Category Archives: Elections

Ezra Klein And The Seeds Of Cynicism

One of Ezra’s regular commenters is running for Congress, and had this to say:

You are way off, Ezra. The time breakdown on fundraising during a campaign is more like 50-70%. It’s absolutely horrifying. I used to be a policy wonk who could talk the most minute details of big bills and who actually read most of the health care bill. Now that I’m running in the XXXX XXXX (Dem primary), I spend all my time meeting with prospective donors and cold-calling past Dem donors. It’s sad that when I’m the closest I’ve ever been to shaping policy, I’m also spending the least time in the past decade focused on immersing myself in it.

I’m not surprised. I long ago lost faith in the system, and have said for a very long time that it is structurally incapable of fixing its problems. The more I study (and having just finished Hayek’s “The Fatal Conceit” I’ve studied from the master), I think that fundamentally the problem is not solvable.

But Ezra hasn’t reached that point yet. He’s still wondering why the power-brokers don’t want to break down the system which gives them power:

What I can’t understand, though, is why the drumbeat for public funding of elections isn’t loudest within Congress itself. After all, congresspeople regularly say that they hate this part of the job. When they retire, they complain about it constantly. And yet, they don’t seem particularly interested in changing it, even though they would be the most direct beneficiaries. I guess the answer is that once you’ve constructed a fundraising network you have an enormous advantage over competitors who have to do all that work from scratch, and so blocking campaign finance reform makes continued reelection more likely. But can that really be worth the day-to-day misery?

Now, the difference between Ezra Klein and I in this case is hope. He has hope — albeit false hope — that the system is fixable. I’ve lost that hope and think it’s just time to stop asking the system to fix problems in the first place.

Michael Cannon of Cato is a healthcare buff and more of a regular foe of Ezra Klein, and he has predicted that “Ezra Klein will die a libertarian. And it won’t be a deathbed conversion, either.” There may come the day when he battles so hard — in vain — to fix the system that he realizes that he’s tilting at windmills. Perhaps Cannon is correct. Klein is young enough — and smart enough — to learn that yes, in fact, politicians care so much about retaining their power that they’ll endure all sorts of misery to continue to “serve”. Raised in close view of the dysfunctional government of California, and now seeing the dysfunction of the Senate first-hand in the health-care debate, he’s unlikely to maintain his faith much longer.

Klein approaches the healthcare debate much the same way that I once advocated for the FairTax. He assumes that the issue is important enough to transcend politics and interest groups. He assumes not only that Congress can create a fair, compassionate, cost-effective government run system without unnecessary rationing, but also that they’ll actually ignore all their incentives to saddle it with restrictions, appease interest groups, and throw so many government (& union) provisions into the works to push the cost into the stratosphere. Much like I once thought that the idea of the FairTax was so compelling that Congress would respond to voters and common sense and act counter to their own electoral interests to enact it “as written”. He’ll be proven wrong, of course. My only hope is that it doesn’t require such a monstrosity to be enacted to make him see the error of his ways.

Supreme Court Strikes A Blow For Free Speech

By driving a stake through the heart of McCain-Feingold:

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that corporations may spend as freely as they like to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress, easing decades-old limits on business efforts to influence federal campaigns.

By a 5-4 vote, the court overturned a 20-year-old ruling that said companies can be prohibited from using money from their general treasuries to produce and run their own campaign ads. The decision, which almost certainly will also allow labor unions to participate more freely in campaigns, threatens similar limits imposed by 24 states.

(…)

The justices also struck down part of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill that barred union- and corporate-paid issue ads in the closing days of election campaigns.

As I’ve said many times before, the only campaign finance regulation that we need is full and complete disclosure.

Every candidate for Federal office should be required to disclose all contributions and disbursements and a regular basis (possibly even more frequently than the quarterly reports that are now the law), and that information should be easily available to the public so that people can know where a candidate’s money comes from and where it goes. After all, isn’t that what the First Amendment is really all about — let the information out and let the public decide what to think about it ?

Here’s the full opinion and dissent:

Citizens Opinion

Is the End of Government Reefer Madness Near?

Referring back to my post I wrote last week about the “perfect storm” the Obama Administration has created regarding medical marijuana, Colorado in many ways seems to be in the eye of this storm. It seems that more and more people are starting to understand the insanity of declaring war on a substance which has never resulted in an overdose of any kind (much less a deadly overdose). In yesterday’s election, voters in Breckenridge, CO passed a measure by 71% which decriminalizes marijuana in amounts of an ounce or less for individuals 21 and over.

