Why I feel trapped this election

Our current president has escalated drone attacks (especially in non combat areas), is actively pursuing the ability to indefinitely detain anyone, took unilateral action in Libya, doubled down in Afghanistan, has a kill list without any oversight, has assassinated at least one American without a trial, has deported more people in 4 years than Bush did in 8, has started to crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries even when he said he wouldn’t, screwed the only profitable fully owned American car company along with various pensioners and bond holders in bailing out GM and Chrysler, has ramped up the use of warrentless wire tapping, secret FBI letters, and other nasty provisions of the Patriot Act, etc. etc. etc. In short, he has been a civil rights and foreign policy disaster. Compare the Democratic National Party platforms from 2008 and 2012. Not that anyone seems to have noticed or cared mind you… Since war and civil liberties are the most important things to me, I have been very frustrated this election cycle.

In an ideal world, an administration that does those sorts of things gets booted out of office and we start again. In the real world, once he gets the boot those powers get handed to a Republican administration. Imagine what Rove, Cheney, et al would have done if they were given those powers! What are the chances of Obama backing off of those powers? Slim to none. 


So, Obama or Romney? Oi, we are so screwed…



culture politics Yemen

Don’t blame a video for foreign policy shortcomings

Widespread anti-US protests have broken out all across the muslim world, with fatal consequences in Libya. Check out this Google Maps page to see how wide the protests are. If you believe the press reports, a video on youtube is the reason. That in turn has brought out bizarre responses from all over the political spectrum. Some are claiming this just proves that we need to increase our presence in the War on Terror. Others are lambasting the video makers and treating them as if they are the ones that killed the ambassador in Libya.

All of that is missing the underlying reality. If the US were seen as a benevolent, freedom loving, peaceful nation, a video on youtube would have little effect. That video is a rallying point for a sentiment that keeps growing across the muslim world, it isn’t the cause of the sentiment. It isn’t as though this hatred has come out of nowhere, that everything was fine until that video was made. Yes, protesting and killing people over a shoddy youtube video is stupid but that is the point. The video was simply the match that started the fire. The conditions have been ripe for a conflagration for a while.

The violence should be a wakeup call. Our war on terror has not made us a lot of friends. Nor has our current and former support of terrible rulers been forgotten. It’s rare that people from all political stripes misjudge an event like this. Our ever expanding war on what amounts to Afghan, Pakistani, Yemeni, and Somali rednecks keeps upping the anger. Between our now 11 year(!) war in Afghanistan and our ever increasing drone strikes in the hinterlands of distant countries, outrage is easy to come by.

There was a time when Americans were upset by war enough to take to the streets. The Yemenis I knew took comfort in knowing that a lot of Americans didn’t like what the government was doing. Now nobody seems to care over here. What used to be considered evil is now tolerated. Why? 

We crossed a line a long time ago between “defending the US” and killing people that don’t like us. I never once worried about being an American in Yemen, I would now. Not only has the US government gone on a killing spree, there is no longer any hint of Americans caring. I wasn’t surprised at the violence and and protesting, only that it has taken this long to happen.

financial politics

"He saved the American auto industry"

I keep hearing about how Obama saved the US auto industry and I don’t understand why this is going unchallenged. FIrst off, by “US auto industry” they must not mean Ford, and it does include a majority foreign owned company. And by “saved” they mean that GM and Chrysler were prevented from going through the regular bankruptcy process. This companies were never in danger of disappearing altogether. How many airlines have gone through bankruptcy? Answer: all of them save Southwest. There isn’t any reason to think that GM would have gone away. What happened instead was that the Obama administration jumped in and did things their way. What happened? Bondholders like pensions, mutual funds (which are common 401k investments) hedge funds, and any other retail investor got 5 cents on the dollar despite the fact that they should have been first in line for compensation. The government ended up getting around 87 cents on the dollar and the UAW got about 76 cents on the dollar.

This was a pure political play. Right now the government is sitting on 10 billion dollars of GM stock and is currently sitting on a stock loss of about 16 billion. That’s a cool $26 billion all in order to secure UAW, and by extension unions in general, votes. That’s just at GM. Any job can be saved if you through enough money at it. It would have been far cheaper to simply mail a check to the people that lost their jobs via regular bankruptcy hearings and much more equitable.

Funnily enough, I don’t like the fact that taxpayers are out 26 billion and Obama spinning it as a success. The fact that it is trumpeted as a reason to vote for him makes my head spin.


