Thursday, October 11, 2007

Did the Domestic Wiretapping Program Start Before 9/11?

A commenter at Obsidian Wings brought my attention to this article. In case you want to skip the link, some background: the former CEO of Qwest was recently convicted of insider trading after a trial in which he was blocked from presenting a defense that his prosecution was really just the result of retaliation for Qwest's refusal to comply with the government's wiretapping program. He is currently appealing the verdict (in part, it seems, on grounds that he was prevented from raising this defense). Some of the documents in the trial have now been released in a partially redacted form.

Money quote:

Nacchio planned to demonstrate at trial that he had a meeting on Feb. 27, 2001, at NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, Md., to discuss a $100 million project. According to the documents, another topic also was discussed at that meeting, one with which Nacchio refused to comply.
The topic itself is redacted each time it appears in the hundreds of pages of documents, but there is mention of Nacchio believing the request was both inappropriate and illegal, and repeatedly refusing to go along with it.
The NSA contract was awarded in July 2001 to companies other than Qwest.
USA Today reported in May 2006 that Qwest, unlike AT&T and Verizon, balked at helping the NSA track phone calling patterns that may have indicated terrorist organizational activities. Nacchio's attorney, Herbert Stern, confirmed that Nacchio refused to turn over customer telephone records because he didn't think the NSA program had legal standing.

I don't know how reliable all this is, since Nacchio certainly has incentive to lie, and since the article doesn't specify what type of documents these are. But if it's true, it holds a ton of meaning, not least of which is that the Bush/Cheney view of the Constitution didn't exactly change because of 9/11.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fred Thompson=Wesley Clark 2008?

After the debates last night, I can't help thinking Fred Thompson is this year's Wesley Clark. Think about it:
1. A "Draft Fred" movement, just like the Draft Wes Clark movement.
2. A wll-known career in a sector usually pre-disposed against the relevant party (ie, Hollywood vs. Republicans, the military at the time vs. Democrats)
3. A late, mid-September entry after months of speculation
4. A complete lack of presence at debates and on camera
5. A completely unfounded belief amongst supporters that getting the candidate into the race is the party's only hope to win in the general
6. A position in the top two in polling shortly after entering the race.

....Of course, we all know how Clark's campaign turned out, and there's really no reason to think Thompson will do any better.

Getting to the Bottom of the "Phony Soldiers" mess

I decided to cut through the crap that is the spin of both sides on this issue (I just do NOT trust Media Matters after the Imus garbage), and I actually read the transcript from Rush's own site with an eye to giving Rush the benefit of the doubt. (Rush famously edited this transcript to remove a minute and a half- so it's even more biased in his favor). I figured I would find that it was much ado about nothing, and certainly no worse than the silliness over the General Betray-Us incident.

What I found was that the entire segment was far worse than anything I could have imagined- talk about poisoning the well of free speech and civil dialogue! He was not, as some of his defenders claim, talking about one soldier who "washed out" of the military- if he was, then he misspoke in a glaring fashion. The comment he was responding to was saying that NONE, ZERO, NADA, of the soldiers whose anti-war comments have appeared in the media are "real soldiers." He proceeded to talk about the case of Cpl. MacBeth, to suggest that MacBeth was an example of what he was talking about- but in no way could you interpret what he was saying as being limited to Cpl. MacBeth.
Also, a few other notes from the segment:
1. Before the phone call that gave rise to this whole mess, Rush took a call from an anti-war Republican (actually, a pro-pullout Republican, which is slightly different). He repeatedly refused to accept that this guy was a Republican. He repeatedly accuses the guy of lying, saying that no Republican could POSSIBLY support a withdrawal. So, in essence, there is a conspiracy of people who want to call his show and lie about being a Republican so they can talk against the war
2. I haven't seen this reported anywhere, but apparently Limbaugh is still convinced that on the WMD issue, "We all know they (the WMD's) were there..." He actually agrees with his caller that the WMD's not only WERE there, but that they still ARE there, and are being used against our troops! The apparent source for the claim is this Fox News article from 2004 which talks about two incidents where old WMD containers were apparently used in the IED- this was the only article I could find on the subject, and it does not appear that anyone ever actually verified that there were live gases in the explosives.

