10.31.2008

Sarah Palin's Conception of the First Amendment

An unorthodox approach to free speech. (ht/CA)

The First Amendment also has that part about freedom of the press...no?

Guns & Shutters

Packing heat in NOLA?  

An interesting event tomorrow promises "no questions asked" for those who trade in guns in exchange for cameras and musical instruments.  I like the incentive-based attempt as opposed to some other possible tactics.  

It would be fascinating to sit and work the table at such an exchange.  Perhaps it's all a ploy by some international artist in town for Prospect 1...to draw in some local color with appropriate props for her photography project.

Nevermore

10.30.2008

The Economist...

...likes likes Obama, but with some reservations:
The Economist does not have a vote, but if it did, it would cast it for Mr Obama. We do so wholeheartedly: the Democratic candidate has clearly shown that he offers the better chance of restoring America’s self-confidence. But we acknowledge it is a gamble. Given Mr Obama’s inexperience, the lack of clarity about some of his beliefs and the prospect of a stridently Democratic Congress, voting for him is a risk. Yet it is one America should take, given the steep road ahead.

It's the "prospect of a stridently Democratic Congress" that I worry about most:
Our main doubts about Mr Obama have to do with the damage a muddle-headed Democratic Congress might try to do to the economy. Despite the protectionist rhetoric that still sometimes seeps into his speeches, Mr Obama would not sponsor a China-bashing bill. But what happens if one appears out of Congress? Worryingly, he has a poor record of defying his party’s baronies, especially the unions. His advisers insist that Mr Obama is too clever to usher in a new age of over-regulation, that he will stop such nonsense getting out of Congress, that he is a political chameleon who would move to the centre in Washington. But the risk remains that on economic matters the centre that Mr Obama moves to would be that of his party, not that of the country as a whole.

The Political Hazards of Blogging

A Wisconsin Assembly candidate finds out firsthand.

As one Dan Bice noted, a week ago

Note to all political bloggers: Be careful what you write, because one day you might decide to run for public office.

After that ominous opening, though, the Spivakless Bice proceeds to paint a picture of contradiction - one that isn't necessarily accurate.  

He tries to position Jo Egelhoff's broad statements as a candidate as in direct opposition to her earlier specific issue stances.  That's nice - and it has the potential to show contradiction - but Bice assumes a great deal to make his case.  Or demonstrates a strong political bias (not unlike liberal blogs that seized upon the 'discovery').  An individual can have the stances Egelhoff espoused as a blogger, believing full well that there are other legitimate paths to the goals she states as a candidate.

Only on concealed carry does the Bice argument stick to any degree.  And Bice is right that "nothing on the web ever truly disappears."

But that brings up another point - one that I've had to come to terms with in continuing to write this blog in a non-anonymous capacity.  People have the capacity to change through time, and blogging over the long run permits others to see shades of that.  In the case of those who begin blogging in college, people grow up.  People absorb evidence from their experience and arguments from those they respect.  The very act of blogging, as Egelhoff alluded to in her defense of the posts, can bring about discussions and criticism that hone a blogger's views.  

I'm not defending Egelhoff on the concealed carry issue with that statement.  I'm not trying to shrug off responsibility for what I post here.  I am saying blogging is something unique - and something that varies wildly in quality, tone, purpose, and relevance from blogger to blogger.  I am saying that someone who's rigidly and guardedly consistent might be feeding you little more than press releases.

One should likely take a page from the classic politician handbook, though, and mention one's blog up front when jumping into politics to defuse potential problems (see Obama's admission of drug use early in his career as a way to not only shield himself against attacks based on it, but even use it as a political sword).

In the end, a blogger must dismiss the hobgoblins to some extent and blog knowing the product is always fair game.  And hope for the best.  To date, I've found the positives of blogging outweigh the risks.

Bonanza

I've struck a rich vein of commentary here in the finals days of the campaign...

Platinum - Getting beyond Obama the figure. A fact-based look at what an Obama administration means.

Gold - The libertarian vote. One man's struggle.

