Thursday, September 25, 2008

Countries John McCain Doesn't Like

In alphabetical order:
Bolivia - McCain won't talk to Bolivia's president, calls him "very similar" to Hugo Chavez and Raul Castro, leaders McCain has repeatedly vilified.
Cuba - Unlike in 2000, the John McCain of 2008 wants to strengthen the embargo on Cuba. Barack Obama wants to ease it.
Iran - "Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran"
Lebanon - McCain says he will "drive Hezbollah out of Lebanon." Hezbollah is part of the democratically-elected government of Lebanon.
Myanmar - McCain wants more sanctions.
North Korea - McCain thinks George W. Bush is too soft on North Korea.
Palestine - McCain co-sponsored a bill to take a harder line on the Palestinians.
Russia - Russia deserves "harsh treatment," McCain says.
Spain - McCain would not meet with the president of Spain, a member of the NATO alliance, because he opposed the Iraq war.
Sudan - McCain wants to invade.
Syria - McCain blames Syria for the violence in Iraq, wants to depose its leader and urges Israel not to make peace with Syria.
Uzbekistan - McCain wants sanctions.
Venezuela - McCain wants to isolate Venezuela, and calls Venezuelans "wackos."
Zimbabwe - McCain wants sanctions.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Welfare State of Alaska

A letter in this week's issue of the Economist dovetails nicely with my thinking about Sarah Palin's experience as mayor of Wasilla. The letter:

SIR – Alaska is very different from the rest of the United States, and this difference affects the fitness of Mrs Palin to be vice-president. Fundamentally, Alaska is a pre-modern welfare state, where the economy is almost purely extractive (with the exception of defense and tourism). If you don’t kill it, dig it or cut it down you don’t get it. From that perspective “bridges to nowhere” are simply further extractions, or tokens for transfer payments from the rest of us, as are the annual payments to residents from North Slope oil revenues.

Not surprisingly Alaska is largely an innovation-free zone. It is also the only world that Mrs Palin has known. Along with her chronological and career inexperience this background renders her unprepared to lead the country.

Michael Golay
Professor of nuclear science and engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, Massachusetts

[When Golay says that Alaska is "the only world that Mrs. Palin has known" he is, of course, leaving out the six-or-so years that Palin spent getting her BA at four different colleges in Hawaii and Idaho]

Monday, September 22, 2008

Palin Spokesman has an Unguarded Moment

Ben Porritt, a spokesman for Sarah Palin, told a group of college students at his alma mater over the weekend that he didn't think that it was a big deal that Barack Obama used the phrase "lipstick on a pig" when comparing the policies of John McCain and George W. Bush. He "felt Obama was just using an expression," according to a story in the Peoria Journal Star. But then he told the rest of the Palin media team about Obama's comment, and they "flipped out," he said, flogging it for days. Somehow I doubt this guy has a bright future in media relations.

Obama Promises to Cut Federal Spending

"I am not a Democrat who believes that we can or should defend every government program just because it's there," Barack Obama said today at a rally in Green Bay, according to the Associated Press.

These words aren't, by themselves, a big deal. Democrats have been extolling the virtues of small government and the free market for years, just as Republicans like to talk about how much they respect personal freedom. But nice words don't mean much when they're contradicted - as soon as the election is over - by big spending Democrats and Big Brother Republicans.

But Obama didn't just offer words today. He spelled out specific federal expenditures that he plans to cut, including cutting $40 billion in spending on contractors. I don't remember John Kerry or Al Gore ever doing that.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Former National Review Publisher Wick Allison Endorses Obama

Wick Allison, current editor-in-chief of D (Dallas) Magazine (via Daily Kos):

In 1964, at the age of 16, I organized the Dallas County Youth for Goldwater. My senior thesis at the University of Texas was on the conservative intellectual revival in America. Twenty years later, I was invited by William F. Buckley Jr. to join the board of National Review. I later became its publisher [...]

[T]oday it is so-called conservatives who are cemented to political programs when they clearly don’t work. The Bush tax cuts—a solution for which there was no real problem and which he refused to end even when the nation went to war—led to huge deficit spending and a $3 trillion growth in the federal debt. Facing this, John McCain pumps his “conservative” credentials by proposing even bigger tax cuts. Meanwhile, a movement that once fought for limited government has presided over the greatest growth of government in our history. That is not conservatism; it is profligacy using conservatism as a mask.

