Friday, November 30, 2007

Maybe the Uproar over "That" Donation Was a Good Thing

Last week, I jumped off the Ron Paul ship because of my concerns that his continuing association with Alex Jones would wind up pushing libertarianism further to the fringe in this country. In addition, Paul's concern about issues closely affiliated with Jones started to become a problem at the debate the other night. I initially thought that his response to that issue at the debate was woefully inadequate but looking back it may have been the only response he could have given (although his paranoia about the NAU is pretty genuine). After all, by the looks of things he gets a substantial amount of his campaign donations from that group and he probably can't afford to go too far in condemning them before such a large audience. This leaves him in something of a bind: he may not be able to completely denounce these supporters if he wants to keep his fundraising totals high, but his association with these people makes inroads to mainstream voters exceedingly difficult.

But he may, ironically enough, have a saving grace: "that" donation from Stormfront. As you're probably aware, most recent attacks on Ron Paul's character have been that he's a racist because he accepts the support of such groups. While I continue to have problems with Paul's continuing relationship with Jones, I fail to see the problem with his refusal to return this particular small donation. It was unsolicited, and I refuse to accept the premise that candidates should ever return unsolicited donations. The donor wanted to speak by donating- so let them speak. If the candidate actually agrees with the donor on the donor's more disturbing positions, then obviously he has no reason to return the donation. But if the candidate doesn't agree with the donor on those positions, and the donation is unsolicited and small (which these days means almost every non-bundled donation), then there is simply no reason to think that the donation is somehow going to buy the candidate's support on those extremist positions.

Back to my main point: I don't think "that" donation is a story that will ever gain much traction amongst mainstream voters or libertarians; were the issue ever brought up in a debate, I'd say that Paul will have an excellent response, essentially amounting to: that's $500 less that Stormfront has to spend on advancing its agenda. I also think most people understand that there are a lot of bad people out there, and some of them donate to political campaigns. There is little doubt that if you looked hard enough you could probably find donations to the other campaigns from nearly as bad sources.

Despite this, it is the issue that won't go away. In the process, though, it has managed to push out almost any widespread inquiry into Paul's relationship with Jones, which I think is actually the issue more likely to turn off potential voters, especially of the libertarian bent. Were there widespread inquiry into Jones, I suspect people in the mainstream would stop viewing him merely as an idiotic 9/11 Truther, but as a vicious anti-Semite as well.

This is not to say that the Alex Jones relationship is a nonissue to everybody- it remains the biggest reason I have not returned to the Paul camp. But the lack of emphasis on that issue has prevented it thus far from becoming widely disseminated. If the lack of wide dissemination continues, Paul may be able to continue advancing in the polls to the point where he would be good for libertarianism even if the Jones thing becomes a big issue.

Paul's continued emphasis on states' rights and anti-immigration policies, not to mention his support of legislation to effectively overrule Lawrence v. Texas remain major problems for libertarians from a policy standpoint. So he starts out with some distinct flaws for libertarians like me who view him as potentially worth supporting. Moreover, he remains such a niche candidate that it's impossible to see him finishing better than 4th in the primaries, which means that supporting him is not likely to help get him the nomination. Thus, libertarians are faced with a rather flawed candidate with no chance to gain power. He would still be a worthwhile protest vote, of course....but the Alex Jones thing becomes a big problem because of the risk of damaging libertarian values for the sake of supporting a candidate with no chance of winning. That is why I probably won't jump back on the official bus, even if I do still vote for Paul. But the dilution risk becomes less each day that goes by with the focus being on "that" donation.

Double Standards

Despite the vicious and unwarranted attacks he received last week from the Rockwell Brigades, David Bernstein asks an important question:

Why are Giuliani and Obama given free passes for their outright solicitations of support from extremists like Pat Robertson and Al Sharpton while Ron Paul is crucified for not returning or screening out a small unsolicited donation from Stormfront?

Bernstein argues that the only rational explanation for this is that our media (and/or society) has concluded: "Apparently, if dangerous fringe demagogues have a sufficiently large political constituency, anything goes."

He's right, of course. There is absolutely a double standard in place here, and it has more to do with the political influence of an extremist than it does with the actual danger posed by the extremist. Don't get me wrong: Alex Jones is a rather scary individual, and Stormfront is as disturbing an organization as you can find. But neither commands the robotic and unthinking legions like Sharpton and Robertson. Moreover, at least with respect to Stormfront, Paul didn't directly solicit their support, while Giuliani and Obama did.

The free pass for Giuliani's solicitation of Robertson's support, though, is in my mind far worse than Obama's solicitation of Sharpton in terms of journalistic double standards. Given that Robertson explicitly blamed 9/11 on America, for a candidate running on 9/11 to solicit Robertson's support is just appalling. Moreover, Robertson's statement about 9/11 was far worse than anything that Jones and the 9/11 Truthers have ever said. Jones and the Truthers are political pariahs because they blame the government for 9/11; yet Robertson is somehow not a political pariah even though he blamed both the government and the character of the American people for 9/11. Now, which of those two options is scarier? Wouldn't that option be even scarier if you were a (formerly) socially liberal mayor of a socially liberal city which was the biggest victim of 9/11?

