The Freeman's Burden:

To defend the principles of human liberty; to educate; to be vigilant against the ever expanding power of the state.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Enviro-Republicans - Let the market work

Conservation Won't Stop Skyrocketing Gas Prices
"Groups of conservative Republicans see an opportunity to step up a campaign to promote alternative-fuel vehicles and wean the nation from dependence on foreign oil. While skeptical about links between autos and global warming, the conservatives have concluded that cutting gasoline consumption is a matter of national security," reports The Washington Post. In "What's the Answer for High Gasoline Prices? Nothing," Jerry Taylor, director of natural resource studies at the Cato Institute and Peter Van Doren, editor of Cato's Regulation magazine, argue: "[T]he experiences of the 1970s and early 1980s demonstrate that motorists will turn to conservation with a vengeance if fuel prices stay high over a long period of time. Government intervention to encourage or force those investments in the short term might well cost society more money than it would save through reduced gasoline consumption.
I know I have been a little lazy about original analysis on this blog lately, if you saw my class schedule you would understand why. None the less, I will still try to post interesting articles and even a little analysis on an almost daily basis as time permits. So please keep checking back - F2S
Nick Gillespie has written a fun little article for Reason on the most forgettable senators. Being from the state that gave America Patti Murray and..., ummm, yeah. Anyway, it's hard for me to imagine any less distinguished legislators than Washington State's, but he managed to find several. Read the article here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

...and justice for all?

A Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, is suing the U.S. gov't for illegally detaining him and forcibly removing him to Syria where he was tortured for 10 months. The response of the gov't, our gov't, is that they don't turn over people for torture and, they claim, Arar is a member of Al Queda. They have offered no proof, claiming that to do so would compromise national security, but have asked that the suit be thrown out without any review of the facts. Arar's arrest and removal to Syria has been well documented. According to the U.S. State Department:
"There's...our obligations under the Convention Against Torture, which is, I think the basic obligation there is you can't turn someone over, even if he's a terrorist, even if he's a murderer, even if he's done every kind of bad thing in the world, if the likelihood, if it's more probable than not that he will be tortured, then you can't turn him over." - Michael Kozak, Acting Assistant Secretary for Democracy Human Rights and Labor
Also from the State Department:
"Syria's human rights record remained poor. In an ongoing dialogue with Syria's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on civil society and human rights issues, U.S. officials emphasized the importance of respecting human rights..." - Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2004 - 2005 Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State
You do the math.

Monday, March 28, 2005

"Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely" - Lord Acton

Republicans Behaving Like Democrats
"Ten years after their historic capture of the House of Representatives, Republican congressional leaders increasingly maintain control with the same hardball tactics they once denounced when Democrats ruled the chamber," according to the Denver Post. "In their 1994 'Contract with America,' Republicans promised to 'transform the way Congress works,' to 'end its cycle of scandal and disgrace' and to shrink a federal government 'that is too big, too intrusive and too easy with the public's money.'"
In "The Spirit of 1994," John Samples and Chris Edwards, editors of The Republican Revolution 10 Years Later, write that after 10 years in power, the exact things that Republicans said were wrong with prior Congresses have become worse under their control: "The GOP is responsible for record high deficits and their policies have intruded even more into state, local, and private activities. Now many Republicans are saying that even the limited spending restraints in the new Bush budget are dead on arrival."

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Tom "Sanctity of Life" Delay knows a thing or two about pulling the plug

The L.A. Times reported today that House Majority Leader Tom Delay, who moved even the cynics with his Shiavo press conference tears, actually made the decision to pull the plug on his own Living Will-less father 17 years ago. His office assured the Times that the situations were different because Delay the senior was also on a ventilator. Now, it would be really easy to take some cheap shots here, but the hypocrisy and irony really speak for themselves, so I think I'll just leave it at that. Read the complete story here. Hey, I was as shocked as you to learn Tom Delay is an opportunist and a fraud. Never saw that coming. ;-)
My favorite social critic, libertarian feminists and cultural crusader Camille Paglia has just released a new book of, of all things, poetry. Not her own, but rather examples of some of the best that Western Culture has produced, including commentaries by Paglia. The mission of "Break, Blow, Burn" is to make poetry interesting and accessible to a generation of instant images and short attention. In her words, ''The only antidote to the magic of images is the magic of words.'' I'm still waiting on Amazon to deliver my copy, but if it is as insightful and fun as "Vamps & Tramps" or "Sex, Art and American Culture," then I may have to go dust off the Wadsworth and Shelley when I'm done. Read the New York Times review here.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Malaysia may be the spark for Islamic reformation

