Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Speaking of building the movement...

Packed House for Grand Opening of Schiff Campaign HQ

"The campaign has also earned momentum from the latest Rasmussen Poll, which has Peter Schiff beating Chris Dodd in a head-to-head matchup."

Poll: Rand Paul has Big Lead in Kentucky GOP Senate Primary

"The numbers: Rand Paul 44%, Secretary of State Trey Grayson 25%."

Poll: GOP Favored to Hold Kentucky Senate Seat

"Paul, a conservative activist and son of Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), leads state Attorney General Jack Conway and Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo by identical margins of 42%-36%."

Anti-War Activist Mounts GOP Campaign for Congress

"He’s a candidate for Congress in New Mexico’s 3rd district, looking like the Republican front-runner just one short year after he crashed the convention."
"Depending on who’s analyzing the race, New Mexico’s third district is either an ideal or a poorly chosen battlefield for a candidate like Kokesh."

I think that Rand has the best chance, followed by Schiff, followed by Kokesh. The problem for Schiff is getting out of a crowded primary field. Rob Simmons is a former Republican Congressman, and Linda McMahon is very rich. At that point, it will be a matter of whether the bailouts are still fresh enough in people's minds, and how the healthcare issue plays out. Kokesh is probably my favorite of these guys, but he's also the most radical. I predict he will have no problem mobilizing a campaign, but might have trouble getting the average New Mexican to the polls.

If libertarian-leaning candidates manage to be successful in the next election cycle, expect things to get exciting moving into Obama's reelection campaign. Obama is on the clock--midterm elections tend to go against the incumbent party, and Obama made a lot of very big promises. Failure to deliver could lead to disappointment for him at the polls.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Philosophy vs. Conspiracy

Philosophy vs. Conspiracy

Caught this article by Jerry Salcido over on Campaign for Liberty's site. In light of the points he raises, I'd like to relate a few anecdotes of my own on the issue.

At the fall semester activities fair this year, some of the local LP guys showed up. This was good, they should be helping us with recruitment. What was not good was that they were also handing out 9/11 conspiracy theory DVDs and pamphlets as well as copies of America: Freedom to Fascism, a movie which holds that the income tax is a massive fraud perpetrated by big financial sector interests on the American people. I'm pretty sure The Obama Deception was in there too.

We were next to a student anti-genocide club. One of the conspiracy theorist pamphleteers gets drawn into a discussion. Upon hearing that they're an anti-genocide group, what do you imagine is the first thing he says? Not, "I think genocide is one of the worst consequences of totalitarianism; we should fight genocide at the source." Not, "I think you'll find a lot of similar-minded people in the libertarian movement, although some of them may have different ideas about how to solve the problem than you might."


The first thing the guy says is:

"Did you know that the AIDS virus was created by the government to wipe out the black population in Africa?"

I paraphrase, of course.

What did this guy think he was accomplishing? Have enough people, upon hearing him say this, all of a sudden said, "Wow, I had never heard that, tell me more!" that he's come to think that leading with that line is the way to go?

Or maybe, as was the case this time, did the person he was talking to usually just start smiling and nodding for the rest of the conversation?

I sort of collect conspiracy theories, the way some people collect the pamphlets that some evangelicals hand out on street corners.

I was reminded of one of my favorites at the End the Fed rally I documented a few blog posts ago. One of the fellows on the megaphone relates how the Federal Reserve literally deals in blood. At the beginning he talks about how by enabling deficit spending, the Fed finances America's unending global war on everything. Fair enough. Then he explains how our debt to China is secured in human lives, and if you want proof, just put your Social Security number into the New York Stock Exchange.

My friend tried this later and did not report success. I suspect it was because he didn't make the correct Bilderberg-Illuminati gang sign when he hit the enter key. He didn't have a webcam running, but they know anyway.

I think that's enough for now. Let's suppose, then, that every single conspiracy theory is true. Ok. What now?

Do we seek to expose the conspiracy to the light of day? Won't this more likely have the effect of, I don't know, getting us unceremoniously killed, than, say, ending mankind's suffering at the hands of tyrants? Let's say that by some miracle, our efforts to throw open the curtains succeed, and every television in America shows irrefutable proof that an international banking cabal controls world politics. What then? The citizens take to the streets, and throw the bastards out? The bastards hiding behind tanks and missiles? Are the world's soldiers going to stop obeying orders because of a TV show?

What happens when the whole thing gets retconned by the corporate media as just a joke made in poor taste, or an accidentally leaked trailer from a new movie?

Libertarians of all stripes are fond of saying that truth is power, that truth will set us free.

Power is power. We will set us free.

Power is power. But libertarians don't want power--a trait that makes them unique among all political factions. They don't want it, but they sure as hell need it. To dismantle the apparatus of oppression, we need to be in the driver's seat. Because that's where the kill switch is.

Whether you're a gradualist or a revolutionary, before anything can happen, the libertarian movement needs power. It needs resources and legitimacy and reach and so on.

So what? For starters:
  • No matter how right you are, you had better be prepared to spend as much on hair care as Mitt Romney and John Edwards. Combined.
  • For most people, radicalism is not a conversation-starter. It is a conversation-ender. Our core message is simple and relatable. Freedom is more ethical than tyranny, freedom is more effective than tyranny. Put that in your own words, and repeat it to people. A lot.
  • We are weird. Most people know very, very little about economics of any kind, and nothing at all about Austrian economics (or whatever freedom-oriented flavor of economics you like). Most people would prefer to maintain this state of affairs. Monday Night Football is on in ten minutes, and they don't want to miss kickoff listening to you explain capital consumption.
  • Again, we are weird. Politics is boring. Political theory is even more boring. Jefferson is an old dead guy. Locke is an older, deader guy. Megan Fox is a young, living woman, and therefore automatically less boring. Also, you can see her on the same screen as giant robots which occasionally turn into giant explosions. There is a reason you spent your weekend at a tea party and your neighbor spent his or her weekend at Transformers 2.
  • Well, I'm not sure I can top that last image. But I have to press on anyway.
  • Talk to people about things they care about. People don't care about monetary policy. They do care about accountability. This is why Dr. Paul's Audit-the-Fed bill has about one billion cosponsors and his End-the-Fed bill...yeah.
  • Anarchism is a nuanced and coherent political philosophy. It is also what the protesters at the G20 in Pittsburgh who broke the window of Pamela's Diner claimed to believe in. Barack Obama likes Pamela's, because the hotcakes have crispy edges. The point is buried in here somewhere.
  • Power doesn't mean force. There is a world of literature on how to get your way without holding a gun to anyone's head. I, and you, should read more of it.
  • The Republican party is ours for the taking. The neocons are on the defensive and the theocrats aren't what they once were. The teapartiers are willing to listen to what we have to say, and many of them are with us already.
  • Education is important. It is not more important than getting people elected.
Before I go too far afield, let's tie some of that together. If you are not a conspiracy theorist, the thing to do is to start disabling the apparatus of power. If you are a conspiracy theorist, the thing to do is to start disabling the apparatus of power. There are lots of ways to go about that, and almost none of them involve shouting on a street corner about how the Federal Reserve deals in human lives, or telling a college student that the AIDS virus was created to rid the world of black people.

In any case, it is my hope that by the time I run for office, libertarianism will be mainstream enough that I won't have to answer any questions about electability or how my supporters are all insane. Because, you know, Obama's supporters are all completely stable, and Minnesota didn't elect a professional wrestler Governor. A professional wrestler who is currently the host of a television show about conspiracy theories.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Howard Dean and Anthony Weiner Tell Us Their Problems With the Healthcare Bill

Dean urges defeat of emerging healthcare bill

That was the headline. OK, you've got me, I have to click--what problem could Howard Dean possibly have with the healthcare bill?

"'You will be forced to buy insurance. If you don't, you'll pay a fine,' said Dean, a physician. 'It's an insurance company bailout.'"