The Denver Post is having guest columnists who are staunchly pro-legalization write persuasive and articulate articles which could be mistaken for something you might read here at The Liberty Papers. Here’s an excerpt from an article written by Robert Cory Jr.

Today, not much about Colorado’s economy moves. The state is broke and releases prisoners because it cannot afford to keep them. The governor slashes the higher education budget 40 percent. People lose jobs, homes and financial security. Our leaders face serious issues.

And what keeps some politicians up at night? That sneaking suspicion that some suffering cancer patient may gain limited pain relief through medical marijuana, coupled with that gnawing certainty that someone, somewhere, actually grew the plant for that patient.

But government cannot repeal the laws of supply and demand, and cannot extinguish the spark of freedom in peoples’ hearts. Now, the marijuana distribution chain becomes legal. Responsible entrepreneurs open shops to supply a skyrocketing demand for medicine. These small businesses serve needy patients. They pay taxes. They hire employees. They lease space. They advertise. And the drug war industrial complex can’t stand it.

The article only gets better from there. I find it very encouraging that Colorado’s newspaper of record would print this and that citizens are pushing back against big government, if only on this issue.

Supreme Court Seems Poised To Overturn Campaign Finance Precedents

Based on the oral argument that occurred before the Supreme Court today, it seems pretty clear that the Court is prepared to strike down many restrictions on political advocacy that it had previously allowed:

WASHINGTON — There seemed little question after the argument in an important campaign finance case at the Supreme Court on Wednesday that the makers of a slashing political documentary about Hillary Rodham Clinton were poised to win. The only open question was how broad that victory would be.
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Elena Kagan, the solicitor general, all but said that a loss for the government would be acceptable, so long as it was on narrow grounds.

She suggested that the Citizens United, the conservative advocacy group that produced the documentary, “Hillary: The Movie,” may not be the sort of corporation to which campaign finance restrictions should apply. The group lost a lawsuit last year against the Federal Election Commission in which it had sought permission to distribute the film on a cable television service.

Theodore B. Olson, a lawyer for Citizens United, argued for a broad ruling that would reverse two precedents allowing the government to restrict the campaign speech of all sorts of corporations notwithstanding the First Amendment.

That prompted a question from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, her first as a Supreme Court justice. “Are you giving up on your earlier arguments that there are statutory interpretations that would avoid the constitutional question?” she asked Mr. Olson.

Indeed, it would not be hard for the court to rule in favor of Citizens United by interpreting or narrowing the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, which bans the broadcast, cable or satellite transmission of “electioneering communications” paid for by corporations in the 30 days before a presidential primary and in the 60 days before the general election.

The law, as narrowed by a 2007 Supreme Court decision, applies to communications ”susceptible to no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.”

The court could say, for instance, that the law was not meant to address 90-minute documentaries like the one at issue. It could say that the way Citizens United wanted to distribute the documentary, on a cable video-on-demand service, was not covered by the law. Or it could, as Ms. Kagan suggested, carve out some kinds of corporations.

Mr. Olson indicated that he was prepared to accept any sort of victory but that the court would have to confront the larger question soon enough.

Arguing on behalf of Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, Floyd Abrams reminded the court that it could have decided New York Times v. Sullivan, the 1964 decision that revolutionized the law of libel, on quite narrow grounds. When First Amendment rights are in danger, Mr. Abrams said, bold action is sometimes required.

Lyle Dennison agrees that at least two campaign finance precedents would seem to be in jeopardy:

If supporters of federal curbs on political campaign spending by corporations were counting on Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., to hesitate to strike down such restrictions, they could take no comfort from the Supreme Court’s 93-minute hearing Wednesday on that historic question. Despite the best efforts of four other Justices to argue for ruling only very narrowly, the strongest impression was that they had not convinced the two members of the Court thought to be still open to that approach. At least the immediate prospect was for a sweeping declaration of independence in politics for companies and advocacy groups formed as corporations.

The Court probed deeply into Congress’ reasoning in its decades-long attempt to restrict corporate influence in campaigns for the Presidency and Congress, in a special sitting to hear a second time the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (08-205). At issue was whether the Court was ready to overturn two of its precedents — one from 1990, the other from 2003 — upholding such limitations.