I have long contended that the end game for the animosity between the modern West and the conservative Muslim world will not come from outside pressure, but rather from a reformation of Islam similar to that of other great religions. Such a reformation will have to be homegrown in order to be credible and the first signs of such a trend are beginning to appear. A rejection of fundamental Islam has been bubbling in places like Egypt and Lebanon, but it is in South Asia that the sentiments for a modern, pluralistic Islam is most tangible. No place is this more true then in Malaysia where modernity and Islam are struggling to find a balance between religious precepts and human liberty. Writing for the International Herald Tribune, Thomas Fuller looks at Malaysia and the struggle for reform that is taking place there. Read the article here.
The Hugo Chavez gov't continues down the path of land redistribution, stripping citizens and commercial interests of their property right in the name of some perceived social justice goal. Of course, these moves by Chavez will just lead to less food production, less economic activity and less freedom in Venezuela. This same deeply stupid and utterly self-defeating policy has led to nothing more everywhere it has been tried. From Russia to Mexico, land redistribution programs have never worked and been responsible for privation, famine and war.
Case in point -- Zimbabwe. Since Robert Mugabe initiated a land redistribution program in a case of black on white racism, Zimbabwe has seen inflation hit 623% and unemployment is estimated at 50-80%. Food Production is down across the boards and living standards are now at their lowest point since independence.
I expect no different in Venezuela. Chavez's policies with regards to property right is just one of many factors that leads analysists (including me) to conclude that Venezuela represents the greatest threat to peace and security in the hemisphere.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Rwanda's tragic hero named to Canadian Senate

Romeo Dallaire, best known as the head of the UN force for Rwanda in 1993-1994, has been named by PM Paul Martin as the new Canadian Senator for Quebec. The appointment marks the apex of Dallaire's return from personal oblivion. I am a huge fan of the general and I think someday history will remember him as a great humanitarian and a great spokesman for peace and the folly of war and genocide. Dallaire was the lone herald in the run up to the massacre. He tried desperately to make the world hear and see the horror of the Rwandan genocide. In the end, with only a handful of poorly equiped peacekeepers, the tide of murder and hate washed over him as it did the people he could not save. He returned to Canada, broken and ashamed. He climbed into a bottle and waited to die. But Romeo Dallaire was made of stronger stuff. With the help of his family and intensive counciling, he found his voice. In 2004, he released "Shake Hands with the Devil" , an account of the horror of genocide and the indifference of the outside world. His is a voice of morality and humanity, and he should be honored for his service and his sacrifice.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

No, seriously, this will be the last thing I say about the Shiavo case

The following was posted in response to my comments on you know what --
Anonymous said...
You, of all people should know, that the sanctity of human life trumps states rights. Or would you have foregone fighting the Civil War for the benefit of your black neighbors and co-workers?
I went to leave a brief reply, but it grew into a monster, so I just decided to post it:

Free2Smooze said...
Respectfully, I must disagree with your analysis and analogy. Our national government was established with clearly delineated powers codified in a constitution. There are very good reasons for this. The founders feared the tendency of government to consolidate power over time. This case represented a crack in that wall that separates state power from the federal as well as judicial from legislative. If congress is allowed to mandate that the court must act in a specific way, then that separation is breached and the potential consequences could be far more severe than the death of this unfortunate woman. Allowing this case to conclude in the state system in no way collides with the sanctity of life. Given your argument, living wills would be worthless because the sanctity of life would trump contract law just as it allegedly trumps states' rights to ajudicate its own cases free from federal involvement. The state courts are not branch offices of the federal judiciary and state supreme courts are not just another federal appeals court.
The Constitution claims that all men are created equal, in the slave states this what not the case. In the course of attempting to rectify an unconstitutional practice, the South illegally withdrew from the country and a war of cessation began. But the Constitution in no way guarantees federal review of all state cases, nor does it grant the congress the right to legislate directives to the courts. I have the utmost respect for the convictions of those that are passionate about this woman's case, but the state courts have found that the husband is the legal guardian and that it would not be her wish to be artificially sustained. Of course we can quibble about the facts of the case, we can quibble about the results of the O.J. Simpson case, but we can agree that the court reached a decision and that is that. The same respect should be paid to the courts in the Shiavo case.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The last thing I will say about Terri Shiavo