After he asked this important question (which was implicitly pro-Paul), do you think the Rockwell Brigades will admit that they maybe overreacted to Bernstein last week? Don't hold your breath.

Joe Biden: Remember Me?

I never know what to think about Joe Biden. His understanding of international relations is quite obviously impeccable, but once you get beyond that there's always been something about him that just gives me the creeps. I don't know if it's just some sort of a visceral reaction to his accent or maybe just that he always seems to be pissed off at someone even when he's telling a joke. More likely, it's that he's always seemed incapable of independent thought outside of the field of international relations.

Whatever the case, he seriously raised the ante the other day, clearly stating that he will push for impeachment if the Bush administration attacks Iran without congressional authorization. Given Biden's weight, especially with regards to international relations, this would be a fairly significant threat. Of course you have to take it with a grain of salt- the guy is running an insignificant campaign for President and needs every ounce of publicity he can get. Plus, he didn't specify what would be appropriate congressional authorization. Still, coming from Biden, it's a serious enough threat to raise the President's personal "cost" for conducting such an attack, which I have argued several times makes no sense whatsoever.

One last thing worth reminding people about: Biden is one of the few politicians who has put forward a serious proposal for leaving Iraq without it remaining in a permanent state of chaos.


Beginning next week, Kyle from Comments from Left Field and I will have a running debate on the topic of public education. Kyle has already posted a pretty comprehensive summary of the concept were shooting for, so it's probably not worth my duplicating his efforts too much.

But the short short explanation is that we are testing a hypothesis, to wit: with reasoned debate a mutually acceptable solution is possible to most policy disputes. Thus, the goal of our discussion will be to find a solution that manages to violate neither side's principles. Importantly, this implies that we seek to prove that politics need not be a zero sum game.

I think this whole discussion should be extremely interesting, as it should become quickly apparent that Kyle and I have vastly different principles and goals. Thus I suspect we will start the debate quite far apart. I also suspect that neither of us will end up compromising our principles just for the sake of a solution- indeed, to do so would represent the failure of our little experiment.

The time frame for our discussion is going to be limited to the months of December and January. If we fail to come to a mutually acceptable solution by the end of January, the experiment is a failure (of course, there are varying degrees of failure). If we come to an agreement, then the experiment is a success.

There is also, I think, one more benefit that will likely come from this experiment. The blogosphere (and internet more broadly) largely has a reputation in the mainstream press for lowering the tone and quality of political debate in this country. While that reputation largely ignores the fact that political debate has been of horrible quality for decades if not centuries (and especially since the start of the 24 hour news cycle), the fact is that there are some elements of the blogosphere that have earned that reputation. The discussion between Kyle and me, however, should at a minimum show the potential of the blogosphere to heighten the quality and tone of debate in this country.

As a final aside, I just want to thank Kyle for inviting me into this conversation, as well as the assistance he and the rest of the crew over at Comments have provided in getting this blog off the ground despite our at times significant ideological differences.

Understanding Motives and Ideology

I'm a bit late on this, but Tyler Cowen's post pleading for an "Anthropology of Ideology" really struck me. Not because it was some paradigm-shifting statement, but because it gets to the core of why civil discourse is increasingly a thing of the past.

Money quote:

Anytime a writer or blogger talks about what The Right or The Left (or some subset thereof) really wants or means, I'd like them to list their personal anthropological experience with the subjects under consideration.

Cowen is referring, of course, to the shrill tendency of partisans on all sides to assume they know the motives and goals of any political opponent. Based on these assumptions, partisans are able to adopt a tone of certitude when it comes to what motivates their opponents, and what their opponents are actually trying to do, despite any statements to the contrary. If someone calls for a tax cut, then those on the Left frequently resort to the same old argument that the Right just wants to cut taxes for the rich in order to take from the poor. Of course, they have little or no evidence of this, and certainly not for the majority of people in favor of a given tax cut. Similarly, those on the Right love to make the argument that people who oppose the war in Iraq "hate America" or "don't support the troops." Again, they have no evidence of this, and certainly not for the majority of those opposed to the war in Iraq.

Fact is that you can never really know what someone's motivations are since you don't actually live in their head; you can only hope that they are telling you the truth about those motivations. Of course, you can doubt what they tell you. But what you can't do is assume to know their motivations.

What is worse, though, is when you assume to know the motivations of an entire group of people, and thus discredit any arguments they may make in favor or against a particular policy on the basis that they are lying about their motives. Indeed, when the group making such assumptions is particularly small, we typically (and correctly) dismiss their attacks as whacky conspiracy theories; yet when such assumptions are made by someone in the political mainstream, we tend to give them a free pass. Point being: claims to know the motives and goals of your political opponents without some direct, personal or (as Cowen says) anthropological evidence are nothing more than conspiracy theories with a false appearance of legitimacy.

