Monday, January 30, 2006

DeWine, Republicans, and Libertarians

How interesting.... About 2 minutes ago, my phone rang with a recorded message from Scott Pullins of the Ohio Taxpayer's Association regarding Senator Mike DeWine's atrocious voting record on issues of concern. Apparently, DeWine has not been behaving well in the eyes of his arch-conservative base, and is the cause of much of the state's energy policy problems. So Pullins is speaking out against DeWine.

Now, I wish Mr. Pullins the best of luck with his campaign. Certainly, DeWine deserves all the criticism he is receiving, and then some. But I have to wonder...what good will it do? Does Mr. Pullins expect that somehow Republican voters are going to abandon one of their own?

For years, I have heard that Libertarians are foolish to try and start a party on their own, to compete with the Big Two. Instead, the argument goes, join with the Ds or Rs (usually, the Rs....), and seek to make change from within. By joining the D or R party, one actually has a chance to get the changes they want affected.

The problem with that argument is: there is no clear evidence that really works!

In fact, with Republicans controlling the White House, the Senate, and the House...and now getting two appointees to the Supreme Court, government is growing at a faster clip than ever before. In state politics, where the Rs have controlled the entire government for 20 some-odd years, we have gone from one of the lowest taxed states, to one of the highest; we are near the bottom in the rankings for economic freedom; and our friendliness to small business and entreprenuership is just downright rude.

So why should Libertarians join with Republicans?

Republicans, as evidenced by the types of people they would like to see elected to office, don't seem to have the slightest interest in small, limited government, individual freedom and personal responsibility. If they did, we wouldn't see such clowns as Bob Taft being elected to the Governor's mansion TWICE.

Libertarians are often accused of being dreamers. If you ask me, its Republicans who are dreamers...when they continue to vote for big government politicians, and expect that it'll do any good. Maybe a vote for Bill Peirce won't mean much in the grand scheme of things, but at least we won't be deluding ourselves that voting Republican will do much good either.

Move On, Michael Moore...

...and make way for Aaron Russo....

Russo, award winning film and TV producer (The Rose, Trading Places, Mad As Hell) and a 2004 candidate for the Libertarian Party nomination for President, is finishing work on an upcoming documentary called "America: From Freedom to Fascism". It's an expose into the workings of our Federal government, with a majority of attention paid to the legality of the income tax, and the arrogance and abuses of the IRS. The Federal Reserve, the National ID, and RFID chips also get some harsh criticism. I was in Phoenix this past weekend and had the opportunity to take part in an advance screening of the film, followed by Q&A with Russo himself. It is still in need of final sound engineering, and needs a little more editing work before its May 2006 release, but for the most part, there's a storm brewing.

My take on the film? If Russo can clean it up a bit, iron out some rough spots in the storyline, and make some minor factual and spelling corrections, this film has a real chance at causing a controversy in America. Some of the parts about the abuses and arrogance of IRS and other government officials are enough to give even the most lobotomized government school student among us a temporary blood pressure problem.

The highlights of the film? In one scene, Russo and crew are attempting to set up their equipment outside the IRS building, and a "security guard" comes out and tells them they can't be there. When Russo challenges the guard repeatedly to indicate what law prevents him from doing so...get this...Homeland Security is called! Russo gets in some real humorous jabs at that.

But undoubtedly the best part is when Russo (finally) is able to convince a former IRS commissioner to sit down with him for an interview. (The IRS has a tendency to ignore anyone who tries to simply ask the IRS to explain certain things to them...preferring the violence of guns, raids, confiscations, and other over-the-top enforcement tactics to act as their "response" to critics) . Russo asks straight asks tough, pointed, and direct questions to the commissioner about the legality of the income tax, the Constitution, and the Supreme Court, and other subject, catching the commissioner is some blatant self-contradictions. At one point, the Commissioner makes the suggestion that the IRS and its rules supercede the rulings of the Supreme Court! If that isn't bureacratic arrogance gone wild, I don't know what is....

The drawbacks of the film? There's some small sprinklings of conspiracy theory underpinning some of Russo's arguments. As most will know, I've never been a big fan of conspiracy theories, because, for one, most people aren't interested in them, and two, it's easy for critics to label those who voice them as kooks, nuts, and wackos. My hope is that, for as important a film as this documentary is attempting to become, Russo should not leave a door open for critics to dismiss him and his message as just another fringe player welcome to be ignored.

