Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Register's Endorsements- What Do They Mean?

The much-anticipated Des Moine Register caucus endorsements were released earlier tonight, with the nods going to Hillary on the Dem side and - surprisingly - McCain on the Republican side.

I don't generally put much stock in the value of newspaper endorsements in high-profile races - the voters generally know the candidates well enough to make up their minds on their own. Rarely will you find a voter who changes their vote just because of an endorsement by their local paper.

In the case of the Hillary endorsement, I think this point rings particularly true. At this point, Hillary is more than a little well-known in Iowa; moreover, the reason given for the endorsement is straight out of Hillary's campaign theme: experience. So the endorsement tells the voters nothing new and doesn't do anything by way of making an argument with which the voters aren't already familiar. I don't see how the endorsement will persuade Obama or Edwards voters to switch sides; nor do I see it having much of an effect on the small number of undecided Dems.

However, the McCain endorsement could play a bigger role than most newspaper endorsements. McCain has barely campaigned in Iowa (and for good reason given his position on subsidies), and does not need to do anything in the Iowa caucuses to build momentum going into the Super Tuesday primaries. If by some miracle McCain were to place in the top 3 in Iowa though, it would give him a mountain of positive press that would rapidly put him back in the top tier of candidates. This upward movement would come at the same time as Giuliani stumbles through the pre-Super Tuesday states.

Again, McCain has made no play to do well in Iowa. As a result, his poll numbers in the state have been hanging out with Ron Paul in the 5 to 8% range. The Register endorsement could give those numbers a sizable boost because it gives him all sorts of free, positive publicity throughout the state of Iowa. This is helped by the corresponding double whammy of today's Boston Globe endorsement, the combination of which should give McCain plenty of national press coverage in the next 24-48 hours. Add to that the fact that 10-12% of likely Republican caucus-goers are still officially "undecided" and the fact that McCain's most similar competition (Giuliani, Romney, and Thompson) have all been flagging in the last few weeks. My guess is that this will all add up to a noticeable boost in McCain's Iowa numbers over the next few weeks, perhaps five to ten points; if he can get those numbers high enough to take a second or third place finish, then he would have all of the momentum going into New Hampshire and South Carolina.


This blog is primarily dedicated to the principles espoused in Madison's Federalist Number 10: namely that factions (aka "interest groups") cannot be controlled or eliminated without unacceptable effects on liberty. The best that can be hoped for is for government to permit as many factions/interest groups as possible so that no one faction ever gains too much power.
If you're looking for a blog that rails against "special" interests, you've come to the wrong place. If you want a blog that rails against "public" interests for thinking their not "special" interests, then you've come to the right place. And if you want a critique of the entrenchment of our two party system and the role of interest groups in that system, then that is exactly what you will get here.

This isn't to say that I think interest groups are the greatest thing since sliced bread- they're not. Instead, they just exist, and there is nothing inherently good or evil about any given interest group.

When I'm not busy railing about interest group politics on the national level, you can expect the occasional rant about interest group politics somewhere else or on a more local level. You'll also find plenty of rants about government corruption and how most "reforms" have a tendency to either legitimize corruption or to be more inefficient than the corruption they eliminate.

The Biggest Threat You've Never Heard Of

Prosecutors in California secured guilty pleas in a case being described as the most realistic threat of a terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11. The plot involved a group of Islamic-convert former prison inmates who planned to attack low-profile sites throughout California. The group was raising funds for its plans in part through armed robberies of gas stations.

The conservative blogosphere is upset that this case has been largely ignored by the national media in favor of cases centering on lunatic schemes that had no chance of ever succeeding. For once, I agree- it is ridiculous that the media, in part at the behest of the Administration's p.r. efforts, has focused almost all of its attention on domestic terrorism investigations on things like the insane LaGuardia Airport scheme and the Fort Dix scheme yahoos.

But while we're here, I think conservatives should take notice of a couple of points about the California case (which was by their own admission one of the few realistic threats we've faced in the last few years):

1. The case was apparently cracked through traditional police work- no warrantless wiretaps (or apparently any wiretaps at all).
2. The case was solved without the use of anything resembling torture.
3. The terrorists apparently had no affiliation with international terrorism like Al Qaeda.
4. The key to the investigation was apparently good coordination amongst investigators and government agencies- in other words, something that was sorely lacking in the pre-9/11 Moussaoui investigation.
5. The plot was hatched in prison, which is also where the terrorists became Islamic radicals (suggesting that it was at least in part a result of our overpopulated prison system, which is a result of that other "War" we always hear so much about).

There's probably a few other points I could add, but that should do it for now. But the bottom line is that respect for civil liberties didn't hinder the investigation, and may have helped it.

More at memeorandum.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Education Debate, Round 2

Kyle's opening salvo of Round 2 is here. My original series of posts is available here, here, and here.

Before I respond to Kyle's various points of contention, I want to recall that in my opinion the goal of our debate is to arrive at a solution that may compromise details but does not compromise principles for either side. Importantly, any compromise that maintains the status quo inherently does not violate a principle, since neither side has done anything to move away from their core principles. To that end, we could probably stop right now and have some sort of an agreement that would meet those terms; it would be a vastly incomplete agreement, but it would be an improvement nonetheless.

I should add that, for reasons unrelated to this series, I've been doing a lot of research recently on Bloomberg's reforms in the NYC Public Schools; my intuition is that our ultimate compromise will look somewhat similar to the most recent round of those NYC reforms.

Turning to Kyle's points:
1. Kyle wants a federal mandate that graduating high school students be capable of making transitions into one of three areas. Although I am generally opposed to federal involvement (and ultimately all government involvement) in education on principle, the type of involvement Kyle envisions here would be a much looser and individualized approach than the federal government currently takes. As libertarians love to point out- the American education system has gotten progressively worse ever since the feds started to become heavily involved. However, Kyle's proposal regarding federal involvement seems more one of creating very broad standards, which allow for greater decision making at the local level. So his first point is a big step in the right direction and is thus acceptable to me as is.

2. My opposition to standardized testing is less an opposition based on principle than an opposition based on standardized testing as practiced. I should also say that insofar as a government-created schools dominate the education market through the government's monopoly power, I agree in principle with Kyle's statement that: "But we also need to measure the growth of each individual student in order to identify problem areas, areas of growth, and collect the data needed to better teach them." This is, I might add, exactly the approach taken in NYC's latest reforms and in no way the approach taken by NCLB (which mandates testing based on a school's raw performance vis-a-vis arbitrary benchmarks). So I'd say we have achieved an agreement in principle on this point.

3. Competition- Kyle seems to agree in principle that competition would improve schools generally speaking. His primary concerns are stratification and the exportation of problem environments. Leaving aside the issue of private schools, vouchers and tax credits for the moment, the issue of stratification can be solved or mitigated relatively easily. One such way to do this is a concept under which school funding "follows the student." Again, this is a concept that NYC is largely adopting; under this concept funding is not a function of arbitrarily drawn district lines but is instead a function of an individualized funding formula. Under this formula, students with particular traits (e.g., low family income, special needs, etc.) are worth more funding than other students (e.g., high family income). The result of this is that low income students become every bit as valuable as high income students (who have a greater ability to pay).