So, to sum up- Rush thinks any soldier opposing the war is a "phony soldier", any Republican opposing the war is lying for political purposes about their party affiliation, and there not only were, but continue to be, WMDs in Iraq....But Ron Paul is the delusional one?

The fundamentally positive view of libertarians

Watching the debate tonight, it struck me (as it has many other libertarians over the years) how fundamentally pessimistic a view both Progressives and Conservatives take of human nature. Libertarians, on the other hand, seem to have a fundementally optimistic view of human nature.

Put simply, the reason why libertarians have such faith in markets (both in the sense of traditionally defined markets, and the analogous markets that arise with liberal personal freedoms) is that they trust individual people to do the right thing more often than not.

Progressives and Conservatives on the other hand often claim to have trust in people to do the right thing. In practice, however, they don't trust people to do what is right, since they fundamentally believe people should be required to act in a way that the leading Progressive or Conservative of the moment thinks is right.

The knock on libertarians, of course, is usually that libertarianism amounts to nothing more than selfish arrogance. To an extent, of course, it is true that libertarianism justifies selfishness;however, the libertarian definition of selfishness is very different from the more popular understanding of the word, since libertarianism rests on the premise of doing no harm to others. There is of course, nothing arrogant about permitting other people to live their lives as they wish. Moreover, libertarianism fundamentally trusts that individuals will frequently act in a selfless manner on their own; the areas in which they act selflessly will, according to market principles, be the areas in which the greatest demand for selfless action exists.

If you ask me, then, it is far more arrogant and selfish to attempt to impose one set of priorities for selfless action on the rest of the population, believing that your one set of priorities should take precedence over any other possible set of priorities a taxpayer may have.

The hypothetical I like to use is that of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In this hypothetical, Bill and Melinda earn $10 billion one year, pre-tax. They then give $9.99 billion to the Foundation, which promptly disburses the money to various worthwhile causes and individuals throughout the world, and particularly in the Third World. As a result of this donation, the Gates' owe far more money in taxes than they actually kept after their donations. My question to both Progressives and Conservatives then becomes: is the government in this situation justified in throwing them into prison for tax evasion? Why or why not?

I know the above hypothetical is rather unrealistic; however, it is theoretically possible, and it is intended to be extreme so as to drive my point home more clearly.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Candidate Thought Bubbles

A brief summary of what each candidate was thinking during the debate:

Giuliani: Ron Paul annoys me, but at least I hate the Constitution less than Ken-Doll over there...There are good unions and bad unions... the UAW is a good union- even if McCain says their demands for pensions and retiree health care add $1700 to every car they make. I understand economics and free markets but dammit I don't like them. If only I could make economics consistent with what I want....wait, a second, I've got it! Doublethink, doublethink, doublethink! 2+2=5!

McCain: How the hell am I losing to these bozos? I'm a decent and good person, I understand markets, I understand foreign relations, I understand military strategy, I understand torture from first-hand experience, and dammit I ACTUALLY KNEW BARRY GOLDWATER! Am I just paying the price for my ill-advised campaign finance reform crusade? That's not fair- I meant well, really I did! Or is my problem just that I'm trying to get the votes of a bunch of people who still believe the crap Karl Rove slung at me 8 years ago?

Romney: I'm a businessman, but not like James Taggart and Orrin Boyle, ok, maybe a little like James Taggart and Orrin Boyle...oh fine, a lot like James Taggart and Orrin Boyle. I hate subsidies....except all the good ones, like agriculture and energy. I hate unions....except all the good ones, like, well, all of them. I like the Constitution even less than Rudy Giuliani. But, hey, my health plan is kinda sorta market-based...that has to count for something, right?

Thompson: What's the big, I say what's the big idea? Man, I'm sleepy. I like free trade- I just wish I understood all those fancy words like "subsidy". Well Huck's a friendly fellow- he must know what he's talking about, so if he says subsidies are good, well, then who am I to argue? Wait, my buddy John says they're bad? Aww, shucks! Well, he still owes me for that campaign finance bill I helped him with a few years back. Hey, why isn't anyone hearing my jokes?

Paul: Lightning round? I get 30 seconds to answer a question? Sweet- that's more than I've had all day...oh, crap, they just want to know if I'll support Lord Combover over there- are they serious? At least I got to talk about the gold standard today, though. I like gold- it's shiny and stable....Am I the only one who wants to talk about monetary policy up here? Is Lord Combover suggesting that the Taliban had an advanced nuclear program that led to 9/11- ok, maybe not, but it sure as hell sounds that way!

