November 17, 2004

Color Me Skeptical

November 06, 2004

MoveOn's backfire

Robert Novak on the failure of MoveOn's activism:

Only four of the 26 Democratic challengers for Congress and governorships endorsed and bankrolled by the left-wing MoveOn PAC were elected Tuesday, but some suffered from that organization's support.

In Arizona, former Flagstaff Mayor Paul Babbitt was embarrassed before his rural constituents in his campaign for Congress when Republican Rep. Rick Renzi mentioned MoveOn's endorsement of Babbitt. Renzi had been considered one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents but won easily with 59 percent of the vote.

In Minnesota, missing children's advocate Patty Wetterling's campaign for Congress suffered when Republican ads attacked her for accepting MoveOn's endorsement and cash. Republican Rep. Mark Kennedy was re-elected with 54 percent.

October 30, 2004

Kerry more likely to reinstate draft

Bruce Chapman on who is more likely to reinstate a draft:

Of all the upside-down, misreported issues of 2004, the phoniest is the Kerry camp's assertion that a re-elected George W. Bush will bring back the draft. The case is much stronger that John Kerry himself would do so.

(...)

The volunteer military was a political victory by libertarian conservatives against social-engineering liberals, and its success, as nearly all military leaders acknowledge, has been a significant factor in improving the quality and motivation of America's armed forces in the years following the draft-driven (and protested) Vietnam War.

But liberals have never given up the idea of national service. Funded by fat grants from major foundations, a long parade of studies and schemes to introduce the idea has marched forth in a seemingly endless column from think tanks and academia. In the face of the military's own desire never again to rely on coerced recruits, such organizations as the Brookings Institution have proposed instead an ever-expanding realm of paid voluntarism in the social service sector.

(...)

If anyone doubts what is going on here, he might simply examine who backs Kerry, and he will find that almost all the longtime advocates of national service (including many who wish to resume a draft) are among them. On the other stand nearly all of us who worked to introduce a volunteer military in the first place and have worked ever since to preserve it.

Polls show that military families will vote for Bush over Kerry by ratios of up to 3 to 1. Among other things, they know who wants a competent professional fighting force and who would allow it to degrade to the point that a draft became necessary.

It is demagogic, therefore, for Kerry to claim that it is Bush who would like to bring back the draft, not him. It is even more reprehensible that Kerry's friends in the media have refused to explain the background on this issue to a generation of voters who are too young not to be gulled by campaign propaganda.

October 28, 2004

Viva Piñera

Carlo Stagnaro on the necessary reform of Social security systems in Europe:

The vision Europe needs is Jose Piñera's. Dr. Piñera was minister in Chile in the early 1980s. At that time, he pursued an innovative pension reform that transformed Chilean workers into "workers-capitalists". This is a metaphor Piñera likes, and for good reasons.

(...)

Chilean-style reform could succeed in privatizing de facto the pensions, while limiting government spending -- something which is very important in a country like Italy, where the risk is to reduce pension debt by increasing public debt, with no sensible change for the average worker and taxpayer. CERM's Fabio Pammolli and Nicola Salerno, in fact, showed how it may be possible to create an incentive towards a private system, while limiting government expenditure. These measures are a way to make the crisis a bit less incumbent; yet, there's no doubt the iceberg is approaching the European Titanic.

October 19, 2004

John Kerry, Dead End

October 17, 2004

Vote: it’s easier than working

Movimentarian.com has created its very own Rock the Vote campaign:

I’d like to remind everyone that if you don’t vote, then you won’t get your chance to force others around. In fact, you’d have no right to complain when people forced you around, because you forfeited your opportunity to defend yourself or force them to do what you want.

In many other countries citizens don’t get the chance to force others around, imagine not having that ability. It is a shame so many eligible voters here do not take an hour out of their day to go and get their beliefs enforced. If more people did that we would surely have a more Utopic society.

Remember, thousands of people have sacrificed their lives so you can have the right to force their children to fight for that right.

October 16, 2004

Media Bend Over Backwards to Help Kerry

Thomas Sowell on media bias

A joke has President Bush and the Pope sailing down the Potomac on the Presidential yacht. The wind blows the Pontiff's cap off and it falls into the water. President Bush orders the yacht stopped, gets off and walks across the water to retrieve the Pope's cap.

The next day's headline in the New York Times reads: BUSH CAN'T SWIM.

It is hard to know whether media bias is getting worse or whether the mainstream media are just getting caught more often because of alternative sources of news like Fox News, talk radio and a growing number of Internet sites. Twenty years ago, CBS News and Dan Rather might have been able to continue to bluff their way out of the forged documents scandal because the other members of the big-three broadcast networks were unlikely to press the issue.

October 14, 2004

Nobel laureate calls for steeper tax cuts in US

Wise words by Edward Prescott:

"What Bush has done has been not very big, it's pretty small," Prescott told CNBC financial news television.

"Tax rates were not cut enough," he said.

Lower tax rates provided an incentive to work, Prescott said.

Prescott and Norwegian Finn Kydland won the 2004 Nobel Economics Prize for research into the forces behind business cycles.

October 12, 2004

October 11, 2004

Kerry's scarlet letter

Robert Novak on the second Bush/Kerry debate:

George W. Bush pulled himself together sufficiently in St. Louis Friday night to avoid losing the presidency to John Kerry on debater's points, and got down to his foremost task. The Republican president concentrated on imprinting the scarlet letter "L" (for liberal) on his Democratic challenger's chest. Whether or not he succeeds may determine who is elected.

It seems like a lifetime since July 1991 when Sen. Kerry declared: "I'm a liberal, and proud of it." Thirteen years later, the L-word is forbidden language for Kerry. He is attempting what only Bill Clinton among recent Democratic candidates has accomplished: covering left-of-center policies with a facade of moderation. Kerry, less skilled than Clinton as a political dancer, is burdened with a 30-year record of nearly unbroken liberal votes.

What bothered Republican leaders nationwide about President Bush's performance in the first debate at Coral Gables, Fla., was not so much his bizarre body language as his failure to press the liberal label on Kerry. Bush was ready in St. Louis, with the line used 60 years ago by heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis about challengers retreating from his lethal fists: "He can run, but he can't hide" -- referring to Kerry's desire to escape his voting record.
Victory for John Howard

From Reuters:

Conservative Australian Prime Minister John Howard, handed the most powerful mandate in almost a generation, has got down to work with reform of telecommunications, labour and media laws high on his agenda.

Howard described his Liberal/National coalition's crushing win over centre-left opposition Labour in Saturday's election as remarkable. He now has a strong mandate to push ahead with his conservative platform in his fourth straight term in office.

October 04, 2004

Miami Vices

Julian Sanchez on the presidential debate:

Surely it's important that Kerry is perceived as the winner in a debate on a subject - international relations and the War on Terror - where Bush's perceived advantage is greatest. The group for which the debates had the biggest impact will likely be the sizable swath of voters who've soured somewhat on Bush but found Kerry an uninspiring alternative. Though his central alliance-building theme sounds a bit thin on even minimal reflection - does anyone imagine that Jaques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder will be more willing to commit troops to Iraq now than they were a year ago, regardless of who sits in the Oval Office? - Kerry's choice to answer policy questions with relatively simple declarative sentences, delivered in a self-assured tone, may help him shed the flip-flopper moniker.

(...)

While Thursday's debates proved surprisingly substantive, a bit better than the "joint press conference" many wags had predicted, I doubt that policy details will be the most important thing conveyed in these exchanges. Anyone committed enough to sit through 90 minutes of candidate sparring already has a cornucopia of better venues in which to seek out concrete details on how the candidates would govern, from official and unofficial campaign websites to the political Niagra spewing from the cable news channels. In the last two debates, after all, the most serious blows candidates suffered were self-inflicted - an inopportune glance at a wristwatch, a huffy roll of the eyes. Someone who wants to gauge the impact of the next debate may want to try watching it on mute.