When Michael Moore produced "Bowling for Columbine", a thoroughly flawed, error-laden, and duplicitous film on violence in America (with strong criticisms of the right to keep and bear arms), well-informed gun-rights advocates were quick to attack, and demolished Moore's credibility on the subject with all but the most dogmatic left-wingers. Subsequently, when Moore produced "Fahrenheit 9/11", a film addressing a substantially more important topic, he had already lost much credibility with faux-Conservative Bush-Worshipping Warmongers, so his message had been lost to that group because of his prior film. If Russo is to succeed in stirring average Americans back to consciousness about the fascistic nature of their government, he cannot give the State's Intellectuals room to speak. For the most part, he's done that.

So...mark your calendars and remember the name "America: From Freedom to Fascism". And let's cross our fingers and hope that it gets picked up by some major film distributor. This film elevate could Russo to the libertarian movement's equivalent of Michael Moore.

(Note to self... I wonder how many "Fair Tax" proponents will respond to this film. Will they point at this film as evidence that we need to replace the IRS with their own version of a national tax collection agency charged with extracting 2.7 trillion out of the hides of American workers?)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Sign the Small Government Pledge

From The Center for Small Government :

The Small Government Pledge(SM)

"I vote small government. Every issue. Every time. No exceptions. No excuses.

"Here's what the Small Government PledgeSM means:

I will vote for and support only those candidates who consistently vote for small government; who work to make government smaller than it is today. For candidates who have never served in office, I will vote only for those who campaign to make government smaller than it is today.

I will vote against and refuse to support every candidate who votes to sustain or enlarge today's Big Government - or campaigns for it.

I will vote in every federal, state, and local election. If necessary, I'll get an absentee ballot. I'll find out about the choices on my ballot - and make sure I always vote small government.

If there is no small government candidate on the ballot, I will either write in and vote for a small government candidate or leave the ballot blank for that office.

I will vote for every ballot initiative and referendum that shrinks the size, spending, taxes, scope, or power of today's Big Government.

I will vote against every ballot initiative, referendum, and bond that increases the size, spending, taxes, scope, or power of today's Big Government."

Click here to take the Small Government PledgeSM and get a printable certificate you can sign and hang on your wall.

I doubt we'll find many Republicans signing this....

And the backlash continues....

BB&T Respects Property Rights,
Won’t Fund Eminent Domain Abuse

Arlington, Va.-BB&T, the nation’s ninth largest financial holdings company with $109.2 billion in assets, announced today that it “will not lend to commercial developers that plan to build condominiums, shopping malls and other private projects on land taken from private citizens by government entities using eminent domain.”

In a press release issued today by the bank, BB&T Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Allison, said, “The idea that a citizen’s property can be taken by the government solely for private use is extremely misguided, in fact it’s just plain wrong. One of the most basic rights of every citizen is to keep what they own. As an institution dedicated to helping our clients achieve economic success and financial security, we won’t help any entity or company that would undermine that mission and threaten the hard-earned American dream of property ownership.”

“BB&T’s principled stand sets an example that should inspire other lenders and should become the new industry standard,” said Institute for Justice President and General Counsel Chip Mellor. The Institute for Justice litigated the Kelo case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the taking of private property for someone else’s private use in the guise of “economic development.” Mellor said, “You can and should accomplish economic development through private negotiation, not the use of government force through eminent domain. As far as we’re concerned, BB&T now stands for Best Bank in Town.”

The U.S. Congress is now considering bipartisan legislation that would federally de-fund eminent domain for private use. Although the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation that would block any federal funds going to private development projects on land taken through eminent domain, the Senate has yet to vote on companion legislation. Last week, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), however, commented on an eminent domain case that was argued before the Ohio Supreme Court. The case involves Carl and Joy Gamble, homeowners from Norwood, Ohio, who could lose their home through eminent domain for a privately owned mall and high-end apartments. Frist wrote in an op-ed published by the Cincinnati Enquirer, “I have some pretty clear thoughts about the [Norwood] case: The Gambles should keep their home and the developer should either build around it or cancel the development plans altogether. . . . Quite simply, no family should ever risk losing its home because a government wants to help a private developer.”

Scott Bullock, an IJ senior attorney who argued the Kelo case, said, “Eminent domain abuse is wrong and unconstitutional. BB&T has stepped up and recognized its corporate responsibility to not be a part of this shameful abuse of individual rights.”

Dana Berliner, an IJ senior attorney who argued the Gambles’ case before the Ohio Supreme Court, said, “Throughout the country, banks have been silent partners in the unholy alliance between local governments and private developers. Banks finance developers and cities that use eminent domain to take someone’s home or business and turn the land into new stores, condos, and office space. Others will hopefully follow BB&T’s courageous example.”

And who says the free market doesn't respond to human need?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Al Gore: Libertarian?

