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The Fallacy of Wealth Redistribution

March 4th, 2011 ·

In these times of bailouts and corporate corruption and growing inequality of wealth we hear a lot from the left about wealth redistribution, laws to set ratios between the salaries of workers and CEOs and other ideas to try to force an economic egalitarianism on the free market as the expression of a socialistic ideal of economic class warfare.

It is assumed on the left that the welfare of the people as a whole is threatened by growing wealth inequality, that the rich increase their wealth at the expense of the rest of society, and that our current unstable economic times have created opportunities for unscrupulous businessmen to enrich themselves while driving down the economy for everyone else. This is the fallacy of inelastic wealth, which mistakenly assumes that increase of wealth in one sector comes from the other sectors of the economy rather than primarily from that part of the economy which is growing.

This theory is fundamentally untrue, but it is the basis for what Edmund Burke described as the desire to “cut the throats of the rich” for the benefit of society. Just as there was more than 200 years ago, there is an element of the political left today which is absolutely convinced that if you just took away the earnings of the wealthy class and redistributed them, you’d be able to make everyone equal and solve all the problems of poverty.

Burke summed up this economic dynamic, which the equalizers don’t understand, succinctly when he wrote to Prime Minister Pitt advising against such a policy:

“The laboring people are only poor because they are numerous. Numbers in their nature imply poverty. In a fair distribution among a vast multitude none can have much. That class of dependent pensioners called the rich is so extremely small, that, if all their throats were cut, and a distribution made of all they consume in a year, it would not give a bit of bread and cheese for one night’s supper to those who labor, and who in reality feed both the pensioners and themselves.”

That basic criticism of the flawed mathematical reasoning behind wealth redistribution remains as true today as it was in 1795 and today we have hard statistics with which to illustrate the point.

Consider what would happen if H. Lee Scott, the CEO of WalMart, were to give up his salary of $1.24 million a year and divide it a…mong the 180,000 WalMart employees. It would raise the salary of each of those workers by the grand total of 68 cents a year. If he were to give up his entire compensation package including stock options, which totals $10.46 million a year, it would raise the average salary of WalMart workers by a sumptuous $5.81 per year.

Don’t think that WalMart is an exception. The same mathematical relationship applies throughout the economy. If you took away the salaries of the CEOs of the top Five Hundred corporations in the US and divided all $5.4 billion in compensation between the oppressed workers of America, each of them would gain a staggering $18 a year. That’s barely an hour’s wages for the average worker — enough to take the family out for a meal at MacDonalds.

So the grand victory of the proletariat in cutting the throats of the capital class and bleeding out their ill-gotten wealth would be utterly meaningless in bettering the lives of the working class or anyone else.

I realize that ideas like wealth redistribution appeal to the moral conscience of many well intentioned people who have a genuine desire to help the disadvantaged, but as is so often the case, this is an argument based solely on emotion and totally unsupported by mathematical reality. At best it is pure ignorance and at worst it is conscious demagoguery and class warfare for no legitimate purpose. It is socialistic buffoonery and if you run into someone who thinks it makes sense, wake them up with some facts.

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Vouchers Could Save Broke School Districts

March 4th, 2011 ·

The Austin Independent School District, like many others in Texas and around the country, is facing a substantial budget shortfall because of problems in the economy and cuts in statewide education funding. In the case of the AISD this is being estimated at as much as $100 million, and although this is probably an overestimate intended to frighten voters, there is discussion of radical cuts including closing 6 schools, increasing class sizes and actually laying off administrators.

Yet in all of these desperate plans to cut the budget, one very effective option is being overlooked, educational vouchers.

Ordinarily the argument for school vouchers is that they will give underserved students access to a better education. But there is another argument in favor of them which is purely fiscal and ought to be considered by school districts which are short of funds. A voucher program can actually be used to increase the effective amount of money available to spend per student in the public school system by allowing some students to leave, but holding a portion of what would have been spent on them in reserve to underwrite the cost of educating the students who stay behind.

The AISD has 85,000 students and spends about $9100 per student. That’s a total budget of more than $750 million. Cutting $100 million out of that is a substantial reduction, but one which could be largely offset by a voucher program. If students in an affluent community like Austin were offered $6000 vouchers it’s likely that a significant portion of those enrolled — likely as many as 20% would consider attending private school with their families making up any additional cost. This would leave the school district with a net profit per student using a voucher of $3100.

Typical private schools in the Austin area charge around $8000 in tuition and while a few are much more expensive, many are less expensive, especially in the lower grades. $6000 towards that tuition would make it easy for middle class families to move their kids to private schools for a cost of at most $200 a month and likely less.

Admittedly the capacity for 17,000 or more new students does not exist in the current private school system in the Austin area, but the six schools which are being considered for shut-down — two of which are rated exemplary — could effectively be converted to private schools, even with the same teachers, staffs and buildings and handle much of that demand. Entrepreneurs would be eager to step in and take advantage of the opportunity and the school district would even make more money back from the rental of the facilities. Some of those schools could even operate very cost effectively as teacher-run cooperatives, a business model which can work very well in education and has low administrative overhead.