September 28, 2004

The Cult of Che

Paul Berman reviews The Motorcycle Diaries:

The cult of Ernesto Che Guevara is an episode in the moral callousness of our time. Che was a totalitarian. He achieved nothing but disaster. Many of the early leaders of the Cuban Revolution favored a democratic or democratic-socialist direction for the new Cuba. But Che was a mainstay of the hardline pro-Soviet faction, and his faction won. Che presided over the Cuban Revolution's first firing squads. He founded Cuba's "labor camp" system - the system that was eventually employed to incarcerate gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims. To get himself killed, and to get a lot of other people killed, was central to Che's imagination. In the famous essay in which he issued his ringing call for "two, three, many Vietnams," he also spoke about martyrdom and managed to compose a number of chilling phrases: "Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become "- and so on. He was killed in Bolivia in 1967, leading a guerrilla movement that had failed to enlist a single Bolivian peasant. And yet he succeeded in inspiring tens of thousands of middle class Latin-Americans to exit the universities and organize guerrilla insurgencies of their own. And these insurgencies likewise accomplished nothing, except to bring about the death of hundreds of thousands, and to set back the cause of Latin-American democracy - a tragedy on the hugest scale.

The present-day cult of Che - the T-shirts, the bars, the posters - has succeeded in obscuring this dreadful reality. And Walter Salles' movie The Motorcycle Diaries will now take its place at the heart of this cult. It has already received a standing ovation at Robert Redford's Sundance film festival (Redford is the executive producer of The Motorcycle Diaries) and glowing admiration in the press. Che was an enemy of freedom, and yet he has been erected into a symbol of freedom. He helped establish an unjust social system in Cuba and has been erected into a symbol of social justice. He stood for the ancient rigidities of Latin-American thought, in a Marxist-Leninist version, and he has been celebrated as a free-thinker and a rebel. And thus it is in Salles' Motorcycle Diaries.

September 25, 2004

September 19, 2004

Is Kerry moving left?

Robert Novak on Kerry's apparent move to the left:

To the astonishment and dismay of Democratic politicians, John Kerry over the last weekend appeared to have forgotten his opponent for president. He did not seem to realize that he was running against George W. Bush, not Howard Dean. That was an understandable conclusion to be drawn from the Democratic nominee's course over four days.

Last Friday, Sen. Kerry abruptly returned to the safely buried gun control issue by decrying President Bush for permitting the assault weapons ban to end. On Saturday, he addressed the Congressional Black Caucus with a liberal harangue. On Sunday, Kerry rested. On Monday, Kerry was back boosting gun control, scolding Bush for letting the assault weapons ban expire at midnight.

Only two explanations are possible, and neither is reassuring to worried Democrats. Kerry could be making a conscious, though counterproductive, decision to reassure his liberal base. Or, he could be trapped by the calendar of events -- talking gun control because a deadline had been reached and talking civil rights because the Black Caucus invited him. Democratic strategists are particularly concerned by the latter explanation, suggesting a mindless campaign.

September 13, 2004

A Curious Case for Interventionism

Tom Palmer demolishes Max Borders' case for military interventionism and a "libertarian" hawkish foreign policy:

Borders does not deal with the core classical liberal position that there is a general presumption against waging war. There is a very large and impressive tradition governing the waging of war ("just war theory") and one of the important pillars on which it rests is that unless a war meets various criteria, it is unjustified. The burden of proof is always on the person justifying a war. War is not a good thing in and of itself. It may be a necessary evil, but it requires justification. Borders doesn’t address whether that burden was discharged in the Iraq war. I and others do not think that it was. Where is the argument that it was justified? Purple prose about an unfleshed-out theory that "rests neither on the foundational axioms associated with traditional moral theories, nor on the nihilism and disorderly assertions of the so-called Postmoderns" does not do the job. Arguments and evidence about threats to the U.S., evidence of WMD, evidence of collusion with Al Qaeda in the 9-11 attacks, and so forth are the stuff of such a justification, not irrelevant claims about Rawlsian constructivism and natural rights.

September 12, 2004

Bundesbank attacks Brussels' euro reform plans

The Bundesbank speaks out against the possible weakening of the stability pact:

Commission proposals to reform the rules underpinning the euro today received heavy criticism from Germany's Central Bank, the Bundesbank.

"The Bundesbank is of the opinion that the proposed changes will not strengthen but weaken the stability pact", said the Bank, referring to the euro rules.

The Bank expressed its concern that budgetary discipline would be undermined.

"[The plans] will reduce the incentive for euro zone countries to pursue solid budget policies and, at the same time, send a wrong signal to those countries that have not yet adopted the single currency", continued the statement.

And the Bundesbank added that the long-awaited proposals - unveiled last Friday (3 September) - would "make the rules more complicated and complex, thereby impairing its ability to be implemented".

September 07, 2004

Bush's advantage

Robert Novak on John Kerry's campaign performance:

President Bush's advisers cannot believe their good fortune of how badly John Kerry and his campaign have performed the past month. What's more, that assessment is shared by many Democrats outside the Kerry campaign.

The Republican National Convention here did everything intended, climaxed by President Bush's competent though overly long acceptance speech. But Bush's real advantage has been Kerry. At the Labor Day traditional campaign start, the Democratic candidate still seems undefined. In his latest about-face, he has gone into an attack mode, however blunted.

On the Republican convention's last day, word spread about Kerry's newest tactic: going to Springfield, Ohio, for a midnight rally targeting both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for missing combat in Vietnam. That puzzled the president's strategists, who figured Kerry would want to close the door on investigation of his own combat record. He instead delivered a glancing blow at Cheney's student draft deferments 40 years ago and then, in a meandering stump speech, drifted from health care to Iraq and back to health care. His late-night audience, in the picturesque Ohio town square, seemed anesthetized.

September 04, 2004

Democrats for Bush

Thomas Sowell on Kerry's strategy:

Some media pundits say that Senator Kerry's poor showing in the polls is due to his having followed the wrong political strategy in this campaign. They say he put too much emphasis on his Vietnam war record.

But what else did he have to put emphasis on?

Can you run for office during a war on terrorism by citing a voting record that includes being anti-military for decades? Can you even rely on a Senate record in favor of welfare state spending, at a time when handing out goodies takes a back seat to national security?

What was left for Senator Kerry, except trying to resurrect Vietnam, with his own spin on it, and making big promises for the future? Moreover, with the media on his side -- 12 to 1 inside the Beltway -- he had little to fear from that quarter.

How could Kerry know that the Swiftboat men who served with him in Vietnam would suddenly emerge to challenge his version of what happened there? Or that two prominent members of his own party would become so disgusted with him that they would throw their support to Bush?

August 29, 2004

August 28, 2004

Political veteran for censorship

Jacob Sullum notes George W. Bush and John Kerry have at least one thing in common:

Observers dismayed by the bitter partisanship of this presidential campaign should be happy now that George W. Bush and John Kerry finally agree on something: It turns out they both believe in using the government to silence their critics.

Kerry has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) demanding the removal of TV ads that question his Vietnam record. He argues that Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT), the group sponsoring the ads, is illegally coordinating its activities with the Bush campaign. The Democrats have asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation of the group.

Oddly, since Kerry's supporters say SBVT is nothing but a front group for the Republicans, they also demand that Bush "denounce the smear." In response, the president has called for the elimination of all ads sponsored by independent political groups that, like SBVT, are tax-exempt under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code.

Bush pronounced himself amazed that such groups, known as 527s, are still allowed to have their say. "I, frankly, thought we'd gotten rid of that when I signed the McCain-Feingold bill," he told reporters the other day, referring to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which was aimed at preventing freedom of speech from interfering with democracy. "I don't think we ought to have 527s. . . . I think they're bad for the system."

August 26, 2004

Why those swift boaters want Kerry to sink

Article by John O'Sullivan:

If the Bush campaign could be convicted of secretly "coordinating" with the swift boaters on evidence like that, the Kerry campaign might end up being held responsible for the vastly larger $60 million ad campaigns organized by independent organizations against Bush -- and for the publication and distribution of the New York Times itself! After all, the timing of its Bush conspiracy theory -- just the day after the Kerry campaign unveiled that very conspiracy -- was distinctly fishy.

August 24, 2004

Time To Clear the Board
U.S. troop realignment: a good start


Charles V. Peña, director of defense policy studies at Cato, argues that reducing U.S. troop deployments in Europe and Asia is a good start:

The Cold War is over and Europe no longer faces the threat of Soviet tanks rolling across the Fulda Gap. And the combined economies of the European countries are healthy and strong enough for Europeans to pay for their own security requirements. In 2003, the EU's GDP was $11.6 trillion and U.S. GDP was $10.9 trillion, but America spent 3.5 percent of its GDP on defense compared to only 1.5 percent for the Europeans.