From all appearances, not one of the nine Justices — including the newest Justice, Sonia Sotomayor — appeared to move away from what their positions had been expected in advance to be. In her first argument, Sotomayor fervently joined in the effort to keep any resulting decision narrow — seemingly, the minority position but one she had been assumed to hold.

Three Justices — Anthony M. Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — have explicitly urged the Court to overturn the two precedents that sustained congressional limits on campaign financing by corporations and labor unions. Kennedy and Thomas only seemed to reinforce that position on Wednesday; Thomas remained silent, but had given no indication earlier of a change of mind.

You can listen to the full audio of today’s oral argument here.

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.

Don’t Blame Me Just Because I Voted For Bob Barr

Over the weekend, Melissa Clouthier took the time to take to task those of us who refused to compromise our principles last November and voted for Bob Barr over the atrocious McCain/Palin ticket:

DontBlameBobTShirt[P]eople are coming out of the woodwork saying, “Don’t blame me! I voted for Bob Barr!” I ask you, Is that something to be proud of?

John McCain was a terrible candidate for a myriad of reasons I won’t list here. Rather than blogging anything negative, many times, I just held my tongue. (Other times, not so much.) Why? Do I and all conservatives who voted for John McCain lack a spine and principles? Some would say so. Did I hold my nose and vote for John McCain because I’m a conservative sellout?

I voted for John McCain for precisely the reasons we’re seeing right now. President Barack Obama is a statist. He’s a socialist. He wants to remake America into some liberal delusional utopian fantasy and he’s damn near succeeded at every single thing he’s wanted to do.

My brother was in Venezuela last week and talked to a local businessman who marveled of Chavez,”It’s amazing how much has changed in four years. How quickly it happened.” And it wasn’t good change. And he wasn’t hopeful. Do those who voted for Obama honestly think a slide of Venezuela-like proportions is impossible?

President Obama is a disaster for America and I hold those who voted for Bob Barr every bit as accountable as if the so-called principled person voted for Barack Obama himself. It was a vote that aided and abetted an enemy of freedom. How can a freedom-loving person be proud of this?

First of all, it’s worth noting, as Bruce McQuain does, that those of us who voted for Bob Barr can hardly be blamed for the outcome of the election:

Bob Barr pulled all of 511,324 votes. Statistically that’s 0% of the electorate. Had every Bob Barr voter voted for John McCain, he’d have ended up with 58,854,995 votes instead of 58,343,671 to Obama’s 66,882,230.

So, even if Robert Stacey McCain, Jason Pye, and myself — along with 511,321 other people (or those 181,818 people, like Leslie Carbone, who voted for Chuck Baldwin) — voted for McCain/Palin rather than Barr/Root last November, it would have had absolutely no impact on the election. It wouldn’t have changed the outcome. Heck it wouldn’t have even shifted a single Electoral Vote. Therefore, the good Doctor’s assertion that Barr voters are in any way responsible either for the election of Barack Obama, or any of the policies he’s implemented is simply wrong.

Clouthier acknowledges this simple fact in an update to her post but goes on to insist that McCain would have been better as President, from a libertarian perspective I assume, than Obama has been to date, but that statement belies that fact that John McCain was never the conservative that his supporters claimed he was:

On the issues, John McCain isn’t much better. The difference is that McCain campaigns on rhetoric that makes you think that he believes in individual liberty, self-reliance, and small government. The reality of a hypothetical McCain Administration, though, is demonstrated quite clearly in his response to the financial crisis, his support of the bailout, and his insane idea to have the government buy-up and renegotiate distressed mortgages. These are not the policy proposals of a man who believes in the free market.

Moreover, McCain has run his campaign in a manner that is at the very least offensive and borders on an insult to the intelligence of the American voter. He selected as his Vice-Presidential running mate a woman manifestly unqualified for the job. He engaged in the pointless, some might even say reckless, stunt of pretending to suspend his in response to an economic crisis that he obviously had no real understand as to either the causes or the remedies. And, most recently, he engaged in nearly two weeks of relentlessly negative campaigning that concentrated not on the issues facing the country, but on his opponents alleged associations with someone even he admitted was a “washed up terrorist” and, in the process, brought out some of the worst in his supporters.