It is certainly difficult to avoid making such assumptions, but it is also extremely important to do what you can to do so. Whenever you do make such assumptions, and make them with that tone of certitude, you are claiming to know that which is far beyond your knowledge. What's more, you're also avoiding any discussion of the substance of your opponent's political position by making your assumption about their motive dispositive of your opponent's credibility.

The logic behind such assumptions is also clearly circular:
"I know my opponent wants to screw the people of the state of Ignorance because my opponent wants to raise taxes."

And why does your opponent want to raise taxes?

"Because he wants to screw the people of the state of Ignorance."

The logic works beautifully- your opponent can never challenge either of your points, and you've managed to avoid any discussion as to why the advocated policy would have the effect of screwing the people of the state of Ignorance. Also, you get to imply that your opponent intends all sorts of consequences which are by definition "unintended consequences."

Cowen's (admittedly unrealistic) proposal is to interrupt this circle by demanding some sort of evidence that the opponent's goal is in fact to screw the State of Ignorance before you make the first part of the circular argument.

I guess I'm just a sucker for call to civility like this (even though everyone veers off course some times).

The Romney Republicans

Last night, I placed Mitt Romney as the biggest loser in the debate, which was saying something on a night where Giuliani had to fend off scandal after scandal and made some of the nastiest comments I've yet seen in a debate. The reason I found Romney to be the big loser was a combination of his trademark Ken Doll roboticism and his outright apparent meanness and wilfull ignorance in his exchanges with Huckabee and McCain on immigration and waterboarding, respectively. So horrible did I think Romney came off that I thought the exchanges made Huckabee and McCain the big winners on the night.

At the end of my post, I indicated that Michelle Malkin and Powerline both placed Romney as the winner. In response I said the following:

"If they [Malkin and Powerline] represent the Republican base, then we really are watching the death of Lincoln's Party."

Well, as it turns out, Joe Klein has a column today that completely validates my fear- Malkin and Powerline really do represent the average Republican Joe. Apparently, Klein was present for Frank Luntz's debate focus group, in which Luntz purports to measure the attendees' reactions at various points in the debate. Now, I should say that I've always found Luntz to be quite the partisan hack himself, and I think his results should always come with a massive grain of salt.

But in this case, the results of Luntz's focus group are staggering. According to Klein, Luntz's "undecided" Republicans overwhelmingly had positive reactions to Romney and negative reactions towards Huckabee and McCain in Romney's exchanges on immigration and torture. Interestingly, the group generally liked Huckabee- except for when he had the confrontation with Romney on immigration, a confrontation in which I thought that Romney just came off as being plain mean.

More interestingly, the group's most negative response came when McCain bluntly said that waterboarding is torture, and if it isn't then nothing is torture. So here we have a guy who was actually tortured in wartime by a foreign enemy telling us his sincere beliefs about torture in an argument against a guy who never served in the military just giving the rote response of refusing to say whether this very specific act amounted to torture....and the Republican base sides with Romney, while getting angry at McCain? At the very least, you would expect Republicans (who used to be a fairly normal group of Americans no more or less decent than Democrats) confronted with McCain's passionate argument to give McCain a respectful hearing on the issue. But that's apparently not what they did- instead, they just tuned him out even more. What makes this even more bizarre is that Republicans supposedly worship people with military service, and yet in this case they chose to tune out the guy with the military service while listening to the guy with none. The only conceivable way that I can see someone siding with Romney in that exchange is if the person were themselves a Romney clone- robotic, and unwilling to allow themselves even one unorthodox thought- whatever party orthodoxy may be at that moment in time.

Assuming Luntz's group was in fact representative of average Republicans these days (a big assumption), then Republicans really have turned into a party of empty, robotic automotons.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"The World Needs Ditch-diggers"

I'm not usually one to hold in very high regard, but this snippet comparing the Huckster's response on the death penalty to Caddyshack's Judge Smails made me chuckle, if only because it's true.

The line they're referring to is of course:

"I've sentenced boys younger than you to the gas chamber. Didn't want to do it. I felt I owed it to them."

Ahhh....the Great Ted Knight at his best!

From the Land of Funny Headlines

You have to love the rich irony in this CNN Headline: "US cannot impose vision on Mideast, Bush says." So I guess this means that Bush has realized that trying to spread democracy by force in Iraq was maybe not the wisest idea in the world?

Oh, wait- he was just talking about Israel and Palestine, and didn't actually use the word "Mideast."

Why Huck Scares Me

***UPDATE, 11:10PM: Having re-read this post per my commenters, I find it deeply lacking and way off the mark. I took the quote a bit out of context, and read way too much in it to come to the conclusion that he was implying (even if unintentionally) that rights are derived from society rather than being inherent in the individual. To that end, consider this a retraction of the post.