Splits inside both parties, a wish

Both the democrats and republicans are starting to feel pressure from divided constituencies  inside their own tent. The split seems to be along moral/money lines. Conservative/liberal is a pretty good label for social values, but a pretty terrible one for fiscal ones. When you call someone liberal or conservative, what does that mean? Are gay members of the military conservative or liberal? What about a pro-life democrat? Should black millionaires vote for Obama or Romney? Clearly, the liberal/conservative label is almost as useless as the republican/democrat label. Practically speaking, those are the only two parties we have though. What if that changed?

For a  while now, democrats have generally been for broader use of government power in social programs than republicans. More recently, both parties have been hijacked by moral platforms that significant parts of the party do not approve of. Conservative Christians have a lot of control over the republican party moral platform and this makes a lot of the more tolerant/liberal people inside the party uneasy (see Ron Paul and his supporters). In the same vein, the democratic party is also the party of minorities. Black and Latino voters tend to be more socially conservative than the typical white democrat. Close to 40% of democrats don’t approve of Obama’s support for gay marriage.

Clearly, as long as the government is in charge of both money matters as well as values, both the democratic and republican parties are going to confuse and come up short for a lot of people. If parties have to align along two axes (only… I’ll get to a third one in a bit), 2 isn’t going to cut it, we need four. Here’s how I’d break the current parties down:

1) A group that wants less government money spent on social programs and is socially conservative. This is the current popular view of republicans.

2) A group that wants less government money spent on social programs and is socially liberal. This includes gay republicans and republicans that are just tolerant of different kinds of people.

3) A group that wants a lot of money to be spent on government programs and is socially liberal. This is the stereotypical white democrat. 

4) A group that wants a lot of money to be spent on government programs and is socially conservative. This is going to include a lot of religious democrats and that includes a large number of blacks and latinos. 


You’ll notice that I didn’t mention the military or foreign policy. That’s because both parties are so similar in that regard that I have trouble telling them apart nowadays. There are of course more than two axes, things like abortion, immigration, and the drug war are all possible single issue voter concerns. Currently, groups 1,2 and 3,4 are supposed to come together at their conventions and hammer out platforms that they will agree to. We then have two parties in DC that do battle. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that a lot gets lost in that process. I would much rather have all 4 groups present in DC. It can be argued that they already are, different states, and different congressional districts have different breakdowns on the social/liberal continuum. The problem is that all of them are still beholden to the machinations of the main parties political influence. The RNC and DNC hold big purse strings and make people they support toe the company line. I think it would be much more useful and representative if these groups could be on their own and form floating coalitions on  a bill by bill basis. The current atmosphere of having to score points against the other team is marginalizing too many people’s interests.


There is another axis that isn’t discussed nearly as much as it should be and that is the idea of how much control you are comfortable giving the government. This is the axis that libertarians get screwed on. While self described libertarians obsess over this, republicans take it as ancillary to how much they get taxed and democrats typically don’t notice until it gets to a ridiculous point. Many libertarians point out that a lot of the culture wars would go away if the government didn’t try to legislate morals or be involved in people’s personal affairs. The two core things about libertarians that are routinely glossed over are peace and tolerance. Tolerance doesn’t mean you have to approve of what other people do in their own lives, but it does mean that you allow them to do it. If the parties adopted a live and let live attitude instead of legislating values, we could then concentrate on money matters.

All of this is pie in the sky thinking of course. I do think that if this split came about and caused distinct parties that more or less shared power, we would have a much more representative government. The two party system tends to flatten differences out between people that happen to have a loose connection on fiscal matters. My more libertarian suggestion is to simply remove the moral aspect out of laws, but the 4 party system would be a step in the right direction.


Wisconsin election isn’t the playoffs

In the aftermath of Walker’s win, a lot of people are saying, “See! Outside money is determining elections!” The problem with that narrative is that according to CNN’s exit polling, 88% of the voters had decided which way they were going to vote before May. There was a ton of money spent on that election but it looks like a lot of it was wasted. 

The result shouldn’t be too surprising. If you look at what has happened to Union membership in Wisconsin since dues have become voluntary, you’ll see that membership has plummeted. Drops of half to two thirds are being reported. If union members aren’t willing to pay for membership to fight for them, what are the odds of nonunion folks voting for them? The public sector unions, and let’s not kid ourselves, that is what this election was about, just aren’t that popular in Wisconsin. 

Lots of pundits and news outlets are making a big deal about this and making themselves look silly. I have long since stopped watching the mainstream media, but apparently their coverage was predictable. MSNBC was rooting for the opponent to the last. When it was clear that Walker had won, they said it was a victory for Obama. Don’t ask me, I’m not going to watch them to figure out their reasoning. FOX was of course jumping around gleefully predicting doom doom doom for democrats across the nation. CNN was calling it a close race for a long time (it wasn’t close at all), then they switched to the Queen’s jubilee celebration. They did break in to announce that Walker had won, but then they went back to the Queen. When you Google “Walker Recall” it looks like about half are going with the headline “Walker survives Recall.” 55%-45% isn’t very close. Walker didn’t just survive, it could be argued that he got a mandate.