The North Korean threat to South Korea remains real but, like the Europeans, the South Koreans can afford to pay for their own defense. According to the CIA, "North Korea, one of the world's most centrally planned and isolated economies, faces desperate economic conditions." North Korea's GDP in 2003 was $22.9 billion with defense spending of $5.2 billion (22.7 percent of GDP). By comparison, South Korea's GDP was $855.3 billion (more that 37 times that of the North) with $14.5 billion for defense (almost three times the North and only 1.7 percent of GDP). So South Korea has both the economic advantage and capacity to to defend itself.

(...)

It's worth remembering that the globally deployed U.S. military was not an effective defense or deterrent against 19 suicide hijackers on September 11. The hard truth is that most of the war on terrorism - fought in 60 or more countries around the globe, many of them friends and allies of the United States - will be waged through unprecedented international intelligence and law enforcement cooperation.

August 20, 2004

Alan Keyes in Illinois: Part II

Thomas Sowell on the Illinois race between Alan Keyes and Barack Obama:

Keyes is a dynamic speaker whose confrontational style and strong rhetoric have turned off some people, even as they have inspired others. Barack Obama has cultivated a much smoother, moderate-sounding style. But his track record shows him to be at least as far to the left as Alan Keyes is to the right.

An environmentalist movement group has given Obama its highest rating for his votes their way as a state legislator in Illinois. Obama has supported tax increases in Illinois and opposed tax cuts nationally. He supports partial-birth abortion, which is anathema to conservatives like Keyes, and which gives pause even to some liberals who support abortion in general.

If Barack Obama's strongest suit is his rhetoric and his image, his greatest vulnerability is his actual voting record and his speeches against the war in Iraq. Neither gets featured in Obama's campaign material. He is a stealth candidate.

It will take money and lots of it to bring out the facts about Barack Obama's track record, and the media will undoubtedly criticize a "negative" campaign being waged against him. But the mainstream media can hardly be expected to bring the facts to the public's attention, since journalists are ideologically much closer to Obama than to Keyes.

At stake is not only a much-needed U.S. Senate seat but the future ability of the Republican Party to attract and keep black candidates and voters. That is unlikely to happen if black candidates simply get sent out on suicide missions.

August 18, 2004

Price Gouging Saves Lives

David Brown explains:

If we expect customers to be able to get what they need in an emergency, when demand zooms vendors must be allowed and encouraged to increase their prices. Supplies are then more likely to be sustained, and the people who most urgently need a particular good will more likely be able to get it. That is especially important during an emergency. Price gouging saves lives.

(...)

Nobody knows the local circumstances and needs of buyers and sellers better than individual buyers and sellers themselves. When allowed to respond to real demand and real supply, prices and profits communicate the information and incentives that people require to meet their needs economically given all the relevant circumstances. There is no substitute for the market. And we should not be surprised that command-and-control intervention in the market cannot duplicate what economic actors accomplish on their own if allowed to act in accordance with their own self-interest and knowledge of their own case.

(...)

"Price gouging" is nothing more than charging what the market will bear. If that's immoral, then all market adjustment to changing circumstances is "immoral," and markets per se are immoral. But that is not the case. And I don't think a store owner who makes money by satisfying the urgent needs of his customers is immoral either. It is called making a living. And, in the wake of Hurricane Charley, surviving.

August 11, 2004

The Soul of John Kerry

Joseph Sobran on John Kerry:

Recently a group of Catholic Democrats in Congress objected to any move by the hierarchy to discipline pro-abortion politicians. Considering their own party discipline, this was rich: the Democrats tolerate no real disagreement on abortion, and won’t allow anti-abortion speakers at their own convention.

Indeed, a chief difference between the Catholic Church in America and the Democratic Party is that the Church puts up with a lot of dissent. And having weighed the consequences, Kerry will sooner defy his Church than his party. He gives the impression of a man who sold his soul so long ago that he has no idea where to go to get it back.

That seeming soullessness may even be a political drawback. He’s already notorious for straddling issues and reversing positions. Is there anything left he won’t compromise?

We live in the age of the plastic conscience, and we are used to seeing people "reinvent" themselves in middle age. The idea of maintaining a consistent character over a lifetime is passé. Why go on being the same old person when you can hire consultants and focus groups to show you the way to a whole new self?

Someone has observed that gaining the whole world while losing your soul is a net loss. He obviously wasn’t thinking like a politician.

August 04, 2004

How to Maximise Your Expenses: Advice to new Members of the European Parliament

From The Social Affairs Unit:

Dear Colleague,

Welcome to Brussels! Less than half of those eligible to vote in the June 10th elections to the European Parliament may actually have done so - despite the fact of compulsory voting in three EU countries. So not exactly a great victory for European democracy. Nevertheless, you have achieved a great personal victory. Never mind that yours was just a name on a party list and ninety nine per cent of voters will never remember it. The fact is that you have been given the opportunity to play a part in completing the great European Project and to live in a style commensurate with the high importance of your work.

In this connection, it is worth explaining a vital and central aspect of the life of a European parliamentarian: the system for paying expenses. It is important this is clearly grasped not just in your own interests but in those of the other MEPs - with whom cordial relations must be established if your parliamentary career is to blossom. European politics are not like the adversarial politics of Westminster. Forming relations with Parliamentary colleagues with common interests is what being an MEP is all about, and there is no doubt we have a shared interest in preserving the present system of MEPs’ expenses.

Hence this explanatory note. The first thing to understand about the system for payment of Members’ expenses is that it will most certainly differ from any system that you may have known in the past; expectations will have to be revised accordingly. This is because in other walks of life ‘expenses’ refers to the reimbursement of sums spent in the course of one’s work. In the case of the European Parliament, however the situation is quite different: ‘expenses’ refers to a remarkable stream of non-taxable income, well, actually to four remarkable streams of tax-free income. Payments may consequently have little relationship with what has been spent. MEPs have fought courageously to preserve this system against a barrage of misplaced criticism; it is part of our heritage and it is incumbent upon new members to defend it.

August 02, 2004

The Fraud at Fleetcenter

Pat Buchanan on the Democrats and Iraq:

"We will win this war," Edwards said. Kerry has said he would be willing to send additional U.S. troops.

But what if Kerry and Edwards win in November and it becomes clear that for America to win in Iraq will require more than the 140,000 troops already there? Will Kerry, who would then be leading a nation that already believes this war was a mistake, and a party that believes it was an unnecessary and unwise - if not unjust and immoral - war, be able to unite their party and the country behind the commitment of thousands more of America's young?

Would Howard Dean and Teddy Kennedy, both of whom opposed the war, back a Kerry war policy? Would the black leaders of the party like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Charlie Rangel, who want the troops home now, support sending more troops to fight to win this war? Would President Carter support more U.S. ground forces?

(...)

A year ago, U.S. Gen. John Abizaid estimated there were 5,000 insurgents. Since then, U.S. forces have killed and captured thousands. Yet official estimates of enemy strength are now at 20,000, and the incidence of attacks on U.S. troops and our Iraqi allies is continuously rising.

"How many U.S. troops," asks Bacevich, "do we actually need to pacify Iraq, a landmass the size of California, with long, open borders and an increasingly alienated population of 25 million? A quarter of a million soldiers - almost twice the number currently deployed - would not be too many."

While he admonishes America's generals not to replicate the moral failure of Vietnam - refusing to tell civilian superiors what was needed to win - Bacevich suggests it is also a time for truth for the White House: "Either the Bush administration needs to get serious about winning the war that it so recklessly sought in Iraq, or it needs to cut its losses."

Kerry and Edwards, too, need to tell us how much blood and treasure they are willing to expend on a democratic Iraq, how many more troops will be needed and for how long, and what are the chances of victory. And we need to be told before November.

We need to be given a cold, hard, honest assessment of what we hope to gain there, and what it will cost this nation, so we can decide whether or not we wish to pay that price. We need an honest election. Last week's fraud at the FleetCenter failed the test.

July 31, 2004

Liability Matters

Fr. Robert A. Sirico on John Edwards and trial lawyers:

Why does it matter that John Edwards has spent his career as a trial lawyer who raids deep pockets on behalf of complainants? It makes him a lifetime participant in one of the most destructive of American pastimes: litigation.

On the day that Edwards was introduced as John Kerry's running mate, I got a call from a doctor in St. Louis. He was, as you might expect, alarmed by the prospect of a trial lawyer - one of the nation's wealthiest and most powerful - becoming vice president of the United States. During the conversation, I asked him about Edwards's representation of parents who had a child born with cerebral palsy.

