Saturday, November 24, 2007

Another Ron Gets It Right

Ron Chusid puts the problems libertarians like me have with the Paul campaign and its die-hards together in one outstanding post. There's not much for me to add, other than to again refer Paul supporters to my old post about guidelines for Ron Paul supporters to follow if they actually want to help their candidate.

Taxpayers Pay to Propagandize....Themselves?

A comment I made tonight at Unqualified Offerings, in response to a Bushie proposal to increase funding for anti-drug advertising by $130 million:

At a minimum, shouldn't taxpayer-funded, government-sponsored domestic advertising just be outright banned? Seriously, isn't this an issue of the government forcing people to speak in a particular way? In an allegedly free and open society, what possible rationale is there for taxpayer-funded (rather than permitted) speech?

I was recently at a trade show with very expensive exhibit space. The show had absolutely nothing to do with national security, yet there were booths for not only military recruiters but more bizarrely for the Department of Homeland Security. So, taxpayers got to spend several thousand bucks in order for DHS to promote how great it is.

You'd think that the priority would be on actually doing a good job rather than telling people why they should think DHS does a good job. You'd think wrongly.

Is there anything worse than government propagandizing its own people?

Some Paul Supporters Violate the Libertarian Maxim

The general libertarian maxim is that any action is acceptable as long as you don't use force or fraud. I've always interpreted this to include the threat of force, including emotional force.

My recent posts explaining why I can no longer support the Paul candidacy have been met with a number of comments amounting to: if you do not support Ron Paul, then you are not a libertarian. Indeed, one commenter stated that if I support anyone other than Ron Paul, then I am a "stain on libertarianism." Moreover, there have been innumerable attempts by individuals of this nature to "shout down" any blogger who expresses an opinion unfavorable to Ron Paul.

All this is, in my mind, a blatant violation of the force or fraud principle. It carries an implicit threat of "support Ron Paul....or else." In the case of the commenter noted above, the implied threat was "support Ron Paul....or you are kicked out of the libertarian movement." Whether or not the commenter has the actual authority to decide whether I'm a libertarian is irrelevant- the commenter clearly believed he had such authority. It was an attempt to make me support Ron Paul not because I think doing so is the right thing to do, but out of an irrational fear that I could no longer call myself a libertarian.

Attempts to force people to act irrationally against their perceived interests are completely and utterly antithetical to the core libertarian philosophy. On the other hand, explaining to someone the flaws in their perception is perfectly acceptable. There is a big difference between the two.

I would suggest that Paul supporters keep this in mind if they wish to appear more ideologically consistent and persuasive in future comments, both here and at other sites.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Poop, Crap, Sh!t

My wife and I were discussing this evening the arbitrariness of curse words. Or at least what is considered a curse word. Perhaps nothing is a better example of this than the various ways of saying "feces."

For instance, why is it that: almost no one gets offended when you say "my dog needs to poop"; some people get offended when you say "my dog needs to crap"; and a lot of people get offended when you say "my dog needs to shit"?

They all mean the same thing, yet one is always acceptable, one is sometimes acceptable, and one pretty much guarantees a fine by the FCC.


Also- why is it that you can't say "Fuck you" without severe repercussions, yet you can usually (on TV at least) get away with saying "Screw you." Again- they both mean the same thing.

Why I Quit the rEVOLution

Most of the comments I got in response to my tirade (here, here, and here) against Ron Paul's Thanksgiving Eve appearance with Alex Jones were the usual Rockwell Brigade incoherent rants. However, one or two made some valid points, which I want to respond to.

Specifically, I wanted to respond to this comment:

Ron Paul needs media exposure. If someone is going to give it to him, he'll take
it. He's not going to tell Fox News, "no thank you, I don't support your views
in the war in Iraq." And why should he?It's a free country and people can express their opinion. They shouldn't be punished for it. (Don't say that or I won't appear on your show!)Alex Jones loves Ron Paul. Why shouldn't he? Ron Paul has explicitly told Alex Jones he doesn't agree with his 9/11 conspiracy theory. He did this on the air in one of his earlier interviews with him. There, end of story.Do you want to live in a world where we can't associate with people because of what's been said about them?What exactly is the ethical principle here that you feel is at stake?