I said a long time ago that I would never vote for John McCain based solely on his manifest disdain for one of the fundamental freedoms in the Constitution. Now I can say that, even if he had never sponsored McCain-Feingold, his conduct during the course of this election has demonstrated to me that he is unfit to be President of the United States

The prospect of as President John McCain serving, as he would have, with a Democratic-controlled Congress should not be one that anyone who calls themselves a limited-government free-market fiscal conservative would look forward to, and it was in that spirit that Leslie Carbone made the conservative case against John McCain back in October:

If McCain is president, thanks to conservative votes, it will be McCain, and his fellow anti-conservatives–both those philosophically opposed to small government and those so philosophically unmoored that they have no convictions at all except power–who continue to shape the right-of-center side of America’s political conversation. And that will mean continuing to fight destructive Democrat policies with destructive Democrat-lite policies.

Rejecting McCain, on the other hand, gives us time and space and, most of all, integrity, to recover the principles that made Ronald Reagan the most successful president in modern times, and, in so doing, repair the conservative cause.

Clouthier, on the other hand, took the opposite approach:

John McCain was a terrible candidate for a myriad of reasons I won’t list here. Rather than blogging anything negative, many times, I just held my tongue. (Other times, not so much.) Why? Do I and all conservatives who voted for John McCain lack a spine and principles? Some would say so. Did I hold my nose and vote for John McCain because I’m a conservative sellout?

Which is worse ? Supporting a candidate you know is “terrible” and staying silent about his many, known and obvious, failings ? Or supporting a candidate that clearly stands up for the principles you believe in even though you know he is going to lose ?

Quite honestly, I can’t fathom a scenario where Clouther’s support makes more sense than Carbone’s.

Finally, Clouther seems to think that libertarians are little more than impatient Republicans and that we all just need to sit down, shut up, and take our medicine:

Libertarians don’t help anything by flopping around at the edges and indulging in third party fantasies. Libertarians needs to put their formidable energy into the Republican party at the bottom and take the party back to constitutional greatness.

The biggest mistake that Clouthier makes is assuming that libertarians are, or at least ought to be, naturally Republican. While the Republican platform does lean libertarian when it comes to economic issues, and Republican politicians and pundits tend to use limited government rhetoric that clearly appeals to libertarian ears, the reality of Republican governance over the past decade leaves much to be desired. It was a Republican President and Congress that gave us Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind, and an unprecedented increase in the surveillance of our daily lives. It was a Republican President and a Republican Congress that allowed government to grow at a rate unseen since the days of LBJ. It was a Republican President, and the Republican leadership in Congress, that gave us the TARP bailout. It was a Republican President who bailed out the auto industry even after Congress had voted against it. It was a Republican President who doubled the national debt over the course of eight years. And, it was a Republican President and Congress that single handed-ly destroyed the credibility of the Republican Party on economic issues.

Given the way that it’s performed over the past decade, there’s no reason to believe that the Republican Party will govern any differently than it has in the past, and no reason for libertarians such as myself to sign on to the Republican agenda.

It’s a story we’ve seen play out before. Obama will, most likely, fall victim to the economic realities that make much of what he wishes to accomplish impossible. Republicans will come back to power. Government will continue to grow. Deficits will rise. Freedom will erode. And, then, when it all goes to pot again, there will be those like Dr. Clouthier telling libertarians that they just need to buck up and be good little Republicans.

Sorry, but I’ve already been burned once and it’s not going to happen again. That’s why, when November 2008 rolled around, I voted for Bob Barr for President. When it comes to lesser offices and future elections, I’ll vote for candidates who actually believe in limited government and free markets regardless of which party they belong to. If neither of the major party candidates fit that bill, I’ll vote for the Libertarian Party candidate, or I won’t vote at all.

The Republicans can have my vote back when, and if, they earn it.

Originally Posted at Below The Beltway

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.

A few thoughts about last weekend’s Tea Parties

While I’ve not had enough time to take a comprehensive look at Tea Parties held around the nation on or around Independence Day, here are some quick observations from this full-time Tea Party enthusiast and part-time skeptic.

First of all, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) was booed when he spoke in Austin, Texas.  The key reason reason seems to be that he voted for the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac bailout in order to protect “free market capitalism, with our civil liberties, [which are] are the foundation of American exceptionalism.”  In the hyperlinked explanation for his vote, he quoted Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in order to help spread the blame.  “This bill does not represent a new and sudden departure from free market principles…” explained Cornyn, who was quoting Coburn.

Coburn has also infuriated fiscal conservatives because, in his role as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he sided with “establishment candidate, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, in a Senate primary against young conservative leader, former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio” in the Florida Senate race.