Huckabee: I don't get all this talk about markets. Hey, can we talk about the FAIR tax some more? No? Ok, then. I like ethanol- if we subsidize it, it will magically become more efficient very quickly; it's obviously better than any other possible source of alternative energy like fuel cells, solar power, or nuclear power. So what if it costs more energy to produce than it can actually produce itself!

Tancredo: I don't like immigrants. I like free trade, but I don't like what Dubya does to it; he duped me into supporting fast track- I feel violated. But at least I'm an honest person, and I won't support just any asshole for President. That counts for something right?

Brownback: Can we talk about family values? I know this is about the economy, and I know I kinda sorta understand economics, but those subjects are icky to me. Still, I somehow know that having a third of the world's military spending is a good thing! Talking about this economics stuff makes me feel the same way I feel when I see Larry Craig in the Dirksen Building Men's Room. Iraq had something to do with 9/11 didn't it?

Hunter: "Deutscheland, Deutscheland, uber alles!" Screw Congress, screw economics. If I am President, my motto will be "L'Etat, c'est moi!"

Quick hits on the debate...

1. Analysis: This was the most boring piece of crap yet. For a good chunk of the candidates, their positions could be explained as: Free trade is the cornerstone of our trade means subsidies and tariffs, right?

Romney gave his least automoton-ish performance yet (a low bar, admittedly), and actually scored some points with me on health care- but otherwise, he continued to show that he is willing to support whatever is most politically convenient; he also had one of the only amusing lines of the debate (the "Law and Order" bit).

Of the "top-tier" candidates, only McCain showed both economic literacy and a willingness to respect his economic literacy- too bad most Republicans have an irrational hatred of him second only to their irrational hatred of a certain congressman from Texas.

Ron Paul had his weakest performance to date, though he was still obviously the most economically literate man on the stage; he also seemed rattled by the decision of the moderators to give him less time than just about anyone; the question about support for the ultimate nominee was outright demeaning, especially after the Q3 fundraising.

Thompson...ugh.....Well, he's an honest enough guy, and he has a modicum of economic literacy, but he just looks like a deer in the headlights half the time (he may have been the only person Nixon was ever right about). His "me too" on Huck's defense of ethanol subsidies was mind-numbingly stupid.

Tancredo actually sounded coherent about issues other than immigration for once, and even though I think he's dead wrong on immigration, you have to give the guy points for intellectual honesty.

Duncan Hunter....this guy passes for a conservative these, exactly? Every word that came out of his mouth was the antithesis of limited government.

Giuliani probably came off as the most likable candidate today. Unfortunately, this may have obscured the complete lack of consistency in any of his positions.

Huckabee showed even more economic illiteracy than Hunter, although his talk about the FAIR tax always gives me a fleeting hope that maybe he has a clue.

Brownback put me to sleep as usual, though he clearly has a clue when it comes to economic issues- too bad he's running on a "family values" platform. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that he's been working with Biden on the Three State Solution, which means that somewhere in that orthodoxy-filled head of his there is some capacity for intellectual rigor.

Rothbard, Bush, and National Security

An article in today's Washington Post suggests that the latest al Qaeda videotape was released earlier than it should have been by our Executive Branch to score some political points. In the process, they compromised a useful intelligence source that had been monitoring al Qaeda for years. The source: a private organization that, in this case, decided to turn their findings over to the government- on the condition the tape not be released before al Qaeda had officially made it publicly available, a condition that was not honored.

More than a little disturbing. The libertarian in me marvels at the ability of a privately run organization to do a better job of intelligence gathering on its own (read: no government contract) than the government's own intelligence agencies who have the advantage of being legally "authorized" to use torture with impunity, tap phonelines without warrants, etc. The libertarian in me also marvels at the ability of the government to completely and utterly destroy the advantage given to them by the hard work of this privately run organization.
I'm not a Rothbardian anarcho-capitalist, but somewhere, Murray Rothbard is having a great big chuckle.
(HT: Comments from Left Field, Will Bunch at

Sunday, October 7, 2007

A few guidelines for Ron Paul supporters

Since I threw a bone to other Ron Paul supporters earlier this evening, it's time to stir the pot a little bit with a post I meant to make a few days ago:

Now that Ron Paul is getting his moment in the sun thanks to his Q3 fundraising, his campaign has an opportunity to start making an impact on the nomination race. However, that impact will be limited if a large number of outsiders continue to perceive him and his supporters as "kooks."