Hat tip to the Rational Review

A constitutional crisis
by Al Gore

"A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government. Our Founding Fathers were adamant that they had established a government of laws and not men. Indeed, they recognized that the structure of government they had enshrined in our Constitution -- our system of checks and balances -- was designed with a central purpose of ensuring that it would govern through the rule of law. As John Adams said: 'The executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them, to the end that it may be a government of laws and not of men.' An executive who arrogates to himself the power to ignore the legitimate legislative directives of the Congress or to act free of the check of the judiciary becomes the central threat that the Founders sought to nullify in the Constitution -- an all-powerful executive too reminiscent of the King from whom they had broken free." [speech transcript] (01/16/06)

So here we have a prominent Democratic politican speaking out against the on going power grab by the Bush administration. Such rhetoric, while much welcomed by libertarians, is most likely based not so much on any real principle as it is mere partisan opportunism. (After all, this quote could easily apply to the Clinton administration in which Gore served.) Conservatives, on the other hand, marching in lockstep to defend their "party", will probably trot out all sorts of quotes and statements made by Gore and other Democrats which exposes his hypocrisy on such matters, thus "refuting" him and painting his remarks unworthy of further consideration. Such seems to be the strategy of "the right" these days. Avoid addressing arguments raised by skeptics by attacking the credibility and/or patriotism of the speaker, leaving the substance of the argument untouched. Marxists did that for years to advocates of free market capitalism.

I've been fascinated lately with the subtle shift in the ideologies of the major two parties. A year and a half ago, during local and state level elections here in the Dayton, it was the Democratic candidates who were speaking out in favor of fiscal responsibility, fostering small business and the prosperity of the middle class, and clean government. Republicans on the other hand, campaigned on a consolidationist agenda, seeking to centralize government services (and political power) at higher and higher levels of government. How many "conservatives" 10 or 15 years ago would have imagined that?

Accordingly, how many "conservatives" these days will acknowledge that their party is the one seeking to harness and consolidate political power into an omnipotent, unaccountable, and unrestrained Presidential dictatorship? How many "conservatives" will recognize that they are assisting the destruction of our Constitutional order - or what's left of it, anyway - while those evil "liberals" are the ones defending restrained government?

Many "conservatives" have found it fashionable as of late to attach the word "libertarian" to their poltical worldview. You may here them say things like, "I'm really more of a libertarian at heart", or "I'm neolibertarian", "I'm a libertarian who votes Republican because (fill in the blank)". Many adopt this word because it's now "cool" to be libertarian, but few understand the meaning of the word. If you meet one of these types, I would suggest inquiring about their views on Bush's power grabs. If they start sputtering mantras about "security", they are probably not libertarian at all, as their default setting is most definately on "government". If you can feel comfortable with giving one man power without any restrictions (so long as he offers a good excuse), you are not libertarian.

Another excerpt from the speech:

Once violated, the rule of law is in danger. Unless stopped, lawlessness grows. The greater the power of the executive grows, the more difficult it becomes for the other branches to perform their constitutional roles. As the executive acts outside its constitutionally prescribed role and is able to control access to information that would expose its actions, it becomes increasingly difficult for the other branches to police it. Once that ability is lost, democracy itself is threatened and we become a government of men and not laws.


When President Bush failed to convince Congress to give him all the power he wanted when they passed the AUMF, he secretly assumed that power anyway, as if congressional authorization was a useless bother. But as Justice Frankfurter once wrote: "To find authority so explicitly withheld is not merely to disregard in a particular instance the clear will of Congress. It is to disrespect the whole legislative process and the constitutional division of authority between President and ongress."

This is precisely the "disrespect" for the law that the Supreme Court struck down in the steel seizure case.

It is this same disrespect for America's Constitution which has now brought our republic to the brink of a dangerous breach in the fabric of the Constitution. And the disrespect embodied in these apparent mass violations of the law is part of a larger pattern of seeming indifference to the Constitution that is deeply troubling to millions of Americans in both political parties.

For example, the President has also declared that he has a heretofore unrecognized inherent power to seize and imprison any American citizen that he alone determines to be a threat to our nation, and that, notwithstanding his American citizenship, the person imprisoned has no right to talk with a lawyer -- even to argue that the President or his appointees have made a mistake and imprisoned the wrong person.

The President claims that he can imprison American citizens indefinitely for the rest of their lives without an arrest warrant, without notifying them about what charges have been filed against them, and without informing their families that they have been imprisoned.

At the same time, the Executive Branch has claimed a previously unrecognized authority to mistreat prisoners in its custody in ways that plainly constitute torture in a pattern that has now been documented in U.S. facilities located in several countries around the world.