In response, I said this:

This is less a matter of ethics as it is a matter of what I am willing to have people associate with me. I will not publicly support someone who panders to the 9/11 Truth movement. Other people are free to choose if they are willing to do so. However, I think his pandering to the 9/11 Truthers/conspiracy theorists/anti-Semites has a net negative effect on me, because:

1. It will severely limit his appeal to mainstream voters, thus keeping his support on the fringes of society (and therefore not doing much to advance the cause of liberty); which would be acceptable except for

2. The fact that it will result in mainstream voters associating libertarianism with conspiracy theories/9/11 Truth/anti-semitism.

As a libertarian, I refuse to support a movement that I believe will have a net negative effect on my beliefs (the advancement of liberty) and well-being.

Put another way: this isn't an issue of Congressman Paul's ethics, in my opinion. It's much, much more an issue of whether Paul is running his campaign in such a way as to advance the cause of liberty (to which I subscribe) in this country. Certainly, if he were to be elected, I think he would do quite a bit of good (although a number of people have correctly pointed out that his states' rights emphasis could decrease liberty in a number of places thanks to issues of racism). But by pandering to this particular tiny group of people, he is eliminating whatever small chance he had of winning (or significantly impacting) the nomination or, for that matter, the Presidency. That means that his campaign will, in the end, lead to little or no net increase in libertarian policy in this country.

A lack of impact on policy would still be acceptable in my view, if his campaign improved attitudes towards libertarianism in this country. This is where pandering to Alex Jones' audience will have the worst effect. Like it or not, conspiracy theorists like Jones are on the fringe in this country. The second the average person thinks you are a conspiracy theorist, they will immediately stop listening to anything you have to say (IMHO, with good reason- conspiracy theories are often a sign of true intellectual laziness). Well, whether or not Paul is himself a conspiracy theorist, his close, continuing, and public relationship with Jones will brand him as a conspiracy theorist in the minds of voters. Worse, though, it will brand (rightly or wrongly) any of his followers as Jones-style conspiracy theorists and anti-Semites. And make no mistake about it: from what I heard on the air the other night, Jones is an outright anti-Semite.

If and when that happens, it will be even more difficult than it already is for libertarians to "get their foot in the door" when it comes to political argumentation in this country.

If Paul were at some point to make an explicit and, as importantly, public refutation of everything that Jones stands for, then the equation for me would change significantly. But until that time, I can no longer support him, and will argue that his campaign will have a net negative effect on libertarianism in this country.

Fisking Krauthammer

Cernig at the Newshoggers makes a full-on point-by-point rebuttal of Charles Krauthammer's claim that opponents of the Iraq war are now living in a state of denial.

Money quote:

Firstly, he (Krauthammer) writes that:

Why is top-down national reconciliation as yet unattainable? Because decades of Saddam Hussein's totalitarianism followed by the brutality of the post-invasion insurgency destroyed much of Iraq's political infrastructure, causing Iraqis to revert to the most basic political attachment -- tribe and locality.

In this, he glibly passes over the destruction of Iraq's political and actual infrastructure by the invasion iteself and by the badly mismanaged CPA
regime, which set the scene for the insurgency in the first place. A huge factor? Of course not! Look over there - a river in Egypt!

But Cernig misses a key opportunity here. "Top-down national reconciliation" hasn't happened yet because "top down national reconciliation" is impossible almost by definition. The very concept of "top-down national reconciliation" presumes that people are automotons who do whatever their government/leaders tell them to do. It presumes liberal democracy is a means to stability rather than the result of stability. If top-down reconciliation were possible, Israelis and Palestinians would have been at peace ever since the Oslo Accords.

This actually gets to the heart of why the dream of exporting democracy to Iraq by force was naive to begin with. Democracy cannot be forced; it is created. Historically, as I learned many years ago in my 100-level PolSci course, democracy has been successful only when it has arisen in societies that already had some degree of liberal freedom to begin with. Compare Spain's relatively smooth post-Franco transition to democracy with the anything-but-smooth transition to democracy in Russia. Or ask yourself how successful a democracy Poland would be if it didn't first have Lech Walesa and Solidarity to establish a democratic base. Or ask if the American Revolution would have happened without the freedoms afforded by the British Empire. Fact is, successful democracies have almost always arisen from the bottom-up, not from the top-down.

Think of it this way: when you try to create liberal democracy from the top-down, you are paradoxically trying to force people to be free. A top-down democracy is a democracy in name only: a politician in a liberal democracy can't force people to follow his lead. If he does, he is no longer leading a liberal democracy!