A couple of recent articles and discussions on other sites have discussed the need for Ron Paul supporters to be less agressive or risk losing coverage entirely. These discussions were not the result of some hatchet-job on Ron Paul, but were instead moderated by sites that have gone out of their way to be fair to him; their reward has been personal attacks, incoherent rants, spamming on unrelated topics, and more. Plenty of mainstream Republican sites have obviously been less friendly to Ron Paul; however, the treatment of these sites by some Ron Paul supporters has been responsible for a hardening of attitudes against Ron Paul and all of his supporters. Indeed, there are plenty of people on those sites who would have been potential supporters who were permanently turned off by the invective, spamming, and ranting. Part of me wonders if the silliness over the fundraising letter wasn't the end result of rants by supporters. In other words, the incoherence and nuisance factor of the ranting led to a perception that only incoherent crackpots would possibly support Ron Paul.

So, with that in mind, I would like to propose some guidelines for Ron Paul supporters to follow. I believe these guidelines, if followed, improve perceptions of Ron Paul and his supporters and stop the process of making enemies out of potential allies.

1. Spamming: If you are posting a bunch of slogans without any substantive, logical arguments, then you are spamming. If you are cutting and pasting the same comment to multiple sites, you are spamming. If the article/post in question is not about Ron Paul and your post does not draw a logical connection to the subject of the article/post, you are spamming. This type of advocacy does not provide people with a logical reason to support Ron Paul, and creates the impression that Ron Paul supporters are automatons unable to make a logical argument of their own. If you don't agree with this definition of "spamming", then insert the word "trespassing" for "spamming" - the effect is the same: you are hurting Ron Paul's image and the image of other supporters.

2. Invective: Calling writers, columnists, bloggers, and commenters names, using terms like "fascist", "Brownshirt Republic," or accusing them of having a vendetta against Ron Paul for even the smallest perceived slight does nothing to advance the cause, and is a huge factor in discouraging additional coverage of Rep. Paul. The fact is that reasonable people can disagree with Rep. Paul on just about any issue; additionally, a reasonable person can discuss the nomination race without mentioning Ron Paul in every single article. When someone gets personally attacked for simply disagreeing with Ron Paul or not thinking Ron Paul is likely to be the nominee, they aren't going to be inclined to mention Ron Paul in a positive light (if at all) in the future.

3. Conspiracy theories: Whenever you make an argument about Ron Paul, you are associating the substance of that argument with Ron Paul- even if it is not his actual position. Worse, conspiracy theories come off as kookiness- if you really believe there is a conspiracy, the burden is on you to prove it, not on everyone else to disprove it. Examples of frequently stated conspiracy theories that are now being associated with Rep. Paul:

a. "9/11 was an inside job": the use of this theory by some supporters forces Rep. Paul to constantly waste valuable camera and press time on distancing himself from it. I also wish I didn't have to explain why this is one of the most ridiculous conspiracy theories in history.

b. "the polls are being manipulated to make Ron Paul's support seem smaller than it is": at most, there may be some unintentional undersampling. Yes, I'm aware that Rasmussen doesn't include Ron in its surveys- but no one of importance relies on Rasmussen.

c. "the media is trying to ignore Ron Paul": the media, like any other business, has finite resources. They will therefore only cover that which they think will be appealing to a large audience, and until Rep. Paul can show by traditional means that he has a deep level of support, the media is being rational by covering him less than others. The Q3 fundraising was a big step in the right direction, and has resulted in a lot of coverage from most outlets (with one obvious and notable exception).