I think we should all remember that this election was, in the end, for the people of Wisconsin. They had made up their mind fairly early on and it isn’t clear at all that what they think about public sector unions will translate into other states. It’s also clear that the main media outlets don’t live in Wisconsin. They have been the biggest proponents of the politics as sports contests and they had their horses in the race. All of the gloating and despair from people outside of Wisconsin makes me laugh. This isn’t a sports event, this isn’t about you (unless you’re in Wisconsin obviously) or your team. This was about Wisconsin. Apparently 55% like what they’ve had for the past two years. I guess that is where elections are like sports, the contest is won on the field, not by advertisers.

culture free market freedom politics

Healthcare reform

My Facebook page is being filled up with impassioned pleas to save healthcare reform. They are of course talking about the arguments in the Supreme Court over the “Affordable Healthcare Act.” I’m not a big fan of the legislation, no surprise there. Funnily enough, I don’t need to know the minutia of the 1000+ page law to draw my conclusion either. The main sticking point to me, and I think the reason it is being argued at the Supreme Court, is the individual mandate. The law says that everyone has to purchase health insurance, in fact it relays on this in order to realize its cost savings that are supposed to come from it.

Let’s forget for a moment that this law is not about healthcare, but health insurance, and let’s also forget for a moment that popular opinion shouldn’t sway the Supreme Court. I am also going to, for the sake of argument, allow that the law actually would reduce health insurance prices and it would actually work out best for everyone. I don’t believe that for a second mind you, but I don’t want to dwell on that here.

Have you wondered why there is so much chatter about this supreme court case? I’m not talking about the political scorekeeping involved, I’m talking about the commerce clause.


[The Congress shall have Power] To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes;


That little clause has been twisted to the point where it is unrecognizable. It’s meaning seems rather straightforward, but congress, with the Supreme Court’s blessing, has used it in all manner of strange ways. In Ashcroft vs. Raich, the Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Government could outlaw marijuana because of the commerce clause even though in this case the defendant never sold it at all, let alone between states. It was ruled that the defendant could have sold it, therefore the federal government had jurisdiction over it. Judge Clarence Thomas said this in his dissenting opinion:


“If the Federal Government can regulate growing a half-dozen cannabis plants for personal consumption (not because it is interstate commerce, but because it is inextricably bound up with interstate commerce), then Congress’ Article I powers — as expanded by the Necessary and Proper Clause — have no meaningful limits. Whether Congress aims at the possession of drugs, guns, or any number of other items, it may continue to “appropria[te] state police powers under the guise of regulating commerce.”


So who could blame congress when it passed a law saying that it could force every American to do something? When pressed on what gives them that power, they respond that the commerce clause gives it to them.

This really is the drug war’s chickens coming home to roost. Once the Supreme Court ruled that congress can essentially legislate anything at all because of the commerce clause, all bets were off. If this law gets struck down, they will have established that the Federal Government cannot force you to buy something. That’s hardly a shocking idea and it shows just how nuts the law is as determined by the Supreme Court.

There was a time when lawmakers assumed that prohibiting a substance was unconstitutional. Banning alcohol was a popular cause at one point, but they knew they couldn’t pass laws banning it until they amended the constitution. How quaint. It is now assumed that the federal government can legislate any damn thing it wants to. This law getting struck down will carve out a very narrow limitation on the feds, one that I’m really terrified that we have to spell out so clearly.

Much has been made about the hypothetical broccoli law. The thought experiment goes like this, broccoli is good for you, so can the federal government force people to buy it if not eat it? It’s a silly thing, no one really thinks that, but there are legions of people that think in the abstract that the government should legislate “good” things. You, know, for our own good.

this goes right back to my “Everything is fine as long as the right people are in power” model of politics. Why does no one think about the damage that will ensue as soon as the “wrong” people are in charge? Limiting government power is to protect us from whatever politician you think is evil incarnate. Dick Cheney or Nancy Polesi, it doesn’t matter. No one should be afraid of the changing of the political winds.

This is the real reason why this case is so important. If we can get some sort of semblance of sanity with regards to the commerce clause, it will be a victory. With any luck, it will also force the court to reconsider previous contortions over the clause as well. Remember, the law being “good for us” is not a sufficient reason for the government to employ its force.

freedom politics

An honest defense for voting for Obama

Glenn Greenwald hits one out of the park when describing the relative shortcomings of the two more “liberal” candidates in this year’s presidential running, he gives what he calls an honest, candid, and rational way for a democrat to defend voting for Obama.