Oh, well that's reasonable. I'm glad someone in the Washington establishment is willing to call a spade a spade. Oh, and it sounds like other Democrats have some problems with the bill too, this is promising.

"When House and Senate negotiators go to conference to work out a compromise bill, Weiner said, 'We should move away from some of the things the Senate has done and move back to where the House is. You need to contain cost. You do that with a public option.'"

No, Captain Numskull, you "contain cost" by not forcing people to buy products and services they neither want nor need. Because, you sanctimonious twit, doing that would not only be immoral, but also spectacularly idiotic.

If this bill passes, expect the same thing to happen to healthcare costs as happened to the cost of college education after the government started "helping" (although granted the tuition issue is a bit more complicated). Prices will skyrocket, the industry will grow fat and happy, and the government will blame the problem on "greed." Newsflash, humans have been greedy for going on 200,000 years now. And yet somehow large corporations magically become greedier a few years after the government reforms their sector of the economy. Yup, that's what it is, every time. I can't believe people still put up with this crap.

You want to drive costs down? Stop giving monopolists the keys to the kingdom.

I need an Advil.

Bailouts Revisited

It's finals week here in Pittsburgh, which can only mean one thing: procrastinate instead of doing important things by doing less important things that I used to be...putting off doing.

Which means it's time for a blog post.

The initial damage reports are in from the bailouts: Taxpayers lost $61B on AIG, auto bailouts but gain on bank bailouts

Breaking it down,
  • the government lost over $30B on AIG,
  • lost over $30B on Chrystler and GM,
  • and is projected (by the Treasury) to end up gaining $19.5B on the bank bailouts.
But don't worry, the $700B program has been extended through October, so there's still time for things to get worse.

Speaking of worse, the bailouts were a bigger blow to American taxpayers than the numbers imply. For one thing, insolvent banks weren't the only one's receiving TARP money. Healthy banks were forced to take it as well (the Fed didn't want TARP funds being more of a scarlet letter than they already were), and pay it back with interest. One wonders how much of that $19.5B was extorted from healthy banks.

And let's not forget the Cash-for-Clunkers program, which amounts to Auto Bailouts II: the Revenge.

But the real cost can't be encapsulated in a simple number. What the government has done is to give us a zombie economy. And if there's anything we Pittsburghers understand, it's zombies. I'm not usually a bit National Review fan, but let me point you for further reading to this article from February 2009: Caution: Zombie Economy Ahead. Imagine a horde of undead congresspersons shambling down Wall St. groaning "caaaaaaaaaaars," and you'll have a pretty good picture of what the country is going go look like for the next decade or so.

The more pessimistic picture is a Misesian crack-up boom, which would be the result of the Chinese and holders of petrodollars trying to cash in for assets, a process which would soon spiral out of control until people started burning Federal Reserve Notes to keep warm.

Monday, November 30, 2009

End the Fed Rally

My friend Josh and I showed up to a protest outside the Federal Reserve building in Pittsburgh on November 21, 2009. We may have been the only two people there who were not either 9/11 truthers, NWO conspiracy theorists, or both. Not exactly what I had been hoping for, but the turnout was good and passers-by seemed receptive to the message.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama's Nobel an Insult to War Dead

In a shocking decision, Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Surprised, humbled Obama awarded Nobel Peace Prize (AP)
For Obama, Peace in the Morning, War in the Afternoon (Cato)
Peace? The Promise of Peace, Eh, Close Enough (Cato)

The fact that an imperialist President overseeing the continuation of two wars and considering the expansion of one of them has been given this award is nothing short of despicable. The selection committee has made its share of poor decisions in the past, so I'm not going to dwell on it. I am, however, going to use the occasion to remind everyone of the obvious.

The correct course of action in Iraq and Afghanistan remains immediate and complete unilateral withdrawl. According to the American Conservative Defense Alliance's Philip Girardi (link), "An increasing number of intelligence analysts and scholars believe that Usama bin Laden is actually dead. General Stanley McChrystal, US Commander in Afghanistan, has admitted that there is no al-Qaeda in Afghanistan." As for Iraq, well...whatever the evidence showed pre-invasion, the case is now clear-cut that we have no interest in being there. We don't and never did have a moral case for being there.

I suspect that this award is more about sticking it to President Bush (not that he doesn't deserve it) and expanding Obama's cult of personality than it is about promoting peace. If Obama had any political sense--or any humility--he would have declined the award. Instead, it seems, the self-aggrandizement engine is operating at full steam.

Obama should be forced to explain himself in some appropriate venue--say, Arlington Cemetery or the crater of a civilian home in Afghanistan. Maybe then the irony wouldn't be lost on him.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Crash, Interrupted

I just made my first post on the main page. It's about an experience Lee Doren (my supervisor and head of Bureaucrash) and I had with the National Park Service.

Check it out: Crash, Interrupted.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Bureaucrash at the Washington DC Tea Party, July 4th 2009

I had a busy weekend! Saturday morning, I met up with some of the other CEI interns to cover the Washington DC Tea Party protest. CEI's Michelle Minton was among the speakers. We did man-on-the-street interviews and handed out "Enjoy Capitalism" t-shirts. Here's a video that Lee Doren (HowTheWorldWorks on YouTube, Bureaucrash's Crasher-in-Chief) put together from our footage.

There'll be more video up later on, and I'll be sure to link to it.

It was an interesting time. The crowd was an odd mix...everyone from Objectivists to 9-11 truthers. The Campaign for Liberty had a sizable presence, which I was pleased to see.

I caught the tail end of the July 4th parade, which was kinda cool. The last group of marchers was a band of patriotic Hare Krishnas. There were rumors of a smoke-in near the White House, but we couldn't find it.

In the evening, I watched the fireworks from a friend's brother's boat. A good experience, for sure, although I'm kinda sad that I missed the music on the Mall. I guess I'll just have to come back another time.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Positive Step In Iraq

Reuters: Iraqis rejoice as U.S. troops leave Baghdad

Credit where credit is due, as they say.

By midnight tonight, Iraq's cities will again belong to Iraq. The military will stop policing the streets, and shift to ferreting out insurgents in the countryside. Who knows how long that will take. So sure, we've merely moved to "imperial occupation lite," but I'll take it for now.

The problem is that attacks on US troops will continue for as long as we have occupying forces on the ground, and it will be politically difficult to leave as long as attacks on US troops continue (Look! Iraq is unstable! It's on the verge of collapse!). On top of that, insurgent forces will claim "victory" no matter when we leave. It remains the best choice to get ground forces out as soon as logistically possible.

Obama should order a complete withdrawl while he still has the political capital to pull it off. A prolonged retraction will be difficult and bloody. Ultimately, that is the choice Obama has to make: take a cautious approach, saving his approval rating; or withdraw quickly and completely, saving American and Iraqi lives.

Ron Paul at Cato on Federal Reserve Transparency

I posted this on my blog over at Bureaucrash Social, but since that's a password-gated community right now, I'm re-posting it here. Enjoy!

The Cato Institute hosted three speakers this Wednesday in the F. A. Hayek Auditorium in its DC office. The topics under discussion were Dr. Paul’s bill to audit the Federal Reserve (HR 1207) and the relationship between the Federal Reserve, the private sector, Congress, and the Treasury.

Dr. Paul’s bill would expand the GAO’s authority to audit the Federal Reserve. The current law, originally passed in 1978, allows only a limited audit process. For instance, the Federal Reserve’s dealings with foreign central banks are not currently subject to audit. HR 1207 removes this and other restrictions, fully opening the Fed’s books to public scrutiny. Dr. Paul stressed that the bill wouldn’t allow Congress to interfere in the Fed’s decision making process; it only makes a full record of the central bank’s activities publicly available.