DC Asst. Police Chief Scores a 93 on Unintentional Comedy Scale

Per Marginal Revolution:

"The ban on handguns is a matter of life and death because 80% of the murders in DC are caused by handguns."

-DC Assistant Police Chief Alfred Durham

What Happened in the Minny US Attorney Office?

...Minnesota Lawyer Blog has the first truly balanced take I've seen. As crazy as the whole scenario was, it's worth remembering that Rachel Paulose was NOT Monica Goodling, who went to the Pat Robertson School of Law. Paulose had an outstanding academic record in both undergrad and law school, as well as an outstanding, if brief, pedigree in terms of her career. But right-wing conservatives are living in denial when they argue that she was unfairly victimized in the cross-fire over the DOJ firing scandal. Fact is that calling her tenure as US Attorney "stormy" would be a gross understatement.

Instead, Minnesota Lawyer Blog attributes Paulose's controversial reign to something completely devoid of politics: the poorly developed management skills of a still-young attorney. Money quote:

She was only 32 when she was thrust into a management situation that most 50 year olds couldn’t handle. She was given little or no good support from an incredibly dysfunctional DOJ. She struggled mightily, but was unable to pull it off in the end. No shame in that.

Balanced inquiries like this are all-too-rare these days, and Minny Lawyer Blog should be applauded for actually trying to get the story right rather than score political points.

(HT: Orin Kerr at Volokh).

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Does This Make Me Evil?

I've never been able to understand why the NJ Turnpike has ticket machines at some entry toll booths, and toll booth workers handing out tickets at other entry toll booths. Why pay someone to do a job that is handled more than adequately - maybe even better - by a machine that costs a minimal amount to install and maintain?

Anyways, because this makes no sense to me, I have developed a really bad habit. Whenever I pull away from one of the human ticket-givers, I habitually shout: "You're job has no economic right to exist!"

Does this make me evil? Or just eccentric?

Venezuela's Tyranny of the Majority

Libby at the Newshoggers points out that, in spite of all the criticism of Chavez, and in spite of his extreme policies, he remains quite popular in his country. She goes on to argue that Chavez, as compared to Bush, at least governs by the consent of his people, even if his "reforms" are scary. She argues that at least these "reforms" will be passed by democratic vote rather than by Presidential edict.

I think she is right to point out the hypocrisy of attacking Chavez for authoritarian tendencies while ignoring our administration's similar tendencies. However, I also think her article gives rise to a broader concern: how is it that direct popular democracy is inherently above tyranny? The answer of course is that it isn't.

Indeed, if Chavez' "reforms" pass, then the episode shows the inherent danger in a pure democracy in terms of a complete lack of respect for minority rights. In essence, pure democracy means that whatever the majority says, goes- no matter what that means for the minority.

Of course, as we have seen here, our (small r) republican government has plenty of flaws of its own when it comes to protecting minority rights. But, if I had a gun to my head and had to choose which system is more prone to true tyranny, I'd say that the Venezuelan potential for tyranny of the majority is scarier than anything Bush has been able to pull off here.

This libertarian's solution? Minimize the opportunities for government to act tyrannically by weakening (ie, eliminating it) government as much as possible.

**UPDATE** Just to clarify, I'm not agreeing with Libby's ambivalence towards the Chavez "reforms." My point is more about the dangers inherent in the "tyranny of the majority" that is unchecked democracy.

Last thoughts on the Paul Interview

The weird thing about this whole movement is that I feel like the hard-core Alex Jones netroots have almost singlehandedly pushed me from die-hard Ron Paul supporter between April and October, to lukewarm supporter in October and early November. Tonight's appearance told me that Paul values their support more than any other group. As I said over at Liberty Papers- I have repeatedly stuck my neck out for Paul, managing to avoid a single ban, winning over converts for the Paul campaign, and generally defending him against all sorts of critics. Of course, the primary reason those critics were so harsh to begin with was that they were themselves frustrated with getting shouted down every time they committed crimethink with respect to Paul. In other words- I've spent the last several months trying to undo the damage caused by these people. To then be essentially told that their self-destructive work was more valuable to the campaign than my (and others') constructive work....well, that's a bit hard to take.

More on Paul's Interview w/ Alex Jones

I just wasted about 3 hours of my life listening to the streamed re-broadcast of the Alex Jones show tonight containing the interview with Ron Paul. The interview itself was what I would call fairly uneventful, and to Paul's credit, he managed to invoke the names of Gandhi and MLK as idols of his. He also did a good job poo-poo-ing a question suggesting that the SCOTUS judges should be impeached if they rule the 2nd Amendment to be a collective right.

