardly is it to see a politician who honestly believes he knows what’s right for you but lacks the stones to vote for it? If you believe, as far too many in this country do, in delegating the power to run your life to a ruling elite, don’t you at least expect that ruling elite to follow their convictions? Congress holds themselves up as philosopher-kings whose job is to make everything in this nation better, and yet they’re so wedded to power that they won’t even vote for their own prescriptions.

I’m sure I’ve made it clear from my many writings that I don’t support gov’t healthcare, and that I don’t believe any of the fools who inhabit the Capitol Building are qualified to make my decisions. I am, for better for worse, an individual and I take full ownership of the decisions I make in my life — and the consequences thereof.

But not our politicians. They talk during their campaigns about how they’ll make tough decisions, and use words like sacrifice and service to describe what they do in Washington. They talk about their principles and their ideals. They prominently display a platform of platitudes on their web sites. But when that tough decision comes, when that principled vote that might anger some of their constituents is laid at their feet, they fold. They show that their only principle is staying in Washington, and no promise or ideal will ever rise above that one single purpose.

These are the cowards that you have elected to “represent” you. They’ve built fiefdoms of staffers and interest groups around them to protect themselves from your disapproval, and constantly shovel pork-barrel spending into their district to buy whatever votes are for sale. And when they’re actually faced with doing what you elect them to do, they fail. And what happens if you finally get fed up with them? You fools replace the R or D you have with the same mealy-mouthed sycophant, but who represents the opposite letter. And you actually expect things to change.

America’s been long headed down the road to serfdom. I guess I should only be happy, then, that our government has the top speed of a snail and is prone to breakdowns. Someday I hope that we can realize that rather than riding that jalopy to the end, we should all get out and walk — all in our own direction. But I doubt it, we’ll keep throwing on new used parts and inch along until the whole structure collapses. Then, instead of considering the folly of the destination, we’ll simply hit the used car lot to continue the same tired journey.

Can The Country Survive?

Over at QandO, Dale Franks suggests that we’re careening towards a fork in the road. If we keep on at our current pace, we will reach that fork. Will we go left or right? Dale suggests both:

I’ve also said before–and every time I do, people like Oliver Willis call me crazy for saying it–we’re preparing this country to split apart. There are two political camps in this country: collectivists, and and indvidualists. (Forget party labels. The parties are, at best, loose approximations of those two camps.) It’s a fairly even split between the two camps. And the fundamental philosophies of those two camps have become irreconcilable, for a number of reasons, but primarily as a result of centralization of power in Washington.

Unfortunately, if the solons in Washington declare we must do X, there’s no way to escape the consequences of that decision. And so, every political decision is now fraught with national, rather than local consequences. As a result, the incompatibility between collectivists and individualists is reaching a boiling point. The centralization of power in Washington, and the nationalization of practically every domestic issue, has done nothing but poison our politics, and degraded our political discourse.

He goes on to point out that he doesn’t think we’re headed towards a violent civil war, but that we’re putting decisions on irreconcilable first principles in the hands of a central authority that will force one side to submit — and as we see with health care, they intend for the individualists to submit. Given an American cultural and historical opposition to authority, being forced even to do something we might have freely chosen is not something that we appreciate.

Dale focuses somewhat on federalism and the Red State / Blue State divide. I find that a bit odd, as we’re both living in Southern California, a state that might be worse than the Feds if they were given a free hand. I do see some advantages to federalism as a supporter of liberty; competition between state governments may drive ALL of them towards freedom to survive. But I think we’ve moved beyond a Founders-era conception where we thought of ourselves as citizens of a state first and the United States second. I am an American first and foremost, and a resident of California second.

The greater damage from centralization, though, is destroying the bond between a citizen and his government. The farther away a decision is made and the more competing voices one must overcome to affect policy, the more he feels that his government is completely out of his control. He doesn’t believe the government represents him, and he loses faith in that government. This is where the individualists are today. This is where I am today.

In California, Dale and I each have a vote. The Congressman of my district, John Campbell (R, CA-48) represents a population of roughly 640,000 people*. My vote is one for or against his party, and he is then a vote among 434 other Congressmen. The Senators of my state, Boxer and Feinstein, represent a state of 30M+ people. They are then two votes amongst 98 other Senators. The President is elected by the states, meaning that again my vote for President is one of 30M+, and this is for a state which controls over 10% of the nation’s electoral college votes, which is probably the largest voice I have.

When decisions are made in Washington, my voice as expressed by a vote is merely noise to those in power. I have therefore lost my belief that government has the ability to represent me. I am an American, but this is not MY government**.