Appearing on the panel with the Texan congressman were Gilbert Schwartz of Schwartz & Ballen LLP, formerly Associate General Counsel to the Federal Reserve, and Bert Ely, president of Ely & Company, Inc.

Schwartz emphasized that while the Federal Reserve and other agencies were partially to blame for the financial crisis, Dr. Paul’s bill was unnecessary at best and at worst had the potential to hurt the economy by undermining the Federal Reserve’s independence. He pointed out that although the Fed lending to private sector institutions outside of the banking industry is unusual, it is not unprecedented and is authorized by law. Section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act authorizes the Fed to lend to businesses “in unusual and exigent circumstances,” and was used to lend to farmers and other business owners in the 1930s. Schwartz also pointed out that some of the expansion in the monetary base has been undercut by $700 billion in increased deposits with the Fed. Although by Schwartz’s admission, the Fed might be criticized for a lack of openness, he saw its intervention as instrumental to preventing a total economic collapse, citing the chaos caused by the collapse of Lehman Brothers as evidence.

The third member of the panel, Bert Ely, pointed out how the balance sheets of the Fed and the Treasury are interconnected and identified several areas where current policy could be reexamined. His central question was whether the Fed’s power to lend to private industry without Congressional approval should exist at all, and whether it makes sense for that power to rest with the Fed rather than another agency such as the Treasury. Ely said that Congress should address these questions and, depending on the answers, change existing laws.

Congressman Paul posed a question which he challenged opponents of his bill to answer. “Why not?” Most objections to an audit don’t hold water. Merely opening the Fed’s books is not an assault on its independence. Concerns that an audit would endanger the trust foreign central banks have in the Fed are based on a slippery-slope scenario where auditing leads to meddling. Paul pointed out that the Fed is losing trust anyway, for reasons unrelated to an audit, and that we shouldn’t be more afraid of exposing the truth than we are of the consequences of potentially shrouding the Fed’s failures in secrecy. The other main argument against an audit is that making the Fed’s internal discussions public would upset the marketplace in ways the Fed would not intend. Paul pointed out that under the current system, rampant guessing surrounds every meeting of the Fed’s directors, and that this has much the same effect. Schwartz added that there was a time when the Fed didn’t even release its interest rate target as determined at an internal meeting until months or years afterwards, and there were doomsday predictions about the effect that making the information known immediately would wreak havoc with the economy. These predictions haven’t panned out, Schwartz said, and there’s no reason to suspect that additional transparency would cause any more speculative behavior than exists currently.

In short, the bill is a common-sense measure. Where disagreements exist, they’re about what to do next. Paul wants to legalize competing currencies; practically, this would mean allowing people to pay their debts in gold and to enter into contracts with payments denominated in gold. He predicts that monetary reform is coming whether we like it or not, and that to prepare, we need to have information about what went wrong in the past as well as a failsafe in the form of a legal competing currency. Regarding the current monetary regime, Paul simply said “this system has ended.” He sees a chain of central bank failures dating back to the Fed’s creation in 1913 as ample evidence, and said of our current crisis, which he views as another failure of the Federal Reserve System, “this is the big one.”

Schultz had a different take. He said that the message that more transparency is needed is getting to the Fed, and said of Paul’s bill, “I’m not sure this legislation corrects the problem.” Ely said that future actions should take into account the many different roles the Fed plays, and that each role should be examined separately.

Regardless of which direction Congress decides to go with monetary policy reform, it is clear that the issue of the Federal Reserve’s role is going to be a part of the national dialogue moving forward. HR 1207 would provide a basis for that discussion. Once we know what the Fed has been up to, we’ll have a better idea of what to do next. Said Paul, “That’s when we’ll have a lot more fun."

An audio recording of the event is available at

Monday, June 22, 2009

Really? I Mean, Really?

That's all I could say as I walked past this Hummer (parked curbside) on my way home from work this afternoon.

Words fail. After failing several times due to the decidedly nonstandard spelling, I navigated to the company's webpage, which I am refusing to link to on the grounds that to do so would be morally indefensible. I will, however, quote from their website:
Keep the Positive Energy Going!
O-BAM-AAH!™ Energy Stix seeks to continue the momentum of POSITIVE ENERGY which came to light during the Obama campaign when millions of Americans were inspired to make a difference through volunteering and community involvement.

O-BAM-AAH!™ Energy Stix is designed to emphasize positive energy channeled for personal growth and supporting national and global needs.

OUR MISSION: New Energy for America

To create universal POSITIVE ENERGY, by providing you with an energy supplement that contributes to your individual POSITIVE ENERGY when you need it.

Encourage volunteerism at ANY LEVEL in your community, which can include your neighborhood, your city, or globally.

Contribute to an unwavering positive outlook, regardless of the circumstances.

Promote POSITIVE CHANGE by focusing on what’s right; constant focusing on what is wrong is counterproductive

O-BAM-AAH!™ Energy Stix can contribute by helping with your energy and your mood.

It's the CHANGE America needs NOW.

I had never really bought it when people tried to point out that Obama wasn't so much a person as a brand. Politicians have been coming up with slogans and carefully marketing themselves for generations.

But there's something different about Obama. He didn't stop at the usual trappings--buttons, signs, slogans--the man had a logo, for starters. And it feels, at least here in Washington, like he's still campaigning. There are "Obama" wares in almost every gift shop, people are wearing Obama t-shirts, the whole drill. Now, it isn't as though this is the first time we've had a product try to latch itself onto a President's popularity; Theodore Roosevelt and teddy bears are probably the most well-known example. In terms of cults of personality, though, Obama is in elite company if we're talking about Roosevelt as the closest analogue. The man more or less single-handedly formed a third party and attempted to win election to a third term as President.

I don't want to blow this out of proportion; in the grand scheme of things, O-BAM-AAH Energy Stix (with POSITIVE ENERGY) are pretty clearly a flash in the pan. But my thinking has changed on the Obama phenomenon. It is a cult, but not in the "drink the Kool Aid" sense. It's a cult like the iPod is a cult, like Coca Cola is a cult, like Nike is a cult. Americans have been using brands to define themselves for years now. The only difference with Obama is that he's selling a service, not a product.

Vote Obama! Now with 33% more "Yes we can!"

Monday, June 15, 2009

My First Post for CEI's Blog

Obama's Speech to AMA on Healthcare Misses the Point

My first blog post for CEI's has been approved and posted. Considering it was submitted around 5:30 and posted late this evening, I should probably thank someone tomorrow. In any case, if you're here you probably enjoy reading my political musings, so head on over and check it out.

Friday, June 12, 2009

HR 1207: The Cosponsorship Continues

I've let the HR 1207 saga slide a bit, since its been covered extensively by other outlets. I didn't want to let this tidbit pass by unrecorded, however.

A majority of House members now cosponsor the bill!

Also, the Senate version (sponsored by Bernie Sanders) has gained its first cosponsor, Jim Demint (R-SC). The battle now shifts to getting the house bill to the floor and building momentum behind the Senate version.

The CEI 25th Anniversary Dinner

I spent most of yesterday preparing for and then attending CEI's 25th anniversary party. After arriving at the office I tracked down a credit card and went to pick up my tuxedo. Big ups to CEI for the gratis tux rental. There's a tailor in the basement of CEI's building, Sauro Custom Tailor and Formal Wear. I felt a little awkward wearing evening attire before noon, but it isn't as though anyone cared.

I had lots of "interny" things to do in the afternoon. I carried boxes all over the place, put name tags into name tag holders, and unpacked the swag. Each attendee got a mini lava lamp (these were the subject of many off-color jokes by staff and guests alike) and an anniversary-themed "Enjoy Capitalism" shirt similar to the ones you can buy at the Bureaucrash store. The miniature lava lamps looked pretty neat stacked up in the spare cardboard boxes we used to move them into the dining room. Whenever a box got nudged, they'd start glowing in synchronization with each other.