Coburn probably wasn’t the only Republican Party leader booed in Texas.  I’ve seen some video of Texas Governor Rick Perry speaking in San Antonio, but I’ve not seen any video with jeers from the audience from anywhere in Texas (he wasn’t allowed to speak at the major Dallas event).  However, there are multiple reports that he was booed for “his advocacy of toll roads to relieve traffic congestion.” I tried to obtain additional information on Twitter and it seems my suspicions were correct: He received some sporadic booing, not specifically because of toll roads, but that the road in question is the “NAFTA Superhighway” or “Trans-Texas Corridor”.  Based upon observations during my campaign work in east Texas in 2006, there are probably quite a few Birchers who still vehemently oppose this effort.

The least biased view of the Austin event which I’ve read comes from Robbie Cooper: » Read more

Symbolic Victories Are Often Real Losses

Judging from his statements and the note he left in his car, James von Brunn walked into the Holocaust Museum believing that he was about to strike a blow against Jewish world hegemony and Federal gun-control.  Even by his twisted standards, his actions were counterproductive. His plan was to massacre people visiting and working at the holocaust museum, and to symbolically harm Jews, whom he believed were looting non-Jewish people through their control of the government and the financial industry among others.

Let us examine, though, the effects of von Brunn’s attack.  He murdered a security guard, Stephen T. Johns (who, it should be noted, had courteously opened the door let in the man who would murder him).  Within hours, the security guards who shot von Brunn down were rightly being lionized, and by extension, the entire apparatus of security-guards-cum-metal-detectors that have come to characterize the modern U.S.   People started agitating for further limitations on weapons ownership, freedom of speech and against organizations that agitate for freeing people from government oversight.  There was a massive outpouring of sympathy for Jews.  Two days after von Brunn’s attack, about the time doctors were concluding that he would survive his wounds, the Holocaust museum was open for business. No doubt within a week they will have hired Stephen Johns’ replacement.

In other words, from von Brunn’s perspective he lost: he suffered life threatening wounds, incited in people a hatred of his movement, shot an easily replaced, ‘expendable’ guard and shut a museum down for one day while giving it lots of free publicity.

Much as we libertarians abhor murderous savages like von Brunn, we should take note of the effects of his attack.  His attack is one of many that all demonstrate an important rule of resistance against the state.  Like John Brown’s attack on Harper’s Ferry,  the assassination of McKinley, and countless other acts of symbolic violence, von Brunn’s attack discredited his movement and increased sympathy for his opponents.

Hardly a month goes by without some fellow libertarian radical posting a comment to the effect that the second amendment is what protects the other rights supposedly enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, or writing cliched statements containing the phrase “ballot box, soap box, ammo box”.  In the 2008 primary season, Ron Paul supporters reveled in their symbolic victory after they chased Rudy Giuliani off the weather-deck of a ferry.

While such chest-thumping is very satisfying, and satisfies a psychological need to feel powerful, it  is usually a losing strategy;  any action that swings sympathy towards our opponents will make us weaker.  The psychology of crowds is fairly well understood.  Crowds hate the weak.  Paradoxically, crowds also envy the powerful. They want security and to live free of fear and uncertainty.  They don’t care about philosophy, and their conception of justice and morality is a crude, instinctual one that is the product of human evolution.

Turning the mob in a pro-freedom direction requires a combination of the following:

  • Inciting in people a hatred and contempt of the political classes and the bureaucrat and police who do their bidding.
  • Making people aware of how badly the political classes are ripping them off.
  • Developing institutions that perform social functions that do not use coercion to acquire resources.
  • Encouraging people to rely on themselves and those institutions.

Most violent/semi-violent protests incite in people a fear of the protestors.  The people then turn to the government to protect them from the scary protestors.  When the protests or political actions or symbolic acts of vandalism don’t accomplish any meaningful change, the net result is a stronger, more powerful government that has been given permission to suppress the movement that the symbolic act was meant to promote.

Successful protest movements like the black civil rights movement succeeded precisely because the symbolic acts encouraged people to identify with the protesters.  When the police set german shepherds on black people walking in orderly columns, the people seeing the images and video saw the police as the dangerous mob and the protesters as being the civilized, non-threatening party to the conflict.

It is very important that we who advocate for freedom keep this in mind; disorderly or scary behavior turns people against us.  Freedom is civilized. Commerce is peaceful. Free markets are bountiful.  Let us  allow the government an uncontested claim on the mantle of civilization-threatening barbarity it has worked so hard to earn.

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.

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!

Why Do We Keep Believing Them?