"Edwards made millions off crippled children by hypnotizing his juries and convincing them that cerebral palsy occurs during the birthing process," the doctor said. "There is absolutely no scientific evidence to support his contentions. But juries in America aren't usually about science, they're about theatrics. And that happens to be Edwards's forte."

He continued: In Missouri, doctors' insurance premiums have escalated 150 percent in the last three years and the state has not been able to pass meaningful medical-malpractice tort reform. Physicians in certain specialties - such as neurosurgery, obstetrics, and orthopedics - packed up and left the state after receiving a malpractice insurance bill of $500,000 on 30 days' notice. Although things are bad in St. Louis, the situation is even worse just across the Mississippi River in Madison County, Illinois. There, the doctor tells me, judicial awards in the megamillion range have attracted trial lawyers "like flies." Entire hospital departments have shut down as physicians attempt to flee to safety. Patients left behind in these communities are frequently forced to cross state lines to seek care.

July 29, 2004

Kerry has Muffed the War Issue

Article by William A. Niskanen:

Senator John Kerry has made increased international support for the security and reconstruction of Iraq the primary theme of his speeches on this issue. For the following reasons, however, Kerry's position is not likely to have any significant effect on U.S. policy toward Iraq:

1. The Kerry position does not now differ much from that of President Bush, in part because Bush has also recently asked for increased international support for the reconstruction of Iraq.

2. Increased international support is not likely. The United Nations and the governments of France and Germany are not likely to accept an increased responsibility for the reconstruction of Iraq that is subordinate to U.S. authority, in part because U.S. forces have yet to restore minimally satisfactory security.

3. Increased international support is not likely to be effective. The Iraqi insurgents have been as hostile to the United Nations and to non-U.S. foreign troops as to the U.S. civilian and military authorities. The insurgents bombed the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad early during the guerilla campaign and have killed or kidnapped Italian, Japanese and Spanish troops. All foreign civilian and military authorities are now regarded as occupiers.

4. The Kerry position has no political traction. For most Americans, like most Iraqis, one's attitude toward the war in Iraq is not much dependent on the breadth of the coalition supporting U.S. policy.

Moreover, Kerry's position on Iraq is probably a political loser. With no significant debate about the war in Iraq between the candidates of the major parties, those who have strongly opposed the war in Iraq are most likely to vote for Ralph Nader, and most of these votes would otherwise have been for almost any Democratic candidate.

July 27, 2004

If You Have To Vote for a President

Walter Block argues that the Libertarian Party is the only choice:

Fortunately, however, our choice is not limited to the Demopublicans, or the Repblicocrats. There is a third option: the Libertarian Party. On the issues, whether economic, social or foreign policy, the LP is, of course, pretty hard-core libertarian. Yes, there might be a legitimate quibble with this or that plank in the party platform, but caviling at them while supporting either of the major parties is like Ayn Rand refusing to vote for John Hospers, the first Libertarian Party presidential candidate, on the ground that he didn’t fully buy into "A is A," or some such.

No. The only problem is that Mr. Michael Badnarik will not be elected, even if every libertarian were to vote for him 100 times over (I’m not suggesting any law-breaking behavior, here, just making a point). The most likely prospect, were this to occur, is that his vote total would go from 1.50% to 1.51%, or something of this order. However, it really doesn’t matter much, from the point of view of the cause of liberty, which major party candidate staggers over the finish line in November. They are as tweedle-dum and tweedle-dumber.

But wouldn’t it be great if the LP vote total, in one vital senate or house race or another, were greater than the difference between that of the Democratic and Republican parties? That would make the smug self-righteous commentators sit up and take notice. Okay, okay, already, it wouldn’t; nothing would do that. The Libertarian Party has already attained this goal, and we are still not a household name. But, think of the joy in Mudville a repeat of this glorious occurrence would bring! And, dare we hope for it, if this phenomenon took place on the national, not merely the state level, well I betcha Murray would be up there somewhere, smiling.

July 22, 2004

Tall Poppies

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Cox & Forkum

July 19, 2004

What's Fair About a Draft?

Michael Kinsley on the draft:

During Vietnam, the columnist Nicholas von Hoffman wrote, "Draft old men's money, not young men's bodies." His point was that in America, when you want more of something -- even soldiers -- the way to get more is to pay more. A draft allows the government to pay less for soldiers than they would cost in the free market. It is, in essence, a tax on young people. Or a pay cut for those who would have volunteered anyway. What kind of triumph of fairness is that?

As for the contention that a draft would make it harder for a president to start a war, that one can be argued both ways. A draft would subject war-and-peace decisions to an important test of democracy: Do the decision makers themselves have skin in the game? On the other hand, a volunteer army puts war-and-peace decisions to the test of the market: Can people be induced voluntarily to fight it? A volunteer army could become a mercenary force operating at the president's whim. But a draft army, always at the ready, also encourages imperial whimsy.

It's true that democracy has almost disappeared from this country's decisions about going to war. Presidents of both parties assert, with little challenge and even less justification, near-unilateral war-power authority. Congress should reassert its war powers. That would do more for democracy than drafting the president's daughters.

July 18, 2004

Ten Reasons to Fire George W. Bush
And nine reasons why Kerry won't be much better


Article by Jesse Walker:

10. He's making me root for John Kerry. I haven't voted for a major party's presidential candidate since 1988, and I have no plans to revert to the habit this year. The Democrats have nominated a senator who - just sticking to the points listed above - voted for the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, McCain-Feingold, and the TSA; who endorses the assault on "indecency"; who thinks the government should be spending even more than it is now. I didn't have room in my top ten for the terrible No Child Left Behind Act, which further centralized control of the country's public schools - but for the record, Kerry voted for that one too. It's far from clear that he'd be any less protectionist than Bush is, and he's also got problems that Bush doesn't have, like his support for stricter gun controls. True, Kerry doesn't owe anything to the religious right, and you can't blame him for the torture at Abu Ghraib. Other than that, he's not much of an improvement.

Yet I find myself hoping the guy wins. Not because I'm sure he'll be better than the current executive, but because the incumbent so richly deserves to be punished at the polls. Making me root for a sanctimonious statist blowhard like Kerry isn't the worst thing Bush has done to the country. But it's the offense that I take most personally.

July 16, 2004

A contest between big spenders
 
Jeff Jacoby argues that the coming election presents a depressing choice for fiscal conservatives:  
In the Republicans' corner is George W. Bush, who presides over the most bloated federal budget in US history.  Bush's profligacy has left in tatters the traditional GOP claim to fiscal rectitude.  He has uncomplainingly signed into law every pork-stuffed appropriations bill sent to him by Congress.  He has flooded the government's books with red ink.  And he has embraced new schemes for draining the Treasury, including the largest expansion of the welfare state in decades -- the prescription-drug entitlement, which will cost, over the next decade, more than half a trillion dollars.
 
(...)
 
The Democratic standard-bearer has committed himself to dozens of costly campaign promises -- everything from expanded Amtrak service in rural areas to a new program for preventing childhood obesity to $50 billion in additional aid to the states.  According to the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, Kerry's budget proposals would add a breath-catching $226 billion to the federal budget in the first year of his presidency.  Over a four-year term, they would cost more than $621 billion -- a tab that would have to be paid either with steep new taxes, or by taking the government even more deeply into debt.    
 
The 2004 presidential race pits a big-spending Republican Tweedledee against a big-spending Democratic Tweedledum.  What's a fiscally responsible voter to do?

July 08, 2004

We Shall Not See His Like Again

Pat Buchanan on Ronald Reagan:

In the crushing defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964, Reagan’s speech of blazing defiance vaulted him into the leadership of the conservative movement. And after Watergate and the loss of Vietnam, with the Soviet Empire rampant and America held hostage, the country, unready for Ronald Reagan or conservatism in 1964, took a chance in 1980. And when she did, America won the lottery.

(...)

In the 1960s, it was a handicap in a presidential campaign to be a conservative. Republicans shied away from the label that a hostile media had equated with extremism. With Reagan, it was an honor. He was never embarrassed or ashamed at being a man of the Right. He was as proud of it as we were to have such a leader.

Every year he would speak at the Conservative Political Action Committee. In every State of the Union he demanded that a line be inserted calling for an amendment to the Constitution to protect the life of the unborn. He believed God had spared him and that the time left to him was to be spent doing God’s work here on earth.

Where other politicians avoided battles over philosophy and principle, Reagan relished that conflict. Nominated in 1980, he demanded a "no pale pastels" platform - then ran on it.