After that, I helped put programs and swag at each table. Then starting around 6:00 I started directing people from the elevator to the reception area. This meant I missed out on the open bar, but oh well, such is the life of an intern. After about an hour of that, we started herding folks into the dining room, and dinner started.

There were over 500 people in the room. The main course was black sea bass with parmesan risotto, braised leeks, asparagus spears, red peppers, and saffron sauce. There were speakers and video presentations throughout the evening. The most talked-about presentations were the keynote speaker's address and the "It's a Wonderful Institute" video.

The keynote speech was given by John Allison, chairman of BB&T bank, whose analysis of the bailouts would have made Ayn Rand proud. He explained that the government had forced healthy banks to take TARP funds--at interest--so that receiving TARP money wouldn't automatically stigmatize a business. This goes a long way towards explaining how some institutions are ready to repay TARP money.

The "It's a Wonderful Institute" video was a humorous look at what America would be like without CEI there to fight for liberty. It starred the Institute's own Ryan Radia, who is responsible for such things as referring to CEI as "The Institute" and the extensive use of the adjective "honorable" by CEI members.

The evening closed with CEI's video promoting "Human Achievement Hour," a response to the "Earth Hour" put on by various environmentalist groups. This was followed by a toast.

After dinner, everyone headed back to the reception area for an afterparty. There was an open bar, live music, an ice sculpture, and funky furniture. I was able to enjoy a scotch rocks and later a gin and tonic. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits coming out of the dinner.

The party was scheduled to last until 1 AM, although I had to leave around 11:30 to catch the Metro back to the office. I joined up with the other interns and headed out. All said, it was a very cool experience, and everyone I've talked to seems to have enjoyed it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Yar Har, Fiddle-dee dee...

Ahoy! Pirate Party gets berth in European Parliament

Well, I didn't see that one coming.

Sweden's Pirate Party will be filling at least one seat in the European Parliament. The party advocates the abolition of the patent system, major reform of copyright law, and greater privacy protection for Internet users.

My discussion of the party's success has triggered several discussions about intellectual property issues. I have some misgivings about whether an idea can coherently be called property. Most definitions of property I've seen are something along the lines of "the result of mixing one's intellectual or physical effort with natural resources," or some such thing. It seems more likely to me that IP is a utilitarian construct intended to either encourage creativity or line the pockets of the well-connected, depending on how cynical you are. In light of the fact that I've talked more about IP in the past two days than I had in the past year, I'd say that the Pirate Party is a great success. Avast, ye land lubbers! Prepare to be boarded!

In related news, my favorite MEP was reelected. This is Mr. Hannan's second appearance on the blog, and I hope not his last. Find his characteristically amusing and lucid acceptance speech below.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Obama's Foreign Policy: Image vs. Substance

AP: Bin Laden's Obama criticism a sign he is worried

Or it could be a sign he really doesn't like Barack Obama all that much. Or both. Either way.

The AP story contains several quotes from "analysts" fully deserving of the scare quote treatment. Either they are blind enough to actually believe that Obama differs substantively from his Republican predecessor on foreign policy, or they are disingenuous enough to knowingly shower a series of misrepresentations and falsehoods on the American public.
"Obama's election is just about the worst thing that could have happened to these guys," said Tom Sanderson, a terrorism expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. "They knew right away that his election undermined a key part of their argument that the U.S. was anti-Islamic, that the U.S. was racist."
This election was a win-win for al-Qaeda. Bin Laden is trying to bankrupt the US by drawing it into unpopular, unwinnable military conflicts in deserts and mountains on the other side of the globe. McCain would have chased Bin Laden "to the gates of hell," at which point presumably he would have given up quietly, and Obama has shown no willingness to end the "Global War on Terror" begun by his predecessor. Make no mistake: this is a game where the only way to win is to refuse to play.

But back to the article. If a PR blitz by al-Qaeda is evidence that the organization is worried about Obama making diplomatic inroads, then what do we make of Obama's own PR campaign?
His speech at Cairo University Thursday is part of a campaign to prove he differs from former President George W. Bush, whose invasion of Iraq and aggressive counterterrorism tactics stoked Muslim ire and helped al-Qaida rally support.
Obama can talk all he wants, but how do we expect the Muslim world to hear his soothing voice over the rattle of American machine guns and the explosive roar of American bombs? The al-Qaeda propaganda writes itself.

Obama has refused to investigate the torture of Muslims at Guantanamo and in secret facilities, has expanded the war in Afghanistan (which is now essentially also a war in Pakistan), and has not pulled US troops out of Iraq. The popularity his overtures have won him will only last so long. After that, the cycle that starts with US interventionism, continues with the creation of new terrorists, and ends with the murder of Americans will continue unabated.

Expect all but the most principled and astute liberal commentators to continue searching for excuses for the "peace candidate" to avoid having to admit that their messiah is a warmonger with a silver tongue. Expect the neocons to desperately nitpick at every decision Obama makes in a farcical attempt to make him appear "soft on terror" compared to their political allies.

To the families of our dead soldiers, and those of the dead civilians in Iraq and elsewhere, Obama will seem neither peaceful nor soft on anything.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Yu Yongding Wins The Internet, For Now

Global Crisis 'Inevitable' Unless U.S. Starts Saving, Yu Says

The good news is that the Chinese seem to have a pretty good handle on what ails the US: what increasingly appears to be an unserviceable debt.
It’s “very natural” for the world to be concerned about the U.S. government’s spending and planned record fiscal deficit, Yu said...
The other good news is that they aren't buying the Obama administration's rhetoric about reducing the deficit.

It may be helpful if “Geithner can show us some arithmetic,” said Yu. “We need to know how the U.S. government can achieve this objective.”

The deficit is projected to reach $1.75 trillion in the year ending Sept. 30 from last year’s $455 billion shortfall, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The bad news is that they're likely just setting up for a massive power grab.
Central bank Governor Zhou Xiaochuan has proposed a new global currency to reduce reliance on the dollar.
In any case, a skittish China is bad news for US central economic planners. In order to avoid an inflationary disaster should the economy begin to recover, the Fed will have to find someone willing to buy US debt other than itself. As things stand right now, that's a dicey proposition.

Friday, May 29, 2009

My First Week in Washington

Things are going well. I've been doing a variety of things at my internship. After settling in I've mostly been helping with IT work and doing research on cybersecurity. I did some editing for this piece, and have written a commentary on the Cybersecurity Act of 2009 (S. 773). Where my piece will end up is uncertain at the moment. I'll post with more info on it once it's found a good home.

I visited Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day. I started writing about it that evening, and I'm about halfway through what will be my longest blog post to date by a wide margin. Look forward to pictures.

Also, I found out today that the next G20 summit will be in Pittsburgh about a month after I get back. The activist in me has his thinking hat on.

In any case, that's all for now. It's been an eventful week and I need to hit the sack.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day at Arlington

I'd been to Arlington National Cemetery once before my visit this Memorial Day. It was on a trip with the Boy Scouts back when I was in Jr. High (might have been before that even, come to think of it). We didn't stay long; just a visit to JFK's tomb and a jaunt over to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Also, I was probably about twelve; I imagine my worldview was somewhat different a decade ago. This trip, then, was destined to be different. I was alone with my thoughts, and free to set my own agenda.

Arlington is easily accessible by subway. I arrived in the early afternoon--the President had long since left--and the sun overhead stung my eyes as I rode the elevator up out of the station. I didn't really know what to expect in terms of an itinerary; the Tomb of the Unknowns and the Kennedy gravesite are the most famous parts of Arlington, as far as I know, but beyond that I was clueless. The first thing you come across is a visitor's center. I grabbed a map and left.

I decided to work my way towards the northwest corner first. There are a few veterans of the Revolutionary War buried there, and both the Kennedy graves and Arlington House are on the way.