Silver - Everyone wants energy independence. Is that conventional wisdom sound? (ht/OOTM)

Copper - Everyone's a rogue. George Will slams the McCain-Palin ticket.


Bonus gems found lying in the slag heap:

Topaz - Ingenuity at sea. The prospect of "vortex" wave energy generation.

Ruby - Steel cage match. Picasso versus The Masters. (ht/CP3)

Emerald - Senator Elizabeth Dole's scary-voiced "Godless" ad.

Photos from the Huckabee-Ford Debate
















Here are few photos to accompany my earlier account of the debate at Tulane's McAlister Auditorium between former Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. and former Governor Mike Huckabee.  Needless to say, it was quite dark inside the big old Art Deco building.






























Here's the hulking old pelican above the stage...doesn't it resemble a pterodactyl?

Green Wave Rights

The Tulane Code of Student Conduct. 

In the wake of the Tank episode, you might want to familiarize yourself with some of the hearing procedures:

12. The burden of proof shall be on the complainant, who must establish that the violation was committed by the charged student by clear and convincing evidence (not beyond a reasonable doubt). Formal rules of evidence shall not be applicable, nor shall harmless or technical procedural errors be grounds for appeal. All evidence reasonable people would accept in making decisions about their own affairs is admissible. Irrelevant or immaterial evidence will be excluded. 

The Last Great Auk

Christopher Shays, the last Republican Congressman of New England, commandeers the Straight Talk Express.

And throws McCain under it, swerving to clip Obama as well.

10.29.2008

In the Headphones

At the moment.

Violence

If McCain manages to pull off an upset on November 4, would it result in violence?

While I don't know what McCain has left to throw - and the Intrade money and state-by state electoral breakdowns show McCain with long odds - the national numbers haven't officially sealed things off with less than one week to go.

The potential for violent reaction is not a legitimate reason to vote for Obama, but it's something I've been pondering, especially after witnessing the GOP Convention firsthand in September.  Given the pent up rage of some people, especially on the far left, the prospect of a third loss after two close and controversial losses in presidential elections would be difficult to digest.

If a McCain win was followed by violence, what would it likely consist of - localized pockets of venting?  Nationwide disrespect of the law?  

Or is the potential for violence overstated?  Would disgust and disillusionment merely lead to demonstrations?  Or would some people finally make good on their claims to leave the country?

Zen Tea

The Odds Against McCain

Some folks are chatting about the odds stacked against McCain this year - and express wonder, as I have here, at his ability to get as close as he has.

I noticed Byron York's list of historical hurdles to McCain included this nugget:

The difficulty of succeeding a two-term president of one’s own party — a feat accomplished only once since Truman succeeded FDR.

While such a feat is rare in recent decades, a wider view of American political history is not completely barren of examples besides Truman-FDR and Bush-Reagan.  Rutherford B. Hayes succeeded the two Republican terms of Ulysses S. Grant back in the 1870s.  

If you want to argue further, Taft succeeded Roosevelt in 1912 after TR had completed almost a full two terms as a Republican (rounding out the second term of McKinley, who was also a Republican, post-assassination).  Hoover succeeded Coolidge in a similar vein in the 1920s.

There's also the period of Jefferson through James Monroe in which the Democratic-Republicans had multiple successive two-term presidents (Jefferson-Madison-Monroe, followed by the single term of John Quincy Adams).  

Shortly thereafter, Jackson's two terms as a Democrat were also followed by Martin Van Buren's term as a Democrat.

So, viewed from a higher height, I don't think the burden of succeeding a two-term president of the same party is quite as difficult as York paints it, although it is less common in the modern era.

The Rise of Palin

If haven't read it already, check out the New Yorker's thorough tale of the rise of Sarah Palin - from serving salmon in the statehouse to spending a few hours in Sedona.