Proponents of small government watched as Republicans spent us into record deficits when given the reins of power. We are now watching as Democrats pour gasoline on the spending fire. We individualists have nowhere to turn. We are not being represented and we are being forced into acquiescence with whatever Washington declares.

We have no control, we have no voice, and we are being forced into actions that we fundamentally — down to the core — believe are unfair, wrong, and illegitimate. We’re on simmer. We’ve boiled up a bit with the Tea Parties and now with these town hall meetings. But the government is continuing to turn up the heat, and it’s only a matter of time before we boil over.
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Control Without Responsibility

At Cafe Hayek, a letter to the editor by Andy Morriss to the Wall Street Journal is posted:

Holman Jenkins asks “Does Obama Want to Own the Airlines?” (Business World, July 8). I am sure he does not. Rather than own them, the president and his congressional allies want to control the airlines — a crucial difference as ownership implies taking responsibility.

As Mr. Jenkins notes, the Justice Department’s belated intervention against Continental’s efforts to join the Star Alliance appears aimed at extorting concessions for the Democrats’ union allies. That is not the action of an owner of airline assets but of someone determined to redistribute wealth from airline passengers and shareholders to favored special interests.

One of the many benefits of free markets is that the people who own something are the ones who experience the benefits or losses accruing from their use of it. When considering how some property is going to be used, an owner and non-owner may have very strong opinions. The non-owner, who has less to lose, will be less careful and prudent in their decisionmaking. Moreover, often the non-owner will gain more from the misuse of the item than from its prudent use.

One does not have to look to hard to see this phenomenon in action. The attempt by GM to close dealerships, and thus reduce its losses was overridden by Congressmen interested in using GM’s wealth to buy votes by keeping the dealerships open. And that is one example of literally millions of instances that take place every year from all levels of government.

Obama, leading democrats and some very influential economists have repeatedly expressed the idea that increased government control of the medical industry would reduce costs without sacrificing quality. In their vision selfless government officials will ensure that people receive high quality treatment regardless of the cost, while the market power of government as a customer will ensure that costs will stay low. Against this charming vision stands a great body of evidence from public choice theory; government officials – or their private counterparts in the private-public partnerships in vogue today – will be able to exert control without any consequences. Just as medicare and medicaid administrators proved willing to authorize higher and higher treatment prices – to the point where it threatens the budget of the federal and nearly every state government – the administrators of any new government program will behave in similar uneconomic ways.

Control without responsibility is a very bad idea.

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.

Breaking News: Results Of Honduran Referendum!

As reported (circumspect) by QandO:

One of the district attorneys that participated in the operation that took place this Friday showed reporters an official voting result from the Technical Institute Luis Bogran, of Tegucigalpa, in which the specific number of people that participated in table 345, where there were 550 ballots, 450 of which were votes in favor of Zelaya’s proposal and 30 were against, in addition to 20 blank ballots and 30 ballots, which were nullified.

That’s a very complete report of the election, and contains a wealth of details about the results that would be a credit to the authorities in charge of any election.

Of course, it would be even more impressive if the referendum had actually taken place.

There was no referendum. It was aborted by the legal, constitutional removal of Mr. Zelaya from power.

And yet, in the presidential palace’s computer, Mr. Zelaya apparently had a complete, certified result of an election that never took place.

Between real life and all the other important things worth posting about, I’ve been off the Honduras deal. QandO has been doing an excellent job on this one, so I recommend heading over there. That said, I’m only partially jumping onto this bandwagon… This is still a story in its infancy, and I’ve been burned enough to know that “reports” don’t always equal “evidence”.

But that being said, this does seem to fit the playbook. Such a thing being true would confirm my priors. So even if I’m not absolutely jumping cojones-deep into believing that this actually happened, I really want to see the follow-up investigation to see if it can be proved.

Government Is Not Society

One of the most pernicious beliefs held by Americans is the conflation of the state with society. This belief is causing them acquiesce to government actions that threaten the destruction of American civilization if not stopped.

The word society comes to us from the Latin societas, which meant a group of people bound by friendship or a common interest.  The societies we participate in are the manifold groups that people join in order to accomplish various goals, for protection, for commerce, for companionship.  When compared to a life of autarky, of isolated independence, the benefits of societies become clear.  The defining characteristic of society is that membership in a society is voluntary. Whenever a person feels that a society no longer meets their needs, they can exit it – choosing another one to replace it or even going without.

Of course, one of the primary functions of the societies we join are to fulfill those needs we have that we cannot fulfill ourselves.  We depend on our families, friends, fraternal organizations, etc to care for us when we are sick, to provide for us when we cannot provide for ourselves.  These acts of charity, when provided to us by people who do it voluntarily using the means that they have acquired through peaceful means, are a necessary component of civilization.  Remove charitable interactions from society and we cease to live in a state of civilization and return to a state of barbarism.