However, I do still find the concept that a condemned man is executed "by all of us" to be troubling. I'll admit I'm still having a hard time articulating it, but my problem centers more on the concept that all citizens are committing the execution, regardless of whether they think the execution is morally justifiable.

The original post is reprinted below

Acknowledging that Huck comes across as a nice guy who honestly believes what he says, his response on the death penalty question should have been extremely illuminating to anyone who values the principles of individualism. Before I get into this further, I want to say this much for Huckabee: I do not doubt the sincerity of his words. Unlike the times Bush was asked death penalty questions in 2000, Huckabee actually seems to realize that, innocent or not, the death penalty extinguishes a human life. Unlike Bush, Huckabee seems genuinely ashamed that he signed the death warrants of so many individuals (still far, far fewer than Bush), whereas Bush frequently seemed unconcerned, almost proud of the death warrants he had signed, and with no doubts whatsoever that maybe there was a difficult moral question involved. In retrospect, Bush's response to the death penalty questions should have been the first indication of the type of President Bush would be.

But Huckabee's rationale for prohibiting abortion while permitting executions is, to the individualist, extremely disturbing:

"Because there's a real difference between the process of adjudication, where a person is deemed guilty after a thorough judicial process and is put to death by all of us, as citizens, under a law, as opposed to an individual making a decision to terminate a life that has never been deemed guilty because the life never was given a chance to even exist." (My emphasis)

What is scary about this statement is that it implies that there is no such thing as natural, individual rights. Instead, it implies that an individual has rights only insofar as society, social norms, and more importantly, the state, choose to grant rights to the individual. Thus, society literally has the right to decide whether an individual lives or dies.

Under this view, society has all the rights, and the individual essentially has none. If all rights are vested in society, then every action one takes, no matter how personal or private, is subject to regulation and government intrusion.

I can see the appeal of such a view to religious fundamentalists. But for anyone who values their individualism, Huckabee's statement is deeply troublesome and scary.

Winners: McCain, Huck; Losers: Giuliani, Paul, Romney

A few thoughts on tonight's debate:

McCain- While his non-answer answer on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was severely disappointing in my mind, and I hated his pussyfooting on the VP office powers, on the whole he reminded us tonight that he's John McCain, not some George Bush wannabe. His confrontation with Romney on waterboarding should have left Romney embarrassed to call himself a human being. Another highlights for McCain included his passionate stand on the immigration question (which stood in stark contrast to the Romney-Giuliani catfight). The confrontation between him and Paul on Iraq served as a stark reminder that there are two honest positions to take on Iraq. While I still tend to agree somewhat with Paul on withdrawal, the fact is that Iraq would not have been as much of a mess if McCain had been President these last 8 years (I might also point out that I doubt McCain would have pushed us into war with Iraq so quickly in the first place). I think he mostly understands (along with Gen. Petraeus, I might add) that if Iraq will be re-built at all, it must be from the ground up, not the top down. Certainly he understood very early on that the war was not going to be a cakewalk and that the Bushies weren't taking the war seriously enough from day one. Anyhow, I think McCain won big tonight, taking advantage of the Romney-Giuliani mutual destruction to remind us that, agree with him or not, he actually believes (most of) what he says.

Huckabee- As many others have pointed out, if I was a part of the Religious Right, I couldn't think of a better candidate. If it weren't for the fact that I disagree with 90% of what he would do as President, I'd even consider voting for him. His confrontation with Romney over the scholarship for children of immigrants was in my mind true Christian conservativism at its finest. As was the case with the McCain-Romney waterboarding stand-off, Romney came away looking mean and insincere, while Huckabee came away with his integrity intact. I also want to say this for the Huckster (who had Chuck Norris in attendance in case Romney tried some Battlefield Earth Scientology voodoo): his response to the question about the literal meaning of the Bible was the type of response I've been waiting to hear from an evangelical for years, an earnest and sincere acknowledgement that there is room for doubt on the Bible, and that anyone who tells you they fully understand every word in the Bible has a very small view of God. This willingness to be wrong, to have doubt is something that has been sorely lacking at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. for at least the last 7 years. The thing that bugs me about Huckabee is that I can't help thinking that he's Jimmy Carter with an (R) next to his name.

The Ones Who Neither Helped Nor Hurt Themselves:
Tancredo: Dude's a broken record. To an extent I admire his commitment to principle. Unfortunately, that principle is anger and hatred. He tried to get his name in the papers with an attack on Paul over Iraq policy, like Huck and Giuliani before him, but he has one problem: he actually likes Ron Paul personally (they are, from my understanding, friends). So his attack wasn't particularly fiery, and certainly not by Tancredo 2-Minute Hate standards. I'll give him this, though- his response on the bizarre Mars/NASA question hit all the right notes.

Hunter: Is there any doubt that this guy wants to be the US/Christian equivalent of Mussolini? Fortunately, most Republicans even seem to find him a bit scary.