As for the issue of exportation, I'm not sure that the evidence really supports that contention; indeed, this was precisely one of the most common arguments against desegregation busing, yet the evidence I've seen showed that busing had no negative effects on the "higher-class" schools. My understanding is that the evidence showed a decrease in dropout rates (for instance) amongst bused-in students, combined with no effect on dropout rates for the pre-existing majority student base.

I still think that full-on private competition is the best way to fix the education problem, but a "funding follows the student" system similar to NYC's would be a big step in the right direction (I would at a minimum want to see far more individual choice amongst public schools than NYC's current system allows, though; the NYC system places more of the critical decision-making on the principal, for whose business various non-profits and city-run organizations compete, which is at least a massive decentralization of power and creates a vastly improved free market effect).

4. Already agreed to- no need to comment further: end cookie cutter education!

5. We're in agreement on incentives. I should add that anything that increases competition amongst individual schools, even as outlined in point 3 above, would mitigate many of the legitimate concerns the unions have about merit pay based on the principal's decisionmaking. I know I sound like a broken record here, but yet again, Bloomberg's plan is a terrific example of how to improve teacher incentives: bonuses/extra classroom funds for highly rated teachers (thus not running afoul of existing union contracts), tenure based on merit rather than pure years of service.

As an aside, having done my share of government employment law over the years, I absolutely loved this remark of Kyle's, since it is even more true than I think he realizes: "Again, being a federal employee helps me here. In order to get fired, I need to basically commit a felony while on the job to lose my job, and even that is debatable."

6. At this point, Kyle turns to a more detailed discussion of standardized testing in the context of his excellent Progressive Diversification proposal, with which I expressed almost complete agreement in my second post of Round 1. He agrees with my emphasis on somewhat less standardized testing combined with greater anonymity.

7. Next we turn to the specific issue of private competition on a level playing field with public education. In my original proposal, I had emphasized a system of means-tested tax credits that would essentially allow poor families to spend equal amounts on education as more well-off families. Those amounts could be spent on any school, public or private, or on home-schooling.

Kyle is not completely opposed to this, but he has a number of serious reservations. First, he argues that "I think what would happen is that we would end up funding the private sector using government funds." Naturally, I disagree with this concern. If we were talking about vouchers, I think this is an accurate concern; however, we are talking about means-tested tax credits. What this means is that the parents are literally spending their own money on the private school; the government is simply reducing their tax liability by a corresponding amount without any regard to where the parent chose to spend it- as long as it was on their child's education. Indeed, in both form and practice, this concept is no different from educational tax credits that we already offer families for college students.

I also disagree that the public schools would be destroyed by the immediate stream of students from public to private institutions resulting from tax credits. First, existing private institutions have limited space since they are set up to deal with a system in which they are competing with a 100% subsidized monopoly. In other words, they can't handle the massive short-term increase in demand that Kyle worries about, which would mean most students in the short-term would remain in the public schools, and giving the public schools plenty of time to retool. In addition, the mean-tested tax credit system would actually increase per-student funding in the public schools since few students would qualify for 100% reimbursement of the local per-student public school spending. This would speed up the ability of public schools to retool.

As for church and state concerns, I'm a fairly well-established high-waller. This is the primary reason I'm uncomfortable with vouchers, which I worry have a far bigger effect on the religious schools than the schools have on government; on top of this, the qualification process for receiving vouchers raises the specter of government discriminating amongst religions. Tax credits largely get around this problem- again, this is the parent(s)' money, not the government's. Indeed, I think the bigger church-state concern comes under our current system, when individual parents must send their children to government-run schools that push topics that the individual parent finds heretical. This concern is what has led to the watering-down of curricula in order to make them uncontroversial to one religious group or another. So my feeling is that tax credits actually reduce church-state concerns compared to our current system.

Next-stratification between elite private institutions and institutions that the poor can afford. Here, I want to point out that this stratification already exists and cannot get much worse. As Megan McCardle pointed out last week, private high schools make up only a tiny portion of our overall schools, yet students from private high schools make up a massive percentage of enrollees at Ivy League schools. This despite the fact that Ivy League schools are offering increasingly generous financial aid packages for less well-off students.

As for the issue of standards in private institutions, the libertarian perspective here is that the standards are not horribly different from licensing requirements. However, we already require accreditation of schools, so I don't have too much of a problem with ensuring that a school meet certain minimum requirements to be eligible for tax credit funds. But there should be some sort of a process where a school with an innovative idea can apply for a variance.

Kyle's general idea about making PD district-wide and including private schools in the mix makes a certain amount of sense. My reservation is that the district lines are relatively arbitrary. I should also mention that this reservation is also reinforced by the fact that I'm in NJ, where school districts are drawn absurdly small. I think the solution to this is to make the "districts" a minimum size based on geographic area; I would also want some sort of an opportunity for parents to send their kids to school in a different "district" if they meet certain conditions not worth getting into here.

8. Finally, Kyle responds to the third and final installment of my Round 1 offerings (which was a response to his initial proposal).

a. I have no problem with the committee(s) having authority to start trial runs of programs within the public schools, as long as they are limited in size. My big concern is that the committees will become nothing more than lobbying targets for interest groups seeking to protect or popularize their pet project or a particular line of textbooks, or a particular product line billed as a learning system. This is precisely what has happened with certain elements of NCLB, though the effects of it have been somewhat mitigated for reasons not applicable to this discussion.

b. Central pool of funds- I still have my objections to the concept. However, the Bloomberg program again provides an excellent example of a format that I would be willing to accept. The program itself is rather complicated, but the funding concept is not- the funding follows the student, with each student being allocated an individualized level of funding based on their particular needs, as reduced to a (admittedly oversimplified) formula. There is a lot more to the program than this, but I'll admit I've been struggling to understand all the details for two days.

c. Certification standards/improved quality of teachers- one of the best ways to improve teacher quality is inherently merit pay. But our problem isn't that the teachers at the top aren't good enough- the teachers at the top are I suspect as good as any teachers in the world. Adopting merit pay would also bump more of our middle-tier teachers into the top tier. But merit pay may not do much to improve the quality of the bottom-tier of teachers. For that, I think you can introduce some programs that would be useful. For instance, you could add mandatory off-day or off-season professional development, along with frequent in-class evaluations (you would pay for this in part by reducing the number of in-class evaluations of top-tier teachers). A teacher whose students failed to show acceptable improvement during their time in the teacher's class over a period of 3 consecutive years would be automatically dismissed.

d. Much fat science is bad science because it fails to account for all sorts of variables; the most logical explanation for the fat "epidemic" is in my opinion the more sedentary nature of our jobs, combined with the ongoing redefinition of what it means to be obese or overweight. I don't want to get too sidetracked on this issue, though, and especially not on the science side of things- it's too much of a distraction from the broader debate. But as a matter of principle, I'm opposed to anything that restricts parental choice. My solution on this issue remains the free market, but Kyle is obviously correct in pointing out that the primary reason for choosing a school is almost entirely education; but if two schools are in a close competition for a parent's child, it is quite possible that vending options/restriction of vending options would be the tiebreaker or deciding factor. Again, though, the manner in which vending contracts are awarded is worthy of a closer look.

e. Everything else, we seem to be agreed on.