Today it is conservatives, not liberals, who talk with alarming bellicosity about making the world “safe for democracy.” It is John McCain who says America’s job is to “defeat evil,” a theological expansion of the nation’s mission that would make George Washington cough out his wooden teeth ...

I now see that Obama is almost the ideal candidate for this moment in American history. I disagree with him on many issues. But those don’t matter as much as what Obama offers, which is a deeply conservative view of the world. Nobody can read Obama’s books (which, it is worth noting, he wrote himself) or listen to him speak without realizing that this is a thoughtful, pragmatic, and prudent man. It gives me comfort just to think that after eight years of George W. Bush we will have a president who has actually read the Federalist Papers.

Most important, Obama will be a realist. I doubt he will taunt Russia, as McCain has, at the very moment when our national interest requires it as an ally. The crucial distinction in my mind is that, unlike John McCain, I am convinced he will not impulsively take us into another war unless American national interests are directly threatened.

“Every great cause,” Eric Hoffer wrote, “begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” As a cause, conservatism may be dead. But as a stance, as a way of making judgments in a complex and difficult world, I believe it is very much alive in the instincts and predispositions of a liberal named Barack Obama.

[Read Allison's whole endorsement to find out why he thinks Obama has conservative "instincts and predispositions."]

Happy Constitution Day

That's right, 221 years ago today the Founding Fathers ratified the U.S. Constitution. So I think today's a pretty good day to share my three favorite passages from the Constitution (not counting the Bill of Rights. That wasn't ratified until Dec. 15 - Bill of Rights Day).

"The Congress shall have Power To ... declare War"

The Constitution doesn't have anything to say about vague Congressional use-of-force resolutions that leave all of the war decisions in the hands of the president.

"... no Appropriation of Money to that Use (to raise and support Armies) shall be for a longer Term than two Years"

The implication here is that the Framers didn't intend for the federal government to maintain a permanent standing army. By contrast, there is a specific provision for the creation of a standing navy. Navies and state militias are useful for repelling invasions. Armies are better suited for invading other counties or putting down domestic opposition.

"The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it."

Last I checked, the United States hasn't been invaded or had a rebellion lately (9-11 was an attack, not an invasion). So why no habeas corpus rights for Guantanamo prisoners?

"The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States"

The president isn't the "commander in chief." The president is the "commander in chief of the army and navy." Big difference. Can we please stop using the title "commander in chief" without the "army and navy" qualifier? The president commands the military, not every aspect of the country. The presidency isn't a democratically elected dictatorship, it's a job with specific responsibilities. And no, those responsibilities aren't whatever the president says they are.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Who is a Libertarian?

Here are some recent quotes from the comments section:

"IF they are Obamatards, and think they are libertarians, they have no clue what a libertarian really is."

"I'm sorry, but anyone who supports Barack Obama cannot be a true libertarian."

"Any Libertarian voting for Obama is not very Libertarian or hasn't looked closely enough at him."

These commenters raise an interesting question: What does it mean to be a "real" or "true" libertarian? What's a good comprehensive definition of "libertarian?" Can one meet this definition and also support Barack Obama? Are there any specific policy positions that, by themselves, disqualify one from being a libertarian?

Merriam-Webster defines "libertarian" as:
1. An advocate of the doctrine of free will.
2a A person who upholds the principles of individual liberty especially of thought and action
2b A member of a political party advocating libertarian principles.

Definitions 1 and 2a are pretty vague and all inclusive. 2b doesn't really apply to what I'm talking about.

My personal definition would be: A person who opposes war and tyranny and wants less government, an economy based on the principals of the free market, personal freedom and civil liberties. I think that Obama meets this definition (though I don't call him a libertarian). I know that many of my readers disagree.

I've also seen various people call themselves libertarians while supporting either aggressive war, detention without trial, a crackdown on immigrants, the war on drugs or high tariffs.

So who gets to claim the label? Or is it un-libertarian to try to be so exclusive?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Top McCain Advisor Says His Candidate Will Raise Taxes

Time has the story. If this is true - and I don't doubt it, since no Republican president in recent memory has actually cut spending - what do the libertarians supporting McCain have left? Since Obama clinched the nomination, it's been an endless chorus of "Obama will raise taxes! Obama will raise taxes!! Obama will raise taxes!!!" He probably will (by a modest amount), but if McCain will do the same, just like George H.W. Bush did, what do small government types still see in McCain? Do they actually believe the small government rhetoric? "This time, the Republican will be different. This time, the Republican's small government promises are for real. This time ..."