Thompson: I was tempted to put him in the Winners' column, just on the grounds of "If you set the standards low enough, you'll always meet them." Early on, I actually thought I saw him have a pulse, and thought he was going to turn his flagging campaign around. But then it got past his bedtime. In all seriousness, policy-wise, he is I think better than most, and if I could get some statistical support for my "lazy man" theory, I'd probably be willing to back him. (For those who don't know, the "lazy man" theory is the idea that a lazy President is the best thing for a libertarian short of an actual libertarian President, the idea being that a lazy President won't want to interfere too much- that would mean he'd have to work, after all.) Of course at this point, Ron Paul has a better shot at the nomination.


Giuliani: He came across as completely mean-spirited, and possibly unstable, with his "sanctuary mansion" exchange with Romney. He continues to sound like a broken record about his time in NYC, just repeating the same five or six lines whenever someone puts him in a spot about his history as being somewhat of a social liberal. Not only did he manage to get booed just for using the words "reasonable regulation" when it comes to gun rights, he also managed to sound like a first year law student getting grilled by a professor while trying to explain the Second Amendment. When he was discussing the Parker case, I seriously thought Anderson Cooper was going to cut him off and ask, "But Mr. Giuliani, are you describing the holding of the case or mere dicta"?

Add to that the revelations that broke just before the debate about some rather questionable expenses from Giuliani's time as mayor. Between Bernard Kerik, his other now-legendary crony scandal involving a child-molesting priest, and this report, Giuliani must be losing his luster fast with the conservative base. Add to that his performance tonight, and suddenly Giuliani looks very, very vulnerable.

If the whole Presidency thing doesn't work out for him, at least Giuliani knows he has a job waiting for him at Dewey, Cheatem, and Howe (think about it now? Ok, time to move on).

Paul: This should have been his opportunity to break into the mainstream if he was ever going to do it. He got a respectable amount of cameratime in comparison to the other candidates, and the Youtube format should have been tailor-made for him; plus, he had a bunch of momentum from his fundraising and all the media coverage on the rise of libertarianism. There were indeed times during the debate when he got going and had some real "rally the troops" lines that even had some appeal to mainstream Republicans. Unfortunately, that was overshadowed by a couple of things. Most obviously was his response to the question about conspiracy theory fanatics in his base; this was his chance for a Sister Souljah moment, given to him on a silver platter before a national audience of mainstream voters, many of whom were perhaps giving Paul a chance for the first time. His response? In essence, "I'm with them, just not as concerned." While his honesty on this point (I assume he meant it) is certainly commendable, his position didn't exactly enhance his credibility. Indeed, the now-public acknowledgement of his position on conspiracies now destroys any claims that the conspiracy theorists are just "fellow travellers."

Politically, it may be that he would be a good President for libertarians; but you can rest assured that this answer destroyed any minute chance he had of getting the nomination. My concern is thus now about the extent to which "libertarian" and "conspiracy theorist" are going to become synonyms.

Another thing that overshadowed his good moments in the debate was his poor command of the Iraq issue during the McCain confrontation; this may have just been nerves and adrenaline, but his inability to remember that the Kurds live in Northern Iraq likely damaged some of the credibility he had on the anti-war issue, at least with mainstream and undecided voters.

**UPDATE** is not surprisingly claiming that Paul got the shaft in terms of airtime again. From the final speaking times, they seem to be correct. But the numbers seem a bit more balanced than they've been in the past, which was the point I was making above.

Finally, the biggest loser of all:

Romney: Like Giuliani, Romney came across as simply cruel at times, particularly in the confrontations with McCain and Huckabee. Sadly for him, those two confrontations were the least robotic he's sounded in all the debates so far. When he wasn't pretending not to know whether waterboarding is torture, he just seemed to ramble incoherently. His response on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was, as Sully points out, "contemptible." His response amounted to admitting that he would be ok with gays in the military- just not now, and only if the generals convinced him the time was right. This, of course, managed to piss off everyone- religious fundies, libertarians, and even neo-cons. Add to that his blatant pandering on agriculture subsidies, which managed to be illogical and insincere at the same time. All in all, I don't see how anyone watching this debate could have come away still thinking that Romney would make a good President. Of course, I could be wrong about this: Michelle Malkin thinks he won, as does Powerline. If they represent the Republican base, then we really are watching the death of Lincoln's Party. Or maybe there's something about Mitt that I just don't get.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Immigration, Personal Sovereignty, and Ron Paul

The most common, and facially valid, argument against illegal immigrants and illegal immigration more generally is that they are here illegally and thus have no right to remain here. It is argued even by a certain libertarian-ish politician that we should continue to not only continue to view these immigrants as law-breakers, but we should also refuse to grant citizenship to their children who are born in this country. Indeed, he would like to see more taxpayer dollars funding border protection against immigrants (to my knowledge he has not proposed ways of allowing everyone into the country legally, by the way).

Here's the problem with the concept of illegal immigrants being law-breakers who must be dealt as such: at the time of their immigration, they're not subject to US law. So how can we possibly expect them to obey a law that they have had no say in, issued by a country that has no sovereignty over them.