Yes, I’m willing to continue to have Muslim children slaughtered by covert drones and cluster bombs, and America’s minorities imprisoned by the hundreds of thousands for no good reason, and the CIA able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, and privacy eroded further by the unchecked Surveillance State, and American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process, and whistleblowers threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” and the Fed able to dole out trillions to bankers in secret, and a substantially higher risk of war with Iran (fought by the U.S. or by Israel with U.S. support) in exchange for less severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, the preservation of the Education and Energy Departments, more stringent environmental regulations, broader health care coverage, defense of reproductive rights for women, stronger enforcement of civil rights for America’s minorities, a President with no associations with racist views in a newsletter, and a more progressive Supreme Court.


He was comparing Obama’s policies to Ron Paul’s. Greenwald does a good job of pointing out why people might want to vote for either one, but it is important to look at what “liberals” should value more highly. Not enough liberals admit to Obama’s shortcomings, and they are numerous from a liberal’s point of view. In the same vein, liberals seem to have a knee jerk reaction to Ron Paul without giving enough credence to his strong points. The article is illuminating in that it exposes the desire to instantly discredit “the competition” for any negative parts of their plank. Of course doing that requires you to overlook the very real problems of your own candidate. No politician is free from taint, free from problems. What needs to be done is to prioritize what is important to you and then decide if a president can wield much power over those things.

I’ve written at length about how disappointed I am with Obama’s foreign policy, war mongering, executive power grabs, solidifying of Bush doctrine, bailouts, and erosion of civil liberties. Ron Paul is directly opposed to all of those things, and has been for 40 years. Yes, some of Paul’s theories make my skin crawl, I don’t like his stance on immigration, and I’m not sure I agree with his abortion policy objectives, but I’ll take the trade off. I’d like to think that all of the people that hated Bush Jr. would also like Paul more than Obama simply because Obama is a lot closer to Bush in all the worst ways.

I’ve met plenty of people that don’t like Obama, but have shrugged their shoulders and said, “What choice do I have? Perry? Gingrich?” It may still come to that, but there is a chance that we might have a very real alternative this next time around. Say what you want about Paul, but he is very different than Obama, and I think his positives outweigh the negatives. Suffice it to say that he really differs from the rank and file of the republicans too, so he still may not get the nomination. If he does win the nomination, I will have no choice but to vote for him because I hate war. War on other countries and war on our own citizens (both through military actions and the war on drugs). If he doesn’t get the nomination, who will agitate against war? Certainly not any of the other republicans, and Obama can’t exactly repudiate all of his foreign policy. Read the article and watch the video clips, Ron Paul is the only one saying what needs to be said.


Progressives and the Ron Paul Fallacies


freedom politics

Ron Paul and the Newsletters

Newsletters published under Ron Paul’s name have started to be talked about again now that he’s a front runner in Iowa. These came up last election too. He disavowed them then and now. They are still a problem for him though. The newsletters are pretty bad, they talk about race wars, gay bashing, and anti-semitism. Paul has claimed that he wasn’t involved in writing them and wasn’t aware of what was being published. That’s tough to believe…

On the other hand, the newsletters really don’t sound like him. Paul has been very consistent over the years in preaching about liberty and freedom. That includes gay rights and the ignoring of color. How many other politicians point out the racist motivations for drug laws? Surely a racist wouldn’t explain how drug laws unfairly target minorities, let alone point out that it was the minority use of those drugs that led to the formation of those laws?

Paul has been consistent enough with his proclamations and votes that I don’t think that anyone really thinks he is a racist. I don’t understand the tactic some of the really far left commentors have used, essentially claiming that because there are racists and homophobes supporting Ron Paul that he shouldn’t be supported. Part of libertarianism is the tolerance of ideas, including ones you don’t like. I certainly don’t see why Paul shouldn’t take money from anyone that wants to give to him. After all, if you can take money from racists and use it to promote liberty for all, that’s got to be a good thing.

I think the best critique of this situation is that it shows a real problem with Paul’s decision making process and attention to detail. Certainly it calls into question just how politically un-savvy he is. Sure, there is an impetus to allow anyone to help you out, and in libertarian political circles I’m sure it’s impolitic to critique belief systems. Still, making a stand against racists shouldn’t be too hard to do and him not doing it might cost him in the long term. Shame, really, as his nomination would really show the political process actually representing people’s frustration over the status quo. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be disappointed, again…

free market politics

The 99%

Reading last Sunday’s Doonsbury really got me pissed off. Once again, Trudeau is hung up on what the top 1% income bracket is making. When BD finds out that the top 10 hedge fund managers were paid 18.8 billion, his reaction is, “It’s game over – The Rich Won!”