The state, on the other hand, is an organization that is distinguished by violent action.  It acquires resources not through peaceful economic interaction but through threats of violence.  When it threatens wrong-doers – such as thieves, rapists or murderers – it can be useful; scaring other would be thieves, rapists and murderers from committing similar crimes. But all too often, such as when it orders the destruction of livestock in order to raise the market price of meat, it is a social bad that leaves everyone worse off.

The state is powerful.  It can commandeer vast resources.  It does not have to make anything; it does not need to trade for anything;  it merely takes what it wants.  However, the state is not all powerful; tomorrow the people could rise up and hang all the officers of the state from the lamp-posts.  Its officers must ensure that their plunder or violence does not rise to such a level as to incite too much active resistance.   These men and women therefore promote the fiction that the state is not a predator but engaged in trade with the people, exchanging protection and other services for “contributions” as they term the taxes they extort from the populace.

Over the last 100 years, the state has systematically weakened or coopted the institutions of society.  It has, via the welfare system, taken over much of the provisioning of charity.  It controls commerce via regulation.  It dicates what insurance companies can and cannot do.  It tightly controls medical care.  Most dangerously, it has taken over the education of the young. And everything it has taken over has taken on the characteristics that typically accompany violence and extortion; shoddy service, excessive prices or compelled payments, and draconian punishments.

And far too many people, never having experienced society where these institutions or social needs were provisioned voluntarily rather than by the state, are left ignorant of any idea that that is even possible.  And so, when they are warned that Medicare and Social Security threaten economic ruin, they think that the speaker is contemplating casting the old and sick out on the street to die.  When they hear a call for the abolition of govenrment schooling, they imagine the speaker must want the broad mass of children to be left uneducated.  When they hear the call for the end of medical licensing or pharmaceutical regulations, they imagine that people will be subjected to all sorts of quackery. When they hear a call for an end of standing armies and the purchase of expensive weapons systems, they imagine that the speaker must naively want to invite a tyrant to waltz in and take over.

Too many people, no doubt from their experiences in schools where the classrooms are presided over mostly benevolent dictators called teachers, assume that society must be arranged in a similar vein, with leaders who make and enforce the rules, where there is no right of refusal or exit.

In the end, though, while it can commandeer impressive resources, and thus accomplish mighty things, the state invariably consumes more and produces less than organizations that it replaces.  It replaces the civilization of people voluntarily bonding together with the barbarism of compelled relationships, compelled production and compelled trade.

Today, the various governments that rule over Americans, taken together, commandeer or consume some 40% of production.  The more production the government seizes, the worse off we will be.  The greater the control government exercises over society, the worse off we all are.

One way to put things in perspective is, when considering how some need is to be supplied, to ask if you would be comfortable with the Mafia providing it.  After all, the mafia is really a proto-government, using extortion and violence to commandeer resources. Both are protection rackets, although the Mafia takes far less than the government.  While most people wouldn’t be too upset with the idea of the mafia punishing a rapist, most would laugh derisively at the idea of the mafia running a school, or operating a hospital.  This recognition arises from the fact that no-one conflates the Mafia with society.  If only they were so wise about the state!

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.

I have to give the man some credit

I happen to live in Arizonas 5th congressional district; and am currently represented in the house by Harry Mitchell.

Congressman Mitchell and I disagree about a lot of things. Abortion, social security and government health care, school choice and education policy, many economic issues, government intervention and regulations in general, and the overall wisdom of his party leadership and the DNC…

However, I have to give the man some credit. He has generally been good on energy policy, and on guns since he came to congress (as a local politician his record on guns was mixed). He was also against the auto industry bailout, against TARP, and especially against the unconstitutional TARP bonus tax. He’s even reasonable on national security issues, and veterans affairs.

I believe he has ably represented the interests of his district within the congress; and bucked the leadership when he thought it was best for the district (if perhaps not bucking them enough outside of issues of direct interest to the district).

Today, he voted against his leadership; choosing to vote for the greater good of Arizona, and of the nation; against the Waxman cap and trade bill.

Unfortunately, we all lost in that vote; but senate leaders are already saying it’s dead on their floor… so we’ll see.

Last week, and again this morning, I urged congressman Mitchell by telephone to both his offices, and by email, to vote against the bill; as it was against the interest of both the district, and the nation. This evening, having found out how he voted, and reading his statement on the issue, I called to thank him.