Read the whole speech. It's good.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Alito, "Strict Constructionists", and the Imperial Presidency

I've not commented openly on the Alito nomination for many reasons, mostly because I veiw the whole topic rather irrelevant. I mean, many Conservatives view this as the beginning of the political "war to end all wars"...with the likes of Rush Limbaugh foaming at the mouth on his radio show, begging, pleading for this fight with "liberals". Even last year, during the presidential campaign, when loyal storm troopers...err, I mean, foot soldiers...for the GOP canvassing my neighborhood came knocking on my door, they urged me to give Bush my vote because he would likely get a chance to shape the future of the SCOTUS. (My complaint that Republicans were growing government faster than any liberal could ever dream seemed to fall on deaf ears....)

As I mentioned to a good, devout State-Worshipping Conservative co-worker of mine when he made a comment about, finally, getting some "strict constructionists" on the bench, why should we expect a President to nominate a person to the court who is going to rule virtually every act he has done as president as "unconstitutional"? We're talking about a man who put his hand on a Bible, and swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, and yet still turned around and signed the No Child Gets Ahead Act, campaign finance "reform", and prescription drug socialism, and so on, while insisting that the 8th Amendment prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment" doesn't mean torture is out of the question. We're talking about a President who thinks he can do anything he wants, whenever he wants, as long as he spits up some pious platitudes about "protecting Americans" and so forth.

As I said to my co-worker...."strict constructionist" judges? Hell! I'd settle for a "strict constructionist" President!!

In any event... I read an absolutely fabulous article today on Harvey Silvergate weighs in the last couple of days of Senate hearings on the matter, and points out that there is only one question for judge Alito that matters . The article is so good, here it is:

President George W. Bush’s relentless attack on the separation of powers, most recently laid bare in a December 16 New York Times story that he has been eavesdropping on Americans without a court order, shifted the critical focus of Judge Samuel Alito Jr.’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings drastically: where Alito stands on overweening presidential power has suddenly emerged as the preeminent issue. Period. Alito must be rejected should he refuse to state his opinion about executive supremacy or claim agreement with Bush’s approach to the constitutional separation of powers. And remember: I’m the guy who argued in this column that we should regard Alito’s nomination with an open mind (see "Give Alito a Chance," This Just In, November 4, 2005).

The limits of presidential power may sound esoteric and technical, especially when compared to the more hot-button "culture war" issues – abortion, church-state separation, affirmative action, gay marriage, gun control, and the death penalty – that have occupied Supreme Court confirmation hearings for the past three decades. Separation of powers is not a mere "issue" that can be influenced over time under our existing structure of government. Separation of powers is our existing structure of government, an essential tenet underlying our continued existence as a free country. Let’s be clear: with the Alito hearings, the potential transformation of the presidency into an elected monarchy hangs in the balance.

Bush has lent fresh urgency to the question of executive supremacy, which is why Alito is obligated to state precisely where he stands on this all-important matter. Just as worrisome as Bush’s domestic-spying activity, for example, is his recent jujitsu move on torture: when, after much resistance, he finally agreed to sign the anti-torture statute forced on him by Republican senator John McCain of Arizona and a bipartisan congressional coalition, he issued a "signing statement" warning that he would construe the act "in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power." Interestingly, Alito devised the concept of a presidential "signing statement" as a young attorney in the Reagan administration, thus enabling presidents to spin how they intended to interpret a statute. Bush spun this already dubious principle all the way out, reserving the right to ignore the congressional statute, and the courts too, if in his sole judgment he believes that torture is in the national interest. This may not have been Alito’s intent, but Alito should not be afforded the luxury of refusing to answer questions about presidential power – in this instance or any other – merely because a case involving this principle might come before the Supreme Court.

Both the Times and Senator McCain forced Bush to give due warning of where he is headed. Unless we maintain a clear majority of Supreme Court justices prepared to join Congress and the rest of us in fighting an imperial presidency, Bush and his successors might prevail. Reasonable people can disagree on an assortment of highly contentious issues, but not on whether the Constitution must be protected from a wrecking ball.

Members of all three branches of government take an oath of office promising to "protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Betrayal of that oath is an impeachable offense for a sitting president. Shouldn’t it also be a disqualifying condition for a Supreme Court nominee?

Conservatives, no doubt, will view the success of the Alito nomination as a victory for their cause, while, in their usual fashion, overlook the long term destruction of individual freedom and limited government.

I wonder what I'll say the next time a GOP canvasser comes a'knockin....

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Libertarian Candidate for Ohio Governor Meets the Bloggers

The podcast of the interview with Libertarian Gubernatorial Candidate Bill Peirce (pronounced "purse") has been posted over at Meet the Bloggers. Transcriptions are yet to come.