Funny, I didn’t realize we were competing, or playing a game or whatever. What, exactly have they won? And how are we less better off because of it?

BD keeps ranting, “Might as well just send them the rest of our money now, They’re going to get it all eventually anyway!” Umm, right, because those evil hedge fund managers were raiding your checking account, right? They were hoarding all that money so that you couldn’t get a sot at it, is that it? How is BD, or the rest of us for that matter, involved with hedge funds? How have they impoverished us? Why the assumption of guilt, why the feeling of being personally attacked?


I would be very sympathetic if Trudeau were to detail how much money people made off the bailouts by the US tax payers. Through the government;s largesse, a few politically connected groups had their fortunes protected with our tax money. As unfashionable as it may be, I don’t mind people making vast sums of money through voluntary transactions. If it is voluntary, it doesn’t affect me. If my masters DC decide to protect cronies with my money, that is theft. Why isn’t Trudeau angry about that? Why isn’t BD making his check out to the Treasury? The hedge funds are leaving him alone, the feds aren’t…


The OWS crowd have been using the 99% rhetoric to great effect, but once again, I think they are misguided. When Steve Jobs died, several reporters asked some OWS folks what they thought of him. The reactions were overwhelmingly positive despite the fact that Jobs was certainly in that 1%. I like to think that if pushed on the matter, most of those folks would admit that Jobs did it right. He made stuff that everyone wanted and became rich doing it (and pulled lots of people out of poverty along the way). He never went to the government for help, even when Apple was on the verge of bankruptcy. Jobs wasn’t alone, there are plenty of entrepreneurs in the 1% that have provided services and goods for us. So why rail against the 1% when there are clearly great people in there? Why not protest against the people that get money from us without our permission? Why not protest against the ones giving away our money without permission?


Why indeed. People that make money by providing us things are great, people that essentially steal are not. Why are the two so often confused with one another? When will most people see that the dirtiest money flows out of DC? Why don’t people protest that? Oh right, they did, and got called racists for their trouble…



freedom of choice politics

Warren Buffet and taxes

An editorial that Warren Buffet wrote has been making the rounds recently. I can’t link to it since it’s at the NYT behind a paywall, but the essence is this; Warren Buffet doesn’t think that he pays enough in taxes, he doesn’t think the “super rich” pay enough in taxes, he doesn’t think it will adversely affect either the rich or business, so why not raise the tax rate and stop “coddling” the rich?

He does also say that a lot of the super rich people he knows donate a significant amount of money to charitable causes as well. He said his tax bill last year was over 6 million, but he thinks it should be higher. He claims that over 250,000 people make over a million dollars a year. Let’s bump that to 300,000 and then assume that, on average, they paid 12 million a year in taxes. That would give us 360 billion dollars. Quite a chunk of change, it’s enough that it could take care of around of a third of the debt incurred annually by the US government.

Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine that Warren Buffet convinced all those people to put up that money, but instead of giving it to the IRS, they gave it to charitable causes instead. Would that be better or worse?


360 billion dollars. You could give the poorest 20 million people in the US $18,000 in direct aid. Or maybe buy 3.6 million houses worth $100,000. Or maybe take that $360 billion and create business with them and provide who knows how many jobs and income opportunities. Now compare that to cutting the deficit by a third for a single year. Which one of these things would have the most impact?

“But those people won’t do that.” That’s the typical response. The alternative that Buffet offers is that the IRS just take the money instead. Because they do not willingly give up that money, people feel justified in taking it from them. Taking money simply because they have it doesn’t exactly give you the moral high ground. I shouldn’t have to say this, but I always do; the ends do not justify the means. Even if that money were used for the best things in the world, it does not justify forcibly taking it. I think this is made even more clear when we realize that that money would be taken so that a relative handful of people can spend it in politically expedient ways. Is there any reason to believe that money will be spent more wisely than before?

Some people will say I’m “defending the rich,” or some such silliness. I am trying to point out that volunteering other people’s money doesn’t take much imagination or courage. In the end, it won’t actually solve much either. 360 billion sounds like a lot, but when you give it to an origination that has wracked up 14 trillion in debt, it doesn’t go very far. It goes about 2.5% into the debt payment. If you injected it into the economy directly, much more would happen.

Warren Buffet is free to send the IRS any amount over his tax bill that he wants. If some of his friends feel the same way, they can do the same. He really shouldn’t assume that the money would be used well or given freely though.