10.28.2008

A job well done

Christian Schneider is doing a fantastic job doing what the media is supposed to do, and notes a sad trend:
Of course, as is the case every election, you have the following cycle:

1. Third party groups run negative ads.

2. Newspapers call for elimination of third party ads.

3. Newspapers fail to educate public as to the accuracy of these supposedly “toxic” third party ads.

So he does the fact-checking himself:
There’s no question these groups have the right to run these ads. If the First Amendment means anything, it is to protect unpopular political speech like these campaign spots. But it is incumbent upon media and bloggers to dig deeper to explain what’s going on in these ads. When a local newspaper complains about ads but doesn’t rectify their effect, they are just as complicit in the “toxic” political climate which they decry.

Hitch

Christopher Hitchens is a little much usually, but I enjoyed this piece of his in Slate:
With Palin, however, the contempt for science may be something a little more sinister than the bluff, empty-headed plain-man's philistinism of McCain. We never get a chance to ask her in detail about these things, but she is known to favor the teaching of creationism in schools (smuggling this crazy idea through customs in the innocent disguise of "teaching the argument," as if there was an argument), and so it is at least probable that she believes all creatures from humans to fruit flies were created just as they are now. This would make DNA or any other kind of research pointless, whether conducted in Paris or not. Projects such as sequencing the DNA of the flu virus, the better to inoculate against it, would not need to be funded. We could all expire happily in the name of God. Gov. Palin also says that she doesn't think humans are responsible for global warming; again, one would like to ask her whether, like some of her co-religionists, she is a "premillenial dispensationalist"—in other words, someone who believes that there is no point in protecting and preserving the natural world, since the end of days will soon be upon us.

The real problem is that we can't ask her about these things, of course. If the press were able to dig deeper into her philosophy regarding religion and politics, it would be one thing -- at least we'd be able to know how deeply she is committed to these things. But the secretiveness compounds all the other problems we see with Palin, especially her anti-intellectuality.

Who will sing for us now?























"[His] road, however, must go downhill. The time will soon come when [his] last notes sound and die into silence. [He] is a small episode in the eternal history of our people, and the people will get over the loss of [him]. Not that it will be easy for us; how can our gatherings take place in utter silence?"*

Bias in 2008 Coverage: Politico Bites Back

"Imposing artificial balance on this reality would be a bias of its own." 


Rose de Lima, Gate to Fall


















Fall has arrived at last here in NOLA.  It's not so much autumn in the classic sense as it is fall - the banana leaves begin to brown, the cypress greens grow brittle, and the night drafts sweep through the old homes woefully unprepared for winter.  

And here at LIB, hits based on searches for a haunted house at JFK Prep have spiked as surely as pumpkins appearing on porches.

Huckabee v. Ford Debate Recap

Thoughts from last evening's Tulane debate coming soon.
***
The Setting

First, it was an odd debate under the giant old pterodactyl pelican in McAlister Auditorium last night.  Both Harold Ford, Jr. and Mike Huckabee proved themselves anything but pure surrogates for their respective party platforms.  

Huckabee is a very populist Republican in some ways, a genuinely compassionate conservative who doesn't mind translating his altruism into government action.  At times, he sounded more like a Democrat.  Ford presented himself as rather hawkish on foreign policy, albeit to show Obama was strong in that regard, and emphatically fiscally conservative.  At times, he sounded like a Republican.

Both speakers were cordial, relatively eloquent, and surprisingly thoughtful.  The moderator, a veteran New Orleans educator, was somewhat goofy in her random Southern-inflection-infused observations.  She also opened by calling Huckabee the former governor of "Alabama" and saying she always told her students to watch Fox News.

Ford made it clear he was pulling for Obama.  Huckabee barely mentioned McCain throughout the evening, hardly dropping him a supportive line only at the very end when practically forced to address it.  He also handled Palin gingerly, dismissing much substantive discussion with humor.

The Substance

1.  Bailout - Mike Huckabee gave a brilliant, concise, reasonable attack on the government financial bailout plan.  He presented the position that any Republican candidate should have employed to address the situation.  He mentioned moral hazard, the failure of the bailout to produce results, the random selection of a figure by Treasury, and the inability of the market to find a bottom or induce investment in the face of what he equated with Hugo Chavez potentially nationalizing the next entity.  He tied the action to his audience, lamenting the fact that we students would have to bear the burden of the irresponsibility of the present.