He had a wonderful sense of humor and loved stories. Seconds before going out to face the press in primetime news conferences that 80 million Americans and the whole world would watch, he was still telling jokes. He was devoid of ego and of the boastfulness so common in this capital. "There is no limit to how far a man can go," read a plaque in his office, "so long as he is willing to let someone else get the credit."

Yet he was proud of what he had accomplished. His friend and barber Milt Pitts told that me that when last he saw Ronald Reagan, the ex-president mused that he had come to Washington do to five things: cut taxes, rebuild America’s military might, unleash the American economy from the burden of government, lead America and the West to face the challenge of the Soviet Empire - and balance the budget. "Four out of five ain’t bad!" he told Milt.

June 26, 2004

Unfairenheit 9/11: The lies of Michael Moore

Christopher Hitchens on Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11:

To describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability. To describe this film as a piece of crap would be to run the risk of a discourse that would never again rise above the excremental. To describe it as an exercise in facile crowd-pleasing would be too obvious. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness. It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of "dissenting" bravery.

June 22, 2004

EU Referendum

Recommended blog: EU Referendum

June 14, 2004

In Reagan’s Shadow
Compassionate conservatism vs. the shining city.


Jonah Goldberg compares George W. Bush with Ronald Reagan:

Discussing the importance of dogma, William F. Buckley wrote in 1964, "If our society seriously wondered whether or not to denationalize the lighthouses, it would not wonder at all whether to nationalize the medical profession."

Reagan's rhetoric and actions moved America closer to a country where we argue about denationalizing lighthouses. George W. Bush's rhetoric and actions are moving us in the opposite direction.

Last Labor Day, George W. Bush told a crowd, "We have a responsibility that when somebody hurts, government has got to move."

Reagan would never had said something like that.

Indeed, Bush's "compassionate conservatism" has more in common with his father's "kindler, gentler" America than it does with Reagan's shining city on a hill. Fortunately, the first President Bush believed, as he put it in his first inaugural speech, that America had "more will than wallet."

The current President Bush has lots of will and a wallet full of credit cards. On the domestic side, Bush has asserted that the federal government has a central role in education - once a local concern - and he's backed that up with a 60 percent increase in federal funding.

He's created a new Cabinet agency, massively expanded entitlements in the form of a prescription drug benefit and asked for a major new commitment by the federal government to insert itself into everything from religious charities to marriage counseling. And these are just a few examples.

Now, all of these programs aren't necessarily bad. Some might be quite defensible from a political or public-policy perspective. Also, there are quite a few truly Reaganite ideas bouncing around this administration.

But, at minimum, Bush seems to have abandoned the rhetorical high ground. Reagan declared that government wasn't the solution, it was the problem. In countless ways, Bush has been saying the reverse. And once you concede that the "government has to move" every time "somebody" hurts, you've pretty much abandoned your dogma and picked up the opposition's.

June 09, 2004

No Accidental Leader

Lee Edwards on Ronald Reagan:

Ronald Reagan was not an accidental leader. He possessed certain personal characteristics that set him apart from other seemingly as talented and ambitious men and women. Physically, he had remarkable vitality and stamina. He did not need energizer batteries to keep going through crises and challenges that would have hospitalized the rest of us.

Mentally, he was able to penetrate quickly to the heart of a matter and to shift from issue to issue with little apparent effort.

Philosophically, he had a set of core beliefs from which he rarely strayed. He did not hesitate to go against the popular grain if he thought it was in the best interests of America.

And he was a leader, a historic leader, because he embodied the four essential qualities of leadership - courage, prudence, justice, and wisdom.

June 07, 2004

Reagan and Capitalism

Article by Jay Bryant:

It is being restated over and over again in these days of remembrance that Ronald Reagan brought about the collapse of Communism, and there can be no serious doubt that the policies he pursued with regard to the Soviets worked. Neither the mass demonstrations against him in Europe, the carping of his domestic enemies, nor the softer temptations of Mikhail Gorbachev ("See what an improvement I am; help me succeed"), could deter Reagan from firmness in the right, as God gave him to see the right.

But Reagan did more than merely accomplish the negative, defensive goal of defeating communism. He also did something positive, something without which the meaning of the defeat of communism would have much less meaning. Ronald Reagan reinvigorated capitalism.

(...)

By demonstrating, through deregulation, tax cuts, privatization and other initiatives, and most assuredly by the effective use of the bully pulpit that is the presidency, Ronald Reagan fostered a revitalization of capitalism not only in the United States, but also throughout the world.

June 01, 2004

Constitutional scholar Badnarik gets presidential nomination

From the Libertarian Party press release:

Badnarik, 49, of Austin, Texas, won 423 votes -- or 54 percent -- from delegates at the Libertarian Party's national convention in Atlanta on Sunday. Coming in second was movie producer Aaron Russo, followed by longtime radio talk host Gary Nolan.

(...)

According to many political analysts, the Libertarian nominee could cost President George Bush the November election by attracting votes from frustrated Republicans in key swing states such as Wisconsin, Oregon and Nevada.

May 29, 2004

Libertarians and Communists

Very good post by Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek, commenting a forthcoming article that tries to show libertarianism as some new form of communism:

Lawler’s most significant misrepresentation is his accusation that, like Marxism, libertarianism promises "a life constrained by nothing but personal choice." Ugh! Barf! Arghh! Every libertarian whom I know has as part of his or her bedrock understanding of reality that the world is a constrained and constraining place. It is precisely because reality is no utopia, no empyrean dreamland of superabundance, that people must make careful choices - often very difficult and painful ones. It is not our choices that ultimately constrain us; it is the unavoidable scarcity of desirable things in the world that constrain us and that, in turn, oblige us to choose.

Libertarians (unlike Marxists) understand that even the most ideal economic system will never, ever eliminate scarcity and the consequent and constant necessity for each of us to make choices. Furthermore, libertarians (unlike most non-libertarians) understand that the state is a thoroughly human institution that is often asked to work miracles - which, of course, it has no hope of performing, but in its modern guise nevertheless specializes in pretending to perform such scarcity-eliminating feats. That is, it specializes in masking the need to make some choices. In the process, it actually reduces the range of options over which most people can choose.


Micha Ghertner also made some interesting comments on this issue at Cattalarchy.net.

May 23, 2004

Bush's Third-Party Threat

David Paul Kuhn on the possible libertarian threat to Bush in the 2004 election:

With conservatives upset over the ballooning size of the federal government under a Republican White House and Congress - and a portion of the political right having opposed the war in Iraq from the start or else dismayed at how it's being handled - the Libertarian nominee, who will be on the ballot in 49 states, may do for Democrats in 2004 what Nader did for Republicans in 2000.

It is a hypothesis not yet made in the mainstream media. But interviews with third-party experts and activists across the country, as well as recent political patterns, illustrate that there could be a conservative rear-guard political attack against President Bush.

"I think [the Bush campaign] should be concerned. I don’t know how concerned," said Don Devine, vice chairman of the American Conservative Union and a longtime GOP insider. "They need to work on it and I think they know they need to work on it."

(...)

"The Libertarians will impact Republicans more than Nader will impact Democrats," said Lawrence Jacobs, the director of the 2004 Elections Project for the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota and possibly the nation’s preeminent expert on third-party politics.

In the key battleground state of Wisconsin, the 2002 Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Ed Thompson garnered 85,455 votes, a startling 10.5 percent. The new governor, Democrat Jim Doyle, won the state by about 75,000 votes.

(...)

For Robert Novak, if Libertarians do not make their presence felt this election and Mr. Bush’s loses, the third-party will hold political weight in 2008.

"I just had breakfast with a guy and we discussed that people are already talking, as politicians do, about the what-ifs," said Novak. "Everybody believes if Bush loses, the Republican Party will move to the left in ’08, to the Schwarzenegger and Giuliani strain, and that is where you really get the possibility of a serious third-party movement."

May 21, 2004

Bush caves to Democrats....again

Neal Boortz on Bush's stance regarding the confirmation of judicial nominees:

When the Democrats lost control of the Senate in the 2002 elections they decided that a simple majority vote would no longer be good enough to confirm a judicial appointee. Over the years leftists have depended on judicial activism and fiat to enact much of their agenda. The future of their anti-individualist, big-government designs depend largely on the left’s ability to keep Constitutionally oriented judges off the federal bench. Since they didn’t have a Senate majority, they needed a new rule. To keep constitutionalists off the bench Daschle and Company decided to change the Constitution to require a super-majority for a judicial confirmation. Sixty votes. No less.