Issuing vouchers to 17,000 students while keeping $3100 per student in reserve would produce $51 million in additional revenue to the school system. Facility rental would add about another $32 million if education entrepreneurs and the school district are smart and work together. That total of $83 million would largely wipe out the shortfall and the rest would be easy to take care of with administrative cuts which are already being considered, or perhaps by selling the school district’s lavish administration building which is valued at $29 million.

This system might have to be phased in gradually. A lot of parents would leap at the opportunity, but it might take a few years before sufficient additional private school capacity were developed. However, an assisted privatization of schools which would otherwise be closed would greatly accelerate the process. In fact, the district might find it advantageous to privatize a few additional schools to create more capacity.

Many of these schools might very well be able to operate at below the voucher cost, especially in the lower grades. Private schools routinely operate at a cost of $5000 or less per student for pre-kindergarden through 3rd grade. The hard truth is that private education can do a better job for less money than public education traditionally does.

Of course, what this scenario points out is that it’s probable that without the huge administrative overhead — almost 50% of the AISD budget goes to administrative costs — and with decentralization you could cut the cost per student substantially and still provide an acceptable education, public or private.

For this kind of partial privatization plan to work you would need the cooperation of administrators and teachers, whose unions have traditionally been the main stumbling block to any kind of education voucher program. In this case, since the alternatives are larger class sizes, fewer schools and teacher and staff layoffs, logic would suggest that the unions would reevaluate their position on vouchers, or that teachers would see sense and take action on their own.

This proposal may seem radical, but it’s also practical and realistic. Desperate times call for desperate measures and it’s time to put aside old assumptions and innovate to get more for our education dollars. Austin could be a pioneer in school privatization and set an example for other challenged districts to follow.

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Review: Guns and Weed: The Road to Freedom

January 12th, 2011 ·

Sometimes genius surfaces in strange places, and there is certainly an element of genius in the new movie Guns and Weed: The Road to Freedom. The film is not perfect and it’s certainly not the slickest production, but it’s one hell of a smart, informative and entertaining film.

It starts from a brilliant idea: looking at gun rights and the legalization of marijuana as two linked issues which between them expose many of the problems with our government and in our society from a libertarian perspective. By looking at one right which is constantly under threat and another which has been taken away arbitrarily, the film explores the broader issue of the ongoing diminishment of our civil liberties by intrusive government.

The film is basically a documentary composed mostly of interviews and discussion, but what makes it unique is that it comes with a sly sense of humor and a sense of fun which is much more appealing than the preachiness you’d expect on such a serious subject.

The film was made by Michael W. Dean and Neema Vedadi. Dean is the writer and director. Vedadi is a featured performer and producer. Dean describes himself as a punk rock libertarian and is the former Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Wyoming. Vedadi is a weekend news anchor on ABC affiliate KEPR in Wyoming. Dean mainly appears playing backing guitar for Vedadi in some hilarious rap numbers. Iranian-American punk-rap is a musical genre I never really expected to see. Vedadi also plays a variety of roles in small skits and dramatizations in the film and he’s damned funny. Another asset to the film is a very pretty girl who fires a lot of guns while wearing a nice sun dress and does some excellent narration, credited as J-Tizzle. Also very effective were some of the medical marijuana users, especially a young couple afflicted with Krohn’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis who use marijuana to ease the pain and discomfort of their conditions. I also found some of the detailed insights into the mechanics of the medical marijuana business very interesting.

The most familiar of the interviewees is Sheriff Richard Mack who is very highly regarded in civil libertarian circles, but the less prominent participants, many of them local gun owners, marijuana entrepreneurs and civil libertarians from Wyoming and Colorado are articulate and make lots of good points. They give personal and substantive perspectives on issues like the medical value of marijuana, prisons overflowing with non-violent offenders, the whole milk ban, problems with the justice system, free speech, the Mexican drug cartels, abuse of government power, the failures of democracy and a web of other issues which all link surprisingly logically to the two core subjects.

There are a lot of libertarian films out there and most take themselves way too seriously and are no fun at all. Quite a few shade over into areas of fringe politics and radical rhetoric which make them threatening to a mainstream audience. One of the great accomplishments of Guns and Weed is that it doesn’t take that route. It’s approachable and relatively non-threatening and doesn’t get preachy. It manages to soften its very serious message with humor, music and engaging performances. It’s informative but it’s also enjoyable.

Perhaps best of all, the whole of Guns and Weed is on YouTube in a series of linked segments and you can watch it in an hour and a half. I recommend it to everyone, especially those who still think the War on Drugs is a good idea. It might be just the thing for some of my Republican friends who understand the right to bear arms but haven’t yet realized how interconnected all of our civil liberties are. Go watch it and help it go viral!

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How Al Gore (and I) Invented the Internet (and real net neutrality)

December 22nd, 2010 ·

(I guess it’s about time I set down this bit of history. In the context of the Net Neutrality debate it seems like something which ought to be made public, and as the youngest participant in these events I may eventually become the last surviving eyewitness. Photo to right is me in 1979 with hair and everything.)