Ford, conversely, reluctantly supported the bailout as a sort of dirty necessary.  He did point out that blame should be pointed at many different points along the way.  Huckabee, on this crucial and relevant overriding issue of the moment, won bigger applause, to my surprise.

2.  Renewable Energy - Both candidates were wholeheartedly in support of a host of renewable sources, as well as energy independence for the nation.

3.  Taxes - Huckabee's Fair Tax proposal dominated the intellectual playing field on this issue.  Ford painted it as harmful to innovation, but he didn't point out precisely why.  Huckabee, on the other hand, laid out the nature and ostensible benefits of a consumption sales tax in depth.  He played out the entire laundry list of taxes out there and gave concrete examples of why our taxation system is harmful to a competitive advantage in the international marketplace and some its perverse results.

4.  Healthcare - Ford echoed Obama in calling healthcare a right.  Interestingly, he noted that everyone does have healthcare - it's just that some people get it at the expense of everyone else at the emergency room.  He assailed McCain's healthcare plan.  Huckabee emphasized preventive healthcare, but didn't go so far as to say healthcare was a right, pointing to the fiscal consequences.  He argued paying for preventive care was a more conservative approach.  But he didn't really outline what a full-out preventive healthcare system would entail - and what it would cost to implement and administer.  Getting into entitlements at a different point, Huckabee emphasized a plan to allow people to cash out of entitlement programs to forestall entitlement implosion.

5.  Bush Doctrine/Foreign Affairs - In a student question at the end, the two candidates presenting different philosophies.  Or at least emphasized different things.  Huckabee said he supported preemptive action in two instances: 1.  imminent threat to the US or its citizens, or 2.  Humanitarian situations, such as genocide.  Ford emphasized Obama's willingness to go across the Pakistani border after terrorists, attempting to hit the same awkward key about Obama's hawkishness.  Neither candidate thought Iran should be allowed to create or obtain a nuclear weapon.  Huckabee offered an interesting moment of empathy with the Iranian people, showing some nuance in recognizing the leadership of the nation as the problem, calling Mahmoud a nutjob.

6.  China - Ford, asked if China was friend or foe, called them a strategic competitor, a Bush term, actually.  Huckabee agreed with the characterization.  Both men focused on the problem of China financing so much of U.S. debt - and having the theoretical ability to call those debts in to our detriment.  They both want U.S. jobs over jobs abroad.  Huckabee, stood out on this question for his understanding of the end reality in China - a lack of rights, a totalitarian political government in the end, despite any free market economic tendencies.  Moving on into Russia, Ford called for a new containment, citing their newfound resource wealth.  Huckabee had a slightly better understanding the Georgia scenario and its implications as far as test of the West's reactions and a possible foreshadowing of a Ukrainian action.  Huckabee also had the better understanding of the real Chinese problem: a growing military with no threats beyond the U.S. for it to be used against.


Overall - Ford, at times, seemed to be compensating for his lack of fluency with sheer volume.  Huckabee was slick, smooth as all getup, the words flowed unceasingly.  I felt Huckabee "won" the debate by doing better than expected on a college campus based on audience reaction - and overcoming the potential Obama-like qualities of youth and unique background enjoyed by Ford.

****
This is my take.  Feel free to share your perspectives in the comments below.

10.27.2008

Arcane Topic Alert

Is the Vice Presidency a part of the Legislative or Executive branch?


The post comments, some of which are quite learned and intriguing, delve into the 17th Amendment, 25th Amendment, and - I think quite crucially - the 12th Amendment.

I think it requires some closer analysis.  Clearly, tradition in recent decades has tended toward an Executive characterization of the position.

"On the Western Approaches of Lake Malawi"

My good friend Graham, an Albertan abroad with Engineers Without Borders, keeps a blog about his experiences in Africa.