Men (and women) who physically abuse their spouses often express remorse afterwards. “Come Back Baby, I won’t hit you anymore” they say. And puzzlingly, their battered spouses often say yes, even though this latest offer is probably just as unlikely to be true as the previous 600 offers. To those of us observing such a relationship from the outside it is often a bewildering experience; we can’t understand why a person would trust a serial liar and leave themselves vulnerable to yet another attack. Many of us even look down on the victim; after all, we would never allow someone to take advantage of us in this way!

If you think about it, though, this bravado is probably wrong. The victims of this abuse are human beings just like me or you, dear reader. Why wouldn’t you react in ways similar to these chronic victims? You are not so different! You behave this way towards an organization that is incredibly abusive, that bullies you at every turn, that is far more controlling than most abusive spouses, whose officers not only lie often, but know that they are making promises that they have no intention of keeping. I am speaking of the state, a barbaric organized crime gang that take advantage of you at every turn, and then demands that you thank them for it.

A typical promise made by the state and the lying lyers who people it is that a) they need expanded powers to provide some service effectively, and that b) they will never abuse them, never, ever, ever, cross their hearts and hope to die. Typically the ink hasn’t had time to dry before the promise is broken. I will ignore the many examples of this phenomenon with regards to how Native Americans were betrayed by the U.S. government in favor of looking at seatbelt laws.

Those of us who are older than 30 remember a time when it was legally permissible to drive a car while unbelted to the seat. State by state, proponents of seatbelt laws held campaigns to require people by law to wear a seat-belt. Almost universally the campaigners promised that the law would be such that police wouldn’t peer into our cars and pull us over if we weren’t wearing them. It would be a secondary offense, we were assured, an additional ticket given to those pulled over for genuine moving violations. Today, that assurance lies in tatters. In most states the police can pull you over if they think you aren’t wearing a seat-belt. “Click it or ticket” is the new mantra.

Let’s move past a little thing like seat-belt laws. Instead, let’s look at something more substantial. Remember the promises of that vile traitor, George Bush, when he ran for office in 2000? Remember “a humble foreign policy” and “restoring the rule of law”? How about his promises to execute a spendthrift fiscal policy? What did he do once he got in office? Tried to foment a war with China, fomented a war with Iraq, expanded medicare, attempted to nationalize the stock market, failed, then did it again successfully using a crisis as an excuse. How many of you who voted for George Bush in 2000 would have voted for him had he run on a platform promising to do what he actually did? It’s safe to say that President Al Gore would have had an easy run to victory had candidate George Bush run an honest campaign. Had Barack Obama vowed to continue the war in Iraq and expand the war in Afghanistan while shoveling corporate welfare at the investment banks that his treasury secretary had worked at, President McCain would be enjoying his run as a 21st century reincarnation of Teddy Roosevelt.

From Pearl Harbor to 9/11, from the Great Depression to the Collapse of the Housing Bubble, government officials, and the elites whom they serve have been hyping or generating crises which they then use as an excuse to impoverish us. And we, like a battered wife who fears what will happen to her should her man leave her, let them.

George Bush abused us. Barack Obama is abusing us right now. In two years, some people will announce that they want to be president and will do right by us. If elected, they will turn out to be abusers too. It does not matter whether they wave posters of Donkeys, Elephants, Rainbows or whatever the mascot the Libertarian Party likes to wave around; in the end they will hurt you.

Our only hope for ending the abuse is to kick the bums out! And by that I mean it is time to dissolve our governments. I call upon all of you to support constitutional amendments to dissolve not only the U.S. government, but your state governments as well. De-incorporate your towns. Teach your children to hate the flag, not salute it.

Make these predators earn an honest living for a change. Sitting around hoping that they will turn over a new leaf is about as futile as hoping a leopard will change its spots. It’s not going to happen. Politicians and civil “servants” (so-called) only stop their abuse only when they are deprived of their offices.

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

The Limits of Campaign Finance Law Abridgement of the First Amendment Tested in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission

During the 2008 presidential campaign, an organization called Citizens United produced an anti-Hillary documentary called “Hillary: the Movie.” The movie was available on pay-per-view cable channels until the FEC pulled the plug claiming that the broadcast violated campaign finance law. The case, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, is now being considered by the Supreme Court.