In 1979 I was a junior at Franklin and Marshall College. I was also a fledgling Science Fiction writer with several professionally published stories, a libertarian activist who had worked on a couple of campaigns and formed a chapter of Students of a Libertarian Society and also what passed for a hacker in those early days of computers. Somehow that summer I lucked into the perfect internship in Washington, DC. Because I attended the right high school and with some pull from my mother, who worked for Senator Mac Mathias, I got an internship as a writer and editor for What’s Next newsletter published by the Congressional Clearing House on the Future, which was largely under the oversight of a dynamic young Congressman named Al Gore.

Gore and I had both attended St. Albans School in DC, about 10 years apart. At that point he was in his second term in the House of Representatives and he had decided that his way to make a mark was to become the leading Congressional voice for the emerging world of high tech. The Congressional Clearing House on the Future was his vehicle for doing this. It basically brought in information from the frontiers of science, analyzed it and put it into a form where busy politicians could figure out what to think about it. My job was to do research and write introductory articles on a wide variety of topics, including satellites, solar energy, microwaves, charged particle beam weapons, space exploration and research, and the frontiers of computers and communications. I was good at taking technical topics and summarizing them for a more general audience and got lots of practice at it while I was with the CCF.

As a lowly intern I really had very little direct contact with Congressman Gore. He did call on the phone a few times and I got to field a couple of technical questions in areas where I had some expertise. Apparently somewhere along the way someone must have passed on to him that I knew more about computers than anyone else on staff and I guess I had proved pretty adept at using LexisNexis (one of the very first major online databases) for research, plus I had a background in computer typesetting. So I got pegged to do a lot of work relating to a series of meetings called the Chautauquas for Congress sponsored by CCF and Rep. Gore. These meetings had begun in March and I came in towards the end. They brought together experts from private industry, government, the military, academia and the press to discuss emerging aspects of technology. One of those was computers and communications, and it was the results of that meeting which gave Al Gore some claim to having invented the internet, though to be fair his role in sponsoring the chautauquas was more that of a facilitator who brought the work of many inventors together than that of an actual inventor.

The primary session on computers and telecommunication had taken place in March and I didn’t get to CCF until May, but I got to be involved in the processing of reports from the meetings so I was one of the first people to see the very speculative early proposals for what would become the internet and I got to work at the later sessions, including the June meeting where final reports on various topics were presented. Admittedly, my role at those sessions was mostly to make sure chairs and tables were set up and that snacks were on hand, but I had also gone through the reports and helped prepare summaries of some very interesting discussions, and I got to stand in the back and hear the presentations.

It was the initial panel discussions at the Chautauquas which had led to the first consensus on what would emerge not long afterward as the fledgling internet. The ideas developed there would soon be implemented and the result was a shared network which first became accessible to a rapidly growing segment of the public in the form of Usenet in the early 1980s. It was that concept, of adopting common protocols to bring together existing private and government networks which created the internet as we know it and for which Al Gore has taken credit with some justification, as the point man on bringing all these experts together through these Chautauquas. I guess I can take some small credit to for helping the process along. Looking back at what was discussed at the time it surprises me how perceptive many of the participants were about the implications of technology which was really only just beginning to emerge and also how quickly the ideas were put into action. Usenet first went online by the end of that year.

Although, as a libertarian, I am chronically skeptical of the efforts of government, this experience was one which demonstrated how positive the role of government can be when it is primarily a passive and not an activist role. All the Chautauquas did was to bring people together to share information. There were no official conclusions, no real legislative outcome, no government initiatives to create the internet, just a promotion of ideas and innovation coordinated from a position of governmental neutrality. It did informally give the stamp of approval to government agencies and even the military in opening up their networks and sharing technology, but what it did not do was lay out rules and regulations, though Gore did eventually author legislation formalizing some of the relaxation of access required. The technical and administrative aspects of the internet were left to develop naturally.

Since that time this has pretty much been the rule of the internet. It’s the wild west. Everyone does what they want to do and no one, including the government, looks at it too closely. The benefits it has produced are enormous. It’s the great revolutionary development of its time on a par with the train and the automobile. It seems almost crazy to do anything which might interfere with it. For a government it might even be a terribly dangerous thing to attempt.

Yet today we see government attempting to get more heavily involved. With the passage of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act we’ve seen government working as a hired thug for corporate interests attempting to control dissemination of data through high-speed transfer portals like BitTorrent. Congress is considering even more draconian legislation to control internet content in Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) very broad Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act. And most recently the FCC has weighed in with its attempt to impose “net neutrality”, ostensibly to protect the interests of citizens, but with the potential to make the government the arbiter of bandwidth allocation and from there of every aspect of access and functionality on the net. Further legislation and further regulation from the FCC is expected and increasingly the focus seems to be shifting to regulating content itself. This carries disturbing implications for free speech in the medium which has become the dominant outlet for public speech in the world.

When the internet was created, this level of government involvement was never the intent. The conclusion coming out of the Chautauquas was that great things would happen if we opened up the netwroks and lifted restrictions and let the people have free and unfettered access to this kind of network, even if at the time we could barely conceive of what it would become. And the cornerstone of the internet as it was created was neutrality. Not as imposed by the government to try to level the playing field according to some contrived criteria, but as it developed naturally by not restricting access and opportunity. That hands-off approach is the definition of true net neutrality.