(...)

Let's review here. I’m not trying to waste space, but there may be Democrats reading this column. In government schools, we must be careful not to leave them behind when we get into even the most moderately complicated situations. We will call this "back up and repeat essential points" as the "No Liberal Left Behind" style of writing.

A. The Democrats modify the Constitution by requiring a super-majority vote for the confirmation of certain judicial nominees.

B. The president responds by using the perfect constitutionally legitimate exercise of making a recess appointment.

C. The Democrats, outraged at the president's legal use of his Constitutional authority, bring nearly all Senate business to a halt in retaliation.

D. The president promises to stop any further recess appointments during this term if the Senators will only do the job they were elected to do.

This is leadership? When George W. Bush was sworn in he swore an oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Just how are you preserving, protecting and defending the Constitution when you promise to stop using a constitutionally legitimate procedure to prevent political opponents from defying the Constitution.. and for this we get a quick confirmation of about 27 judicial nominees whom the Democrats didn’t object to in the first place? Wow! What a deal!

Senate Democrats must be getting a real chuckle out of this in their private gatherings. Time after time they have rolled George Bush. Protectionist trade rules for the steel industry, obscene spending increases for hopeless government schools, even the left’s current political showpiece of the 9/11 Commission hearings.

May 15, 2004

Pure Politics: There's always another campaign finance loophole

Jacob Sullum on "campaign finance reform" and freedom of speech:

In a speech last month, Sen. John McCain said Bradley Smith is unfit to head the Federal Election Commission because his principles prevent him from properly enforcing the nation's campaign laws. At the same time, the Arizona Republican suggested that Smith has no principles.

McCain, who co-authored the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, threw Smith in with the "stooges of special interests" who are determined to undo the senator's handiwork. And even while conceding that Smith has rebuked fellow Republicans for trying to use campaign finance regulations to hamper the Democrats, McCain called his positions "politicized."

McCain is so upset he can't think straight. In particular, he's upset about groups like America Coming Together and Progress for America, ostensibly independent (but by no means neutral) political organizations that are tax-exempt under section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code.

McCain says it's obvious such groups, known as 527s, should be treated as "political committees," which would prevent them from accepting the unregulated contributions his law prohibits the national parties from taking. On Thursday the FEC decided to delay action on the issue, causing McCain's head to explode (I'm assuming).

McCain's outrage about "these groups openly flouting the law" is the latest episode of a futile crusade that restricts speech to prevent "the appearance of corruption." The pattern by now is familiar: New rules lead to new evasions, which in turn lead to new rules.

There's one basic reason Congress and the FEC have been unable to get it right after all these years. It's called the First Amendment.

May 09, 2004

Kerry's Class Warfare: "Working Families" vs. "The Privileged"

Joseph Kellard comments John Kerry's class warfare strategies:

In his victory speech at the Iowa caucus, John Kerry uttered a line that exquisitely captured a staple of his Leftist politics -- class warfare. "Count the cost that working families are paying while the privileged ride high and reap the rewards," he said. Yet Kerry's policies actually harm productive individuals and engender the worst form of privileged Americans.

(...)

Meanwhile, as Kerry paints America's most productive individuals as privileged, his policies actually punish all hard-working producers and create entitlements for lesser- or non-productive Americans. In his Iowa speech, Kerry raised one such policy: "I'm running for president so that for...every other family in America, health care will be a fundamental right and not a privilege..."

But in reality, like any commodity produced in a free nation, health care is neither a right nor a government-provided privilege. Health care is a commodity produced by individuals such as doctors, prescription drug developers and nurses. Other individuals must work to make the money to receive their services and products. Both providers and recipients have the right only to work and voluntarily trade the values they have produced.

(...)

In short, Kerry is actually for what he claims he's against: punishing America's most productive workers to provide for a class of privileged welfare recipients.

Americans must reject Kerry's socialist policies that destroy everyone's individual rights and instigate warfare between the producers and the lesser- or non-productive of all economic classes. Instead, we must champion each individual's fundamental right to pursue his own happiness -- that is, to employ his abilities to produce what is life requires and to voluntarily trade his values with others.

May 05, 2004

Block, Epstein will duel over domain

Walter Block and Richard Epstein will have a debate on eminent domain at the University of Chicago Law School, May 10, at 12:13 p.m.

The event is the result of the 'entrepreneurial' efforts of J.H. Huebert:

The debate revolves around the question: Should government have a right to take anyone’s property for less that what the owner would freely and voluntarily agree to accept as payment? Or, more formally: Is the state’s power of eminent domain necessary in a free society?

Chicago Law School professor Richard Epstein thinks so, and Loyola of New Orleans economics professor Walter Block vehemently disagrees.

As a result of their overwhelming differences, Block is flying into Chicago to go head to head with Epstein in a contest of libertarian ideas.

Epstein is so sure of his views on a variety of topics, including eminent domain, that he has openly promised to debate "anyone, anywhere, anytime, about anythin...provided that I disagree with them," he said.

(...)

To many of his students in the Law School and most mainstream academics, Richard Epstein is the most extreme libertarian they know. He frequently argues, in his voluminous output in both books and law reviews, against government "evils" like socialized medicine, and even against anti-discrimination laws.

But, unlike Block, Epstein did not begin his post-graduate academic career as a libertarian ideologue. Instead, he began with an inclination toward finding simple rules for a complex world - the basis for a book he would later write. And it just so happened, he found, that many of the best "simple rules" are libertarian rules of private property and freedom of contract. But this was not without exception - and one exception that he famously made in his highly influential book, Takings, is for the power of eminent domain, which allows the government to forcibly take property for such ostensible "public goods" as roads, as long as it pays "just compensation."

(...)

Throughout his career, Block has directed some of his strongest criticism in numerous economics journals and law reviews at the University of Chicago’s supposedly "free market" thinkers, including Ronald Coase, Richard Posner, Epstein, and Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman. Block spares no one when he finds that they hold views that are less than what pure libertarianism or the rigorously logical Austrian school of economics demands.

April 25, 2004

D-Day in Pa.

William F. Buckley Jr., in support of Pat Toomey:

Pat Toomey is a vigorous figure who battled for the House seat in a heavily Democratic district in Pennsylvania and won. He did his three terms and then quit-as he had promised to do, believing in term limits. Toomey is a resolute conservative whose votes, on economic and social issues, have earned him high regard as a brainy and honest legislator. His champions in Pennsylvania are confident that he would do well in November. His backers nationwide, in a primary contest that has been singled out as the most important of the season, are saying that support for Toomey would be a hygienic transfusion for a Republican Party that seems adrift in profligate spending and the search for new social programs.

Arlen Specter is the man who voted in favor of Bill Clinton during impeachment, voted against Robert Bork for the Supreme Court, voted against school choice for the District of Columbia, endorses an absolutist interpretation of abortion rights. He is bright and he is tough and he belongs elsewhere. If reelected, his term would end when he is 80 years old and, some voters might hope, senescent, permitting him to vote accidentally every now and then for Republican principles.

You can't get mad at George Bush for going to Pittsburgh and doing his duty. That would be wrong, like getting mad at Barry Goldwater, which was unconstitutional. But GOP voters in Pennsylvania have the opportunity to forgive Bush, and vote for Toomey.

April 19, 2004

Thank you for choosing United, Mr. bin Laden

Ann Coulter on the 9-11 comission:

Last week, 9-11 commissioner John Lehman revealed that "it was the policy (before 9-11) and I believe remains the policy today to fine airlines if they have more than two young Arab males in secondary questioning because that's discriminatory." Hmmm ... Is 19 more than two? Why, yes, I believe it is. So if two Jordanian cab drivers are searched before boarding a flight out of Newark, Osama bin Laden could then board that plane without being questioned. I'm no security expert, but I'm pretty sure this gives terrorists an opening for an attack.

(...)

The famed 1995 guidelines were set forth in a classified memorandum written by the then-deputy attorney general titled "Instructions for Separation of Certain Foreign Counterintelligence and Criminal Investigations," which imposed a "draconian" wall between counterintelligence and criminal investigations.

What Ashcroft said next was breathtaking. Prohibited from mounting a serious search for Almihdhar and Alhazmi, an irritated FBI investigator wrote to FBI headquarters, warning that someone would die because of these policies - "since the biggest threat to us, OBL (Osama bin Laden), is getting the most protection."