During oral arguments, the government’s attorney revealed that campaign finance law as currently written could be interpreted to restrict not only documentaries such as “Hillary” but any other political speech “broadcast” during a campaign. A banned “broadcast” could include a store advertising the sale of candidate dolls, toys, or action figures. Even if the advertisement makes no direct endorsements nor advocates the defeat of a candidate, the mere mention of a candidate’s name or likeness would violate current election law.

But surely books would be safe…right?

Not if the book is “broadcast” on a device such as a Kindle, says the government’s attorney. While the FEC believes “dead tree editions” are currently safe from FEC regulation, former Chief of Staff and Council of the FEC Allison Hayward, says that such regulations could be imposed if congress brought such an interpretation into the law.

In the very beginning of the video below, Steve Simpson, Senior Attorney for the Institute for Justice says something which bears repeating here because he captures exactly the First Amendment problems found in current campaign finance law:

“The problem is not too much money in politics; the problem is too much power in government. Government regulates everything and of course, people want to affect the course of the government. So the campaign finance reformers ultimately what they want to prevent is that. It’s the ability to affect the course of our government; it’s the ability to affect which way people vote. That’s the dirty little secret of campaign finance law. They don’t just want to control money, they want to control speech.”

I would like to believe that free speech will ultimately prevail in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, but given SCOTUS’s history, ruling on the side of the Constitution is by no means sure thing. I also can’t help but wonder how an Obama appointed Justice would rule if this case was before him or her. Which side would receive the most “empathy,” the federal government or a private organization or individual citizen? We already know that such a judge would not be considering “abstract legal theories” such as entailed in the First Amendment.

Action item for libertarians and small-government conservatives

20080925_wallst_protest_33For years, believers in small government have been fuming at egregious Republican spending. All of a sudden, more mainstream Republicans are livid about bailouts. Even elected Republicans who supported bailouts are suddenly jumping on the anti-bailout bandwagon because they’ve been popped upside the head by their own supporters. Even Republican governors accepting bailout money are at increased political risk. If we want legislators and other political leaders to respond to the small-government message we wish to promote, it’s necessary to kick them where it counts. What better way than to hurt them with their own fundraising, activist and voting bases?

Here’s the mission for the small-government crew: Every time a Republican politician promotes or supports a plan which expands government spending, it’s up to us to call them on it with terminology which will hurt their political career.

As an obvious example, if a Republican presidential and vice presidential candidate team up to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, we need to call them out on it. It this case, it probably cost McCain and Palin the election.

Again, on the obvious side, Republicans should be aware of whether their congressman voted to bail out auto manufacturers or not.

Regular old pork counts, too. If a Republican wants to spend a couple of million dollars on fish, we need to call him out on it. “Senator Shelby bails out out Catfish Genome Project” would be a good one. Or course, such fishy-smelling pork isn’t limited to Alabama senators. Maine Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe just love bailing out the Lobster Institute.

When a Republican governor wishes to increase taxes, let’s make sure folks know that Governor Riley wanted to bail out the Alabama Education Association or that Governor Huckabee taxes the elderly at the old folks’ home to bail out failed government programs.

Senator Hatch not only supports slavery, but he wants to bail out organizations which can’t obtain enough “volunteers.”

Of course, if it’s an omnibus spending bill, one omnibus target is lobbyists. For example, Congressman Smith and Jones vote “yes” on Obama budget bill to bail out DC lobbyists.

If it’s legislation aimed at lowering the amount of smokers in the country, it’s now a bail out for people too stupid (myself included) to quit.  The same general logic could be applied to about any nanny-state legislation. Even anti-Second Amendment legislation could be considered a bailout to the mortuary industry.

As bailouts are viewed very negatively by most Republicans I know, we need to change the rhetoric in a way that is meaningful to them.  I’ll predict that it will be tough for a Republican constantly tagged with the word “bailout” to win a primary election for the next couple of years, at least.

Pretty much every spending bill coming out of Washington contains the transfer of money from the producer of the money to someone who didn’t earn it.  The formula is simple:

(Insert politician name) (votes, supports, promotes, as appropriate) the bailout of  (beneficiary of government largesse).

Great Idea from the Left: Have Candidates Sign Pledges to Increase Taxes and Spending

pledgeWhile trashing a positive review of a Republican candidate I just wrote over at The Next Right, the good folks over at The American Prospect inadvertently came up with a good idea.  I was describing a recent conversation with Tim James, who is running for governor in Alabama:

When I had the opportunity, I asked James if I could ask him a quick question.  “Sure,” he replied.  The question I lobbed at him was whether or not he would absolutely commit to not increasing taxes if elected governor.