But- that is not the type of stuff I was hoping for. When Paul was introduced, Jones made a big deal of the fact that Paul has been tight with Jones for 13 years- a very long time, and re-emphasizing that this is not an isolated incident. This long history and relationship gives rise to the inference that Paul has in fact chosen to actively court the support of not only Jones but also- and more importantly- Jones' audience.

This was the first time I've ever listened to Jones. It was the most mind-numbingly bad three hours of radio I've ever heard. It seemed the phrase "New World Order" was uttered about once every twenty seconds. Heard only slightly less were the words "Secret Society" and "Freemasons." At every break, Jones ran a commercial for his DVD, complete with numerous references to the "Bilderbergers" and of course the ever-present "New World Order." But the worst of all was the interview Jones had just before Paul came on. Towards the end of that interview (and thus the last part of the show before the Paul interview), the host and the interviewee (an author of apparently some repute in conspiracy theory circles) engaged in a discussion about the Jewish conspiracy to take over the world; Jones and the interviewee also discussed the existence of a homosexual conspiracy. In other words, the interview (which from the sound of it was quite ordinary for this show) was intended to stoke fear and prejudice against Jews and homosexuals.

This is not to say Paul is himself an anti-Semite or a racist or a homophobe- I have a hard time believing that someone who named their son after an atheist of Jewish descent is anti-Semitic. Nor is it to say that he necessarily endorses the views Jones expressed in this interview. But his insistence on continuing his professional relationship with Jones - knowing that Jones is effectively encouraging a race war- suggests extremely poor judgment at a minimum.

The thing is, though, that Jones gave Paul several chances to have his "Sista Souljah" moment. Paul had an opportunity to say, in essence, "Yes, these people support me, but I do not personally believe in what they stand for, and I reject their positions entirely. If they still wish to support me, then that is fine. But they should know that it is they who are jumping on my bandwagon- not the other way around." To the extent Paul heard the prior interview (I have no way of knowing if he actually did so don't read too much into this), Paul even had the opportunity to open the interview with an attack on the blatant anti-Semitism and homophobia in that prior discussion.

But he didn't. Instead, he let Jones prattle on unchallenged about the New World Order.

Hearing the interview did nothing to soothe my spirits from earlier this evening. Again, I must reiterate: I want to see Ron Paul do really, really well. But this won't happen if he chooses to appeal to a lunatic fringe that represents a very dangerous anti-Semitic, homophobic worldview. If Ron Paul does badly while developing a public reputation as being aligned with the Alex Jones' of the world, libertarianism as an influential philosophy will go down with him.

On the other hand, if he manages to do really, really well (which means appealing to a wide audience rather than a narrow band of conspiracy nuts), then the cause of liberty will strike a blow that hasn't been seen in ages. Hell, even if he doesn't do really, really well, he can still be a terrific vehicle for the cause of liberty- BUT only if he doesn't create the public perception that the cause of liberty means that the Alex Jones' of the world get to rule.

How hard would it be for Ron Paul to just once vocally denounce some of the stuff on Alex Jones' show? Unlike others, I'm not even asking that he return the donations of people like Jones and the Stormfront crowd- I even agree with the campaign's argument for why doing so would be wrong. But I am asking that he not go out of his way to seek support from these groups. At some point, someone as economics-minded as him needs to see the opportunity cost of pursuing such groups at the expense of other, broader groups who really do "get" the freedom philosophy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Why Ron, Why?

A day after finally coming out with guns a-blazin' to discredit the whackjob fringe of his supporters, Ron Paul makes a return to Alex Jones' radio show. As a result, at least one fence-sitter has given up on him. As has been argued time and again, the problem isn't so much that whack-jobs happen to support Ron Paul; the problem is that he has no problem wasting his time actively recruiting them into his movement. If he didn't waste time doing that, he wouldn't have to waste time explaining why he wasted time with them in the first place....not to mention the fact that just about every true libertarian would have jumped off the fence to support him at this point.

As usual, I know that this post is going to get me slammed by the "Rockwell Brigades," who will most likely mistake me for a shill for Giuliani (now apparently named "Benito"). Of course, this will ignore the fact that I've been actively supporting Rep. Paul for months, and that my goal all along has been to persuade the other supporters that they might want to realize that the libertarian movement is much bigger than one man, and that a rationally-based campaign is the only way to get him out of the single-digits.