I apologize for taking a few days to get this post out. As I pointed out above, I've been doing a bunch of work looking into the NYC reforms lately for reasons unrelated to this debate; I needed to get my mind off the education topic for a few hours a day, which meant putting this post off.

Hillary's New Theme: Worse than the Old One

(Per memeorandum)

The Clinton campaign showed off its new theme today, after the disastrous results of the "electability" meme, together with its subsidiary "the Republicans will accuse Obama of being a drug dealer" argument. The theme may actually be worse than the old one, and even manages to include the "electability" theme.

Per TNR:

"I’ve been tested, I’ve been vetted," she said. "There are no surprises. There’s not going to be anybody saying, 'I didn’t think of that, my goodness, what’s that going to mean?'"

"I'm a known quantity," she added at the press conference, at which she recieved the endorsement of Iowa Democratic Congressman Leonard Boswell. "We need to nominate a candidate who can win."

In an election where the Democrat-controlled Congress and the Republican President are BOTH at historically low approval ratings, it would seem that the last thing the voters want is a candidate who essentially says "you will get nothing new if I'm President."

Let's End the Debate Over Torture

The Bush Administration has threatened to veto a bill that would ban waterboarding and a variety of other "interrogation techniques" that embarrassed our country in the Abu Ghraib scandal. Even though these techniques, as described in the bill, clearly meet the legal definition of torture and are explicitly forbidden by the army field manual, the Administration has previously tried to assert that although "we do not torture," they will not address the issue of whether the specific act of waterboarding is torture, nor will they address whether the administration has sanctioned the use of waterboarding.

The primary justification given by Bush's defenders is that we need to keep all options on the table when we are dealing with terrorists and attempting to gain intelligence from them. They proceed to argue that they will not allow our intelligence agencies to be restricted from using interrogation methods that save American lives. We are then subjected to the rote slogan that "the Constitution is not a suicide pact."

I have regularly found this set of arguments to be bogus, largely because we have learned time and again that torture is an incredibly inefficient way of protecting American lives. But the arguments for allowing torture/waterboarding are moot as a matter of law, as well. The reason for this is that anyone charged with the crime of torture/waterboarding has a legal defense of necessity available to them, in which they are excused from their otherwise criminal activity due to the fact that they were acting to deter an imminent threat to life.

Nonetheless, civil libertarians and Progressives of all sorts should care more about putting an effective end to torture than they should care about showing up the Bush Administration. So, I propose that Congress introduce and pass a bill that bans all of the aforementioned "interrogation techniques," but explicitly provides for an affirmative defense of necessity. Explicitly providing such an affirmative defense would largely negate the aformentioned primary argument against an outright ban on waterboarding and the other techniques. Moreover, it would not actually weaken the ban because such an affirmative defense is already available at common law for most traditional offenses.

For readers of mine who are non-lawyers, an affirmative defense is not an automatic excuse that the prosecution must disprove. Instead, it is a defense that the defendant (in this case, the Administration or torturer) must prove by a "preponderence of the evidence." In the case of a torture trial, you can best think of it as a post-sentence trial of the alleged terrorist. While the alleged terrorist will have had no due process rights when they were getting tortured, this affirmative defense issue will at least give them a day in court. If the alleged terrorist is indeed a terrorist who had legitimate knowledge of imminent potential attacks against Americans, then the defendant's affirmative defense will succeed, and the torturer will walk free. Importantly, under the defense of necessity, the defendant will also need to show that a legal way of gaining the intelligence in a timely fashion was unavailable.

If on the other hand the alleged terrorist knew nothing of value about imminent attacks or well-developed attack plans or was not actually a terrorist at all, then the defendant torturer (and anyone who ordered him to torture) will go to prison.

In either event, justice is served in a way that I think even neo-cons would accept.

Factionalization Watch

Erick at RedState launches into a full-scale rant against the Republican establishment over their treatment of Huckabee (even though he's not a Huckabee supporter himself). The basis for his rant is that he thinks the establishment is abandoning the social conservative (read: evangelical conservative) base.

I suspect that on matters of policy, I would agree with Erick on almost nothing. But that's kind of the point- there is no longer any reason why libertarians should be under the same umbrella political group as religious conservatives. Yet, the Republican establishment must find a way of keeping those two groups within that umbrella- a task that is impossible in the long run, and in the short run means doing and saying things that alternately piss off both groups.

If I were a religious conservative, I'd probably be just as outraged as Erick for the way the establishment is treating Huckabee. On the other hand, I'm a libertarian, so I'm equally outraged at the condescending way the establishment has treated Ron Paul.

Realignment Watch

Peggy Noonan wonders if Ronald Reagan would survive in today's GOP. She correctly points out that the Christian conservatives behind the rise of Huckabee are largely the same group that elected Jimmy Carter.

After Bush's 2000 campaign centered on so-called "compassionate conservatism," the rise of Huckabee should be of little surprise. But if Huckabee's rise continues or remains at its current levels, it will be impossible to tell the 2008 GOP from the 1976 Democratic Party.

For more on my realignment watch/factionalization watch, see my posts here, here, here, and here.

A Turning Point for Paul's Grassroots Supporters?

As many are aware, the overzealousness of some of Ron Paul's grassroots supporters has led me and several other blogs to conclude that those supporters- and Paul's unwillingness to separate himself from them- are not only destroying Paul's already-slim chances at winning the nomination, but also doing long-term damage to libertarianism. Paul supporters have been all too willing to take credit for Paul's rise of a relatively few points in the polls while completely ignoring the even bigger increase in Paul's negative ratings. Thus, for every Republican voter who now has a positive opinion of Paul (and are thus potential supporters), there are now 2 who have a negative opinion of him (and are thus never going to support Paul). The ratio of Republicans with a negative impression of Paul to those who actually SUPPORT Paul is even worse- about eight or nine to one.

Today I learned that this piece is making the rounds amongst a good chunk of the grassroots Meetup group leaders. While the comments section of the piece still has plenty of your typical silliness and unwillingness to engage the author's points in a substantive manner, I was struck that a substantial number of comments were extremely supportive of the author's point, which is similar in nature to what I've been saying for several months now.

Money quote:

There is a large element of self-righteous fanaticism among Paul followers which seems to make them completely incapable of seeing that the powerful gale of enthusiasm which is driving the campaign may crash it hard on the rocks of reality if they don't do something.If they want to save the campaign, they need to get over their egotistical attachment to the idea that Paul's unimpeachable principles and honesty trump all other considerations, and face up to the fact that to win a party nomination you have to make some effort to play the game the way the party leaders–from the lowliest precinct workers to the national leadership–expect it to be played.

Importantly, this piece is circulating amongst the Meetup groups along with a message of, in essence, "this guy is right." While I don't know how widespread the circulation is, this is the first time I've seen a noticeable portion of Paul's grassroots take notice of the effects some of their actions have on the perception of Ron Paul. It is also the first time I've seen such a widespread understanding that Ron Paul is running in the Republican primary and needs to get the votes of "mainstream" Republicans if he is going to have any shot at winning. More to the point, we are starting to see the grassroots learn to be honest with themselves in their self-evaluation.