FBI headquarters responded: "We're all frustrated with this issue. These are the rules. NSLU (National Security Law Unit) does not make them up. But somebody did make these rules. Somebody built this wall."

The person who built that wall described in the infamous 1995 memo, Ashcroft said, "is a member of the commission." If this were an episode of "Matlock," the camera would slowly pan away from Ashcroft's face at this point and then quickly jump to an extreme close-up of Jamie Gorelick's horrified expression. Armed marshals would then escort the kicking, screaming Gorelick away in leg irons as the closing credits rolled. Gorelick was the deputy attorney general in 1995.

The 9-11 commission has finally uncovered the proverbial "smoking gun"! But it was fired by one of the 9-11 commissioners.

April 18, 2004

What's Wrong With Paternalism?

Article by Arnold Kling:

There are three layers to the argument against paternalism. The first layer is purely libertarian, which says that government compulsion of individuals is always wrong. The second layer is utilitarian, which says that, contrary to the intuition of Steven Weinberg and others on the left, we are better off with a larger private sector and a smaller public sector. The final layer is what in economics is known as Public Choice Theory, which says that it is unrealistic to expect government officials to be wise and benevolent, given that they themselves are mere mortals with human desires and human flaws.

April 13, 2004

(Class) War Won’t Work

John Samples on Kerry's strategy:

Take Kerry's tax proposal. He plans to raise taxes for those who make over $200,000 a year while retaining Bush's tax cuts for everyone else and adding tax credits for middle-class families. Kerry has apparently learned the 1984 lesson of Walter Mondale who promised to raise taxes for everyone if elected president. Kerry too promises to raise taxes but only on the top one percent of American households.

That's not much of a test of political courage. The truly rich are a small minority in a democracy that decides most issues by majority vote. The affluent, even broadly defined, make up only one third of the nation. Kerry is not the first candidate for office to endorse taxing the rich to buy the votes of a majority on Election Day. As far back as 1787, James Madison warned that such redistributions of wealth - he called them "wicked and improper projects" - might destroy the new American republic.

(...)

More puzzling still, making war on the wealthy will not win many elections. The liberal concern about inequality is not widely shared in the United States. Three scholars from Harvard and the London School of Economics recently analyzed attitudes toward inequality in Europe and here. In Europe, surveys have found that inequality of wealth makes two groups unhappy: rich leftists and the poor. By contrast, only rich leftists are troubled by inequality in the United States. The three professors argue that the poor in the U.S. are not concerned about inequality of wealth because they expect to rise up the income ladder whereas Europeans feel stuck in their assigned status in society. Americans do not resent the rich; Americans want and expect to be like them thanks to social mobility. The American Dream lives on except for wealthy progressives.

April 09, 2004

Ending Farm Subsidies Wouldn’t Help the Third World? It Just Ain’t So!

E. C. Pasour explains how farm subsidies in the "first world" produce great damage in low-income countries:

Both the EU and the United States maintain programs to directly subsidize exports of farm products. The EU spends about $3.3 billion per year doing this. That gives EU goods an artificial advantage in international markets and works against the interests of producers in poor countries.3

Direct export subsidies have long been a prominent feature of U.S. farm programs. Public Law 480, enacted in 1954, is still going strong. It was instituted to rid government warehouses of surplus wheat, corn, cotton, and other farm products acquired through price-support programs. Dubbed "Food for Peace" to burnish its desired altruistic image, PL 480 provides easy credit and donates food to people throughout the world in response to famine and other emergencies.

Farmers in poor nations are especially critical of U.S. food aid for humanitarian purposes. Unlike the EU, which for the most part donates cash to buy food from producers in stricken countries, the United States buys food from American farmers. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates the total value of U.S. food aid to be about $1.5 billion this year.

(...)

Indirect subsidies in wealthy countries also damage producers in low-income countries. The U.S. sugar program, for example, holds domestic sugar prices above the world price through import quotas. It also reduces opportunities for sugar producers in low-income countries. Indirect export subsidies are just as harmful to producers in low-income countries as the direct subsidies associated with the production of beef, corn, cotton, rice, wheat, and other commodities in first-world countries.

Farmers in the United States become irate when low-cost imports undercut domestic prices. Farmers in low-income countries are just as concerned about the effects of subsidized agricultural imports on their markets. It is ironic that one arm of the U.S. government provides assistance for economic development in poor countries while another subsidizes farm exports that stifle development.

April 08, 2004

Kerry Is Backwards on Taxes

Bruce Bartlett on the distribution of the tax burden:

All of those in the middle 3 quintiles paid less in 2001 than they paid in 1984. In other words, between 1984 and 2001, average tax rates for the wealthy substantially increased while at least 80 percent of households paid considerably less. Progressivity rose as the wealthy now pay about 6 times more than the poor.

Looking at the share of taxes paid shows a similar pattern. From 1984 to 2001, those in the bottom quintile reduced their share of the total tax burden from 2.4 percent to 1.1 percent. Those in the top quintile saw their share rise from 55.6 percent to 65.3 percent. Among the ultra wealthy, the top 10 percent increased their share from 39.3 percent to 50 percent, the top 5 percent raised their share from 28.2 percent to 38.5 percent, and those in the top 1 percent raised their share from 14.7 percent to 22.7 percent.

(...)

Unfortunately, all taxpayers pay a price for the steeply graduated tax system that has evolved. A new study by economists Steven Cassou and Kevin Lansing shows that a flat-rate tax would add significantly to economic growth. Published in the April issue of Economic Inquiry, the study concludes that real per capita gross domestic product might rise by 0.143 percentage points per year if a flat-rate tax were in place. This may not sound like much, but it's the difference between GDP doubling in 33 years instead of 36 years.

The Cassou-Lansing study found that flattening the marginal-tax-rate schedule causes most of the economic gains, which explains why tax burdens on the rich rose as their statutory rates fell. Raising statutory rates on the rich, as John Kerry proposes, likely would reverse this trend, causing taxes on the poor and middle class to rise.

April 05, 2004

A bill full of pork

Robert Novak on conservative outrage at the recently passed "highway" bill:

Rep. Sue Myrick of Charlotte, N.C., a conservative star of the famous Republican congressional class of 1994, has just about had it with the way the world works on Capitol Hill. "It makes you not want to be here. It just makes you want to leave," she told me Friday morning before the House passed the "highway" bill by a veto-proof margin of 357 to 65. What infuriates her is the money provided by this bill that does not have a thing to do with highways.

Myrick went before the closed-door House Republican Conference last week to spell out this outrage. The response was icy silence.

(...)

The highway bill marks the absolute termination of the Gingrich Revolution ushered in by the 1994 Republican sweep. In the face of President Bush's repeated veto threats, Republicans are determined to pass a bill filled with earmarked spending for individual members of Congress. The 1982 highway bill contained only 10 earmarks. The 1991 bill, the last highway bill passed under Democratic leadership, contained 538 such projects. But the addiction for pork has grown so large that the current bill contains at least 3,193 earmarks.

(...)

Only 58 Republicans (and six Democrats) joined Myrick in voting no Friday. She is not opposed to spending money for roads, within reason. It's the non-highway money that bothers her. "Why are we paying for all of this stuff?" Myrick asked me (using a more vivid word than "stuff"). "It's just the way you get along here."

That so serious a conservative as Sue Myrick feels she would like to quit shows how much the climate has changed on Capitol Hill since she and other bright-eyed new Republican House members were sent there by the 1994 election.

I wrote 10 years ago that Republicans, taking control for the first time in 40 years, faced a test. Metaphorically, would they close the executive washroom or just change the locks? It was almost immediately evident that they would take the latter course. Now, it's becoming clear the erstwhile Republican reformers are also super-sizing what they once condemned.
Property Rights Champion Hernando de Soto Wins Friedman Prize for Liberty

Hernando de Soto, author of the influential Mystery of Capital and founder of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy has won the 2004 Friedman Prize for Liberty.

Rare is the economist who finds himself the target of terrorist bombings and assassination attempts, but Hernando de Soto is no ordinary economist. Beginning in his native Peru, de Soto has focused on a revolutionary concept that is having repercussions throughout the world's poor countries: the lack of formal property rights as the source of poverty in poor countries. His decades of pioneering work for presidents and in the streets on behalf of property rights for the poor have led to global acclaim and recognition.

(...)