When asked what role government should play in this process, Professor Manley Irwin, who was on the Panel on Information and Communication commented “The single most important action Congress can take is to get out of the way.” That approach worked brilliantly for 30 years and has brought us incalculable benefits. What justification is there for changing it now?

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Out of Power Republicans Look Good in 2009 Liberty Index

November 30th, 2010 ·

As we go into a new Congressional session where Republicans have returned to the majority in the House of Representatives, the Republican Liberty Caucus’ newly released Liberty Index ratings for 2009 provide an important reminder of the positive effect which being out of power and in the minority had on Republican legislators. With a clear anti-liberty, big-government agenda coming from the White House and the Democrat leadership, Republicans embraced their role as the “party of no” in 2009 and were more true to basic principles of limited government and individual liberty than they have been in many years. The Liberty Index reflects this environment with more high ratings on both the Personal and Economic Liberty scales than ever before, particularly in the House of Representatives.

A surprise standout in the House of Representatives rankings is Jeff Flake (R-AZ) who is the first member of Congress in the 22 year history of the Liberty Index to score a perfect 100/100 in the Economic and Personal Liberty components of the index. Flake was not alone at the top, with perennial top scorers Ron Paul (R-TX) and Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) not far behind. They both scored 100 on Personal Liberty and came up with a 96 on Economic Liberty because of problematic votes on earmarks and a technology bill. Other than that they were outstanding champions of liberty.

With Democrat spending completely out of control a lot of Republicans were given an opportunity to oppose their policies and as a result score very well on Economic Liberty. Forty-eight House members scored perfect 100s on Economic Liberty. Personal Liberty scores were less consistent, though 115 House Republicans scored in the Libetarian range on their combined scores.

Senate Republicans were somewhat less impressive than their House allies, but five did manage to score perfect 100s on the Economic Liberty scale. Because of the kinds of votes which came up in the Senate it was more difficult to score well on Personal Liberty, but 31 Senate Republicans did have combined ratings in the Libertarian category.

In both houses Democrats scored substantially less well on both Economic and Personal Liberty issues. 225 Democrats in the House and 36 in the Senate scored so low that they were classed in the Authoritarian category, meaning that almost all of their votes were on the side of increasing government power and reducing civil liberties. Three House Democrats, all from California and including outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, scored perfect 0/0 results, voting against the best interests of the people on every major issue to come before them. Senate Democrats did somewhat better, especially on Personal Liberty, but Senator Ted Kaufman (D-DE) was the one Senator to score a perfect 0 on Economic Liberty.

In many cases the deciding issues which separated those who did well from those who did poorly were votes which were split on non-partisan lines, particularly over issues of military spending, foreign policy and national security, where both parties have storng internal divisions.  Many Republicans are rejecting the policies of the Bush era and moving towards a more limited view of America’s overseas commitments, while some of the most powerful Democrat leaders remain committed to a policy of war and nation building.  and, of course, many of these important votes where Republicans took a stand against bigger and more intrusive government were ones where their efforts were doomed and produced nothing more than good ratings on this index, because of their minority status.

The Liberty Index is based on forty roll call votes, twenty on issues of Economic Liberty and 20 on issues of Personal Liberty in each chamber. The votes are compiled and analyzed by Professor Clifford Thies who holds the Eldon R. Lindsay Chair of Free Enterprise in the Economics Department of Shenandoah University. He is assisted by an anonymous panel of experts who have worked with him on the project for many years. This year his work is dedicated to the late David Nolan whose system of charting political ideologies has been a valuable tool for educating voters and promoting libertarian ideas.

The full results of the Liberty Index are available in PDF format from the Republican Liberty Caucus, including charts of the distribution of the ratings and detailed analysis by Professor Thies. For comparison you can find past results going back to 1991 in the RLC archives.

This year’s results are unusual because the Republicans in Congress were both in the minority and the opposition party. With the Presidency and total control of the Congress, the Democrats advanced an ambitious statist agenda. This agenda involved raising taxes, increasing regulations, huge subsidies for green industry, and a very significant increase in the federal government’s involvement in health care. Although not so well-known, the agenda also involved the nanny state, political correctness, national service, and government-funded propaganda. Resisting these changes made many Republicans look like libertarians, a shift which appears dramatic, but is largely the result of circumstances.

What remains to be seen is if once they are back in a position of power Republicans will continue this pattern and listen to the mandate of voters who clearly want them to pursue a policy of controlling spending and limiting government power. Will Congressional Republicans become more than the “party of no?”  Can they develop a positive agenda which will roll back spending and reverse the erosion of individual liberties when they are under less pressure and feel more secure.

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WikiLeaks Documents Prove Anticlimatic

November 29th, 2010 ·

The much heralded release of thousands of pages of internal State Department communications by WikiLeaks has received a lot of public attention and sent WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange into hiding in Switzerland, but if you wade through the documents what you find is mostly uninteresting and even the high points are far from the shocking revelations the build-up led us to expect.