If the leaders of the Meetup groups focus on this issue, and continue to use articles like this as a way of showing their members what they need to do in order to win, then we could be seeing a turning point for the Paul campaign. It may be too little, too late, but there's also a chance that a more conscious understanding of these issues will allow the grassroots to cool off enough to make Paul palatable to a larger number of Republicans.

I highly doubt it will ever be enough to win, but it may be enough to make the Paul campaign have a positive long-term effect on the American political landscape.

***UPDATE***George Ajjan (whose personal site is always a worthwhile read), at of all places, has a very similar article today. When LRC starts publishing stuff like this, you start to think that the idea of a turning point for the grassroots is very, very real.

Crack for the Anti-Pork Crowd

....and haters of government largesse of just about any stripe. The government has finally placed online its database showing pretty much every non-classified government expenditure for the last couple of years. Over the next few days, it should be interesting to see what the blogosphere finds hidden deep within the crevasses of our government expenditures.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Factionalization Watch Update

I've been blogging recently about what I view as a perfect political storm brewing. In this storm, we are starting to see both parties begin to splinter at the edges as the subgroups that from the loose coalitions making up the "meat" of the political parties begin to realize that they have little in common with their coalition-mates and that their party leadership is concerned more with winning elections than with actually implementing an ideological framework friendly to the coalition members. Thus we see a reasonable possibility of a serious libertarian-ish third party run, a serious religious conservative third party run, and a disillusioned political moderate third party run.

In honor of this splintering, I've instituted my "Factionalization Watch" and "Realignment Watch." In an earlier installment of the Factionalization Watch, Doug at the Liberty Papers noted a nascent movement of individuals looking to run on a Ron Paul-style libertarian-ish ticket within the Republican Party.

Today, Doug brings us news of several candidates for Congress in Maryland openly running as "Ron Paul Republicans." And so the splintering continues....

Proving Milton Friedman Right

One of Milton Friedman's many memorable quotes is this:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone else what their customers
need to be protected against. However, it is hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who may be a plumber.

David Hazinski, apparently a journalist himself, today proves the truth of this statement in his call for what amounts to licensing and mandatory professional certification of "citizen-journalism," a term which Hazinski considers to include anything from "political blogs to cellphone video of that sniper who opened fire at an Omaha Mall." Not surprisingly, Hazinski's demand for journalist regulation is based almost entirely on his own factual errors and straw-man arguments.

In essence, Hazinski wishes to rewrite the First Amendment so that "freedom of the press" applies only to people who the state and/or large news organizations deem to be worthy of being called "the press." He also would rewrite that essential foundation of the American ideal so that "freedom of speech" is defined as "freedom of speech outside of media outlets of mass dissemination."

But ignoring that little First Amendment problem, there is the little issue of journalists seeking to restrict access to their profession under the guise of concern for the consumer- even though the consumer isn't exactly demanding protection against rogue "citizen-journalists." Indeed, if we've learned anything over the last 10-15 years, consumers are far more concerned about rogue "journalists" in the establishment press far more than they are concerned about what a blogger might write or a teenager might post on YouTube. (As a commenter at Hot Air points out: does Hazinski not remember Richard Jewell? What about the Duke Lax case, which the MSM jumped on while the blogosphere remained largely skeptical? Oddly, there were virtually no retractions or apologies issued by the traditional media on that one, either).

As justification for this licensing, Hazinski writes:

CNN's last YouTube Republican debate included a question from a retired general who is on Hillary Clinton's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender steering committee. False Internet rumors about Sen. Barack Obama attending a radical Muslim school became so widespread that CNN and other news agencies did stories
debunking the rumors. There are literally hundreds of Internet hoaxes and false
reports passed off as true stories, tracked by sites such as
Having just anyone produce widely distributed stories without control can have the reverse effect from what advocates intend. It's just a matter of time before something like a faked Rodney King beating video appears on the air somewhere.

A few problems with this: first off, CNN (a traditional news outlet) invited the retired general to attend the debate; the fact that the general was associated with the Clinton campaign had, in and of itself, nothing to do with the validity of the question, which was absolutely accurate as far as it went. Had CNN just asked the question on its own at the suggestion of the general, I doubt that there would have been any concerns. Second, as is quite well known, the Obama madrassa story was not and is not an "internet rumor"; it was first widely reported on Fox News, after being broken by Insight magazine, an online subscription magazine that was originally a traditional print weekly- so the blame for that one falls not on bloggers and "citizen-journalists," but on traditional journalists. In other words, the two specific examples he cites as showing the problem with "citizen-journalists" were entirely the mistakes of two traditional media outlets. Unless he wants to claim that the retired general had no right to submit the question in the first place. As for the Fox News Obama story, Fox News' "retraction" of their story was less than sincere; meanwhile, the blogosphere (which had nothing to do with the rumor in the first place) got over the story almost immediately, and I don't know of a single widely read right-wing blogger who still hangs on to that myth.

As for the various internet hoaxes he broadly cites- yes, they exist; but they rarely get any traction, and if they do, they are quickly proven false by the thousands of other "citizen-journalists" who may be skeptical of the claim. A "citizen-journalist" who gets a reputation for inaccuracy is a "citizen-journalist" who will quickly find himself without an audience. As for Hazinski's "matter of time before a Rodney King beating hoax" comment- well, that is nothing but pure fear-mongering that falsely pretends the MSM actually prevents inaccurate information from doing damage. The number of unretracted or too-little-too-late retracted stories from the "professionals" is well-documented.

Finally, I want to address this:

Advocates argue that the acts of collecting and distributing makes these people "journalists." This is like saying someone who carries a scalpel is a "citizen surgeon" or someone who can read a law book is a "citizen lawyer." Tools are merely that. Education, skill and standards are really what make people into trusted professionals. What makes someone into a trusted professional - in any profession - is experience, proven integrity, and proven competence. Certainly education can develop a professional's skills; but to say that a person can't develop sufficient skills or competence without a formal, specific education is to say that Abraham Lincoln (with his mere 18 months in a lifetime of formal schooling) was an incompetent attorney who was a danger to any potential clients. I might add that Hazinski has clearly never worked in a law firm (and even more clearly, never as an attorney, as I have); if he had, he would know that you will rarely find a veteran paralegal who is not far more competent at understanding and advising on legal issues than a first, second, or third year associate attorney. Alas, the law says that the attorney must provide the advice; but more often than not, the paralegal (especially in a small firm setting) is far more capable of providing that advice than the freshly minted attorney. By the same token, I wonder how many career nurses Hazinski knows; if he knew a couple, he would know just how frequently those nurses save patient lives by catching a doctor's error.

As with any profession, the hallmark of a trustworthy - and successful - journalist isn't pedigree (ie, elite journalism school) or even arbitrary standards set by some unknown third party. No, the hallmark of a trustworthy and successful journalist, as with any trustworthy and successful professional, is experience, competence, effort, and a hard-earned reputation for good journalism, as well as, yes, a little bit of luck (but that means nothing without the first few traits).