BTW...From what I've been hearing, Republican candidates are all but ignoring the blogosphere. Most of the interviews at MTB are predominantly Democrat because apparently they are the only ones responding to interview requests. Hmmm....

Get A Warrant

Here is a commentary that should be getting more attention and response than it is....

From The Future Uncertain :

It is not enough for the President to ask us to trust that he is doing the right thing, and thus to accept it. Nor is it even enough to assert that officials in his administration or even Congress have reviewed and cleared it. (The latter assertion is probably debatable.) Because we have known for centuries that a pillar of free societies is that the executive must ultimately be answerable to the judiciary. Even if the President is behaving honorably (and we should not expect his domestic opponents to accept that on his say-so), some, maybe most presidents will not.
The most troubling thing about the warrantless searches is that the act of getting a warrant is by all accounts not particularly difficult. Procedures for judicial authorization of interception of communications inside the U.S. were set up in the late 1970s after the aforementioned hearings. And the special panel of federal judges set up to authorize such warrants apparently does not set the bar very high, approving almost all requests that come before it. Undoubtedly many supporters imagine a nightmare world in which judicial dithering prevents the prevention of some imminent WMD attack on the U.S. But it is conjured fear such as this that is the greatest threat to freedom.

Amen, brother.

Read the full article here.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Support Private Property Rights!

Heads up on an event in Columbus next Wednesday.... This was forwarded to me by the people at the Institute for Justice. If you can spare the time, I would encourage you to take the time to defend one of the core components of liberty. If you think its wrong for government to steal the home of an elderly couple in order to turn it over to a politically connected real estate developer to build a parking lot for a strip mall, then you need to get out and show your support for the victims of the Norwood City Council....



Just a reminder to attend our rally in support of the Norwood homeowners at the Statehouse on Wednesday before IJ attorneys argue their case before the Ohio Supreme Court. This is the first state supreme court case to be heard on the constitutionality of condemnations for private development since the Kelo decision, so come be a part of history and stand up for property owners across the Buckeye State!

RALLY Wednesday, January 11, 2006 8:00 a.m. West plaza of the Statehouse, by the large McKinley monument Columbus, Ohio

NORWOOD ORAL ARGUMENT Seated by 9:00 a.m. Supreme Court of Ohio 65 South Front Street Columbus, Ohio

DE-BRIEF BY IJ ATTORNEYS Following oral argument Hyatt on Capitol Square, Judicial Room 75 East State Street Columbus, Ohio Snacks will be served.

Remember that we will have buses picking folks up in Cleveland and Cincinnati. PLEASE RSVP TO RESERVE A SEAT. Both buses will depart from Columbus at 2:00 p.m. Here are the pick-up locations and pick-up times:

Cincinnati area: 3935 Edwards Road, Norwood, OH 45219. Pick-up at 5:30 a.m. Cleveland area: 18615 Detroit Avenue Extension, Lakewood, OH 44107. Pick-up at 5:00 a.m.

For those of you unable to make it to Columbus, the oral argument will be streamed live on this website.

If you have any questions, please email or call me at 703-682-9320.
See you in Columbus!

Christina Walsh Assistant Castle Coalition Coordinator Institute for Justice (703) 682-9320

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Is Satellite Radio the New Galt's Gulch?

A friend of mine kids me often that I am extremely low-tech. I never had a cell phone until my company issued company phones to my whole department. I have a tape deck in my truck. I still have dial-up Internet service (although I swear I’ll make the jump to high speed one of these days!). But suddenly, in this past 6 months, I’ve gone into hyperdrive, acquiring all sorts of new gadgets…things my normally cutting-edge technophile friend would be among the first to get, but for some reason hasn’t – an iPod, a DVD recorder, and digital voice recorder with voice recognition software… and so on.

My newest acquisition is XM radio - the satellite radio service that you can get by paid subscription (which he doesn’t have...what a dinosaur!) Satellite radio has been very interesting as a phenomenon in the past couple years. It has really come on as the latest technology fad - and for many good reasons. When you think about it, why would somebody pay to get radio service that they can otherwise get for free simply by turning on the receiver in their car or on their home stereo?

Well…for starters, there are no commercials. Secondly, there aren't a lot of DJs that talk - you just get pure music (or whatever programming you are opting to listen to). Thirdly, the range of choice is much broader – from specialized stations that play nothing but bluegrass, folk music, or “big hair” 80s pop music, as well as sports, weather, and talk radio. XM has over 160 channels, while its main competitor, Sirius has about 130. There is something for everyone. Conventional radio stations need to sell advertising order to generate revenues and make a profit to stay on the air, and generally, they need to appeal to as broad a listener base as possible. Since satellite offers so many choices, listeners can pick more precisely from an array of options. And it's cheap! A subscription runs about $13 a month, which is a bargain after you buy the hardware, which can run $50 to $200, depending on what you get.