“No problem,” he responded.  “Got a tougher one?”

I pitched the second question a bit harder, but his response came as quickly as the first one.  I asked if he’d commit to not increasing state spending.  “That’s easy,” he said. “You got a tough one for me, now?”

“Okay,” I responded, and threw him a bit of a curveball.  “Would you mind signing a pledge to this effect?”

“I’d love to…,” he stated. Later on, we set up a telephone call to deal with speaking arrangements for an upcoming event and the pledge issue.

It all seems so flippant. Even given the conservative predilection for smaller governments and the ubiquity of Grover Norquist'[s] conservative loyalty oaths, is it wise for any potential chief executive to completely tie their hands, especially in a time of recession? It speaks to a rigid ideological prism rather than the attitude of addressing problems on their own merits.

Now here’s where the awesome idea comes from (emphasis added):

Most of America’s successful conservative executives would have violated both of those pledges; it’s as foolish a set of strictures as if Democrats demanded that their candidates sign pledges to raise taxes and increase spending.

The idea isn’t as foolish as Fernholz suggests.  According to the Americans for Tax Reform website, “The idea of the Pledge is simple enough: Make them put their no-new-taxes rhetoric in writing.”  For the sake of simple honesty, I’d love to see candidates running on tax-and-spending-increase rhetoric.

If today’s Democrats (along with Republicans such as Senators Snowe, Collins and Specter) wish to outspend even the Republicans on corporate bailouts and stimulate the economy with trillions of dollars we don’t have, why not at least be honest about it?  Here’s an applicable rewrite of Grover Norquist’s gubernatorial pledge for candidates running on a big-government platform:

I, ____, pledge to the taxpayers of the State of ________, that I will support and sign any and all efforts to increase taxes.

I also like the Republican Liberty Caucus pledge.  Here’s the new Slavery Compact:

Decrease liberty, not promote it; expand government, not shrink it; increase taxes, don’t cut them; create programs, not abolish them; despoil the freedom and independence of citizens, increasing the interference of government in their lives; and absolutely disregard the limited, enumerated powers of our Constitution, not promote them.

If politicians are going to legislate and govern expansive and ever expanding government programs, it sure would be nice to see some honesty in advertising as they run for public office.

Supreme Court Seems Ready To Limit McCain-Feingold

There seemed to be some good news out of yesterday’s oral argument at the Supreme Court in an important campaign finance law case:

The Supreme Court yesterday appeared ready once again to trim the reach of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act, this time at the behest of a conservative group that produced a withering 90-minute political film called “Hillary: The Movie.”

And that was even before the government’s lawyer rattled the justices by asserting that Congress possessed the power — hypothetically — to ban some political books before an election

After a rollicking one-hour argument, it seemed that the question was whether a majority of the court wanted to use an ax or a scalpel to whittle the law, Congress’s embattled attempt to limit the electoral influence of corporations, unions and special interest groups. It is known formally as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.

While it’s not always easy to predict where the Court will come out based on oral argument, it seems fairly evidence that a majority was skeptical of the government’s application of the law in this case.

That’s a good sign.

Nader Scores Big Court Victory for Third Party Candidates

It’s not often that I sing the praises of unsafe-at-any-speed Ralph Nader, but his recent legal victory is worthy of such praises.

LOS ANGELES, March 9 /PRNewswire/ — In a significant move for open-election laws, the U.S. Supreme Court today rejected an attempt to overturn a federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision that the state of Arizona could not require independent presidential candidates to register earlier than candidates affiliated with major political parties.

Arizona’s petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court had been closely watched after 13 other states supported Arizona’s bid to have the High Court hear the case. The federal civil rights case, originally filed in Arizona federal district court, stems from Nader’s 2004 presidency bid.

Ralph Nader had challenged the deadline, contending it violated his First Amendment rights to free speech and political association. Lead Attorney Robert Barnes of the Bernhoft Law Firm represented Nader before the Ninth Circuit, which overturned the district court and unanimously declared the Arizona law unconstitutional. Nader’s Bernhoft Law legal team successfully argued that requiring independent candidates to register by June was unfair when the two major political parties did not hold their conventions until the fall.

Perhaps as just as important was the other aspect of Nader’s challenge was the lower court striking down the provision in Arizona law which required petition circulators to be registered to vote within the state. Paul Jacob and others can now circulate petitions to any state government without fear of being put in jail. What a concept!

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