(H/T memeorandum)

The Mitchell Report and Schadenfreude

As a libertarian, I am mostly ok with the idea of athletes using steroids, even after today's Mitchell Report. As much of a sports fan as I am, I understand that spectator sports are first and foremost entertainment, and that the judge of whether a product is a good product is wins and losses, which do more than anything else to keep the fans interested. Since teams usually care first and foremost about running a successful business, and since wins and losses (and gaudy statistics) are often the surest way of ensuring a successful business, they will typically (not always) try to put out the best team they can, regardless of most ethical issues. This creates a tremendous incentive for individual players to do everything they can to perform well enough to make themselves as valuable as possible to their owner. So I don't have much of an ethical problem with players using so-called "performance-enhancing drugs" (which is, much like the "War on Drugs," a great euphemism for "substances that enhance performance and which are politically unpopular"). In fact, I largely support the right of players to use such substances, and were it not for his perjury, I'd even go so far as to say that Barry Bonds's actions were completely justified (especially given the way the media treated him before he was on the juice compared to how the media treated McGwire when he was on the juice).

So ideologically, I am opposed to the Mitchell Report's naming of names. But I have a big problem here, as well: two of the biggest named athletes in the report were Yankees (Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte), apparently given the juice by a Yankees employee. Not only were they Yankees, but they were Yankee idols, especially Pettitte (who fit the arbitrary description of a "true Yankee" to a T). Moreover, I am a lifelong Mets fan who has developed a passionate hatred for all things pinstripe. This means that I have this intense need for schadenfreude over watching Clemens and Pettitte get fried in the media.

So, what is a Yankee-hating libertarian to do? Feel schadenfreude, or feel sympathy (or at least uncaring ambivalence)? In the end, I decided that I will split the difference: ambivalence for Clemens and delicious, delicious schadenfreude for Pettitte.

My logic works like this: Clemens is a career mercenary, and the most dominant pitcher in recent memory even before his recent, apparently steroid fueled, maintenance of said dominance in his 40s. In other words, Clemens is in some way a libertarian Rand-fan's idol- he never pretended to care too much about what other people thought of him, he did the best that he could to be the best pitcher on the planet, and he was the best pitcher on the planet (again, even before he presumably started on the 'roids diet). He was also completely honest his entire career about what mattered to him most: being paid what he was worth to his team. He was also not a "true Yankee" in any real sense: he played for the Yankees because that was who was willing to give him the most return on his services. There was never any doubt that he was a mercenary. And, as with Bonds, Clemens was a dominant player both with and without "the juice." So, I guess my point about Clemens is that he was always honest with himself about who he was, what he did for a living, and why he did it; to a large extent, I think he was even honest with the public and his teammates about those points. My biggest complaint with him is that he never came out and just said "up yours" to the media for their hypocrisy on the issue over the last ten years.

Pettitte, on the other hand, is entirely worthy of my schadenfreude. First of all, he is as I said, a "true Yankee," which implies that the fans view you as having a certain level of integrity. There are few things on this planet that annoy me more than Yankees fans who distinguish between "true Yankees" and not-true Yankees. Pettitte also seemed to bask in the glory of being so highly regarded by his fans. So, by taking pleasure in Pettitte's fall from grace, I'm largely taking pleasure in the inevitable effect his downfall will have on Yankee fan elitism and arrogance. By contrast, Clemens' unmasking, by itself, is unlikely to have much of an effect on Yankee fan elitism and arrogance- again, he wasn't a "true Yankee."

One more thing about Pettitte: he's also apparently a die-hard, holier-than-thou evangelical who has no problem associating with the Falwell/Robertson Christian Broadcast Network. I also recall him doing commercials a while back for some evangelical how to live your life book.

There's also this gem of a quote from his book:

As a Christian I also have one goal. I want to fulfill God's purpose for my life. I constantly ask myself "What does God want me to do?" and "Where does He want me to go?" Those may sound like odd questions to ask in a book about purity. After all, doesn't purity just mean sexual purity? Hardly. As I said in the last chapter, living a pure life means trying to please God in everything I do. And the best way to please God is living in a way He can work through me and use me in other people's lives.

Apparently, purity means using illegal, performance-enhancing substances. Andy Pettitte, meet Ted Haggard. And my schadenfreude.

More reactions via memeorandum.

**UPDATE** Apparently, Pettite is named in the report for HGH rather than steroids. This doesn't really change my line of thought, but it's an important correction to note. A few other things: I have never felt any schadenfreude over Jason Giambi: he never struck me as being hypocritical about this issue, he apparently told the truth when unceremoniously hauled before a grand jury, and he was never accepted as a "true Yankee." Indeed, he was treated like complete dirt when his testimony was leaked- I actually sympathize with Giambi.

Also, Clemens' name appears in the report dating back to his Toronto days in the mid-90s. Since his numbers deteriorated in 1992, and came back dramatically in 1993, I assume this to mean that he started on the juice in '93. This doesn't change the fact that he was dominant in the pre-strike, pre-'roids era, or any of my other analysis.

Finally- one more thing that I don't think is getting enough attention here yet is that this report is really just the tip of the iceberg. The report names over 80 players, but it represents only names that Mitchell was able to get from a very limited number of sources. I would be surprised if much less than half of MLB players in the late-90s to early 2000s were on the juice at some point. I would hope that this whole incident will make people start to rethink the effects of drug bans, including the War on (Some) Drugs; but I know that it won't, and will much more likely lead to the conclusion that "we're just not fighting drugs hard enough."

Bloomberg Still a Possibility?

According to the Wall Street Journal, NYC Mayor Bloomberg remains a strong possibility to enter the Presidential race as a third party candidate.

Bloomberg's aides are apparently hoping for a Giuliani/Clinton matchup, since those two have the highest negatives amongst voters of all current candidates. Meanwhile the Journal points out that an Edwards/Huckabee matchup would also be favorable to Bloomberg.

While some would be surprised that a Giuliani/Clinton matchup would be Bloomberg's best shot (since that race would pit three NYC-based politicians with relatively moderate positions), I think Bloomberg's aides are correct in their assessment.

Indeed, I actually think he'd win the state of NY in such a race. First, Giuliani has lost a good amount of his luster with New Yorkers in recent years, thanks to the scandals arising out of his tenure, as well as his success in alienating just about anyone he has ever disagreed with. Second, Bloomberg's lack of a Congressional voting record will enable him to position himself to the left of Hillary on foreign relations and on the environment. Third, although Hillary enjoys high job approval ratings in the state of NY, Bloomberg's approval ratings within NYC are also sky high. I also suspect that his approval ratings in the NY suburbs (including the NJ and CT suburbs) are as high or higher (and if you don't think he'd clean house on Long Island, well, then you've never been to Long Island).

Nationally, despite being ideologically close to both Hillary and Giuliani, Bloomberg would have the ability to portray himself as the change candidate. His ability to stand to the left of Hillary on international relations would also allow him to separate himself a little bit. Then of course there is the fact that he is largely above the fray when it comes to rhetoric, which will allow him to look like an adult surrounded by children at debates. And then there is the fact that you can easily see him using something akin to the following two pitch lines:

"I've been a Republican and a Democrat in my life, and got fed up with both; now I'm running to show that Americans have a real third choice."


"My campaign is almost entirely self-financed- I don't need the help of the special interests to get elected, which means I won't owe them any favors when I am elected."