We may disagree with our elected representatives, we may have voted for the other guy, we may think they are the wrong person to be in that chair; but once they are there, they are OUR representatives. The peoples representatives.

Letting them know how you feel about something, how important it is to you, what benefit or harm it will do you personally; it works. It may not seem so much of the time, but most congressmen really do care about what the people of their districts think; if for no other reason that it improves their chances for reelection.

So participate. Let them know. After all, it can’t hurt; and it just might make a difference.

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

This is Government

According to the Iranian government, the person dying below was a terrorist. No doubt all the people walking around her in apparent unconcern for there were fellow terrorists, and the people she was terrorizing were outside camera range.

She is being called Neda. The person who uploaded the video to Youtube claims that he was nearly half a mile away from the demonstrations when a sharpshooter shot a teenage girl standing nearby with her father. Within a few seconds, she was dead, her eyes turn to the camera before being obscured by the pools blood that pour out of her mouth and nose.

A student at Kent State University gunned down by U.S. government troops.

A student at Kent State University gunned down by U.S. government troops.

Many people are arguing that this is the sort of thing that democracy is supposed to prevent. Of course, democracies also shoot people opposed to the government’s policies.

Why? because government, at its heart, is an organization that uses force to get its way. It is incapable of limiting its violence to socially beneficial causes like apprehending murderers. At some point, it points a gun at a group of people and demands they submit, and anyone who refuses gets a bullet.

This is government. Over there or over here, it is the same; the few exploit the many, and they are ready to use beatings, kidnappings and murder to get their way.

So who are the real terrorists?

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.

I Don’t Ask Congress To Applaud Iranian Protesters, But I’ll Do It Myself

Congress has voted to condemn the actions of the Iranian government, and as Reason points out, Ron Paul in typical contrarian fashion is the sole “no” vote:

I rise in reluctant opposition to H Res 560, which condemns the Iranian government for its recent actions during the unrest in that country. While I never condone violence, much less the violence that governments are only too willing to mete out to their own citizens, I am always very cautious about “condemning” the actions of governments overseas. As an elected member of the United States House of Representatives, I have always questioned our constitutional authority to sit in judgment of the actions of foreign governments of which we are not representatives. I have always hesitated when my colleagues rush to pronounce final judgment on events thousands of miles away about which we know very little. And we know very little beyond limited press reports about what is happening in Iran.

I applaud Ron Paul for taking his usual principled stand. Our Congress does not need to be spending their time issuing Resolutions toothless moralistic statements about America, much less other countries. Even if I were to retreat from my cautious anarchist tendencies and accept that Congress actually deserves real responsibilities, that responsibility is to legislate, not preach.

But a part of those anarchist tendencies is Heinlein’s rational anarchy. All actions are ultimately morally within the hands of individuals. Immaterial of laws or society, it is the individual who is morally responsible for acting rightly or wrongly.

So I don’t ask Congress to speak on Iran. Taking a chance to personalize H Res 560, let me do it myself:

Resolved, That Brad Warbiany —

  1. expresses his support for all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties, and rule of law;
  2. condemns the ongoing violence against demonstrators by the Government of Iran and pro-government militias, as well as the ongoing government suppression of independent electronic communication through interference with the Internet and cellphones; and
  3. affirms the universality of individual rights and considers any government which infringes upon those individual rights to be illegitimate.

Iran is at a very important point. In a mere matter of hours, this may come to a head. The mullahs have signaled that they will resort to violence with a call that any who continue protesting “will be held responsible for the consequences and chaos.” Many people in Iran have said that they’re going to protest anyway.

As I write this in California, it is 10:15 AM in Iran. Much will happen in the next few hours. To those Iranians who are not sure what will happen next, I can only wish you safety and success. I’m not sure you’ll have the former, but if you don’t I at least hope you achieve the latter.

It’s Time to Impeach Obama

It’s time to impeach Obama; indict him, and his entire administration, for fraud, coercion, extortion, influence peddling, and grand theft under the color of law, amongst hundreds of other charges.

It is not simply the auto issue; but that is currently the most visible.

This is no hyperbole. I am not simply spouting off. I believe, and will from this point forward, work to see, Barack Obama impeached, charged, indicted, tried, and imprisoned, for the crimes he and his cronies have committed against this nation, and its people.

Also, let me make this clear: This is NOT about politics, or at least not about political ideology. I believe that everyone, left, right, libertarian, or indifferent to ideology; should see what Obama and his administration are doing, and understand the damage it is doing, and will do, to this country.

We cannot allow our nation to become a nation of men. We MUST remain a nation of laws.