Admittedly, WikiLeaks has only leaked a few hundred of about 200,000 cables, but I fear the whole thing will be a bust if they followed the natural inclination to leak the most sensational stuff first to stir up interest. What’s some out so far is mostly information which is unsurprising and predictable and at best mildly titillating. Perhaps the most shocking aspect is the level of fascination State Department officers have with prurient trivialities and petty rivalries, reminding us that they’re just another clutch of bored bureaucrats.

One of the great things about having a worldwide network of underpaid professional journalists is that those poor suckers get to read this stuff and summarize it for us so we don’t have to. Here are some of the highlights:

Saudi Arabia wants us or Israel to nuke Iran. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but it does have the entertainment value of being extremely embarraasing to the Saudis now that the whole world knows just how little they believe in Islamic solidarity.  But why should they?  They’re Sunnis and the Iranians are Shiites.  There’s only room for one big player in the Israel-hating game and Iran keeps trying to muscle in on their action.  If Israel slapped Iran down it would put the Saudis back in the driver’s seat.  Plus the only people the fundamentalists Iran is backing hate more than the Jews are the Saudi ruling class, a group whose main redeeming characteristic is that one of their slave-owning princes is now on record comparing Iranian President Ahmedinejad to Hitler.

State Department analysts expect North Korea to collapse.  Another non-revelation.  With an economy based on slave labor, mass starvation and selling missiles to Iran, all to support a parasitic bureaucracy and ridiculously large military, it’s a miracle that North Korea hasn’t collapsed already.  Why do you think we’re in no hurry to push through any kind of negotiated deal with the North Koreans.  If we stall long enough they are bound to implode, leaving us and our allies to pick up the pieces.

No one likes Pakistan.  A number of the cables bring up concerns from every quarter about Pakistain.  The Israelis think they’re unstable and dangerous, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia despises Pakistani President Zardari.  The US has been trying to undermine the Pakistani nuclear program for years.  Everyone agrees the government is going to be overthrown by radical Islamists and turn into a threat to the entire region.  Again, scary and unfortunate, but not a surprise.

The US doesn’t trust the United Nations.  Only surprising because the attitude seems to have continued under the Obama administration.  Reassuring in that some of us had wondered whether people inside our government realized what was obvious to everyone else, that the UN is packed with radicals and crazies from the most reprehensible governments on the planet who are up to all manner of corruption and malfeasance, and are universally hostile to the United States and our interests.  We wanted our UN representatives to spy on the other UN delegations?  Well, I should hope so.  The best thing about the UN is that it gathers so many international criminals together in one place should we ever want to take them out as a group.

Qaddafi likes hot blondes.  Another reason to like Islam’s most user-friendly dictator.  Qaddafi may have delusions of grandeur, but playing slap and tickle with a statuesque Ukrainian nurse half his age just earns him my respect.  I’d rather have him doing that than hostin al Quaida training camps and chemical weapons factories in Libya.

Julian Assange promises to release more of these documents on a daily basis, at least so long as he can stay out of jail. He’s wanted for questioning in the US, for rape in Sweden, and Australia is considering revoking his passport. The blame for the release of these documents really ought to fall on his sources, not on Assange or any of the journalists he has released them to. He’s a creepy, narcissistic freak, but if the government didn’t want these documents leaked they should have done a better job securing them, and that should be their priority for the future, not prosecuting Assange.

Assange and WikiLeaks thrive on controversy and stirring up trouble.  Given the unshocking nature of these latest revelations the smart strategy for the US government would probably be to just ignore him and laugh off the small embarrassments he’s bringing to light.  But as the docements demonstrate, taking the high road and avoiding pettiness are clearly not the strong suit of our bureaucratic elite.  Plus they can use any distraction they can get from the exploding TSA scandal.

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Will the TSA Crash the Security State?

November 16th, 2010 ·

Watching the massive expansion of the state security apparatus in the United States since 9/11, I have found myself wondering when the people of this once-free nation would finally shout “enough.” We have put up with massive spending on new security agencies, monitoring of our phones and email, unconstitutional confiscation of property, suspension of habeas corpus, blood and urine checks, restrictions on free speech, illegal imprisonment, massive invasions of our privacy and the virtual shredding of the Constitution. 

It’s hard to believe.  The descendants of the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence seem to have decided that there is no abuse of government power which they are not willing to accept in the name of safety from a marginal threat which has killed substantially fewer people in the last decade than appendicitis.  Are we declaring war on appendicitis?  Are we asking people to submit to mandatory periodic ultrasounds to check the status of their internal organs?  Would you expect anyone to give up their basic rights to curb a menace which kills about 1 person in a million per year?

It’s hard to put a firm price on liberty, but there is no question that the price we are paying in our loss of rights is ridiculously out of proportion to any benefit we could possibly gain from the expansion of the security state.  It is not hyperbole when I say that day by day I see more and more similarity between contemporary America and what I experienced living in the Soviet Union in the 1970s.  Even a national ID card and random police identity checks have come under serious consideration or been proposed as legislation within the lst few years.