And while Bloomberg is far from a libertarian, he'd have a tremendous amount of appeal to libertarians as a "lesser of three evils choice." The reason I say this is his willingness to implement real, market-based reforms into the internal structure of government (though obviously much less so in terms of government's restrictions on private business. In essence, he has shown a real willingness to stand up to unions, cut bureaucracy (albeit through a very gradual process), and cut out government waste in general. Generally speaking, the concept of "crony capitalism" is anathema to Bloomberg. The reforms he tends to push for are often extremely creative, and in some cases controversial, but they are also reforms that are not so drastic as to be politically untenable.

I would also expect that a Bloomberg candidacy would do extremely well in California and the Pacific Northwest, where I assume he'd have the support of both the Governator and Silicon Valley, as well as most environmental groups. And his unreserved support of immigrants would I think give him a big win amongst Latinos.

All that combined would lead me to think he'd potentially win in most of the relatively wealthy, socially liberal areas of the country, meaning NJ, Connecticut, most of California, Oregon, Washington, Manhattan and Long Island, South Florida, the Philly suburbs, and Nevada. I'd also suspect he'd do quite well in Minnesota, Vermont, and New Hampshire, with their history of electing independent-minded politicians. If he managed to win all those states (no guarantee, especially since some of the places I named are only portions of states), he'd be at 196 Electoral Votes, which would be a little more than a third of the total number of electoral votes.

But, there's more. Any scenario where the main choices were Bloomberg, Clinton, and Giuliani would provide a tremendous incentive for a well-funded religious conservative campaign, even more so than a simple Giuliani/Clinton race. The reason for this is very simple: heads-up, religous conservatives may be willing to cover their eyes and pull the lever for Giuliani, or at least not get in Giuliani's way, on the grounds that a well-funded third party campaign from the right would guarantee a Hillary victory. However, with Bloomberg in the race, the math would change substantially- as you can see above, most of Bloomberg's natural support would come from "Blue" States, thus weakening Hillary substantially in the process. Importantly, a religious conservative campaign would be a fourth major candidate, so the marginal benefit to Hillary of such a campaign would be greatly reduced. As a result, a religious conservative campaign could rationalize that it would not be guaranteeing a Hillary victory, and might even have a shot at stealing a number of states, with the non-evangelical vote split up three other ways.

Naturally, such a campaign would have virtually no appeal outside the Bible Belt. But within the Bible Belt, it would have a massive effect on the race, possibly winning some states, possibly swinging other states to Hillary. And in Texas, you'd have a legitimate four way race for that state's 34 electoral votes: Hillary would take the African-American vote as well as some of the Latino vote; Bloomberg would win the biggest chunk of the Latino vote (over 1/3 of the state's population), as well as most of the youth vote; the religious conservative would take most of the state's large evangelical population; and Giuliani would take a good chunk of Bush's other die-hard supporters in Bush's home state.

As I said a few weeks ago: "Strap on your seat belts, folks. This one could get bumpy."

More reactions at memeorandum.

Ron Paul Leading in Alaska? Err...maybe not

The Paul Campaign has a headline indicating that a recent survey shows him leading in Alaska, with support from 29% of respondents. Not surprisingly, the Rockwell Brigades eat it up. More surprisingly, the usually thorough David Weigel at Reason also eats it up.

Unfortunately, they all miss this one critical detail from the source of the survey:

"All polls conducted by Channel 2 News and are unscientific."

In other words- it was just another internet poll, signifying pretty much nothing other than that Ron Paul supporters didn't do a very good job of rallying to this particular poll (I mean, come on- only 29 percent?).

That said, I would think if Paul was going to do well in a given state, Alaska's caucuses would be a pretty good bet- I can't imagine a candidate needing much more than a few thousand supporters to win the state, which is both small in terms of population and exceedingly difficult to get around. Plus, we're talking about caucuses that require a pretty substantial organization. The fact that Kucinich got more than a quarter of the vote in the 2004 Alaska caucuses certainly suggests that the state is susceptible to upsets if a candidate has a good number of particularly passionate supporters (as is the case with the Paul campaign).

The Trouble with Approval Ratings

(via memeorandum)

According to Gallup, President Bush's approval ratings have seen a slight uptick recently to a whopping 37%; meanwhile, Congress' approval ratings have seen an even smaller recent uptick to a whopping 22%. Naturally, the right-wing talking heads will take this as a sign that Congress' resistance to the Iraq War has made them more unpopular than Bush, while the left-wing talking heads will argue out that this simply isn't true- Congress' low approval ratings show that people think Congress has cowtowed to Bush on the Iraq War. Who's right? The fact is that we have no idea- these approval ratings are completely and utterly worthless.


Well, as Buck Naked Politics points out, the Congressional approval ratings don't distinguish between Congressional Republicans and Congressional Democrats. Certainly, we can assume that the (disturbingly few) Americans who know that the Democrats control Congress are referring to Congressional Democrats. So this issue only explains part of why approval ratings are worthless.

The bigger issue is that Gallup rarely, if ever, asks voters WHY they approve or disapprove of the President or Congress. Thus, we only get the binary choice of are they doing a good job or not? The trouble is that there are a multitude of reasons why any given person may approve or disapprove of a politician. This is especially the case now, when the biggest issues- Iraq and immigration, along with the administration's view of executive power- are the most divisive and emotional issues. As a result, approval ratings at the moment are particularly worthless, since they don't show any kind of breakdown between people who disapprove of Congress for not fighting hard enough against Bush on Iraq and executive power and those who disapprove of Congress for fighting too hard against Bush on Iraq and executive power. Similarly, it does not show the breakdown between people who disapprove of Congress for being too soft on illegal immigrants, and those who disapprove of Congress for being too hard on illegal immigrants. The divisiveness of these issues has left very little middle ground, yet the fact that Congress and the President are at odds on these issues means that neither side winds up particularly happy.

I might add that the same problems apply to the President's still historically low approval ratings (though I suspect much less so)- they don't tell us whether people disapprove of him primarily because he's been too authoritarian on Iraq and executive power, because he's been too weak on immigration reform, or because he vetoed SCHIP. Nor do they tell us if people disapprove (or more likely, disapproved in the past) of him because the surge was too small or because his administration leaks like a faucet.

One thing that may give us some context, though, is that the most explicitly anti-war Dems with a chance at winning the nomination are also the Dems who poll the best against pro-war Republicans. Certainly this would suggest that independents think the Dems have been too weak in terms of ending the Iraq War. But this is just one possible piece of context to give meaning to a meaningless poll statistic. I am more than sure that a pro-war Republican could find a statistic that would show the opposite.

So my point here is that maybe politicos on all sides should stop giving a rat's ass about Gallup approval ratings. Elected officials in particular would do much better to start focusing on actually doing their jobs as they think is best, rather than as they think will enhance their approval ratings the most.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hillary's Delusional Campaign

Much attention is being given today to an interview with Hillary Clinton's NH co-campaign chair, Bill Shaheen. Having read through it, Shaheen's (and presumably the Clinton campaign that he represents) argument against Obama borders on the delusional. At the very least, it is completely ignorant of anything resembling a fact. More importantly, though, it shows a deep condescension towards the ability of voters to separate the important from the unimportant.

Some of the more condescending points raised:

[Shaheen] remains perplexed about why, at this fraught point in history, voters and the media are not giving more attention to experienced Democratic candidates such as Sens. Chris Dodd and Joe Biden and are instead elevating into the first tier alongside Clinton a pair of candidates with less experience in Washington, Barack Obama and John Edwards.