4. Emotional responses to accusations. When someone actually does make a personal attack on Ron Paul, responding with a personal attack of your own does no one any good. Ron Paul is supposed to be the "peace candidate"- I don't see how you can advocate for peace while adopting a militant mentality; the two are a little contradictory. Emotional responses do nothing to persuade people. Think about it this way: if the original accusation against Ron Paul just made you angry and more passionate about Ron Paul, then what makes you think that a similar accusation by you will have a different effect? As for the argument personal attacks are justified as a response to personal attacks, and are really just self-defense: this is the same type of logic the President uses to justify torture- in other words, we're allowed to torture them because they have no qualms about torturing us. The problem with this logic, of course, is that it undermines your claim of moral superiority- you can't claim to be more morally just than your opponent while also claiming that your moral justness entitles you to act in the same way as your morally unjust opponent. This is what you would call doublethink.


1. Relevance: If you wish to talk about Ron Paul, then keep your comments relevant to the topic at hand. If the discussion only has to do with policy, then keep your comments limited to the policy at issue.

2. Grammar: If you want respect for your comments, then write in grammatically correct English. Writing in some bastardized pidgeon English with no capitals, no punctuation, and misspellings all over the place doesn't exactly give the impression you are worth listening to. If you have never learned proper writing skills due to the dumbing down of the English language through informal e-mail and text messaging.....then get a book on grammar.

3. Logic: If you want to write persuasively, then you must make a logical connection between your solution and the problem. For instance, simply shouting "Abolish the Fed, Restore the Republic, Vote 4 Ron Paul!" gives the reader no reason to vote for Ron Paul, and gives no explanation as to why the Fed should be abolished, why freedom must be restored, or how Ron Paul will accomplish either end. If you cannot fully explain the connection between the problem and the solution, then don't bother entering the discussion- you will just sound like an idiot. As a minimum baseline for commenting on policy questions generally, I would strongly recommend you take the American Civic Literacy Test. If you cannot score above 70% (and I'm being generous here), then you should not be discussing Constitutional issues or the free market economy with anyone- believe me, you will sound like an idiot if you do. For the record, I scored a 97%, so I'm not being remotely hypocritical here.

4. Calmness: Address arguments, not people. This makes what you have to say relevant to a much wider audience than just getting into a war of words with one or two people. It has the added benefit of making you sound like a rational human being.

In conclusion, there are plenty of rational Ron Paul supporters out there. Hopefully, some of the people who have frequently appeared irrational are even rational and just needed a little bit of guidance. But if you don't want to be labeled as crazy then don't give people a reason to think you're crazy.

Bush on Baseball

From, via Andrew Sullivan:
"I made my arguments and went down in flames. History will prove me right," - Texas Rangers owner George W. Bush after voting against realignment and a new wild-card system during a Major League Baseball owners meeting in September 1993. Bush was the lone dissenter in a 27-1 vote.

Sully posted a reader's argument in defense of Bush on this today. Of course, Sully acknowledges knowing nothing about baseball, so I figured I'd counter the dissent. First of all, being a political scientist and a "pretty serious fan of baseball" does not make someone an authority on baseball. Being a political scientist is hardly relevant and being a serious fan of baseball isn't what you would call uncommon. Anyways, suffice it to say that the wild-card playoff system (combined with the 'roid fueled homer binge of the late '90s) was responsible for bringing baseball back from the dead after the 1994 strike. The system has made the season far more interesting, and this season it led to one of the most interesting final weeks you could possibly imagine.

Baseball now has its highest attendance figures in history- despite the trend towards building smaller parks. Revenues have quadrupled, as well. Now, of course I object to the subsidies that have helped fuel this, but the turnaround has been fun to watch as a whole. Now if they would only introduce a European-type relegation system with the minor leagues, baseball would be unstoppable.

Re: Ron Paul's Infamous Fundraising Letter

Certain elements of the blogosphere have been in stitches the last few days over this Ron Paul fundraising letter, including my friends over at Comments from Left Field. The general point of amusement has been the apparent nuttiness of this faux-handwritten letter, specifically its somewhat conspiratorial tone about the United Nations. While I can see why someone who is not a Ron Paul supporter would be amused, the letter really is no less extreme than fundraising letters I have seen from all sorts of political causes, both left and right. Below is a helpful explanation of why this ridicule is just making a mountain out of a molehill.