Update: Alan Greenspan's not a fan of McCain's tax plan. And, as Don the Libertarian Democrat points out, the Tax Policy Center refutes the myth that Obama will raise taxes across the board, and McCain will balance the budget.

Freedom Democrats: What a McCain Victory Means

"Given that the 'Bush Dog' capitulations are consistently on issues of foreign policy and civil liberties, a Republican Presidency with a working conservative majority in the Congress is an abysmal prospect for libertarians, regardless of ultimate partisan affiliation. Despite Barack Obama's own dismal stance on FISA, I view an Obama Administration as less likely to push for a continued imperial foreign policy and statist War on the Bill of Rights. He may well capitulate to Congress on these issues, but I think he's unlikely to actively push such legislation."

Read the rest of this excellent post - and its follow up - at Freedom Democrats.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Libertarian Party of Alaska on Sarah Palin

Eric Dondero - a blogger and self-described "strong on defense libertarian" - raised an interesting point in the comments section of my "Welfare State of Wasilla" post from earlier this week. How can I claim that Sarah Palin isn't a libertarian, he asked, when the Libertarian Party of Alaska endorsed her in 2006? My simple answer is that I certainly don't take political positions because the Libertarian Party tells me to. But his question did get me wondering: How can the party of small government endorse a woman who's spent most of her career fighting for more federal pork?

I couldn't find an answer online, so I called some of the phone numbers listed on the contacts section of the Alaska LP web site. I reached party Secretary Rob Clift on the phone and asked him if I could ask a few questions for the blog. He was happy to talk.

First of all, Clift wanted to make clear that the Alaska LP did not endorse Palin. They said that they liked her, as did LP gubernatorial candidate Billy Toien, but there was never an official endorsement. Clift also said that the state party won't endorse the McCain/Palin ticket, though he might vote for them.

But why? For one thing, Palin's always been friendly to the party, Clift said, speaking at a few of their meetings and asking for their support. He also said that he sees her as a straight shooter, who doesn't try to hide her disagreement with libertarians on drugs, abortion and other social issues.

But what about the elephant in the room: her love of federal pork? On this point Clift was a bit apologetic, but not really phased.

"There's definitely a lot of federal money coming in here," he said. But the federal government is taking advantage of the state in numerous ways, such as controlling many acres of its land and restricting its shipping. "So you can see why we might like to get some of those earmarks. Get our money back."

Palin is, by Alaska's standards, not a big pork barrel spender, he said. Plenty of Alaska Libertarians support her, he added, and aren't bothered by the pork.

But what would she do about big spending as a federal politician? Clift said he didn't know.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Rappers for Obama, Redux

This has nothing to do with libertarians, but it's still fun: Puerto Rican reggaeton stars Daddy Yankee and Fat Joe are feuding because Daddy has come out for John McCain, while Fat Joe calls him "ignorant" and a "sell out." Fat Joe - who supports Barack Obama - has even offered to debate Daddy Yankee on the issues. No response from Daddy yet, but I'll bring you an update as soon as I have one.

Here's my original "Rappers for Obama" post.

And here's a great reggaeton Obama video:

Libertarians for Obama in the News

Alex Tabarrok makes the case at Marginal Revolution.

"With war has come FEAR, magnified many times over by the governing party. Fear is pulling Americans into the arms of the state. If only we were better at resisting. Alas, we Americans say that we love liberty but we are fair-weather lovers. Liberty will flourish only with peace."

Co-blogger Tyler Cowen agrees.

"In my view the current priority is avoiding a war with Iran," he writes in the comments of Tabarrok's post.

Even the New York Times acknowledges the libertarian movement toward Obama with a post on its Opinionator blog.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Welfare State of Wasilla has a graphical representation of "maverick," "reformer" Sarah Palin's home town of Wasilla, which receives 30 times as much federal pork per person as Boise. The rest of Nate Silver's post suggesting a new ad strategy for Obama is also worth reading.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

What's Wrong with Being a Community Organizer?

Sarah Palin's been getting plenty of mileage this week out of her joke that being a mayor is "sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities." Michelle Malkin says that community organizers deserve ridicule because Obama was a "rabble rouser" who used "bully tactics," like bringing dozens of angry residents to a city planning meeting to oppose a landfill.