With solid writing and thoughtful perspectives, it's worth a read.

NOLA Church Fight Unfolds















In the ongoing fight by some New Orleans Catholic parishes to remain open in the face of consolidation, some parishioners have taken to the pews.
  

Back home in rural Wisconsin, I saw the same painful struggle playing out several years back as a priest shortage gnawed at the Diocese of Green Bay.

My grandparents' church in rural Brown County is still under the gun, so to speak, as a small rural parish.  It's in places like those - where parishes serve as the chief, or sometimes exclusive, social centers of community - that the process seems most heart-breaking for those involved.  The same personal and family associations with a particular neighborhood parish translate to the urban New Orleans context.

The moves by the Archdiocese here - especially after the successful efforts of certain parishes in the wake of Katrina to increase membership and solvency - speak to the somewhat untenable position of the Roman Catholic Church moving into the near future as priest shortages continue.

The "Save St. Henry's" banner blaring across the railing above Ms. Mae's at Napoleon and Magazine (she advertised her bar in the church bulletin, as I found out during a friend's wedding at the church this summer) captures it all pretty well.  The priest of that church, Monsignor Engelbrecht, who is physically disabled, said initially he would not leave.

A Snapshot: The Port of New Orleans

PBS takes an in-depth look at the tough times for the Port of New Orleans as it struggles to adapt to short-sea shipping, containerized cargo, and the impending expansion of the Panama Canal.  (ht/The Chicory)

This line caught my eye, however: 

"It's the country's only deepwater port, lying at the junction of six of the nation's largest great railroad lines."

The nation's only deepwater port?  Um?  I think they confused the sentence by adding the comma - it's the nation's only deepwater port sited at that particular rail line juncture.
 
EXTRA:  If you really just can't get enough global shipping, check out BBC's 'The Box' - a feature tracking a shipping container on its journeys around the world.

The "God Gap" and the civil war

There's more on the fracturing of the "big tent" every day. Two things stand out lately. One is this piece on the "God gap" (h/t Brad V):
Four years later, a much different God Gap has emerged: between religious conservatives and the secular establishment of the Republican Party. It was the marriage of those two constituencies - so-called country club Republicans and more down-market churchgoers - that fueled a remarkable 25-year Republican ascent, from Ronald Reagan to 1994's Republican Revolution to George W. Bush.
...
Nothing has pointed up the rift as dramatically as Sarah Palin. It wasn't until John McCain unveiled his vice presidential pick that religious conservatives - excited by Palin's staunch anti-abortion views, her personal decision to forego an abortion and give birth to a son with Down syndrome, and her background in conservative Christian churches - finally rallied to his side.

Then there's this on the fight over Palin:
For years, many of the elite conservatives were happy to harvest the votes of devout Christians and gun owners by waging a phony class war against "liberal elitists" and "leftist intellectuals." Suddenly, the conservative writers are discovering that the very anti-intellectualism their side courted and encouraged has begun to consume their movement.

The cause of Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Robert Nisbet and William F. Buckley Jr. is now in the hands of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity--and Sarah Palin. Reason has been overwhelmed by propaganda, ideas by slogans, learned manifestoes by direct-mail hit pieces.

That last should send shivers down the spines of many LiB readers, and is why I worry about Palin becoming a rallying point for the GOP post-election day, win or lose (although I strongly suspect the latter). There are those who doubt her ascendancy, but she hardly needs to be the next presidential nominee to have a major influence on the direction of the currently directionless Republican Party. Those who say the GOP didn't fight hard enough, and didn't go conservative enough, will follow her standard for some time to come.

10.26.2008

Hydra

Twitterpated

Terrorism, activism, and the potentialities of Twitter.

The Latest a la carte

Some Sunday reading:

∞  Statists of a feather"Yes, Senator Obama is something of a socialist. So is Senator McCain."

Δ  Governors for 200, please:  In Louisiana, Bobby Jindal authorizes commandeering private property for hurricane protection.  In Wisconsin, Jim Doyle pushes for sobriety checkpoints.