I suppose you could say that once they're in the US, they're breaking the law. And I suppose you'd be correct. But, as a libertarian, I ask this: by what right, by whose sanction, are they obligated to follow a law that tells them they may not exist? Now I have no problem with denying benefits to them as long as they are illegal- I'm opposed to benefits in the first place, anyhow. And if they're not paying taxes, then I don't see how they'd be entitled to such benefits. But the bigger question to me is, and should be "why are they illegal in the first place? By what right do we tell people who are coming here for all the right reasons to come to a capitalist society that they may not exist? That coming here is simply not an option we will allow them? I suppose one could answer that it's our property and we get to say who can come onto it. But that ignores the rights of actual property owners to invite people onto their property. If you are concerned with traffic on public property, isn't the very concept of public property anathema to libertarianism in principle?

Moreover, wouldn't it be a hell of a lot easier to keep out the truly bad people if everyone had an opportunity to immigrate legally, and quickly? Why are the economics of limits on immigration any different from limits in other areas, like price controls, quotas, and subsidies?

And finally- if you haven't read the above-referenced piece by Rep. Paul, you should. As a libertarian, it is hard to read that piece and come away with the conclusion that Ron Paul is a libertarian at heart, not when he uses phrases like this:

How much longer can we maintain huge unassimilated subgroups within America, filled with millions of people who don’t speak English or participate fully in American life?

He also shows a remarkably poor knowledge of history, repeating this standard meme:

But the new Americans reaching our shores in the late 1800s and early 1900s were legal immigrants. In many cases they had no chance of returning home again. They maintained their various ethnic and cultural identities, but they also learned English and embraced their new nationality.

Of course the immigrants back then were legal immigrants more often- but immigration controls were far less restrictive. As far as I can tell, the first truly restrictive immigration cap was passed in 1927; in 1929, the US had nearly twice as many immigrants as the cap allowed (meaning there were plenty of illegals in the bunch); after that immigration went down for awhile, but you may recall that there was a bit of an economic crisis going on at the time. Also worth mentioning is the number of immigrants in the 1800s and 1900s who lacked any papers; how many of them wound up receiving bastardized names from immigration officials who couldn't figure out what they were saying (I know many people for whose ancestors this was the case).

In addition, the idea that the European immigrants of the 1800s and 1900s learned English more often than the current wave of immigrants is simply false, nothing more than a common misperception. As Tyler Cowen wrote in 2006:

Only about 2.5 percent of American residents speak Spanish but not English. The majority of residents of Spanish-speaking households speak English "very well." Only 7 percent of the children of Latino immigrants speak Spanish as a primary language, and virtually none of their children do.

The more I learn, the less and less libertarian Paul seems. I may yet vote for him, but if I do it will be with full awareness of his flaws, and only because the other candidates are even less appealing.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Strange Twists of Fate

In 1998, Congressman Mike Pappas (R-NJ) was in a tight but very winnable battle for his seat with a little known physics professor from Princeton University. It appeared almost certain that Pappas was going to win, if only by a few points, until one mid-summer's day. On the day in question, Rep. Pappas (who was a member of a Congressional singing group) stood up on the House floor and sang, in honor of Kenneth Starr. For those of us who saw it, it was a tune that we will remember for the rest of our lives: "Twinkle, Twinkle Kenneth Starr." Several months later, Holt won a victory by only a few thousand votes over Pappas. For me, it was one of the most devastating moments in my then-developing experience with politics.

Today, 9 years later, Rush Holt is still in Congress, now with a safe seat (thanks largely to redistricting, but also due to turning into a capable politician). Moreover, he has become a key member of the House Intelligence Committee. In that capacity, he was a key force in drafting and passing the RESTORE Act- without telecom immunity.

The passage of that act has resulted in a fairly wild war of words involving primarily Glenn Greenwald and Joe Klein. For the record, Klein threw a whole bunch of accusations about the bill, and accused the House Dems of doing a poor job of acting in an appropriately bipartisan fashion. Greenwald took Klein to task about some of those accusations, and forced Klein to at least partially retract. Today, Congressman Holt himself decided to weigh in on Klein's half-assed retraction (in which he maintained his accusation that the Dems should have been "nicer" in structuring the bill).

Money quote from Holt:

What we have not agreed to do is give this or any other President a permanent blank check to spy on you, your family, the members of your congregation, or any other American citizen without any judicial oversight - a position shared by an overwhelming majority of Americans according to the latest public opinion surveys on the topic....

In an era where the government can conduct searches and seize the contents of communications without even alerting citizens to the government's presence, building in such safeguards is even more important than in James Madison's day,
when if the King's men were coming to take you or your papers, you at least saw them walking up to your door before they kicked it in.

But he saves this gem for later:

We must not let anyone advance the bogus argument - repeated by Mr. Klein - that protecting American's against unwarranted search and seizure necessarily requires a compromise in their security. The opposite is true.