Alas, the personality cult of Ron Paul continues to grow, while the core philosophy of libertarianism becomes less and less important to the "netroots." In his interview with Jay Leno, Rep. Paul pointed out that his message is a simple message that isn't really his; indeed, IIRC he pointed out that while he is personally not perfect, freedom is. Well, now that the Ron Paul movement has started to hit the mainstream, making appeals for money to people who have no understanding of the word "freedom" hurts rather than hinders the freedom message (not to mention the campaign more generally).

I am trying to listen to the rebroadcast right now, but unless he is appearing for the purpose of disavowing Jones (so far, not so good), just about anything he could say to Jones at this point makes me sick. For the record- as someone who watched the Pentagon burn, and heard the Pentagon plane flying over my apartment less than a mile from the crash site- any deliberate attempt to court support from those who deny what happened that day is personally insulting to me.

But to go a step further. Plenty of commenters, myself included, have pointed out that Ron Paul could either be the best or worst thing to happen to libertarianism in decades. In order for him to be good for libertarianism (and for that matter, the country), he has to either win or, more likely, make people think. Continuing to seek out the support of 9/11 Truthers and nutcases is the surest way to ensure that his appeal remains exceedingly limited and to ensure that libertarianism as a philosophy becomes irreparably associated with these nutcases. In other words- actively seeking out the support of these people hurts both the Paul campaign and the libertarian philosophy more generally.

What make this worse is that it shows Paul's priorities- he would rather spend time chasing the votes and support of a tiny number of 9/11 Truthers than chasing the votes and support of the millions of libertarians, disillusioned Republicans, and disillusioned Democrats. It's simple math, really: he has limited resources. Why spend those limited resources on a small group of whack-jobs than on a large group of people who have been hungry for a politician speaking the language of freedom ever since Reagan left office?

I sincerely hope that what he said tonight was strong and indisputable against the 9/11 Truthers. If it wasn't, I am going to need some serious convincing to return to the Paul camp. My support will either go to Obama, Thompson, or, just as likely, no one at all.

Will update once I've heard the substance of Paul's interview. So far, this is the most tedious and intellectually barren 22 minutes of radio I've ever heard (the interview hasn't come up yet)- and I used to listen to Rush!

HT: Memeorandum

****UPDATE**** After listening to the full broadcast, I made two new posts on the incident, here and here.

Yet Another Reason Not to Fear the Bad Man

Per Captain Capitalism. Money quote:

So, if you really want to piss of Osama Bin Pointless, go out and kiss a girl, kiss a guy, have a martini, have premarital sex, listen to some Frank Sinatra, and continue on.

The ability of Americans to overcome evil in spite of their own government's idiocy is truly something to be thankful for.

Bush's 25% Buries Its Head in the Sand

Not surprisingly, the blogosphere has been abuzz by former White House Press Secretary Scott McLellan's revelation that a number of people in the Bush Administration, including the President and Vice President, misled him so that he would not tell the press the truth about Plamegate.

The response from Bush's remaining 25% to this startling accusation by a rather prominent ex-Bushies has been.....character assassination? Seriously, the best response that the 25% bloggers could come up with is that McClellan was boring, so therefore he's irrelevant and has no credibility?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bush Threatens Layoffs If He Doesn't Get What He Wants

In response to the Dems' recent attempts to put restrictions on troop deployment in Iraq, Bush threatens to layoff civilian contractors in Iraq. What I don't understand is how this threat is supposed to scare the Dems, who seem to have found their spine in standing up to the Bush Administration in recent days. Essentially, his threat amounts to: if you don't give me what I want, I will start to give you what you want- only right away instead of a year from now.

As I said the other day: the Dems only need to sit on the ball right now. They actually are the ones who hold the leverage, since Bush can't do much of anything if they don't give him the money to do it with.

Not to say I necessarily support a complete and immediate withdrawal- just that I'd rather that than we plan to stay in Iraq for decades. Indeed, it's pretty undeniable that things have improved in Iraq the last few months (in no small part due to the presence of the exceedingly competent Gen. Petraeus). But the most important thing for Iraq's long term stability is a political solution in which we can have relatively little input; leaving sooner rather than later may be the best way to force this.