O.K., I am officially sick of this case. I take no joy that a legitimate outcome resulted. I do hope that the Democrats go forward with their new found respect for states' rights. But I'm not holding my breath. I hope Republicans learn a lesson about what happens when Republicans forget what party they represent, but given the strength of support for their last minute, illegal intervention into the Shiavo case among evangelicals, I won't hold my breath for that either. So, in the end the whole episode becomes academic. But for states' rights and separation of powers advocates, we will not soon forget the day that the United States Congress, controlled by Republicans, shed its last vestige of constitutional legitimacy. Jonah Goldberg disagrees with me on that point, but he has a pretty good analysis of the Democrat's morose. Read his article here.
On another topic, Reason has a great new article about the Supreme Court's problematic decision on giving the death penalty to minors. Ronald Bailey worries that it may set a precedent that could virtually end the death penalty in these United States. That's a bad thing? Read the article here.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Picking over Terri's corpse

I would like to predicate my remarks on the Shiavo case with this admonishment: The decision that this family faces is none of my business, nor yours. It is a uniquely personal question. Yet the Congress of the United States has decided to make this question their own. By now, everyone has heard the facts of the case. Rare praise for the media which has done a surprisingly good job of covering the issue with depth and fairness. But the underlying issue that should be paramount in this debate has not gotten a hearing deserving of the gravity of its implications, the federalization of the state courts and the subjugation of the federal courts. Both represent sudden and profound erosion of the separation of powers both in the federal/state dichotomy and within the federal system. For the first time, congress has written a case specific law for the expressed purpose of undermining the authority of the state of Florida and the United States Supreme Court that has, on two occasions, opted not to take the case up on review. The passing of this law will represent a huge defeat for the rule of law and not of man. The congress, and the President, are saying that the law is not supreme when there are pro-life voters to be assuaged. The Republican Party once represented states' rights and limited government, but it is all to obvious that this is no longer the case. The emperor is naked and has been revealed in the most cynical of ploys; to trade on a woman's life and her family's pain for the sake of winning political capital. At what cost?

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Nationalizing Charity

Boston Globe Columnist Kathy Young has written an interesting article for Reason that looks at the problems of entangling religion and tax dollars. Read the article here. For my part, I think that offering federal money to charities threatens to undermine the charities by forcing them to compromise their values in pursuit of the almighty tax dollar. The same thing happened to local control of schools; many other separations of power have been eroded as well as the federal government has used tax money to force compliance of national standards that are often to general, invasive, or inconsistent with the mission of the charity, state agency or corporation that is to be thusly regulated. It has been a disaster for education in this country and I am afraid it will have the same corrosive influence on the missions and effectiveness of charities.
My esteemed friend, The Political Moose, turned a critical eye on the new MLB steroid testing policy and didn't like what he saw. Read the posting here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

It's time for the Dems to give Bush's Social Security plan a knock-out blow

According to the latest round of polling, the President's Social Security plan is not finding much traction, and for good reason. I have recently pointed out some of the problems with the reform plan; and the Democrats have done a surprisingly good job of mustering opposition and public opinion against the plan. That does not mean, however, that the plan is dead. Today, the Republicans managed to get the ANWAR drilling bill approved mainly along party lines. The same thing can happen to the Social Security scheme if the Dems don't take the next step by making a compelling case to fiscal conservatives and libertarians that the Bush plan is bad news for them too. To that end, I have sent an e-mail to my Democrat representative, Jay Inslee, recommending that the Dems change their line of attack from "the partial privatization of Social Security" to the "partial nationalization of the investment markets." As I pointed out in the March 10th post, the Bush scheme would give government a "foot in the door." They would have a hand in picking investments to be included in the personal accounts, a prospect that is ripe for fraud, abuse and influence peddling. The government would argue, and this is truly frightening, that the maintenance and performance of these accounts constitutes a national economic interest. Whenever a government-approved investment fails to perform or looses ground, the Feds then have a compelling national interest in moving legislatively or through the regulatory process to keep floundering investments afloat or institute price caps, selling freezes or price controls to prevent their constituents from loosing money and, hence, un-electing them. The real danger of the Feds controlling, for private citizens, even a small part of their investment portfolio is that people have an expectation that it is the job of government to protect them from every pitfall that life may hold. This philosophy runs counter to, and is incompatible with, the capital markets that rely on risk and winners and losers to create wealth and generate economic activity. History is replete with examples of governments trying to interfere in this process for the sake of some perceived public good, only to exacerbate the crisis with policies that are inconsistent with the nature of capitalism. In this lies the greatest danger of Bush's private accounts. It is not the danger of people controlling their own wealth, but in government having the power to interfere in the system by which that wealth is created and destroyed. If the Democrats can get their heads around that, which is a stretch given their usual economic disfunction, and make this case to their Republican counterparts on Capital Hill, then this plan should die the slow death that it deserves.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Taiwan problem