Now, there are many, many areas where I have problems with Holt. And Congressman Pappas was, and to my knowledge is, a fine man. But if the Dems have had a leadership problem since they took over Congress, it seems clear to me that Holt is not to blame. It's been a long time since I heard a Democrat (with the possible exception of Obama) aggressively advance the argument that compromising civil liberties is not just a situation where the harm outweighs the benefit, but it is in fact a situation where the harm only causes even more harm- including harm to national security.

All that because a freshman Republican congressman sang a song.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Ruffini on Paul: WTF?

Patrick Ruffini's blog post on Clown Hall today about Ron Paul is nothing short of bizarre, and is just riddled with factual errors and a complete lack of understanding of libertarianism. When I have more time tonight, I'll give a more thorough commnetary on the piece. But for now, I just wanted to point out this one comment that just left me stunned:

His movement already did the smart thing by making peace with social conservatism. Libertarianism is no longer aligned with libertine stances on abortion and gay rights.

(My emphasis)

I suppose it's nice that Ruffini thinks he understands the appeal of libertarianism. But if he really thinks libertarians have abandoned or even diluted their gay rights stance, well then wow- he's got no understanding what libertarianism is about. I might also point out that the abortion issue has long been a thorny issue for libertarians- to my knowledge there's never been a libertarian consensus on abortion, and there still is not.

His intimation that pro-gay rights and pro-choice positions are "libertine" also shows how little he understands libertarians.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

"Take Away Their Children"!

In a column that just left me with my mouth agape for its utter preposterousness, Kevin McCullough argues that plaintiffs in no-fault divorce children should automatically be deemed unfit to gain custody. Not surprisingly, it begins with a completely gratuitous attack on "radical homosexual activists," even though the column has nothing to do with gay marriage.

His inherently incurious column contains many of the age-old flaws of logic used to justify theoconservative "think about the children!" policy. First amongst these is the statistic that children in stepfamilies or with divorced parents are at way, way higher risk for abuse. This may well be true, but it is hardly the justification he thinks for an end to no-fault divorce. Certainly it ignores the old chicken or the egg issue: are the children at higher risk because of the divorce, or was the divorce because the children were at higher risk?

He goes on to argue that plaintiffs in "no fault" cases don't truly care about the welfare of their children:

Overcome by the guilt they know in their hearts as to how immoral their "no-fault" claim is that in order to compensate for a failed marriage - they publicly verbalize their propaganda to being all that much better of a parental unit. Yet in reality this argument is disingenuous given the fact that they are saying before the court that they are willing to destabilize the life of their children for literally "no reason."

Of course, this argument is ignorant to its core, and demonstrates why you shouldn't write about the law without some actual understanding of the law. First of all, plaintiffs in no-fault divorce cases are often just a matter of which party is first to file- divorce is not infrequently a mutual decision rather than the one-sided decision often portrayed.

Second, it ignores how easily "fault-based" divorce can be obtained, even when the divorce is mutual. As a reader of Andrew Sullivan (namely me) pointed out, Fred Thompson's divorce on "cruel and inhuman treatment" grounds was almost certainly a no-fault divorce in everything but name- just without the requirements for a legal separation. So McCullough's "take away the plaintiff's children" requirement would have the effect of expediting some divorces, who would no longer care as much about the stigma associated with a fault-based divorce. Indeed, it would effectively reduce the percentage of divorces required to go through a trial separation before a judge will grant a divorce.

Conversely, he fails to understand that sometimes the evidentiary requirements for a "fault-based" divorce are quite difficult to meet without the other party's cooperation (especially in the case of adultery). As a result, "no-fault" divorce is sometimes the best option, even though it may really be a "fault-based" case.

Moreover, McCullough would replace what is currently an issue decided on a case-by-case basis with a one-size-fits-all rule. As such, the "best interests of the child" standard judges apply would be replaced by a rule of "whoever wants out most loses the children." Thus McCullough would pre-define the "best interests of the child" as "the defendant." He ignores the fact that when the motive of the plaintiff in the divorce actually is vindictive and uncaring, the judge often figures this out and gives a big custody award to the defendant.

McCullough also makes this claim about the reason no-fault divorce exists: "Sinful humans grew tired of having to live up to the vows they took before God, and the responsibilities they committed to before man. " Of course, he ignores that not everyone in the US is a Christian and that we don't live in a theocracy where priests get to decide the results in a divorce case. He also ignores that marriage is first and foremost a voluntary contract between two people. If those two people no longer wish to be bound by the contract, why should an unrelated third party (aka the Flying Spaghetti Monster) have an enforceable right in the contract?

Finally, he misunderstands what "no-fault divorce" actually is. He claims that it makes marriage particularly easy to escape, as if you can file for "no-fault divorce" and be out of your marriage the next day. In most jurisdictions of which I'm aware, this is simply not the case- you must go through a trial separation and all sorts of legal hurdles before you can get your divorce. The process of "no-fault divorce" is in fact the least hassle-free way of getting a divorce available, taking the longest amount of time because of the separation requirement.