For anyone who is so behind the times that they still believe in individual liberty and has the awareness to see the current state of our nation, the question has been when do the  sheep look up and see the reality around them and demand change?  When do the people who are in the streets now protesting insane economic policies realize that the policies of our government on issues of individual liberty have been equally outrageous?

It has taken a long time, but we may have finally reached the tipping point on the erosion of our individual rights.  Clearly people will put up with an awful lot, especially when it’s mostly happening to others, but apparently they aren’t so fond of having their children viewed naked or their own genitalia fondled by government agents while on their ways to Christmas at Grandma’s house.

It seems to just be starting to get the attention of the government-allied media, but popular reaction to new policies set by the Transportation Security Agency for screening passengers at airports is so negative that it may be the spark it takes to ignite an overdue rebellion against all of the excesses of the security state since 9/11.

The new TSA procedures include offering randomly selected passengers a choice between a full body, backscatter x-ray scan and an intrusive, hands-on body search.  The image produced by the new scanners involves a higher level of radiation exposure and produces an image which effectively reveals the  naked contours of the subject’s body.  The new pat-down procedures include manipulation of the subject’s genitals.  Refusal to submit to either the scan or the search will at least result in missing your flight, lengthy questioning and removal from the airport.  It may also result in being put on a “do not fly” list and a possible civil suit and penalty of up to $10,000.  Or at least this is what TSA employees told one recent traveller who recorded the events surrounding his refusal to let TSA employees fondle his “junk.”

More and more individuals are refusing to cooperate with the new TSA procedures and it’s not just regular passengers who are outraged.  Both the pilots union and flight attendants union have advised their members not to submit to scans and to insist that pat-downs be done in private, but they also raise the further objection that all of these crewmembers have already gone through security background checks, so why do they need to be subjected to this level of scrutiny?

For that matter, why does anyone have to undergo this indignity within the United States? There has not been a notable increase in terrorist attacks since 9/11. Statistically we had substantially more acts of terrorism in the 1960s and 1970s than we have in the last decade. Almost no identifiable acts of terror have been stopped by heightened scrutiny of passengers, and no potential terrorists slipped through past, more reasonable levels of screening on domestic flights. There’s no legitimate need for these additional security measures which will humiliate and inconvenience millions while doing nothing significant to improve passenger safety.

So why is the TSA increasing security? Why is the Department of Homeland Security asking for more and more authority to violate our rights? Why do clearly unnecessary and unconstitutional acts like the PATRIOT Act and FISA continue to have the support of our government and leaders? Why are they looking for new ways to classify harmless people as potential terrorists? Perhaps it is not for our security, but for theirs. Perhaps they don’t fear terrorists as much as they fear the citizens to whom they are ultimately responsible. Perhaps they fear the day when we demand our autonomy back and demand a reckoning for their abuse of power.

It could be that we’ll reach that tipping point very soon. The heightened TSA screening protocols have gone into effect just in time for the holidays at a time when more people have become politically aware than at almost any time in our history. The people are fed up, and when families go to the airport and encounter government agents who have arrogantly assumed the right to look at their children naked or fondle their childrens’ bodies in the name of an utterly mythical need for greater security, they may find that the sheeplike masses are not as passive as they had assumed.

Protests are already planned around the nation, including rallies and boycotts of air travel. And the protests are coming from both the political right and left. This is a transpartisan source of outrage. Like the need to reign in excess government spending, protecting the basic rights of the citizens is something which most sensible people can agree on.

The only people who seem to support these policies are those whose livelihood depends on government power and government growth. This highlights the increasingly significant divide in our country, which is not between rich or poor or black and white or young and old, but between the people and their interests and the interests of an arrogant elite of bureaucrats and career politicians and their allies in the private sector. They have lost touch with the people and have decided they are best served by gathering power at our expense, believing themselves immune to any accountability.

Those who would be our servants in a just society have become our masters and they have piled up outrage after outrage against our rights as individuals and citizens. These scans and searches may finally be the point where they have reached beyond what a weary people will tolerate. If this is that point and if we cannot take any more, then we must not stop when Janet Napolitano and the TSA back down. These new policies are symptomatic of the creeping growth of the entire government security industry and it really went beyond acceptable limits long ago. We must bring it all crashing down.

We must to restore sanity to our government and make it a responsible servant of the people once again. We must tear down the TSA and we can’t stop there. Liberty demands an end to the DEA and their mindless war on drugs. It demands an end to domestic surveillance and a restoration of the Bill of Rights through the repeal of the PATRIOT Act. We need government out of our wallets, our phone lines, our ISPs, our banks, our bedrooms and apparently we now need them out of our private parts as well.

The values which define America are incompatible with the dictates of a security state. Give us back our liberties. We’re willing to accept the tiny risk of death that comes with them. It’s worth it.

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Can John Dennis Win?

October 30th, 2010 ·

In most election years the conventional wisdom would be that a Democrat incumbent in ultra-left San Francisco with the high profile of Nancy Pelosi would be virtually unassailable. In the past, Republican challengers for her House seat have been lucky to top 20% in the polls and haven’t been able to raise enough money to cover trolley fare.