My first stop was at JFK's grave. It's a very moving memorial. You walk a path up to the site that ends at an elliptical paved area. Imagine a line that splits the ellipse in half the long way. On one side of this line, along the edge of the ellipse, there is inscribed a collection of quotes from his inaugural address, which I've reproduced below.
Let the word go forth
From this time and place
To friend and foe alike
That the torch has been passed
To a new generation of Americans.

Let every nation know
Whether it wishes us well or ill
That we shall pay any price - bear any burden
Meet any hardship - support any friend
Oppose any foe to assure the survival
And the success of liberty

Now the trumpet summons us again
Not as a call to bear arms
- though embattled we are
But a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle
A struggle against the common enemies of man Tyranny - Poverty - Disease - and War itself

In the long history of the world
Only a few generations have been granted
The role of defending freedom
In the hour of maximum danger
I do not shrink from this responsibility
I welcome it

The Energy - the Faith - the Devotion
Which we bring to this endeavor
Will light our country
And all who serve it
And the glow from that fire
Can truly light the world

And so my fellow Americans
Ask not what your country can do for you
Ask what you can do for your country
My fellow citizens of the world - ask not
What America can do for you - but what together
We can do for the freedom of man

With a good conscience our only sure reward
With history the final judge of our deeds
Let us go forth to lead the land we love - asking His blessing
And his help - but knowing that here on earth
God's work must truly be our own.
Looking beyond the inscription you see a panorama of the capital, with a clear view of the Washington Monument. Opposite the inscription, on the other edge of the elliptical plaza, a wide staircase of about ten steps leads you up to the grave proper. Kennedy is buried next to his wife and two infant children. Instead of headstones, there are horizontal slabs which interrupt a larger rectangle of cut stone. Amidst the stone and above the polished slabs is an eternal flame.

From there I went a little bit to the south to see Robert Kennedy's grave; it is adjacent to his brother's gravesite. It's a smaller memorial than the Presidents, featuring a relatively humble grave separated by a small plaza from a pool of water at ground level that spills over into a ditch, from where the water is recirculated.

From there I made my way past a burial monument to the unknown dead of the Civil War (housing the remains of 2,111 soldiers), next to which was a wreath with a small tag which read in a curling script, "The President." That struck me as interesting--I liked how it detached the man from the office; no one can accuse President Obama of campaigning through Memorial Day wreaths. A lot of the time, politicians plaster their names on things every chance they get--the sign at the NY/PA border says "Welcome to Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, Governor." Also, it was a nice change of pace from what has felt like the first President who's persona is treated like a brand, complete with snazzy logo. In any case, I didn't stay too long, and moved on to see Arlington House.

Arlington House, I have to say, I was not expecting. I knew somewhere in the back of my head that Arlington used to be private property, but I hadn't heard or had forgotten the story that goes along with it.

According to the Park Service pamphlet I picked up at the entryway, the house was built as a residence and a tribute to George Washington by his step-grandson, George Washington Parke Custis. Custis's daughter, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, married a lieutenant by the name of Robert Edward Lee.

A few years later, Lee's plans no longer included residing at the estate; he resigned his commission and joined the Virginian forces. The Union confiscated the estate and began using it as a military burial ground. The rest, as they say, is history. Today, Arlington House is a national memorial to Robert E. Lee.

The house itself is nothing incredible; however, it is at the highest point in the cemetery, as far as I could tell, and provides an excellent view of the surrounding area. Major Pierre Charles L'Enfant--the civil engineer and architect credited with planning much of Washington, DC--is buried nearby, which seems fitting.

I wasn't able to find any of the graves of the Revolutionary War veterans when I got to the northwest corner. Lots of interesting tombstones, but nothing that I could identify as belonging to a Revolutionary War vet. Arlington tends to jerk one around a lot, emotionally. On one side of you you'll have a grave of a person who's first name is 10+ letter long, middle name is 6ish letters long, and last name is 3 letters long. This is clearly hilarious. On the other side you'll have a family tomb where the son died at 22 and both parents are still alive, with their names and years of birth on the stone but no date of death. This is rather tragic.

I walk for a while along the western edge of the cemetery, near Fort Meyer. It's about 2:30, and it's started to rain, but I have an umbrella. I hang a right and approach the Confederate Monument. There are graves heading radially outward from the monument in the center, next to which is another wreath from the President. Leaving the main road and approaching the monument, I stopped and looked at some of the headstones.

If someone ever asks me what I think it is to die alone, I'd point them to the spot where I took this photograph. This soldier is nameless, and lost to history. We'll never know who he was or why he fought. I suspect many Americans would be less than charitable in answering that last question. His family never knew his fate, and must have waited anxiously for months before finally giving in to despair. To die on a battlefield far from home would be depressing enough. To leave behind no identifying trace--and no closure for one's family? Devastating.

He couldn't have known it when he died, so I suppose it doesn't matter, but his anonymity left a blank canvas upon which history's pen has left a caricature. He has no name, no face. Others are invited to impose an identity upon him. It's dehumanizing.

Beyond that, though, the tombstone begs you to ask, "what was this confederate soldier?"

I'm forced to answer that he was nothing more or less than a man--imperfect and ephemeral. More that that, I should not presume.

From the Confederate Monument I headed east, towards the Memorial Amphitheater and the adjacent Tomb of the Unknowns. Along the way I saw a memorial to the Americans killed in the Battle of the Bulge; it was a gift from Belgium and Luxembourg. A short ways past it was a group of graves of nurses. There was another wreath at a memorial to Spanish-American war casualties. The wreath stand had fallen over, so I set it back upright.

I walked a bit to the northeast to the Memorial Amphitheater. Everything was still set up from the President's appearance earlier in the day. I arrived just in time for the changing of the guard at three o'clock. Thankfully, it had stopped raining. Before the scheduled changing, there was a minute of silence. I don't remember which government office had made the request. The changing of the guard is kind of neat to watch, but I found it emotionally cold compared to seeing the simple tombstones marked "unknown" scattered around the cemetery. A few photos of the ceremony are below.

Immediately following the changing of the guard, there was a wreath-laying ceremony. I had remembered this from my visit with the Boy Scouts. For whatever reason, the wreath-laying struck me as more personal, both on that visit and this one. Maybe it's because wreath-layings usually involve the public, whereas the guard-changing doesn't? In any case, I took some photographs, although I didn't get a shot of the folks actually laying the wreath, because for that part of the ceremony everyone was asked to put their hand over their heart.

After the ceremony was over, I walked around the Amphitheater a bit. The guards have an office in the Amphitheater, and outside the door there's a small display as well as this plaque:

Next I walked downhill to the east and looked back up at the tomb (towards the west). Looking towards the east, you get a view of the city much like the one from Arlington House or the Kennedy gravesite.

I headed north for a while before turning east, towards the McClellan Gate, which was the original entrance to the cemetery. I was making my way towards the columbarium in the southeast corner.

One of the more chilling aspects of Arlington are the views (like in the photo below) of the rows and rows of identical gravestones stretching out into the distance. I never got used to it. Every time, it felt like a punch in the gut.

It's a sea of tombstones, threatening to swallow you up, as it swallowed them. My head would scan the horizon, side to side. "For what?" I kept thinking. All of them for different reasons, I suppose. It's just overwhelming, really. I couldn't make sense of it.

On the way to the columbarium there's a place where the graves stop. There were a lot of cars parked along the roadside in this section. I realized this was where the most recent burials were.

A group of three servicemen were visiting an old friend. Families were gathered around loved ones. Some of the graves were so new they weren't yet covered in sod and lacked permanent headstones. Many of the graves had objects and letters. One had a poem written in charcoal on parchment. I came across one grave, pictured below, which had a miniature Stanley Cup and a Darth Vader action figure. I digitally erased the name on the marker to protect his and his family's privacy.