Fein's Anti-Dynasticism Amendment

Bruce Fein, who I respect greatly, is now proposing a constitutional amendment to prevent or at least limit the dynasticism concerns being raised now that we have the spectre of a Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton series of presidents. Fein's proposed amendment reads as follows:

Section 1. No spouse, sibling or child of an elected or appointed federal, state or local official outside the civil service may immediately succeed that official in the same elected or appointed office.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation, including exempting certain elected or appointed offices from its general proscription and defining the term “immediately succeed” to prevent circumventions.

While I understand the concerns behind such a proposal, I think it is a bad idea in principle, and ineffective as written.

First of all, it would do nothing to prevent the Bush-Clinton dynasticism that is presumably the impetus behind Fein's proposal. This is because of the requirement that the succession be "immediate."

Second, it limits the possible number of choices for the office. True this may be a "de minimis" limitation, since only at most a handful of people will be prevented from running. But such a restriction may not be as "de minimis" as it appears, since there is often only a small pool of potential candidates for a given office to begin with.

Third, it attempts to solve a problem borne out of too many restrictions on campaign finance by placing even more restrictions on getting elected.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that the possibility of dynasticism will, I think diminish over time. The reason for this is simply the continuing growth of the internet. As the internet becomes increasingly accessible, traditional means of campaigning will become less important. Significantly the traditional means of campaigning (television, newspaper, radio) are almost prohibitively expensive (because there is a tight supply and high demand) meaning that a candidate must either raise a boatload of cash for publicitly or have free publicity in the form of established name recognition. This is why dynasticism has been relatively common in American politics- it's an incredibly cheap way of getting enough publicity to win a race.

With the rise of the internet as a significant means of campaigning, the value of pre-existing name recognition will decrease. The reason for this is very simple- the internet requires relatively little in the way of resources to develop a big following and increase name recognition. It is, as some commenters have noted, the closest thing yet created to a pure meritocracy. My analysis could change if something unforeseen happens that results in the restriction of the internet as a means of communication. But as of now, there is plenty of reason to think that dynasticism will become less and less of an issue as time goes on.

(HT: Andrew Sullivan)

Rise of the (Small "l") Libertarians

Yesterday brought us two well-publicized pieces in the Washington papers discussing the rise of libertarians as a political force to be reckoned with. The first piece is this column in the WaPo by Reason's Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch. Their column discusses largely how Ron Paul has tapped into a latent libertarian sentiment in the electorate. They seem to give quite a bit of credit to Paul for helping to push the sentiment, but also suggest that he is tapping into a wave that has been building for a couple of years.

The second piece is an article in the Washington Times, featuring quotes from Gillespie and the Great Tyler Cowen (for some reason, I always have an impulse to preface Cowen's name with "the Great"). The article focuses largely on the wave of libertarianism in American culture as a whole, and seems to piggyback on Michael Kinsley's column a few weeks back. (NOTE: the Times article incorrectly calls Kinsley pessimistic about the rise of the libertarians, when in fact he is quite libertarian-friendly).

Anyhow, I thought the juxtaposition of these two articles provides a good opportunity to point out something I've noticed of late. To wit, libertarian themes are increasingly all around us in American culture; most of this actually pre-dates Paul's campaign, as well. Indeed, I would argue that the Bush/Cheney disregard of civil liberties has pushed Hollywood and music in an increasingly libertarian direction. Indeed, the majority of movies I've seen in the last several years have revolved around libertarian themes of essentially "screw the rules." There's even been a rise in "screw the IRS" themes, which were present in Pursuit of Happiness and Stranger Than Fiction, to name just two that I've seen in the last 3 weeks. Sure, most of these movies may or may not be consciously libertarian, but the patented libertarian influence is clearly there.

We have a situation where a show (South Park) created by two pretty blatant libertarians and largely revolving around their socio-political commentary has been on the air for over 10 years.

Of course, these are just some examples. I would love some more in my comments section.

A Few Questions for Some Ron Paul Supporters

(These questions apply only to a certain well-known subset of Paul supporters)(And before you accuse me of picking on you, please know that I've asked similar types of questions of conservatives and Progressives, so your turn was inevitable)

As I and a number of other libertarian bloggers who question Ron Paul on some things have found out, there seems to be a mentality that if you don't support every word that Ron Paul says, you are inherently anti-liberty and anti-freedom. Isn't this exactly the kind of "you're either with us or you're against us" mentality that libertarianism seeks to avoid, and that would usually be defined as "collectivism"?

Isn't the phrase "militant libertarian" an oxymoron?

How does launching into ad hominems against any person who criticizes a Ron Paul position help the Ron Paul campaign? Shouldn't your goal be to gain their support or at least encourage them to continue giving Ron Paul free publicity?

If your goal is to silence Ron Paul's critics, then isn't that quite the opposite of freedom? If your goal is to persuade them, then how does name-calling and baseless accusations about motive make a persuasive case?