Obama's Foreign Policy Experience

Per Huffington Post: Hillary Clinton has now gone on the attack against Obama's foreign policy experience. Key quote:

"Voters will have to judge if living in a foreign country at the age of 10 prepares one to face the big, complex international challenges the next president will face," Clinton said. "I think we need a president with more experience than that, someone the rest of the world knows, looks up to and has confidence in."

I know she meant this as a rhetorical question and all, something where the answer is supposed to be obvious: Obama living in Indonesia when he was a kid is less important than all of Hillary's junkets to foreign countries over the years. Problem is: the portion of Obama's childhood spent in Indonesia is one of his most important and, yes, relevant qualifications for the job. Having actually lived in another part of the world as a normal person (read: not as a dignitary), Obama actually understands that there is a hell of a lot more to the world than the United States of America, press conferences, and summits with foreign dignitaries.

I've only spent a relatively short period of time in my life outside of the US, but I've learned this much in life: you learn a hell of a lot more about the rest of the world sitting in a foreign neighborhood bar, or at a poker table in a foreign casino than you do by sightseeing. And, I'm sorry, but formal meetings and dinners with foreign leaders and press corps are a lot closer to "sightseeing" than they are to the actual experience of hanging out casually with an Average Josef who doesn't give a rat's ass who you are. In Hillary-land, having your ass kissed because you're married to the world's most powerful man gives you a better understanding of the world than actually experiencing life someplace other than the US.

Ok, rant over- you can return to your normal lives.

The Paul Campaign Fires Back

Responding to the Mona Charen absurdity, the Paul campaign shows that it is starting to take the concerns about its ties to lunatics seriously. This is the first time I've seen the campaign make a somewhat high-profile response to the criticisms of "moon-battery." I must say- quite effective and well done.

Most of the original column was completely off the wall, as my response post argued. But, she also made the popular argument about the association with moonbats- just far more viciously than most. The campaign's response is pretty effective, and comes close to what I and others have been asking for, even delving into the realm of vicious sarcasm of its own:

Dr. Paul’s “Texas Straight Talk Column,” for example, is public record and anyone, from the American Free Press to Cat Fancy, has the right to reprint it.Yes, Ron appears on the Alex Jones radio program. But you know who else talks to Alex Jones? People like Judge Anthony Napolitano. Guess who hosts Alex Jones? FOX’s John Gibson and National Public Radio. Dr. Paul has said time and again that he does not believe 9/11 was an inside job. He does, however, think we should always question authority. When, by the way, were conservatives supposed to become trusting of big government? Dr. Paul stands for freedom, peace, prosperity, and the protection of inalienable individual rights. He knows that liberty is the antidote for racism, anti-Semitism, and other small minded ideologies. Dr. Paul has focused all of his energy on winning the presidency so he can cut the size of government and protect the freedom of every American. Neither he nor his staff is going to waste time screening donors. If a handful of individuals with views anathema to Dr. Paul’s send in checks, then they have wasted their money. I cannot profess to understand the motivations of Don Black as neither Dr. Paul nor I know who he is, but a simple Google search shows that his $500 contribution has netted him at least 88 news hits, including Charen’s column. Perhaps a better explanation for his “contribution” is not support for Ron, but the attention he knew he would receive.

This alone isn't going to be enough to put an end to the association between Paul and the moonbats- but it's a damn good start. If this letter just represents the beginning of an outspoken campaign of defense against the accusations, then the Paul campaign could be the spark that libertarianism has been seeking for years. But, I must emphasize- there is still a long way to go. But this is a promising first step.

HT: Liberty Papers.

The Libertarian and the Theocrat

If you haven't read Jonah Goldberg's column today about Ron Paul vs. Mike Huckabee, you should. Goldberg is far more of a conservative than I, but I think he hits the nail on the head when discussing the historic conflict between libertarians and cultural traditionalism within the conservative movement. Money quote:

But there's something weird going on when Paul, the small-government constitutionalist, is considered the extremist in the Republican Party while Huckabee, the statist, is the lovable underdog. It's even weirder because it's probably true: Huckabee is much closer to the mainstream. And that's what scares
me about Huckabee and the mainstream alike.

I should also point out that the reason Goldberg is less scared of the whacko contingent amongst the Paul supporters is largely the same reason I've been willing to swallow my concerns about Paul so far (at least on a political level, if not an ideological level):

Whatever the faults of the man and his friends may or may not be, Paul's dogma
generally renders them irrelevant. He is a true ideologue in that his personal preferences are secondary to his philosophical principles.