The Chinese legislature has approved an anti-succession law that aims to deter the Taiwanese from declaring independence from the mainland. The timing of the law is somewhat odd considering the waning taste for succession on the island. As Ted Galen Carpender pointed out in a recent article for the Taiwan News, "...the Taiwanese people seem increasingly unconcerned about providing for their own defense, and instead want to rely on an implied U.S. security commitment." Carpender goes on to point out that the U.S. has made it our policy to help deter the Chinese from invading the island, but not our policy to actively defend Taiwan. The most recent offer by the U.S. to sell 20 billion worth of weapons to help keep Taiwan ahead of Chinese war-making technology curve has been stalled in their legislature. The U.S. is spread thin militarily and the Taiwanese seem less concerned then they used to about the mainland. That is why the Chinese feel emboldened to make this move now. It's popular at home, it sends a message of deterrence to Taiwanese separatists, and is unlikely to provoke the U.S. at a time when China is crucial to security in the region; and other hot spots demand American attention. As long as no other facts on the ground change, the interests of Taiwan, China and the United States all converge in maintaining the status quo. China doesn't want to risk endangering its role as an emerging economic power, Taiwan doesn't want to provoke China, and the U.S. doesn't want to take its eye off the ball in the Middle East and certainly doesn't want conflict to interfere with U.S.-Chinese economic and security interests.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The women who saved capitalism

In honor of Women's History Month, The Cato Institute looks at the role of Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Ayn Rand in saving capitalism from the socialist orthodoxy of the 1940's. Read the story here.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Why Social Security reform will fail and why that may not be a bad thing

I have predicted failure for George Bush in the past and have almost always been stunningly wrong. However, I think we can agree that Bush's government takeover of the financial markets on the premise of creating "private" accounts to solve the inevitable collapse of the Social Security system is in a lot of trouble. There are a number of reasons for this. Obviously, the fact that the private accounts will do nothing to aid in the solvency of the system is one big problem. They will cost two trillion dollars to establish at a time of massive spending deficits. This is also a problem. As a libertarian, the idea of bureaucrats having any hand in picking investment vehicles for individuals is very troubling. And what happens if the market takes a nose dive and people see their portfolio tank? Will the government be able to resist the urge to insert themselves into the markets and create price controls, or selling freezes, in order to stabilize stock or bond values? These are all huge concerns that the President has failed to address. On the other hand, if the current models hold true (they won't, but you need assumptions in order to discuss fiscal policy), the Social Security system will begin paying out more then it takes in in about 13 years. If one remembers the 'Lockbox" debate from 2000, the Social Security trust fund is nothing more then a tall stack of IOU's to the general fund. This means that in 13 years, money will have to be taken from general revenue in order to pay Social Security benefits. Therefore, the Congress and President of 2018 will be faced with either massive, open-ended tax increases or deep cuts (and I do mean real cuts, not cuts in the rate of increase) in spending. Since increasing taxes arithmetically every few years to continue paying benefits would be unfeasible and deeply unpopular, the more likely course would be spending cuts in the short run and a real effort at reform in the long run. It may be unsatisfying, but it seems that opponents of both the Social Security system and Bush's non-reforming reforms would do well to sit back and relax. Neither the system (in its current manifestation) or Bush's efforts have the legs to last.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Political labels in the modern American vernacular