While I think John Edwards is scary, I certainly understand his appeal. More importantly, though, I think anyone with half a brain cell understands Obama's appeal: he represents real change. If the Clinton campaign (and other politicians/members of the MSM) learned anything from the 2006 elections, it should have been that voters- especially independents- are really fed up with the status quo in a way they haven't been for many, many years. The fact is that the relative inexperience of Obama and Edwards is in many ways precisely what makes them appealing to many voters. Put another way: from the perspective of the average Dem voter, they each represent an opportunity for the type of systemic change that many wish to see. Meanwhile, Clinton has pretty much monopolized the vote of those who think that party labels have real meaning and that the problem isn't our political system- it's just a problem of who is running the system. I know I'm not the first to point out that substantively, there is almost no difference between Hillary and Rudy; the primary difference, really, is just the letter after their names.

Continuing on with Shaheen's interview:

Shaheen also expressed his personal misgivings about whether Obama or Edwards
would be electable if they became the party's nominee.

I'm hardly the first to point this out, but both Obama and Edwards do far better against every potential Republican nominee than Hillary. Moreover, Hillary is one of the most known quantities in American politics; she's also notoriously one of the most polarizing. The idea that somehow she can do better than her current numbers in a general election, while Obama and Edwards could not possibly equal their current numbers in a general election is, to say the least, preposterous. If the Clinton campaign thinks it can win by continuing its strategy of pushing Clinton's "electability" at this point, then she will continue to lose ground as the idea that she is more "electable" continues to be proven false. Another thing with this is of course the condescending attitude of such a campaign strategy, suggesting that no matter what the facts say, Hillary is more electable; the attitude suggested with such a strategy smacks of Rumsfeldian arrogance.

Finally, there's this gem, which has been the source of the most discussion today. Shaheen says in defense of his statement about Obama's electability:

"The Republicans are not going to give up without a fight ... and one of the things they're certainly going to jump on is his drug use," said Shaheen, the husband of former N.H. governor Jeanne Shaheen, who is planning to run for the Senate next year. Billy Shaheen contrasted Obama's openness about his past drug use -- which Obama mentioned again at a recent campaign appearance in New Hampshire -- with the approach taken by George W. Bush in 1999 and 2000, when he ruled out questions about his behavior when he was "young and irresponsible." Shaheen said Obama's candor on the subject would "open the door" to further questions. "It'll be, 'When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?'" Shaheen said. "There are so many openings for Republican dirty tricks. It's hard to overcome."

To which I say, "Huh?" So, Obama's candor about his past drug use is MORE of a liability than Bill Clinton's patently ridiculous "I didn't inhale" statement or Dubya's various non-denial denials? As I seem to recall, both politicians managed to overcome the overall questions about their drug use; the questions that dogged them more permanently, however, were their cover-ups and half-truths. I fail to see how a politician caught in a lie/half-truth about past drug use is somehow less open to attacks than a politician who is completely honest about past drug use.

There is one other little issue here, which supporters of the war on (some) drugs like to ignore: there are a hell of a lot of people in this country who have smoked marijuana and who have tried cocaine (though far, far fewer). Officially, the number of admitted past marijuana users is around 40% (sorry- the official link is dead); of course, this ignores the fact that any studies of drug use involve an inherent propensity for underreporting. Either way, with such a high number of people who have tried illegal drugs at one point or another in their life, I fail to see how being honest about one's past drug use is a major political liability - especially for a Democrat. Let's be honest- the people who care most about a politician's past drug use aren't exactly a group that is likely to support a Democrat in the first place, and I'd be interested to see how many such people would be willing to support Hillary but not Obama.

But the lack of trust that Shaheen shows in voters' ability to "forgive" the drug use of a 42 year old man who last used drugs in college is astounding. More astounding is his suggestion that somehow voters would care more about that than they did about George Bush's drunk driving conviction at the not-so-young age of 30 or the not-really-denied allegations of Bush's own cocaine use at around that same age. There seems to be this attitude from the Clinton campaign generally, and Shaheen's comments specifically, that the Clinton campaign knows more than the voters do about which issues are important to the voters.

As someone who looks forward to celebrating the demise of Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate (and who has a lot of respect for Obama), I can only say that I personally hope the Clinton campaign continues to live in its ivory tower where it thinks it knows the voters better than the voters know themselves.

(Via memeorandum)

Nanny State Pet Peeve O' the Day

One of the few reasonable innovations of the nanny state may be the swinging stop sign on school buses- conceptually, they make sense as a warning to drivers that kids might be running across the road. It's also largely reasonable to penalize a driver who runs such a stop sign when there is a realistic chance that a kid might come popping out of nowhere.

But...even this relatively reasonable rule manages to turn people into unthinking automaton sheep. Such sheep care nothing at all about whether the purpose of the rule is served by obeying it in a given instance, and only about whether they will get a ticket for disobeying the rule.

Case in point: this morning, I was driving in to work on a busy four-lane higway with a sizable median. On my side of the highway was a commercial district with no residences within a quarter mile. On the opposite side of the highway was a day care center at which parents apparently drop kids off before school. As I was approaching this vicinity, a bus pulled up to the day care center on the opposite side of the highway and median; the stop sign on the bus flapped out. Naturally, traffic stopped behind the bus, as it should have.

Not naturally, traffic also stopped on my side of the highway, even though our side of the highway was a good 50 yards away from the bus, again with a median separating us from the bus and with no residences/day care facilities on our side of the highway. In other words, there was less than a zero percent chance that a kid would come running out across traffic in an attempt to catch the bus or due to horseplay while trying to get on the bus. Yet, like sheep, the drivers on my side of the highway ignored the purpose behind the rule (preventing children from getting run over, which again had no chance of happening in this circumstance), and followed the rule anyways.

Perhaps I could have accepted this minor inconvenience if it weren't for what happened once the kids loaded on to the bus. At that point, the driver of the bus decided to have a conversation with the woman from the day care facility in charge of watching the kids. Doing so of course meant keeping the bus door open, which meant keeping the stop sign out, which meant that traffic on both sides of this major highway remained at a standstill during the entire length of the conversation (which was several minutes). Obviously, once all the kids were on the bus, the purpose of keeping the stop sign flap out had become moot. Yet out of nothing but fear of getting a ticket (rather than out of actual concern for the children), traffic remained at a standstill on both sides of the highway for several minutes. Again, this includes traffic on my side of the highway, which was separated from the bus by a good 50 yards and a median. There was simply no logical reason for traffic on my side of the highway to remain at a standstill while the driver and the daycare woman conversed.

As a result of this traffic holdup, caused by nothing but mindless obeisance of "the law" and the chitchat of a bus driver, dozens of commuters were held up for several minutes, resulting in an economic cost of perhaps several hundred dollars (average income in the area is quite high). When even reasonable, even necessary, government nanny-statism like the stop sign flap can turn us into unquestioning sheep like this, what kind of an effect do you think less reasonable or necessary nanny-statism has?

The Politicization of Curricula

Kyle's opening salvo of round 2 of our debate over education policy is online here. My response will come somewhere around the end of the week, most likely.