This whole section cut at me deeply. Many of the dead here were born within a few years of me. I don't know how to make sense of that. How many more will be laid to rest here, I wonder, before the rest can come home? Its senseless. They should never have left. The whole thing is just insane.

From there I moved on towards the southeast, passing the columbarium. It has simple lines, and the gardens and fountains are very well maintained. It's pleasant and undistracting. I didn't stay long.

Just to the south of the columbarium is what my map calls the "Pentagon Group Burial Marker Sept. 11, 2001." The Pentagon itself is immediately to the southeast of the cemetery. The marker is in the shape of a pentagon. Each side lists the names of the dead. Some of the names have diamonds next to them, others have stars. There's an inscription along the top identifying the monument as being for those who died in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon. I wondered what the stars and diamonds were for. The last panel that I came to told me. Diamond: passenger on American Airlines Flight 77. Star: no identifiable remains found.

I walked southeast to the road that heads along the cemetery's eastern border and headed back towards the entrance. It started raining again. I exited the cemetery through the Women's Memorial, which is a large semicircle capping the end of Memorial Drive. There was a memorial ceremony going on inside. After poking my head in, I stepped outside and took the stairs up to walk along the top of the memorial. I headed down on the other side and walked back along Memorial Drive towards the metro station, ending my visit shortly after five o'clock.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mr. Babcock Goes to Washington

Tomorrow morning I'm getting on a plane for the capital. I will be doing a 10 week internship with the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Should be a good time. Day after tomorrow is memorial day--I'm thinking of catching the metro out to Arlington National Cemetery to pay my respects, although I imagine the crowds will be terrible.

The Liberty News Feed seems to be on the fritz--it's showing the default feed rather than the one it should be. No time to fix it now, though--I have to finish packing. Next stop, Washington...assuming I don't get detained by the TSA.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Teaching Austrian Economics to High Schoolers

Yesterday, I returned to my high school as a guest speaker. My captive audience was a class of Senior AP Economics students, and my topic was the Austrian Theory of the Business Cycle. An American History teacher, the head of the Social Studies department, and the principal all stopped by for all or part of the talk. I began by laying out two of the most distinguishing features of the Austrian School: (1) free markets are the best way to incorporate information spread out among multiple participants into a coordinated, cohesive economic system; (2) economics is properly deductive, not empirical. Their coursework covered Keynesian and Classical models, so I compared some of the beliefs of the Keynesians and the Austrians in a two-column point/counterpoint list. Then I told the parable of Paul Krugman on Sushi Island (from The Importance of Capital Theory by Robert P. Murphy). I concluded by giving a brief overview of the Austrian analysis of the Great Depression and the current financial crisis.

Then it was time for question-and-answer. This led to a discussion of the difference between a capitalist, socialist, and fascist economy. I explained that in my own opinion, the greatest risk posed by an Obama administration was not the ascendancy of socialism, but rather the emergence of a fascist-style economy: the union of corporate and government power, an activist government that picks winners and losers based on "national interest" and political connections, and a system of privatized profits and socialized losses.

Afterwards one student came up and asked me if I thought that we'd been starting to see economic fascism before Obama. I said "absolutely," and described the trend as going back as far as the '70s (in retrospect, the seeds were there ever before then). I pointed to Eisenhower's farewell address warning to guard against "undue influence" by the "military-industrial complex" as a warning against economic fascism.

The teacher who hosted me gave some concluding remarks which were gracious and open-minded. She told her students that she hoped they'd take away a realization that there were a lot of different ways to think about economics beyond what they'd learned.

The whole thing was filmed, and the high school's media center even edited my Powerpoint slides into the video. I'll be getting a DVD in the mail.

All in all, an excellent experience, and one I hope to repeat. I heard that the Social Studies department has been interested in some kind of curriculum enrichment on the economics of the Great Depression. I'm writing my honors thesis on the topic, so I might ask if I could contribute next time I'm in town .

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Elephant and Castle and Hockey and Politics

Or, How I Surprised a Canadian.

I finished moving out of my apartment in Pittsburgh this Tuesday. On the way home I stopped for dinner at Grove City (home of a very large outlet mall and Grove City College) at a restaurant and inn called Elephant and Castle. The Elephant is modeled after an English pub--the menu consists of things like bangers and mash and Yorkshire pudding.

I ordered shepherd's pie, and a few minutes later my waitress returned to let me know that it would be a twenty minute wait if I wanted the shepherd's pie because the kitchen was lacking the necessary mashed potatoes. I decided to wait it out and asked if I could sit at the bar in the meantime, where they were showing game one of the Penguins/Hurricanes series.

Next to me was a gentleman who I learned was from Winnipeg. We started chatting and the conversation went from what I was studying at Pitt to politics. It turns out this guy had narrowly lost out on being elected to the Canadian equivalent of town council--seven people ran for two spots, and he finished third by a margin of less than 1%. We mostly focused on healthcare and monetary policy.

It was interesting to get a Canadian's perspective on US politics. He told me that most of the time when he asks people why they're a Republican or a Democrat, they say something along the lines of "because my parents were," and are seldom sure exactly what a given candidate supports that makes them want to vote for that person. He mentioned that one of the things he likes best about US government is term limits for the President. He also mentioned that one shouldn't confuse socialized medicine with "free" healthcare--you pay for it, one way or the other. He told a story about how he once needed stitches on his eyebrow, and faced the prospect of either waiting up to six hours at a "free" hospital, or paying $75 for expedited service at a different facility. He noted that the best doctors, including one of his relatives who was a neurosurgeon if I remember correctly, tend to head south where they can make more money.

The gentleman's drink of choice was Coors Light with a shot of Bloody Mary mix.

In any case, I had a great conversation and probably stayed half an hour longer than I should have at Elephant and Castle. Got in to Rochester at about 1:40 in the morning. I'm home for the week, and then I'm heading to Washington, DC, where I am interning with the Competitive Enterprise Institute. I start there a week from Tuesday (which it has been for about four hours now, now that I think about it).

I should really get some sleep. Maybe after the Mountain Dew wears off.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Inflation Watch

I saw Star Trek with my brother today. It was a fun time. But let's talk about monetary policy, instead.

'Star Trek' boldly goes to $31M at box office
The best opening weekend ever for the franchise was $30.7 million for 1996's "Star Trek: First Contact." According to inflation-adjusted numbers compiled by, that translates to $51.2 million in today's dollars.
It's figures like that that just make your jaw drop. I couldn't quickly find how calculates it's inflation adjusted ticket prices, and if I'm not mistaken movie tickets have been outpacing general inflation, but still. That's a 67% increase in the price of a movie ticket in just thirteen years. And yet Bernanke and the Fed remain committed to bringing back inflation at all costs.

Years of inflation helped create the current depression by discouraging saving and encouraging excessive borrowing. Inflation makes nominal values worth less over time--the same number in your bank account translates to less "stuff" over time, and the real value of your debt grows smaller even though the number stays the same.

Now, neither inflation or deflation are inherently bad if they are the result of market forces, but in most modern economies, inflation and deflation levels are determined (at least in the long run) by the actions of central economic planners, like my favorite secret society, the Federal Reserve. Meddling with the money supply like this creates distortions in the market which creates or exacerbates the boom-and-bust cycle the Fed is supposed to be combating.

Like many government agencies, the Fed has been given an impossible task, and it would be a better use of government resources to simply shut it down. Instead, it carries on year after year pretending to be an omnipotent, omniscient force for economic good.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Justice Department Report Slams Terrorist Watchlist

AFP: US Terror watchlist has 35% error rate
NY Times: Justice Dept. Finds Flaws in F.B.I Terror List

Details of a Justice Department report on the US's terrorism watchlist came out recently, and the results are rather unsurprising. Thirty-five percent of the bloated list is likely out of date or otherwise erroneous. The Justice Department looked at a sample of 68,669 entries on a list of 1.1 million people. It's hard to believe that there are potentially 1.1 million terrorists out there. Even after you take into account a 35% error rate, that's still 715,000 potential terrorists.