This year things are different. Her challenger is John Dennis who is a Liberty Republican and former Vice Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of California. While Pelosi supports the nanny state and foreign wars, Dennis is anti-war, in favor of gay marriage and has endorsed Proposition 19 and the legalization of marijuana. In any other part of the country a Republican like Dennis (and there are more of them than you realize) would be avoiding those issues and focusing on jobs and the economy, but Dennis is in the unique position where he can effectively run to the left of Pelosi on social issues and to her right on fiscal issues.

The situation in San Francisco makes me envious of John Dennis. I wish I could be there campaigning for him and voting for him. I’ve done what I can by appearing on several of his radiothon fundraisers, but I wish that Liberty Republicans everywhere could have the luxury he has to be open about his beliefs and have it be an advantage rather than a gamble.

Dennis has done remarkably well in his campaign. He has drawn in money from all over the country, including support from many mainstream Republican organizations which just want to see Pelosi’s feet held to the fire. He has raised over $2 million while Pelosi has raised barely a third as much and is hardly even campaigning, taking victory for granted.

But is her reelection a sure thing? Voters in San Francisco may have lost confidence in Pelosi. It’s already a certainty that she will no longer be Speaker of the House, and rumors are circulating that she plans to retire after her next term. Her approval ratings are at record lows and she’s avoiding San Francisco and spending her time campaigning for other losing Democrats and ignoring her own constituents. Why should they remain loyal to her when they have a better candidate on the ballot?

Dennis is running a creative media campaign which has drawn substantial national attention, especially for a TV ad which shows Pelosi as the Wicked Witch of the West with flying monkeys who are IRS agents. It’s the kind of clever guerilla ad you can afford to do when you’re twenty points down in the polls.

While there is certainly hope that Dennis can pull off what would be the greatest upset in recent political history, it’s more than we can count on even in a year which has already seen its share of remarkable political events. Yet whatever else happens there’s no question that Dennis has run a superlative campaign, raised awareness of key issues, brought diverse elements of the fractured Republican Party together and set an example for other Republicans to follow. He has taken the fight to the enemy against overwhelming odds and never shown weakness.

In a very important sense, Dennis has already won, even if the votes go against him. By running such a devastating campaign against Nancy Pelosi and by doing it on core Republican Principles of small government and individual liberty, the national attention which Dennis has attracted has made his campaign the model for others all over the nation this year and in 2012. Dennis may lose this battle with Pelosi, but he has shown the way for winning the war for liberty, and this may also be the beginning of a very bright political future for him.

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Demonizing Bloggers is Not a Great Campaign Strategy

October 27th, 2010 ·

If you’re an incumbent in a tight race in a year that the internet and the grassroots are playing a bigger role than ever, there are lots of strategies you can use to attack your opponent, but you may be in trouble if the worst you can find to say about him is that he’s a blogger.

That’s the strategy which incumbent State Representative Mark Strama has decided to rely on in his latest attack ad, and it doesn’t work terribly well. Making a big issue of his opponent’s use of the pseudonym “Freedom’s Truth” in his online writings, and quoting a few relatively harmless snippets out of context is likely to win challenger Pat McGuinness more votes than it costs him. As smear campaigns go it’s extraordinarily poorly thought out.

It also seems like a really bad idea to invite the kind of response you’re likely to get when you decide that “Bloggers Are Evil” is a great campaign slogan. With all the attacks on the Tea Party and the general hostility of the left to free speech in any form, making the demonization of free speech the lynchpin of your platform in a high-tech town like Austin is positively suicidal.

Worst of all, is that mentioning McGuinness’ nom de blogue is like a free invitation for people to google him and his writings and go read everything he has to say. If McGuinness were some sort of radical far-right nut, that might be a threat to him, but the truth is that his online writings are generally moderate, well-reasoned and perceptive.

Misrepresenting your opponents opinions in an attack ad is standard strategy. Making it easy for viewers to go find them, discover how much you distorted them and then have access to a whole bunch of interesting ideas from your opponent is just dumb, dumb, dumb. Stama essentially spent thousands of dollars to run a free ad for McGuinness’ blog, where sources report that traffic is “skyrocketing.”

And, of course, the blogger also gets an opportunity to write a new blog entry directly in response to your ad. Maybe this is Strama’s new version of the Fairness Doctrine, but as strategies go it seems incredibly boneheaded.

McGuinness was down by a few points before Strama began this ad campaign. I won’t be at all surprised if these ads give McGuinness the edge he needs to win.

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The “Pledge to America” – A Declaration of Irrelevancy

September 26th, 2010 ·

This week Republicans in the House of Representatives issued an agenda for the future called the “Pledge to America.” The idea of making a promise to the American people as was done with the “Contract for America” in the 1990s is an appealing step in the right direction, but the pledge is a timid and unambitious plan, and based on their track record, why should we have any confidence in their willingness to follow through on their promises even if they could with Democrat opposition?

These are the same legislators who have again and again funded bailouts and stimulus packages and who have signed off on any level of war and military spending for a decade without showing any sign of an interest in fiscal responsibility. Now they feel threatened by anti-establishment candidates and the rise of the party’s grassroots, but the agenda they are pledging to pursue falls far short of what most Republicans and concerned independents are demanding from our government.