From his Peruvian roots, de Soto now can be seen traveling throughout the world, meeting with current and future heads of state. President Vicente Fox of Mexico sought out de Soto for help when he was the governor of the state of Guanajuato, and today de Soto is working with the Fox administration on property rights reform. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's son, Gamal, approached de Soto and today a property rights program is about to be implemented in Egypt. Both Philippine presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Arroyo have invited de Soto to help. The New York Times reports that African presidents are faxing him.

De Soto tells these heads of state that their poor citizens are lacking formal legal title to their property and are unable to use their assets as collateral. They cannot get bank loans to expand their businesses or improve their properties. He and his colleagues calculate the amount of "dead capital" in untitled assets held by the world's poor as "at least $9.3 trillion" - a sum that dwarfs the amount of foreign aid given to the developing world since 1945.

Hernando de Soto has truly revolutionized our understanding of the causes of wealth and poverty. While many scholars have pointed to and explained the importance of property rights to rising living standards, de Soto has asked the hard question of what it takes to get the state to recognize the property rights that function within the communities of the poor. Can they transform the mere physical "extralegal" control of assets into capital, a key to sustained economic development?

De Soto affirmed that they can attain legal status and developed a guide to the "capitalization process" for poor countries. In his activism and in his books The Other Path and The Mystery of Capital, Hernando de Soto has done much more than apply the lessons of economics to old problems; he has asked new questions and provided both new understanding and new hope for transforming poverty into wealth.

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For his efforts, the Peruvian Marxist terror group Shining Path targeted him for assassination. The institute's offices were bombed. His car was machine-gunned. Today the Shining Path is moribund, but de Soto remains very much alive and a passionate advocate. Delivering formal property rights to the poor can bring them out of the sway of demagogues and into the extended order of the modern global economy. "Are we going to make [capitalism] inclusive and start breaking the monopoly of the left on the poor and showing that the system can be geared to them as well?" That's de Soto's challenge and his life's work.

March 31, 2004

This Land Is Mine

Roderick Long in favour of unencumbered private property rights in land:

Your right to control your own body surely includes the right to control the particles currently composing your body. (You didn’t create them, but then you didn’t create yourself either.) Now most of the particles in your body are not particles you were born with (since if you’re like most of us, your body was much smaller at birth than it is now); instead you gradually incorporated pre-existing particles into your body by eating, drinking, and inhaling. In effect, what you are is mainly a series of improvements you have introduced into this shifting mass of raw material.

But no libertarian would conclude that your exclusive claim to control those particles, once they are in your body, must be limited on the grounds that you did not create the particles. We are embodied beings, and self-ownership is meaningless unless it extends to the materials of which the self is composed.

Now the process by which we acquire external property is simply an extension of the process by which we incorporate material into our bodies. As Wolowski and Levasseur point out, "it is by labor that man impresses his personality upon matter," thus giving rise to property, which is a "prolongation of the faculties of man acting upon external nature" and "participates in the rights of the person whose emanation it is." Our relation to the products of our labour is simply an extension of our relation to our bodies; indeed, our bodies themselves are to a large extent the product of our labour (though the particles composing them are not), just as cultivated land is the product of our labour (though again the particles composing it are not). Not for nothing does Molinari speak of the "production of land."

Thus one cannot consistently affirm self-ownership and yet cite the fact that we have not created land ex nihilo as a reason for denying or moderating property rights in land.

March 28, 2004

A Welfare State for Aggrieved Market Losers

Robert Levy on the European Union's antitrust ruling against Microsoft:

Triple jeopardy. That is the net effect of the European Union's order imposing additional antitrust sanctions on the world's leading software maker. Microsoft must pay about Euros 500m (Pounds 335m) in fines, disclose more of its programming code so that rivals' server computers can more easily interact with Windows, and offer dual versions of Windows to personal computer makers in Europe - one version with Microsoft's Media Player and one without.

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Microsoft tried to placate RealNetworks with a promise to have most PC makers worldwide install three competing media players. Even that was not enough. Mario Monti, the EU competition commissioner, wanted to make history, not settle the case. Although he conceded that there had been "substantial progress towards resolving the problems which have arisen in the past", he wondered about Microsoft's "future conduct" and concluded that "consumers in Europe will be better served with a decision that creates a strong precedent". By contrast, Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, placed the emphasis where it properly belongs: "We have to be sure that the law is not just about competitors' complaints. Consumers must be part of the equation."

Far from promoting consumer interests, the latest EU order transforms antitrust regulation into a corporate welfare programme for market losers. The implications will not be confined to the Microsoft case. Without some semblance of regulatory consistency, companies competing globally will not be able to satisfy the dictates of divergent legal regimes. That means special interests pursuing their favourite antitrust forum in an effort to exercise the most political clout. The real costs: fewer jobs, less innovation, inferior products and higher prices.

March 24, 2004

A Billion Reasons to Raise Your Taxes

Thomas E. Nugent on the reasons why some very wealthy people favor raising taxes:

Did you ever wonder why George Soros (the billionaire who is doing all he can to defeat George Bush), Warren Buffett (the billionaire from Omaha who continues to argue for the repeal of tax cuts), John Kerry (the candidate for president who married into the billion-dollar Heinz fortune), and innumerable wealthy Hollywood celebrities all support the Democratic party - hook, line, and sinker? It doesn't seem to make sense. Why would these patricians favor the party that wants to increase tax rates (as Kerry would do by repealing the Bush tax cuts)? Here's one explanation.

They may act like philanthropists, but in actuality these Democrats are fat cats who can either avoid taxes entirely or pay just a minimal amount. They surely don't pay their fair share relative to their wealth. These megabuck corporate elites take minimal salaries and then benefit from tax-sheltered windfalls when their company stock prices go up. In addition they create huge foundations that provide tax deductions which can offset much of their taxable income. Ongoing contributions to these foundations can materially reduce income taxes for an indefinite period of time. So the guys at the top - whether they are billionaires by inheritance, luck, or hard work - have amassed enormous fortunes that grow, and at the same time they use their assets to keep their income taxes low. Legions of tax accountants and lawyers make sure they take advantage of every tax loophole.

March 22, 2004

Reactionary Prophet

Christopher Hitchens on Burke's Reflections On The Revolution In France:

Three questions will occur to anybody reconsidering the Reflections today. Was it a grand and prophetic indictment of revolutionary excess? Was it the disdainful shudder of a man who despised or feared what at one stage he described as the "swinish multitude"? And did it contain what we would now term a "hidden agenda"? The answer to all three questions, it seems to me, is a firm yes.

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However often one awards the winning of the longer-term argument to Paine, the fact remains that he and Jefferson and Lafayette never even dreamed of the advent of Bonapartism. They all believed, at the time that the argument was actually taking place, that France would become a constitutional monarchy, or had actually become one already. It was Burke who took this romantic delusion - a delusion shared by Charles James Fox and the leaders of Burke's own Whig party, and even for a time by William Pitt and the more pragmatic Tories - and mercilessly exploded it. He also showed that the outcome of the French Revolution would be war on a continental scale. The tremendous power of the Reflections lies in this, the first serious argument that revolutions devour their own children and turn into their own opposites.

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If modern conservatism can be held to derive from Burke, it is not just because he appealed to property owners in behalf of stability but also because he appealed to an everyday interest in the preservation of the ancestral and the immemorial. And the abolition of memory, as we have come to know in our own time, is an aspect of the totalitarian that spares neither right nor left. In the cult of "now," just as in the making of Reason into an idol, the writhings of nihilism are to be detected.

March 17, 2004

Gibson breaks Hollywood's 10 Commands

Martin A. Grove explains:

Because "Passion" will be timely to re-issue theatrically at Easter for years to come, it has the potential to wind up as the biggest grossing film in movie history -- at least if you calculate that record on the basis of the cumulative gross from multiple releases of the same film. To do so, it will have to overtake "Titanic's" roughly $1.8 billion worldwide total, which seems possible in the future, but isn't likely on the basis of "Passion's" initial release. If "Passion" winds up with somewhere between $1 billion and $1.2 billion worldwide this time around, it's possible that well planned reissues down the road could send it sailing past "Titanic."

In breaking or bending so many of Hollywood's basic rules -- studio development executives would probably give them the punchier name Ten Commands rather than Ten Commandments -- Gibson showed considerable courage that's paid off big-time for him. It's doubtful that he envisioned the level of monetary success the film has enjoyed or even that money was a driving force for him. His personal passion for the project seems very genuine whether one agrees or disagrees with the specific nature of his religious point of view. Moreover, given reports of how distributors around town turned down the chance to release "Passion," it's clear that nobody saw this as being the moneymaker it's become.