Call me a pinko, but I personally prefer a candidate who spent the youthful idealism phase of his life trying to solve public policy problems by joining a non-profit and organizing voluntary actions, rather than getting into traditional politics. Or being a TV sports reporter in Anchorage.

If you're curious to know what community organizers actually do, Joe Klein explains.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Palin's Pork

Some libertarian blogs are going gaga over Sarah Palin this week. The reason for their excitement: Palin's supposed hatred for pork. I don't know where this rumor got started, but it's got to stop.

As mayor of Wasilla, Palin paid the lobbying firm Robertson, Monagle & Eastaugh nearly $100,000 to get federal earmarks for the town. The firm succeeded, to the tune of $27 million - or about $5,000 for every resident of the town at the time (check out Palin's handwritten comments in the picture to the left). The earmarks included $500,000 for a youth shelter, $1.9 million for a transportation hub, $900,000 for sewer repairs, and $15 million for a rail project linking Wasilla and the ski resort community of Girdwood. As the Anchorage Press notes, "This is a town where about 500 people turn out to vote, where the city pays for the mayor’s car and a tiny government runs a $15 million hockey barn/sports arena." She also supported the $200 million "bridge to nowhere," though she now claims she opposed it (check out this picture).

So the next time you hear Sarah Palin bragging that she both cut taxes and improved services in Wasilla, ask yourself who might have paid for that. Then ask yourself if you believe her when she says that "I have championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress."

Update: "I am not denying that Sarah Palin may have great skills. She may well. I am insisting that neither you, nor I, nor John McCain has any valid reason to believe that she does. This is not an argument about the attributes she lacks. It's an argument about the information we lack. I am pleading with my fellow conservatives: Please demand more and better knowledge before you commit yourselves to a political leader. That's all." - former Bush speech writer David Frum (via PoliticalWire)

Update II: Not only did Palin support the Bridge to Nowhere before she opposed it, but even after she started opposing it, she didn't oppose it quite enough to send the money back to Washington. Alaska kept the $200 million and spent it on other pork barrel projects.

Update III: "John McCain and Sarah Palin criticized Democrat Barack Obama over the amount of money he has requested for his home state of Illinois, even though Alaska under Palin's leadership has asked Washington for 10 times more money per citizen for pet projects." - The Associated Press, via TalkingPointsMemo.

Ron Paul and Chuck Baldwin

Next week Congressman Ron Paul will hold a joint news conference with presidential candidates Bob Barr and Chuck Baldwin at the National Press Club. Now, readers of this blog know my feelings about Barr, but I can certainly understand why Paul might want to help him out. But Baldwin? This guy's a theocrat through and through. His party, the Constitution Party, is an explicitly Christian party that wants the United States to be governed by biblical law. Ron Paul the libertarian wants to support this?

According to its party platform, the Constitution Party:
- Would ban gambling.
- Would ban pornography ("government plays a vital role in establishing and maintaining the highest level of decency in our community standards")
- Proposes a complete moratorium on all immigration, describing immigrants (legal and illegal) as "people with low standards of living."
- Wants to deploy the military within the United States to stop immigration.
- Plans to persecute gays ("We reject the notion that sexual offenders are deserving of legal favor or special protection, and affirm the rights of states and localities to proscribe offensive sexual behavior.")
- Will continue the war on drugs that Paul has fought so hard against.
- Wants to repeal the Voting Rights Act (which allowed the federal government to force states to uphold their constitutional responsibility to allow all of their citizens to vote)
- Supports high taxes on imports to keep out goods made overseas.
- Opposes "efforts to confer statehood upon the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico or expand statehood beyond the current fifty states." Now that's just weird. Puerto Rican statehood hasn't been much of an issue in this election, but why wouldn't the Constitution Party want Puerto Ricans to pay federal taxes (so long as the rest of us do)? Even if the motivation is hatred of brown people, Puerto Ricans are already U.S. citizens and can travel or move to any state without a visa.

Update: The Constitution Party of Montana will not put Baldwin's name on the ballot there, instead choosing ... Ron Paul. So what happens if Paul endorses Baldwin? Very odd indeed.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Things I Never Thought I'd Hear Republicans Cheer at their Convention

10:28 - John McCain saying he "fought tobacco companies ... and drug companies"
10:31 - A sob story - with no apparent point or relevance - about a family with a special-needs child.
10:38 - Increased government spending for the unemployed.
10:42 - More government spending on energy projects, including environmentally-friendly energy.
10:44 - "Restoring the health of our planet."
11:01 - John McCain