1. It's a fundraising letter sent to supporters, not much different in tone from most fundraising letters. Over the years, I have seen many fundraising letters from various political causes and campaigns, both right and left. My observations have been the result of experiences on Capitol Hill and on the fringes of the lobbying industry, as well as my wife's extensive experience in direct-mail fundraising. One of the keys to successful direct-mail fundraising campaigns is to make the recipient feel a sense of urgency to donate. In the political realm, this typically means making the reader believe that everything they believe in is under attack; this is especially true when the letter is targeted at people who have previously donated and are thus more likely to be concerned about the issues addressed in the letter. Compare, say, a NARAL letter with a Family Research Council letter, or a Brady Campaign letter with an NRA letter, and you will usually find a similar theme of, in essence, "they're out to get us." So, yes, the Ron Paul letter may take a tone reminiscent of black helicopters and conspiracy theories- but then again, so do fundraising letters for most political causes.

2. The faux handwriting has also attracted attention as creating something of a "Unabomber effect" in the words of Brendan Nyhan. But this is another important element of successful direct mail fundraising- making the recipient feel personally invested. Oftentimes, this element is achieved by making the letter a personal story that will pull at the heartstrings; in this case, though, the campaign decided to make the letter handwritten to achieve the recipient's personal investment. My understanding is that the apparently handwritten fundraising letter is one of the "tricks of the trade" when it comes to direct-mail fundraising; even the appearance of being on lined paper is something that "has been done before", according to my reliable source.

3. The substantive element that has achieved the most attention from the more "Progressive" critics (this blog reserves the word "liberal" for classical liberalism, which has little relationship to Progressivism) has been the portion that states the "American way of life is under attack," the "global elites are busy forming a North American Union", and "the UN also wants to confiscate our firearms and impose a global tax." Now, as I said above, there is a certain amount of hyperbole in these claims- but it is a type of hyperbole that runs through most political direct mail fundraising. I should also mention that I personally cringe whenever a politician assails "elites"- but I don't know many politicians who haven't used that line of attack before. As for the substantive points he raises:

a. "American way of life is under attack." It surprises me that Progressives would find this statement amusing, as it taps into essentially the same feelings that Progressives have about Bush thanks to things like Bush v. Gore, the torture memoranda, the wiretapping programs and bypassing of FISA, etc. Yes, I know that the letter does not specifically address those issues; however, the sentiment is pretty much the same.
b. "Global elites are busy forming a North American Union." This is obviously a reference to NAFTA and various agreements that Bush has entered into. Now, I happen to be a supporter of NAFTA and free trade agreements more generally, so this is a bit tougher for me to justify since I actually disagree with him here (full disclosure: Ron Paul is entirely in favor of free trade; he just thinks, with some reason, that NAFTA and other agreements don't actually achieve free trade) However, I understand where the sentiment comes from. Indeed, as this article shows, the Bush policy with respect to Mexico and Canada is to increase cross-border traffic and ultimately have a common tariff system. Again, I'm not necessarily opposed to this type of setup; however, there is little doubt that it would decrease American sovereignty, so Paul's claim isn't really all that insane.
c. "The UN also wants to confiscate our firearms and impose a global tax." The fact is, the firearms claim is pretty much true (see portion of report where they discuss concerns over increased manufacturing of "small arms", which means firearms; I've also had some personal work-related experiences with the issue). That said, it's not something the UN is likely to be successful on as long as the 2nd Amendment remains an individual, rather than a collective, right- still it is a goal of much of the UN. As for the concept of global taxes, it appears that the US is almost alone in its opposition of such a tax- without US opposition, there's a good chance a global tax would be a reality.

Hopefully, this post demonstrates why this whole thing is really much ado about nothing. People are certainly free to disagree with the implicit policy positions the fundraising letter takes (as I said, I personally disagree with him on NAFTA and the concept of a "North American Union", which would at least be a union of relatively liberalized countries as opposed to the UN, which has plenty of thug nations in it). Factually, however, his letter is correct, and the "state of emergency" tone of it is extremely common. In fact, there are many people in all parts of the political spectrum who actually believe we are in a state of emergency- they just tend to disagree about what the emergency is: Christian Conservatives believe gay marriage is going to destroy the family; disillusioned Republicans think that Bush (and, if elected, Hillary or Giuliani) is destroying the Constitution; Progressives think that Bush (and, if elected, any Republican) is destroying everything that made America good; anti-gun people think that pro-gun people want to see our cities destroyed by gun violence; and pro-gun people think that anti-gun people want to destroy their rights to own a gun; etc.