The CIA World Factbook puts the global population at roughly 6,790,000,000, which would mean .01% of the population has close ties to terrorism. That's one terrorist for every 10,000 people. Now maybe I'm wrong, but that seems ludicrously high to me. We should follow the ACLU's suggestion and scrap the current system altogether. At the very least, the current system is a waste of time and money. At worst, it is a massive attack on the civil liberties of hundreds of thousands of people.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

It Just Happened Here

"Know that they can come and take anyone in your family away--even your children. And they don't have to be guilty."

"Because there is a gag order in the case, the US attorney in Indiana told us he could not comment, nor could the FBI. The North Carolina Highway Patrol did confirm they assited the FBI with its operation at the Lundeby home on March fifth."

For all I know, Ashton Lundeby was calling in bomb threats to places in Indiana from his home in Granville County, Virginia. It doesn't matter. He has a right to due process, period. The Patriot Act cannot and does not take that away.

Now watch as the Department of Homeland Security calling people extremists and terrorists becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If this sixteen-year-old didn't harbor anger agaisnt his fellow man before, he certainly does now--just like the hundreds released from Guantanamo without charge.

Being a citizen used to come with rights and responsibilities. Now it comes with responsibilities and free stuff. If anyone in Washington is reading this, I'd like to trade my free stuff for the rights my parents and grandparents and great grandparents had: the rights my friends, family, and forefathers put their lives on the line to defend.

You know, if it's not too much trouble.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Obama Completely Misses the Point

Obama Describes Big-Government Solutions as Unwanted, but Necessary - First 100 Days of Presidency - Politics

President Obama directly addressed critics today who accused him of trying to expand the size and scope of government. From the article:
After taking questions for an hour, the president concluded by attempting to dispel charges that he's a big-government president by design.

"I don't want to run auto companies. I don't want to run banks. I've got two wars I've got to run already -- I've got more than enough to do," he said. "So the sooner we can get out of that business, the better off we're going to be. We are in unique circumstances."

He said he's "amused" by charges that he wants to grow government.

"I want to disabuse people of this notion that somehow we enjoy meddling in the private sector," Obama said.

"If you could tell me right now that when I walked into this office, that the banks were humming, the autos were selling and that all you had to worry about was Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, getting health care passed, figuring out how to deal with energy independence, deal with Iran and a pandemic flu -- I would take that deal."

With regard to the auto sector, Obama said the federal government is intervening to help America's automakers survive and eventually become globally competitive.

While it is encouraging to hear the President say he would rather the government get out of the private sector under normal conditions, I would be more inclined to take him seriously if the government hadn't just acquired 8% of Chrysler as part of bankruptcy proceedings. And if Rahm "let no crisis go unexploited" Emmanuel wasn't his chief of staff. Incidentally, according to Open Secrets, Emmanuel "was the top House recipient in the 2008 election cycle of contributions from hedge funds, private equity firms and the larger securities/investment industry." But I digress.

Obama is missing the point. None of his critics care how much he is enjoying overseeing the dismantling of the last remnants of American capitalism. We care that he's doing it. The fact that he sees government intervention into the economy as necessary in times of crisis puts him philosophically at odds with Americans who love liberty and understand what it means.

This leads us to the fundamental questions that libertarians wish liberals would ask more often: Is government the part of society best equipped to deal with this problem? If so, is this a legitimate use of government power, i.e., does acting to solve this problem protect people's rights, or infringe upon them?

"The question we ask today is not whether government is too big or too small, but whether it works," said the President at his inauguration.

The President asked the wrong question. Let's say it turns out the the government is the most efficient institution for delivering health care, to pick one of the President's favorite projects. Does that mean the government should enter the healthcare business? By asserting that the primary qualification of a government program is whether it works, the President is skipping the more fundamental question: is this program a legitimate function of government?
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
"To secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men." Not "to provide for their material needs;" not "to protect the environment;" not "to provide cheap, high-quality healthcare," not "to conduct scientific research;" not "to define marriage as between one man and one woman;" not "to educate our children."

"To secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men."

President Obama would do well to remember it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mish on the Fed and Libertarianism

Mike "Mish" Shedlock posted a response to this claptrap on his blog today:
Anti-Libertarian Nonsense From Henry Kaufman & Company

If you want to learn more about the libertarian/Austrian criticisms of central banking, this would be the place to start. The gist of the article is that saying the Fed followed a philosophy that was "too libertarian" is nonsense. The Fed can't be libertarian any more than the military can be pacifist. Its existence precludes such a label by definition.

I would add that you can immediately dismiss anyone who says that lack of regulation allowed the creation of companies that were "too big to fail" or "led to companies receiving bailouts." There is no such thing as a company that is too big to fail, only a company with enough political power to demand that it be enriched at the expense of the taxpayer. Bailouts have nothing to do with deregulation; they stem from the same source that thinks intervention will fix what ails the economy. Bailouts, like regulations, are just another link in a long chain of interventions.

We should decommission the Fed, and leave failing companies to their fates. This includes public-private monstrosities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as well as failed corporations like AIG. These dying behemoths are being held in suspended animation at taxpayer expense, and their girth is clogging up the marketplace and choking off resources that would be better employed by new market actors.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

HR 1207: A Small Personal Victory

The Campaign for Liberty has designated today a "Mass Action Day" for HR 1207 activism.

I just got off the phone with the offices of Representative Doyle and Senator Casey. I didn't bother to call Senator Specter, I feel like his office is totally inundated with noise right now. Congressman Doyle's office gave me a polite acknowledgment, as has been my experience in the past.

What I heard when I called Senator Casey made my day.

I spoke with a fellow named Joe, if I remember correctly. I explained that I hoped the Senator would consider cosponsoring S513, a bill which would allow the GAO to audit the Federal Reserve. I added that it was the Senate version of HR 1207, since the House bill seems to have more name recognition.

Joe asked me if I was referring to Ron Paul's bill. I said that yes, he has done a lot of advocacy on the issue and is the sponsor in the House. I added that the Senate version is sponsored by Bernie Sanders and cosponsored by Senators Feingold and Lincoln.

This was Joe's reply, as closely as I remember it: "To be perfectly honest with you, this isn't an issue I've asked the Senator about yet. But I feel like we've reached a threshold now where it is something I should bring to his attention."

I thanked Joe, and said that support for the bill would go a long way towards showing the Senator's commitment to openness and accountability.

How encouraging! Keep the ball rolling, everyone!

Specter a Democrat! In Other News, Water Wet

Arlen Specter just announced that he's switching parties. The cynical view would be that he's a waffler and an opportunist. There might be something to that, although it's likely that Specter will just keep on voting like he's been voting. This isn't Specter compromising his principles, this is Specter seeing the writing on the wall and making the most politically sensible choice. The real question is why he didn't do it sooner.

At least now the senator is being open about the fact that he's not recognizably conservative. My only worry is that Rick Santorum will try to run against him. I've got a year to keep that from happening.

From the article:
Specter faced an extraordinarily difficult re-election challenge in his home state in 2010, having first to confront a challenge from his right in the Republican primary before pivoting to a general election campaign against a Democrat.

"I am unwilling to have my twenty-nine year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate," he said in the statement.

"I don't have to say anything to them. They've said it to me," Specter said, when asked in a Capitol corridor about abandoning the GOP.
Maybe there's some hope of the Republican party finding itself after all. The way I read this is that Specter was more or less sure that he couldn't win reelection as a Republican--he'd have to lean too far right in the primary to run successfully against a Democrat. Well, what do you expect, Senator? You keep voting for bailouts and bigger government. I love the massive condescension in his statement, too. "Unwilling" to be "judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate?!" Willing or not, you have been, and you will be. You may have had an "R" by your name, but you've been voting like a "D" for years. Then again, you aren't alone.