But in the meantime, Kip points out this beaut from Wisconsin:

The three Rs would be joined by mandatory instruction on collective bargaining and the history of unions in America under a proposal introduced in the Wisconsin Legislature.
Labor unions are all for it. School groups aren't.

As I pointed to in my opening posts from our debate, one of the biggest problems with the American education system is the politicization of the curriculum process. The goal of that politicization is usually- and not surprisingly- indoctrination in favor of one or another powerful interest group. In this case, the labor unions want to increase their future strength by making sure that kids in the state of Wisconsin have a favorable impression of them when they are still young and impressionable; not surprisingly, the bill's sponsor is not advocating an equivalent curriculum standard in understanding free market economics. Put another way, and as Kip states in his maxim: "Every advocate of central planning always -- always -- envisions himself as the central planner."

This of course is the fundamental problem with top-down dictation of standards and curricula in general- there is no reason to think the feds are better at dictating such standards than the states, and ultimately the only ones capable of setting appropriate standards are the individual parents and/or students. The problem is not simply a matter of the system being run by the wrong people; the problem is that the more centrally you try to control the system, the more the system will reflect only the priorities of those at the center of the system.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Romney's Rallying Cry: Four More Years!

The Crossed Pond points out this little tidbit from today's White House press conference:

Q Did the questioning of al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah conform with the
interrogation program approved by President Bush? […]
MS. PERINO: I will say that all interrogations — all interrogations have been done within the legal framework that was set out after September 11th…All of the — the entire program has been legal.
Q Are you saying that whatever was done in this case was not
MS. PERINO: I am saying that the United States does not torture. The President has been — […]
Q But when you have a former CIA officer, John Kiriakou, now saying that waterboarding was used — since you’re saying the interrogations were legal; he’s saying on the record now, waterboarding was used in at least one case. You’re saying waterboarding is legal?
MS. PERINO: Ed, I’m saying I’m not commenting on any specific technique. I’m not commenting on that gentleman’s characteristics of any possible technique. I’ve given you a very general statement about interrogations being legal, limited and –
Q You just said it was legal.
MS. PERINO: I’m sorry?
Q You said it was within the legal framework.
Q Everything that was done.
Q So waterboarding is legal.
MS. PERINO: I’m not commenting on any specific techniques.

As Brad says, "Ugh."

But it gets worse. The evasiveness on this question is almost identical to Mitt Romney's answer to the same question in the last debate:

And as I just said, as a presidential candidate, I don't think it's wise for us to describe specifically which measures we would and would not use.


I did not say and I do not say that I'm in favor of torture. I am not. I'm not going to specify the specific means of what is and what is not torture so that the people that we capture will know what things we're able to do and what things we're not able to do.

[My emphasis]
I fail to see how Romney is anything less than a handsomer, more artificial version of Bush. Yet, today National Review endorses Romney on the grounds that "Romney has President Bush’s virtues and avoids his flaws." Apparently, the National Review editors considers Bush's evasiveness and skirting of established law to be one of Bush's virtues. (I will notably exempt the Derb from this criticism).

Monday, December 10, 2007

Horwitz on the Paul Campaign

I'm extremely late posting about this, but I've been following Professor Steven Horwitz's series of posts explaining his skepticism of the Paul campaign with great interest. In reading this series of posts, I've found myself frequently nodding in deep-seated agreement with the whole of his commentary. I am probably more willing than Horwitz to actually vote for Paul come primary time, but Horwitz explains far better than I ever could why the Paul campaign may not necessarily be good for libertarianism in the long run. Not surprisingly these days, Horwitz's series of posts have ignited a firestorm of sorts, largely with those who believe (in practice, at least) that the Paul campaign should be above criticism.

The first post in the series is here., the second here, and the third and final post here.

Some of the most significant quotes from the final post (which I think is the clearest):

[W]hen the Paul campaign, for all of its other libertarian strengths, takes up an immigration position that strikes me as both unlibertarian (in its implicit call for stronger state enforcement – see Sheldon Richman’s earlier post) and as against the cosmopolitan spirit of the liberalism that animated Mises, Hayek and others, and takes up other positions that are couched in ways that appeal to nationalism and nativism, I simply find myself very uncomfortable supporting it. I think on a few substantive positions, the Paul campaign is not libertarian and I also think in the way it has presented itself, it appeals to a constituency that does not share the cosmopolitan outlook that is, and has been, part of the libertarianism that I wish to be associated with.

In some ways, this also explains my discomfort with the appeal to the conspiracy theorists, particularly on the North American Union/NAFTA superhighway points. The discomfort isn't whether such "conspiracies" exist; the problem is that appeals based on such "conspiracies" imply an inherent nativism and nationalism that is to my mind quite un-libertarian. Libertarians should not buy into American exceptionalism in the sense that the US, as currently defined, is perfect or would only be made worse by associating more closely with other nations. Libertarians are fundamentally individualists; an emphasis on protecting the sovereignty of the US and its state governments is inherently collectivist. Libertarians should care little or nothing about the sovereignty of the US, and instead should be concerned first and foremost about their sovereignty as individuals.

More from Horwitz:

What I do blame Paul for is running a campaign that takes positions and discusses issues in ways that allow, if not encourage, such groups to believe he is worthy of their support. I wish he were running a campaign that left much less doubt that such groups could see him as an agent of their goals. And I wish he would clearly, forcefully, and publicly distance himself from them because I believe, as Sudha Shenoy put it in an earlier comment on the second post, they have "anti-libertarian aims." One need not be a racist to take up positions or frame issues in ways that would appeal to racists.

And finally:

[W]e should aspire, as a movement, to do as much as we can to articulate our positions (and, in some cases, adopt substantive positions consistent with liberty) in ways that minimize their possible appeal to racists, anti-semites, nativists, etc.. Ron Paul is hardly the only libertarian who could do better on this score.

In essence, the problem with the Paul campaign is not just its un-libertarian positions on things like immigration. It is as much or more that the Paul campaign has couched its positions in terms that seem designed to appeal more to racists and conspiracy theorists than to traditional libertarian values; the support of such groups is thus not accidental, but carefully sought after. Indeed, I have seen a number of such individuals credit Paul's affiliation with Alex Jones for much of his campaign's fundraising success, at least in the early going.

Perhaps some will say that in doing so, Paul is at least bringing in people who are not traditional libertarians into the libertarian tent. While this may be so, seeking out such groups limits the ability of the libertarian tent to expand into more mainstream groups with whom libertarians probably have more common ground. Indeed, it is absolutely worth pointing out that, despite Paul's fundraising successes and positive publicity in recent weeks and months, his national support has only managed to bump up by a couple of points in the polls (including in the early primary states). Meanwhile, his name recognition in the early primary states has gotten up to around 90%, yet his favorable/unfavorable ratings are extremely poor, with far more primary voters viewing him negatively than positively. This suggests one of two things:

1. His close association with fringe groups like conspiracy theorists and white supremacist groups has substantially turned voters off to his campaign; or
2. His message is one that people just don't want to hear.

Given that his main issue is the Iraq war and that polls show a majority of Republicans in the state of Iowa, for instance, are opposed to the war, I'd say the most likely reason for his high negative ratings is 1, rather than 2.