When thinking about another reason satellite radio has been increasing in popularity lately, I am reminded of the case of Howard Stern. Stern has been on the FM dial for quite a number of years, and during that time, has been continually harassed by the FCC with various accusations, such as being “indecent” or “obscene”, and whatnot. (Let’s set aside the plain fact that, as Stern speaks to over 12 million people every day, it would suggest that the FCC is out of step with what the mainstream commercial marketplace wants for entertainment.) When I saw Howard Stern on 60 Minutes a couple of weeks ago, he commented about being tired of the harassment by FCC bureaucrats who have profoundly stifled his creative energies over the years. Moving to satellite radio, currently less regulated by the FCC, will allow him to experience more freedom to explore his creativity, and bring more of his own brand of humor to the people who want to listen to such stuff.

One can see right away how government, while engaging in regulation of the marketplace, does so by sacrificing liberty. The State crushes individuality and creativity, all in the name of some absurd vision…“for the good of the community”, or “protecting the children”, or some other collectivist nonsense. So, like the characters in Atlas Shrugged who head off to Galt’s Gulch, so too does Stern depart the airwaves for satellite radio. Good for him, I say. Getting out from under the thumb of his oppressors, and moving to a place where he can delight his fans without interference.

But then just last week, a couple days after the 60 minutes episode, I was driving to work one day and I heard a radio commercial from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). The title of the commercial was “Radio: You shouldn’t have to pay for it.” (You can hear the commercials here.) In other words, they were trying to tell you, the consumer, why it's a dumb idea to pay for something that you can get for free - in this case, radio programming. They are, after all, just looking out for your financial well-being. Oh, and the fact that satellite radio is stealing their listener base with its superior service, thus lowering radio’s attractiveness to paying advertisers, I’m sure was only a secondary concern.

I was mildly surprised by the ad. Traditional broadcast radio industry is beginning to realize is satellite radio is cutting in on their market share, and they are attempting to do something about it. I just never expected that would happen so soon. Right now, XM has about 5 million subscribers. Sirius, XM's competitor, is slightly smaller with 2.1 million subscribers. (The amazing thing with Sirius is that they've tripled their subscriber base from just two years ago. In October 2003, they had about 700,000 subscribers.) Since Howard Stern announced that he was moving to satellite about a year ago, a lot of people started to subscribe to Sirius, and will continue to do so as he vacates the conventional airwaves. Needless to say, satellite radio is a high-growth industry. All the projections I have read indicate that another 2-3 million people could make the switch by the end of the year.

This brings up an interesting point - the radio industry is an economic concern with some pretty strong self-interest here. When this competitor in the (relatively unregulated) satellite radio market starts taking customers from them - people who are listening to them every day - as more and more people start turning off the normal FM and AM radio stations in favor of the satellite radio stations that are giving them what they really want (such as commercial free music, a wider range of formats, uncensored comedy, and so forth), how will the radio industry respond? Traditional radio will continue to languish in under the thumb of the FCC. They won’t have the freedom to compete, because of their prior acquiescence to government regulation. You can start to see their response – they are organizing to fight back. My question is, how long do you think it will be until the FCC - at the behest of traditional radio interests - starts making the push for legislation regulating satellite broadcasting? Think that’s not possible? Well the NAB was successful in keeping satellite radio off the air for well over a decade. Check it out:
The National Association of Broadcasters convinced regulators to delay the
launch of satellite radio for almost a decade. Once XM and Sirius got FCC
approval in 1995, they faced daunting restraints on their businesses.
Traditional radio stations get free use of the airwaves while XM and Sirius had to pay nearly $200 million combined for their spectrum. Traditional radio stations are also exempt from paying royalties to musicians. The Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act of 1995 barred satellite radio from enjoying the same break. The FCC license also required the firms to only broadcast to paid subscribers, instead of offering free, advertising-supported stations. Finally, the FCC rules prohibited the new satellite services from broadcasting local sports reports and traffic updates.