Further, although they have kept their demands relatively modest in some key areas like budget reduction, they demand expansions of Congressional power which are ambitious and unrealistic and not likely to be utterly beyond their power to implement over a presidential veto, a strategy which just sets them up for guaranteed failure.

Some of the ideas are indeed very good, if mostly symbolic. For example, requiring all bills to include a citation of Constitutional authority is appealing, even if it is largely meaningless. Similarly the demand to require a three day public access period for pending bills where citizens and legislators can read what they are going to vote on answers a public demand for legislative accountability. It’s probably not enough time to read some of the massive bills which get written and it doesn’t make legislators actually take the effort to read the bills, but it makes the job of the staff members who do read the bills somewhat easier and will slow down the breakneck pace at which some bills get rushed through to avoid scrutiny.

Much more important, if they actually followed through on the letter of their pledge, is the demand that they will stop bundling unpopular bills with major legislation to bully legislators into passing them. This highly politicized practice has been a mainstay of the Democrats and is particularly offensive. It makes no sense to controversial special interest legislation on things like the military or transportation appropriations bills. The pledge here does not go far enough. They should promise to ban any addition of amendments which do not apply directly to the content of bills and require them to be voted on as stand-alone bills, not amendments.

Their proposals on the budget sound comprehensive, but while they touch on many areas they lack substance. They propose a budget cap, but it sets no specific level for the cap. They promise a federal hiring freeze, but exempt security related jobs, one of the fastest growing, most potentially abusive and most unnecessary areas of government. I’d rather see them cut the Department of Homeland Security entirely and privatize the Transportation Safety Administration, as well as reduce the sizes of other federal security agencies. They promise to roll back spending to “pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels” which means that the already bloated spending level of the Bush era will be preserved. That’s just not adequate. The proposed savings of $100 billion a year from these trivial reductions is less than 10% of the current budget. It’s a bandaid applied to a severed limb. They should be promising progressive cuts with a target of reducing yearly budgets to the area of $500 billion within 5 years.

They plan to demand congressional approval of any new federal regulations which add to the deficit or make it harder to create jobs – so vague it could apply to anything. Congressional oversight of the federal bureaucracy is a good idea, but it’s just pushing small numbers around when they should be cutting entire programs and agencies.

One appealing proposal in the area of cuts is the establishment of a federal “sunset” system like those in many states where agencies and programs would be periodically reviewed and potentially shut down if the prove unnecessary or ineffective. A great idea, but likely to turn into nothing but a meaningless rubber stamp and yet another bureaucracy as it has in many states.

There’s a host of other proposals which are all good intentions with no practical reality. How these elected and serving Republicans can propose ideas which they know that even with a majority they will be unable to get past a filibuster is inexplicable. There’s also a lot of rhetoric we’ve seen before: opposition to card check, promising to stop cap and trade, ending federal funding of abortion. There’s also an interesting idea to cut taxes by 20% for small businesses. It’s appealing but again, inadequate. They should eliminate all corporate taxes at all levels if they really want to stimulate the economy and eliminate double taxation.

I like their proposal to end future bailouts and cancel TARP, but almost all of the TARP money has been spent and they don’t seem to have a plan to actually reverse the enormous bailout spending. Plus, reversing any of that spending over the objections of the unions and the businesses which benefit from it seems unrealistic unless they win a super majority in both houses. Similarly, their proposed reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be blocked by Democrats in the pockets of real estate and banking interest.

They also go after Obamacare, but don’t seem to have a real plan for eliminating it, so they focus on reforming it and picking it to death with a repeal of the mandates on small businesses and various vague reform ideas and repeated buzz phrases like “empower small businesses.” Nothing new, nothing radical and nothing which will really make a difference is proposed.

Most of these proposals seem well-intentioned but they are vague and don’t include specific targets or hard numbers and when you try to put numbers to them they don’t really add up. And the thing which throws all the math off is their lengthy discussion of what they absolutely won’t cut: medicare, social security, medicare, the military, foreign aid, homeland security, the overseas wars and deployments and subsidies to local law enforcement. They firmly assert their commitment to expansionism, a security state and violation of the rights of citizens in the name of law and order.

Putting aside the civil rights and foreign policy concerns, the main problem with their proposed “hands off” areas of government is that they add up to about three quarters of the federal budget, and without cutting them it is impossible to even implement the modest spending cuts they propose, much less the far more radical cuts we really need. The math just doesn’t work. You can’t cut the budget substantially while making the majority of it off limits to cuts. To claim you can is just ridiculous.

This pledge is getting a lot of coverage in the media, perhaps because it is so lukewarm and futile. It doesn’t present a strong message for the Republican Party. Many Republicans are disavowing it, from future Senator Rand Paul to current rising star Senator Jim DeMint. It’s not what the grassroots of the party are demanding and in many ways it’s a declaration of irrelevancy from the party establishment. If this is the best they can come up with, it may be time to push them out of the way and find leaders who can actually lead. The people demand and deserve better.

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