Daniel McCarthy, writing for The American Conservative, looks at the truths and untruths of the labels we use in order to define political ideologies and how the party dynamics are changing in a nation where the "conservative" party controls the entire government and is governing like irresponsible statists. Read the article here.
From the Politically Incorrect File:
Camille Paglia, the anti-feminist feminist, in arguing against Susan Sontag's assertion that in order for women to be considered equal in the work place, there must be strict rules of interaction and any sexual banter constitutes sexual harassment, stated that the exact opposite was the case. Paglia believes that the only way for women to become equal is for them to duke it out in the trenches with the men, not coddled and protected by laws designed to insulate them and make them a special protected class. A recent study by the University of Washington seems to support that position. The study looked at the culture of restaurants and concluded that sexual banter is little more then a normal part of human interaction and, normally, represents little or no threat to those employed in such an environment. In fact, the study found that such exchanges can enhance the work environment. Personally, I have always contended it is only sexual harassment when ugly people do it, the rest of us call it flirting.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Baseball is striking out

I don't normally write about sports, but Bud Selig's decision today to allow all baseball records under a cloud of suspicion to stand is a huge disappointment to me. It is indicative of the strangle hold that the player's union has around the neck of the league and the commissioner. The scourge of steroids represent the biggest threat to the credibility of the sport since the strike in 1994, yet the league's response has been tepid. The drug testing policy that was finally unveiled, after the player's union ended years of opposing any testing, is so watered down and consequence free as to be almost as bad as no testing at all. Why was this the case? Because the union agreed to end its opposition in exchange for conditions that that were as favorable to the offending player's as possible. Now, the commissioner has turned around and announced that all records, no matter how dubious, will stand. I can't help but imagine that the union had a big influence in this decision as well. Both of these decisions undermine the credibility of the game at a time when many of the demographic groups that made baseball "America's game" are being priced out of the market for professional baseball. The exploding player salaries have led to huge increases in the prices for tickets and concessions that has kept many people, particularly inter-city residents and young families, out of the parks. This has led to baseball's slide out of the mainstream of American cultural life. The sort of policies that the league is pursuing regarding steroids is another way for the game to turn off more people in an age when there are multitudes of sports, entertainment vehicles and other distractions for fans to turn to. Tell Joe Jackson and Pete Rose that it is O.K., those guys were drummed out of baseball for life on the suspicion of attempting to change the outcome of games for personal gain. The steroid users have changed the outcome of many games and the riches just keep pouring in.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

European socialism under pressure

I have a statistic that you can throw out the next time one of your bleeding-heart, compassion fascists friends starts whining about how unfair it is that the United States wouldn't follow the model of the the European social-welfare state. As of today, the public debt of the French government exceeds 1.3 trillion dollars. To put that in perspective, the ratio to GDP is now 65.6%! No country can possibly assure long term fiscal health while maintaining this level of debt which is, of course, largely the effects of generous social welfare and health care benefits. On a related note, German unemployment now stands at 12.6% or about twice the US level. My question is this: Is it really compassionate to undermine wealth creation and self-sufficiency in order for politicians to implement feel good programs that garner public support, but undermine the long term fiscal health of their nations? Are the French or the Germans better off then they would be under a more limited government? It is nice to be able to go to a clinic and receive health care, but is it a substitute for a job, stable investments and hope?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Republican Senator wants big brother to regulate your HBO

Alaska Senator Ted Stevens has decided that it is the proper role of government to regulate the content of pay TV and radio services such as cable, XM and Sirius. Stevens argues that the Feds are needed to prevent "indecent" programming from finding its way into the homes of Americans, who are apparently to stupid to make mature decisions about their programming. I urge everyone who reads this to email Senator Stevens and explain the first amendment to him.

Cato names Arnold America's top governor

Schwarzenegger Tops Cato's Governors Report Card
"The 50 governors are meeting in Washington this week, which makes it an apt moment for the Cato Institute to release its biennial ranking of their fiscal performance," according to an editorial in today's Wall Street Journal. "Researchers Stephen Moore and Stephen Slivinski find that the top-ranked governors have learned the dual lesson that you can't tax your way to recovery and that the best way out of a deficit is to cut spending. By that measure, Arnold Schwarzenegger is the nation's best governor. The Governator has cut taxes, slashed spending, held a 'garage sale' to get rid of excess state assets, and established a budget task force that has identified $32 billion in savings over five years."
"A Fiscal Policy Report Card on America's Governors: 2004," shows that "states that keep tax rates low and restrain spending growth have the best economic performance and thus the best long term fiscal health."
New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who earned a B, is the highest scoring Democrat in the nation and one of the best governors overall. The report card praises Richardson for cutting taxes and strictly limiting increases in state spending.