I hope this is a wake-up call to the Republican rank-and-file that having an "R" after your name simply isn't enough. How long until we demand conservatism from Republicans? How many more usurpations and abuses will it take? How long until we see through the two-party illusion and perceive this country's entrenched monolithic power structure for what it is? Donkeys and Elephants are putting on a dog-and-pony show while the country slips further and further towards tyranny and economic oblivion. Labels don't matter, actions matter. This is the lesson to take from Specter's otherwise irrelevant switch.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

HR 1207: The Crazy 88

Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty is reporting that HR 1207 is sitting on 88 cosponsors and counting. This was after a jump to 71 cosponsors yesterday, when Congress returned to session. That's a jump of 33 congresspeople since I last reported on the issue.

Not all of the new cosponsors are listed on the Library of Congress's site yet, but here's the ones that are:

Rep Lucas, Frank D. [OK-3] - 4/21/2009
Rep Lamborn, Doug [CO-5] - 4/21/2009
Rep Ehlers, Vernon J. [MI-3] - 4/21/2009
Rep Bilbray, Brian P. [CA-50] - 4/21/2009
Rep Pence, Mike [IN-6] - 4/21/2009
Rep Manzullo, Donald A. [IL-16] - 4/21/2009
Rep McCaul, Michael T. [TX-10] - 4/21/2009
Rep Cole, Tom [OK-4] - 4/21/2009
Rep Roe, David P. [TN-1] - 4/21/2009
Rep Herger, Wally [CA-2] - 4/21/2009
Rep Bishop, Rob [UT-1] - 4/21/2009
Rep Baldwin, Tammy [WI-2] - 4/21/2009
Rep Olson, Pete [TX-22] - 4/21/2009
Rep Latham, Tom [IA-4] - 4/21/2009
Rep Luetkemeyer, Blaine [MO-9] - 4/21/2009
Rep Doggett, Lloyd [TX-25] - 4/21/2009
Rep Rooney, Thomas J. [FL-16] - 4/22/2009
Rep Massa, Eric J. J. [NY-29] - 4/22/2009
Rep Johnson, Sam [TX-3] - 4/22/2009
Rep Thompson, Glenn [PA-5] - 4/22/2009
Rep Brady, Kevin [TX-8] - 4/22/2009
Rep Smith, Adam [WA-9] - 4/22/2009
Rep Shimkus, John [IL-19] - 4/22/2009
Rep Graves, Sam [MO-6] - 4/22/2009

Those of you doing research will find it helpful to know that David Roe goes by his middle name, Philip. We picked up four more Democrats with this update: Baldwin, Doggett, Massa, and Smith. It's always nice to have Adam Smith on your side on a piece of economics legislation.

Campaign for Liberty believes the number of cosponsors will continue to rise over the next few days.

The Senate version of the bill still has no cosponsors listed on THOMAS.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Obama Backtracks on Torture Investigations

Obama open to prosecution, probe of interrogations

It seems that all is not totally lost. Apparently while "I was just following orders" is a perfectly acceptable excuse for someone to participate in torture, writing the policy that those giving the orders referenced in an effort to justify their crimes is not.
White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said in a television interview over the weekend that the administration does not support prosecutions for "those who devised policy." Later, White House aides said that he was referring to CIA superiors who ordered the interrogations, not the Justice Department officials who wrote the legal memos allowing them.
Obama is worried about investigations leading to partisan squabbles that get in the way of running the country, and is seeking a process that would use independent investigators, perhaps like the 9/11 Commission. Wouldn't want to play the blame game, you might look vindictive.

This is the same bullcrap the Democrats have been feeding us for years--they'd rather look conciliatory and stay above the fray than address serious human rights abuses head on. And yet they still get most of the "progressive" vote. Oh well.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Al-Qaeda Official: Nothing's Changed

Al-Qaeda says Obama 'did not change anything'

I wonder how many more times Al-Qaeda is going to have to tell us in plain English exactly why they're killing us before someone in America actually hears? They have no incentive to lie about this, just like a kidnapper has no incentive to lie about his or her ransom demands. "Islamic fundamentalist" terrorism is a complete misnomer. This is about the expansion of the United States' empire in the Middle East.

From the article:
It is America that is still killing Muslims in Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It is America that steals their fortunes, occupies their land, and supports the thieving, corrupt, and traitor rulers in their countries. And consequently, the problem is not over. Rather, it is likely to deteriorate and escalate.
Now, the caveat here is that while terrorism is usually a political action, not a religious one, church and state are much more intertwined in the Middle East than they are in other places. To say that terrorists are "Islamo-fascists" who "hate freedom" essentially misses the point. We may not agree with these folks' ideal form of government, but that disagreement is peripheral to the terrorism issue, not central to it.

Right-wing partisans in the US will seize on this as proof that Al-Qaeda will attack us no matter what the US's foreign policy is. They might have a point if anything Obama had done anything other than give us what has so far been Bush's third term.

War in Iraq? Still going strong.
War in Afghanistan? Getting ready for a ramp-up.
In bed with the Saudi royal family and antagonistic to the most secular government in the region? Check and check.
Willing to support anything and everything Israel wants? You betcha.

Hooray! Change we can believe in!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Liberty News Wire Added

The Campaign for Liberty's "Liberty News Wire" RSS feed has been embedded in the column on the left. The feed features a selection of news items that are relevant to various liberty issues.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Human Rights and Barack Obama, the Coward

One step forward, two steps back.

That's how I'd describe the news that came out today regarding the Obama administration's stance towards persistent Bush-era torture policies.

AP: No charges against CIA officials for waterboarding

I watched the documentary Torturing Democracy (viewable online) recently. It's very good; I would have preferred something a bit less sensationalist in nature, but with this subject matter, sensationalism is hard to escape. If you want to learn more, sitting down and watching Torturing Democracy would be my recommendation.

When Obama took office, one of my hopes was that we would see a rollback of the Bush administration's massive human and civil rights abuses. Indeed, much of the secrecy surrounding the US's use of torture has been ended--but to what end? Reports of prisoner abuse have not decreased, even though Guantanamo is scheduled to be closed, along with the so called "black sites" around the world. The Patriot Act is still on the books. Our intelligence agencies are still completely out of control.

And now we find out that the people responsible for this are going to get a free pass. President Obama tells us that "We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history...but at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past." Attorney General Holder tells us that "It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department."

"Nothing will be gained?" Maybe so. But by choosing this course of action, everything will be lost.

Norton v. Shelby County tells us the following:
"An unconstitutional act is not a law; it confers no rights; it imposes no duties; it affords no protection; it creates no office; it is in legal contemplation as inoperative as though it had never been passed."

All of these people took an oath to uphold the Constitution. Even the bits about due process and cruel and unusual punishment.

The article linked above says "using a plastic neck collar to slam detainees into walls...and beating and kicking the detainee(s)" was authorized. Torturing Democracy also reports the practice of sexual humiliation. Everone's heard about waterboarding.

Every time someone calls waterboarding "simulated drowning," I get nauseous. There is nothing about it that is "simulated." They start drowning you, and stop the flow of water before you suffocate, letting you cough up the water they just poured down your throat and take a few gasping breaths. And then they start drowning you again. Your tax dollars at work.

The kicker? The techniques used at Guantanamo are based on techniques used against our soldiers to produce false confessions. They aren't designed to get people to tell you the truth, they're designed to get people to tell you whatever you want them to tell you.

Nancy "Impeachment is off the table" Pelosi and Barack "Nothing to be gained" Obama are cowards of the highest order. They had a clear view of a great evil. They had it within their power to ensure that justice was done. They have abandoned their responsibilities for reasons of political convenience.

This is what my country has come to: neither authorizing nor carrying out the systematic torture of human beings, imprisoned indefinitely and without charge, warrants any repercussive action.

Today, I weep for my country.