At this point, Obama, and his administration, aren’t even bothering to PRETEND to obey the law, or the constitution. They have embarked on a campaign of theft and fraud never seen before in the history of man kind; knowing that they had the full cover of the media protecting them, a friendly congress, and a co-operative judiciary.

They are in clear violation of the constitution, and hundreds if not thousands, of state and federal laws; blatantly and knowingly flouting them in fact, because, in Obamas words, “We won”.

Well, I’m sorry sir, for now at least, we are still a nation of laws; and you must be brought to account.

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

Valor Pleases You, Crom… So Grant Me One Request. Grant Me Revenge!*

The Governator is back. And this time, he takes no prisoners:

Declaring that “California’s day of reckoning is here,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said today the state should turn its dire budget straits into an opportunity to make government more efficient.

Speaking to a rare mid-year joint session of the Legislature and other constitutional officers, Schwarzenegger acknowledged the billions of dollars in spending cuts he has proposed to close a $24.3 billion hole in the budget will be devastating to millions of Californians.

“People come up to me all the time, pleading ‘governor, please don’t cut my program,'” he said. “They tell me how the cuts will affect them and their loved ones. I see the pain in their eyes and hear the fear in their voice, the lamentations of their women**. It’s an awful feeling. But we have no choice.

“Our wallet is empty. Our bank is closed. Our credit is dried up.”

I come to slash spending.  Yaargh!

I come to slash spending. Yaargh!


Governor Schwarzenegger was elected in a pretty rare phenomenon, the recall. His predecessor, Gray Davis, had worked long and hard to make a mess of Sacramento’s business, and was generally a smarmy and unlikable guy. When Davis attempted to hike a very public tax, the vehicle license fee, voters who were already upset with Sacramento pushed him out of office.

Schwarzenegger was elected to be a reformer. He was (fairly) seen as outside the political process, and carrying the force of popularity that would allow him to shake things up. He appealed to a lot of voters who professed small-l libertarian leanings***, as he billed himself more as a fiscal conservative and social moderate/liberal. He was seen as having the political capital and bipartisan likability to actually go in and clean up the mess.

He tried to enact reforms, and was rebuffed by the entrenched power structure. Given California’s ballot proposition, he decided to pull an end-run around the legislature and “take the agenda directly to the people.” He called a special election, putting propositions including redistricting, spending restraints, and others directly up for the people of California to enact. And he was rebuffed spectacularly in that election.

Ever since then, he’s been a lame-duck governor, unable to really do anything but show up on TV at every wildfire explaining how much he cares. He’s been ineffective and the legislature has run roughshod, failing to restrain spending at every turn.

I think, though, that Schwarzenegger may be feeling ready for a resurgence. He was rebuffed for trying to rein in the legislature, and the legislature predictably went on to make a mess of things. I’m not sure he’ll necessarily come out with an explicit “I told ya so”, but you can be sure that will be a part of his sell. California didn’t listen when he tried to hit the brakes back in the boom years around 2005, but perhaps they’ll understand that folly now that the state is in shambles.

California is a mess. It wasn’t politically possible to clean it up during the boom. I’m not sure what incentive it will require to get Schwarzenegger to try to gain back his political capital and start slashing and burning through the legislature, but if revenge motivates him, I’ll take it.

Hat Tip: SoCal Real Estate Bubble Blog
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Fixing California Finances — Ignore The Voters!

California is not a well-governed state. But for a long time, I heavily blamed the voters on that one. After all, they did stupid things like voting for a $9B bond issue to start a high-speed rail line in the middle of a horrendous deficit.

But perhaps I spoke too soon. Yes, California voters are more than willing to vote for huge spending to be financed by bonds. That’s a big problem, if the spending (and thus the bonds) occur. But if Tim Cavanaugh of Reason is correct, it’s not the problem I once thought. Why not? The state isn’t spending the money:

One favorite trick for avoiding disaster at the level of state budgets is to keep authorized expenditures cooped up by never writing the checks. This practice can go on for years or decades, depending on the lobbying power of the people who stand to gain from the spending. A former California budget director once set my mind at ease when I asked about the hundreds of billions of dollars in bonded debt the ballot-initiative mobocracy has committed the state to. It turned out that only a small portion of those bonds had been issued. (And it’s pretty stunning to consider that the Golden State’s fiscal self-destruction would be even worse if anybody took an interest in honoring the will of the voters.)

So, that is good one one front. The state has shielded us from some of the stupidity inherent in democracy.

But there’s another worse aspect. The state has spent us into oblivion even without the voters’ help! I used to think it was a competition between idiotic direct democracy voters and idiotic gerrymandered politicos in an effort to bankrupt the state. It turns out I was wrong — the politicos want to hoard all the “glory” for themselves!

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