This doesn't change the potential damage Paul can do to libertarianism as an ideology, as I discussed earlier, if he fails to dissociate from the whackos. What it does change, however, is the extent to which we should fear those whackos if Paul were by some force of nature elected President.

More on the Ron Paul LewRockwell v. Volokh Tiff

The Liberty Papers raises many of the same arguments I did yesterday in defense of David Bernstein. You will notice in the comments section to the Liberty Papers post that the die hards still don't get the point of the criticism, instead just dismissing it as a "smear." They continue to pretend that there is no reason to distance themselves from the Stormfront/Alex Jones types.

The fact is, if Paul and his core supporters continue to refuse to distance themselves from the Stormfront, neo-Nazi, and conspiracy theorists, the Paul campaign will have a net negative effect on the libertarian movement in this country. If, however, he and his core supporters DO make a bona fide effort to distance themselves from this crowd, the Paul campaign has tremendous potential to advance the libertarian movement more than any other event since Atlas Shrugged. But in order for this to happen, Paul and his core supporters must acknowledge that the prominence of the nutcases poses a legitimate problem that must be dealt with.

Krugman's Amnesia

Paul Krugman's column today argues that a weakening dollar (also known as inflation in most circles) has no relevance to whether or not we're headed for a recession. Apparently, in Krugman-land, the 1970s never happened.

Where's the Recession?

Economic history suggests that high oil prices (as we've had the last several years) combined with a massive credit crunch (ongoing with the mortgage industry) should lead to a significant recession. Yet this hasn't happened. Why not? Well, Captain Capitalism has a fascinating graph that suggests a pretty good reason- the technological revolution. Specifically, our economy has become far less dependent on oil than it used to be thanks to the computer revolution that allows us to produce far more per unit of energy expended. Just something I found interesting...

Police Power and Dogs

This line of stories that Radley Balko has covered somehow manages to hit my outrage button every time there's a new addition. I know it makes no sense, but there's just something about an innocent dog getting killed because the cops went to the wrong house that shocks the conscience. Don't get me wrong- killed and wounded children and other innocents are even more disturbing, but the cops seem to use restraint a bit more frequently there. Poor Fido, on the other hand, just needs to have a natural, instinctive reaction to a stranger and suddenly he becomes a threat that needs to be taken out.

I don't know, maybe it's just the visual, or maybe it's just the fact that I own a dog, but how these stories- which are all too frequent- don't get us to re-think the drug war is beyond me.

Monday, November 19, 2007

In Defense of David Bernstein

JH Huebert of throws a hissy fit (as has become all-too-frequent over there) about David Bernstein's post on GOP presidential candidates. Bernstein's post provides a rundown of which candidate various conservative/libertarian law professors support. Bernstein goes on to say that he personally has no strong preference for any particular candidate, though he finds Ron Paul to be a tempting "protest" vote. Bernstein points out that he voted for Paul in '88, but has is troubled by some of the groups his current campaign is appealing to, and thus can't support Paul.

In response, Huebert disavows any connection between Volokh Conspiracy and small "l" libertarianism (Huebert apparently being judge, jury, and executioner on this matter), and accuses Bernstein of "smearing" Ron Paul while giving only mild criticism of the other candidates. In a subsequent post, Huebert makes the following accusation:

Professor Bernstein's "description of the Paul coalition" is that it consists of "conspiracy theorists, southern secessionists, Nazis and fascists, anti-Semites
and racists." How bizarre for a law professor, of all people, to place the burden of proof on Ron Paul supporters to prove they are not Nazis. One would think that supporting Ron Paul's policies, which are the opposite of National Socialism, would at least suffice to shift the burden back to the Professor!

But this completely misrepresents Bernstein's sober argument, which is a far cry from the Mona Charen rant the other day. For the record, Bernstein's problem with the Paul campaign isn't that it consists of nothing but Nazis and conspiracy theorists. Indeed, he even acknowledges that the campaign has appeal to young libertarians in addition to the old, psychotic, conservative whackos and left-wing conspiracy theorists. As such, he does not "place the burden of proof" on supporters to prove they are not Nazis.

Instead, his problem with the campaign is that there are a disturbing number of such whackjobs who are vocally supporting Ron Paul, yet Paul has done very little to distance himself from them. As such, Bernstein distinguishes between the tone of Paul's 1988 Libertarian campaign, and his current campaign, which Bernstein sees as being more pacifist and (importantly) populist than libertarian.