As the history of business regulation in America goes - despite all the rhetoric to the contrary - government intervention in the marketplace has almost always been a weapon used by mediocre businesses against their more successful competition. In other words, if one can't win by playing fair and square in the free-market, just recruit the government and some politicians and bureaucrats to go out and harass one’s competition with burdensome laws and other rules that will slow them down. My bet is - and I don't normally like to get into making predictions, because they invariably have a way of not coming true - that eventually, the FCC will start pushing for more stringent regulation of the content on satellite airwaves in the next five years, with the traditional radio lobby firmly backing it up. The most likely excuse - the unregulated satellite market is offering things that aren’t good for “the children” to be hearing. Perhaps they’ll be so bold as to parade out some parents who will claim that they want the regulation enacted so that they won’t have to be bothered with any thoughts about what their kids might be listening to when they are out of earshot. Just like the post “Janet Jackson Boob” crackdown on anything even remotely objectionable - like a primetime broadcast of “Saving Private Ryan” , and the complete watering down of the Bob and Tom Morning Show - the content of what’s transmitted on the satellite wave will become a matter for the federal thought police to weigh in on and give its approval, because God forbid, some people actually ask for racy or off-color entertainment.

So the free-market has produced satellite radio, and it will continue to attract or a repel listeners based on whatever it has to offer. It'll be interesting to see if, as history has shown, satellite radio will become the target of the more envious traditional and archaic radio, and their political lobbyists. But for now, I wish Howard Stern the best of luck in shaping this new medium - I am on XM, so I will not be able to listen to him. For sure, his defection to satellite is sure to invigorate this “infant industry”, and will stimulate more developments on the content side of broadcasting. One can only hold out hope that the satellite industry will grow so fast and organize itself politically to insulate itself from the inevitable carping of dinosaurs it is pushing toward extinction.

Read also, a related article by Harry Browne entitled, "Free the Airwaves!"

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Campaign Finance, Abramoff, and Power

A couple years ago, Senators McCain and Feingold, along with Congressmen Shays and Meehan, told us that we could clean up the Federal Government once and for all, if we just passed their ridiculous "campaign finance" reform bill. It would get rid of the soft money, abolish all the influence peddling of high priced lobbyists and their corporate sponsors, and would make the system more accountable and accessible to average, ordinary people. To hear them talk, it would usher in a democratic paradise devoid of any improprieties, while freeing those vulnerable, angelic politicians from the spectre of those big, bad "special interests", and allowing them to get back to harmoniously serving the people like the altruistic Saints they are....

(I'll pause while you quit choking.)

Abramoff plea jolts lobbyists, lawmakers - Case brings new scrutiny to how D.C. operates

Hmmm.... One is almost tempted to think McCain and Co. were wrong. Foolishly wrong.

Many before me have said it, and I'm sure that many after me will say it, but:

The problem isn't the corruption....The problem is the power politicians have to create and destroy vast fortunes. When you ask that government act as a mechanism for wealth redistribution, it is inevitable that various special interests.... such as Abramoff's clients...will organize themselves, and spend large sums of money to do whatever it or get it share of the loot...or at the very least, fend off those who would cripple them.

Economists call this "rent seeking". It is an inherently destructive practice, as it diverts scarce resources from producing goods and services desired by society, toward influencing politicians in hopes of securing a share of wealth plundered from productive people.

Fewer productive resources used in production + More wealth confiscated from the productive sector = Less overall societal wealth.

Think: Parasite

Now might be a good time to recommend (re-)reading Frederic Bastiat's classic, The Law, if you haven't ever done so.

But I digress.

I'm sure, like all government failures, the response to this will be to pass another round of "campaign finance" laws to solve the "problem".....oh, wait a second....

"Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who with Weber's help effectively used issues of corruption to wrest control of the House from the Democrats in 1994, said the Abramoff scandal should trigger a broader review in Congress of the way politicians finance campaigns and deal with lobbyists.

"I'm going to talk at length about the need for us to rethink not just lobbying but the whole process of elections, incumbency protection and the way in which the system has evolved," he said. "Which is very different from the way the American system is supposed to be like. I think Abramoff is just part of a large pattern that has got to be rethought."

Well, Newt...Good luck with that. Let me know how that turns out.

Note to self....I wonder if by "American system", Gingrich is referencing the term coined by Henry Clay and the Whigs to define their national socialist economic agenda of unrestrained plunder. Perhaps Gingrich thinks that the way plunder is executed should be done in a more high-minded manner.... Stealing won't really be stealing if you can rationalize in a better way....doing it "for the children", for example.

In any event... What we need is smaller government. As long as we keep endorsing and voting for big government...this is what we'll get. Maybe someone should tell McCain, Gingrich, or any other would-be "campaign finance reformers" that the only way to clean up DC and make it accountable and accessible to the people is to make it smaller.

(A side note: Being that Abramoff is connected at the hip pocket with a number of influential GOPers...including one Tom will Sean"We-Conservatives-Believe-In-A-Welfare-State" Hannity rationalize this behavior? That'll be one to watch for.)

Monday, January 02, 2006

Welcome to Yearning to Breathe Free

Welcome to Yearning to Breathe new blog.

As a frequent visitor to and participant in the discussions on many other blogs, I've been meaning to start my own for quite some time but just haven't ever worked up the motivation to jump in and start one until now. But here it is - Yearning to Breathe Free: A blog dedicated to commentary and discussion of events, trends, and ideas from a libertarian point of view. Much of will be covered here will pertain to politics, economics, cultural issues -- local, state, national and even international in scope -- and perhaps the occasional discussion of the arts, entertainment, sports, and so forth.

What do I hope to accomplish with this blog? Well, a number of things. First and foremost, would be to arouse and engage in some serious discussion about the issues that we face our daily lives, and the ideas behind them. Whether its particular issues on the local, national, or international levels, or a discussion of general philosophical principles, I hope to engage in some give-and-take, not only for my own education, but others as well. Like the Unrepentant Individual pointed out, one can always hold out hope that one is making a difference. Perhaps, this blog could contribute, in some way large or small, to spreading the virtues of individual liberty, personal responsibility, private property, free markets, and most importantly, limited government.

So, why the name "Yearning to Breathe Free"? I thought about this for a while. In fact, it was the biggest reason for my delay in getting started. I wanted a name that would make a statement about who and what I am about. One day an acquaintance asked me, “what is it you want most out of life?” My answer was quick and unequivocal: liberty. I want to be free. Note, I did not say that I want a beach house in Miami, or a rewarding and lucrative career, or a wife and two-point-five children living in a house with a white picket fence in an upper middle class suburban neighborhood. All of those are swell things, are worth striving to obtain, and can bring much happiness into one’s life. But you see, Liberty, unlike those other items, isn’t something that you must earn. Liberty is a birthright. It exists in all of us as part of our being. We can either allow it to be taken from us, or we can fight to hold on to it. I chose to fight.

In an age when most political dialogue – from both the left and the right - is focused on issues of security – material, emotional, or physical – liberty seems to be an afterthought. Someone I know has even asked me, “what good is liberty if you are dead?” They say that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights weren’t suicide pacts (even though the Declaration of Independence was, in essence, just such a pact...with the signers pledging their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to the pursuit of liberty). If giving up some liberty results in added security, then by all means, the trade must be made. Sure, its unfortunate to lose a little liberty here and there, but, as the argument goes, we must never spare any expense to secure our…umm…security.

That’s when it hit me. Those immortal words composed by Emma Lazarus perfectly express my longing for liberty. The poem inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty tells of a land of opportunity and prosperity, all made possible because of a unique embrace of liberty. Immigrants fleeing the stodgy, repressive, and regimented societies of the Old World, looked to America as a place where they would be free to pursue a life of their own. America was a land of opportunity, where everyone, newcomers and natives alike, could revel in freedom, while government remained relatively confined to certain limits. The result was an explosion of wealth unlike ever before in the history of mankind. If one wanted to "breathe free", one could sail to America.

But the sad truth is, America has abandoned the vision of the Founding Fathers. We are no longer a nation that seeks “to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity”. Instead, we are more concerned about being “secure” enough to make it home each night to watch the latest episode of Desperate Housewives. Liberty, which made possible all of the things we enjoy today, is now taken for granted. We’d prefer to focus our energies on doing whatever it takes to preserve whatever material comforts we may now have, without regard to what future expense we are incurring. We have become a culture of slaves, dependent on government handouts, and tremble in fear at the requirements of personal responsibility. Sadly, for those of us who wish to "breathe free", there is no America to which we can sail.

When Ben Franklin observed, that the people “who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”, he was offering some very sage advice. There is no security when you have no liberty. When Patrick Henry proclaimed, “give me liberty, or give me death”, he was expressing outrage at the thought that security was something that liberty could, and should, be traded for. In their day, Mr. Henry and Mr. Franklin were yearning to breathe free, and so, it is in their spirit, and the spirit of the rest of that band of revolutionaries who staked a claim over 200 years ago, that this blog has been started.

I welcome the participation of all visitors, whether you are a libertarian, liberal, conservative, moderate, independent, progressive…regressive, whatever! I hope that people of many political and social views will stop by for a visit now and then, read, comment, tell your friends, pass the word around, and so on. To the right are a listing of blogs and bloggers that I regularly read….in alphabetical order. Not all of them are libertarian, but they all are useful, informative, or entertaining in some way or another, and I encourage my readers to check them out. If you have a blog, let me know…I’m always looking to expand my circle of reading.

So…with all of that in mind, I welcome you again to Yearning to Breathe Free. Let the blogging begin!