Frankly, Bernstein's concerns are concerns that I have raised before; I just weigh them differently from Bernstein. But his point is one that I wish Ron Paul would take seriously.

New Item from the Department of Bad Statistics

The FBI's annual hate crimes report came out today, reporting a jump of about 8% in reported hate crimes between 2005 and 2006. Predictably, Al Sharpton has jumped on this, saying "The FBI report confirms what we have been saying for many months about the severe increase in hate crimes." Presumably, he was referring primarily to a perceived increase in racial hate crimes, since he included in his remarks a call for AG Mukasey to meet the Congressional Black Caucus, and since Sharpton has hardly been the most sensitive person in the world when it comes to stoking religious hate crimes (see, e.g., Freddie's Fashion Mart, Crown Heights, and his recent remarks about Mormons).

Anyways, there's a huge problem with the statistics: they're devoid of meaning. First of all, there is of course the issue that the term "hate crime" is almost entirely subjective, since it requires an exploration of the perpetrator's motives.

Second of all, there is the fact that the statistics may therefore just reflect an increased sensitivity to intolerance of various stripes- especially against gays (who, as Andrew Sullivan has regularly pointed out, are becoming increasingly accepted in American culture, with some obvious exceptions). In other words, increased acceptance of certain groups inherently makes it more likely that someone will label a crime against them as a "hate crime." This conclusion is supported by the fact that the two types of "hate crime" that increased as a percentage of overall "hate crimes" were sexual orientation and religious based hate crimes (which it is worth pointing out are a particular point of emphasis in the Christianist-run DOJ).

Third, the total number of reported hate crimes in the report is only 7722 from 12,620 reporting agencies- only a little more than 1/2 of an incident per reporting agency, and only one incident for ever 38,000 or so Americans.

But most important of all is this little nugget buried at the very end of the article: "Lack of full participation by the more than 17,000 police agencies around the nation somewhat undermines year-to-year comparisons.For instance, in 2004, 12,711 agencies reported 7,649 incidents. In 2005, only 12,417 agencies reported and incidents dropped 6 percent to 7,163. But in 2006, agencies reporting rose to 12,620 and incidents climbed 7.8 percent to 7,722."

In other words, once you account for the number of agencies reporting, that nearly 8% increase from 2005-2006 drops to just a little over 3%. It also represents a statistically insignificant increase of just about 1% over 2004.

Another little factoid that Rev. Al and CNN missed: the rate of race-based hate crimes actually stayed about identical from 2005-2006. The article indicates that the percentage of "racial bias" crimes fell "slightly" from 54.7% to 51.8%. This "slight" drop means that the reported number of race-based "hate crimes" increased only from 3918 to 4000. Once you factor for number of agencies reporting, that means that the number of race-based incidents per reporting agency stayed the same from 2005-2006, at just about .32 incidents.

A few other things: the report cannot account for the possibility that law enforcement is increasingly likely to classify an event as a hate crime due to the proliferation of hate crimes laws in recent years, which can add time onto a suspect's potential sentence, and give prosecutors an additional tool to force a plea bargain. Also, the proliferation of hate crime legislation may mean that incidents that previously were not crimes at all (and thus unreportable) are now classified as crimes (and thus are reportable).

The report also indicates that only 58% of perpetrators were white (with another 13 percent of undetermined race). Given that 51.8% of incidents were classified as "race-based", this means that either: 1. Whites perpetrated an extremely small percentage of anti-gay and anti-religious "hate crime" (extremely unlikely), or 2. A sizable percentage of race-based "hate crimes" were perpetrated by nonwhites, or 3. Prosecutors are disproportionately unwilling to charge whites with race-based hate crimes. If the answer is 2, then we are completely overemphasizing white on black hate crime in this country, and Al Sharpton should give the protest march thing a bit of a rest. If the answer is 3, then we have no freaking clue how much of a problem hate crimes are in this country and the statistics are meaningless one way or another.

Finally, the CNN article points out that the Jena case is not included in the statistics. While this is unfortunate, it is statistically irrelevant- we're talking about a handful of crimes (whatever their relative importance) out of thousands. That's not going to change the statistics in any meaningful way.

In conclusion: the media has not surprisingly jumped all over these statistics. Unfortunately, and as with most statistics cited by the media, they are mostly devoid of meaning. To the extent they have any meaning at all, it is a very different meaning from that portrayed in the MSM.

Just some food for thought...