☠  On the lam across the pond: student loan fugitives!

❐  Conservatismal: David Brooks says McCain has ceded the center by failing to realize his potential as an 'Americanized Burkean.'  I don't know precisely what he means when he sweeps everything from Alexander Hamilton to the Bull Moose Party into a single strand of American political history, but it's worth a read.  (ht/DH)  Meanwhile, Krauthammer vows to go down with the ship.  And Susan Collins sails on smoothly in Maine.  A libertarian says it's time to burn the whole prairie.

♥  Posthumous: The reality of Jorg Haider.

☣ It's not brand new, but it's an engaging read: Magpies have self-awareness.

Huckabee, Harold Ford, Jr. to Debate at Tulane Monday Night

The Tulane Hullabaloo breaks its first piece of relevant, timely, useful news since I've been on campus:

Direction will host a debate between former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Representative Harold Ford Jr. at 7 p.m. Oct. 27 in McAlister Auditorium. They hope to provide an optimistic message on the future of America and why it is important to unite in an attempt to try and find answers to the nations' current problems.

Looks good.

Some good advice...

...for Republicans over at Politico:
After this election, congressional Republicans and Bush White House loyalists will continue pointing fingers at one another, and they will both be right. Conservatives will say we need to be more conservative, moderates will say we need to be more moderate, Southerners will say we need to be more Southern, Northerners will say we need to be more Northern. Some will say we need to be more like Ronald Reagan, others will say we need to be like Teddy Roosevelt, and still others will say we need to be like Abraham Lincoln. East Coast intellectuals will say the party needs to get smarter, while prairie populists will say we need to get closer to the people.

One thing I think he's missing is the re-balancing of the forces within the "big tent." The free-marketeers, neo-cons, and cultural conservatives have really not been getting along lately; with real fractures between the three major groupings that make up the GOP, it's hard to get a candidate who will inspire a majority.

Frankly, I think a civil war resulting from a McCain loss would be a good thing for the GOP right now; it's in the minority anyway, so taking some time to really burn away the detritus that has built up over years of success is a really necessary task. And that will allow a new power center to emerge within the party, aligning it in a way that will be able to take the thing forward.

Elsewhere

I have a piece up on Pajamas Media about the election scene in Wisconsin. In short, I think it's too late for McCain here -- I highly doubt he'll be able to make up the double-digit lead Obama has on him right now.

Am I right? Leave a comment!

10.25.2008

On the Fly













What better place to study for Admiralty 1 on a Saturday afternoon.

Goin' Rogue

Now, McCain's own advisors confirm the speculation: Sarah Palin's goin' rogue.

Has such an open divergence between a VP nominee and a presidential candidate ever played out before in the history of the nation?

Why Are We Building Such A Big Ship?



















Thursday night. We rolled down to Domino Sounds Record Shack on Bayou Road in Mid-City. We drank in a classic sidewalk show by the unique NOLA nine-piece band, Why Are We Building Such A Big Ship? at its record release party. The haunting but lively sounds brought workers out the backdoors of neighboring buildings and the crowd spilled into the street. Accordion. Euphonium. Trumpet. Percussion. String bass. French Horn. Soprano sax. Banjo. Ghastly vocals tinged with a hint of madness.














































































I found I was dressed a bit too Gap for what was largely a St. Vincent DePaul plus crowd.  But nobody seemed to mind.  And I certainly didn't - because the performance was memorable.  I don't believe I've ever seen a soprano saxophone wail in such a way.  And the accordionist/lead singer was just as frenzied, chillingly able to capture the precise quirks and inflections he gives on the recorded tracks.

Cds for what's billed as a "Post Apocalyptic Brass Band" available here.

10.24.2008

Dear U.S. Treasury,

While you're at it, please pick up my tab at the coffeeshop.

Incredulously yours,

Brad V

New Andrew Bird?!

It's true! The new album, Noble Beast, is to debut at the end of January. The first song is posted online and it sounds as good as ever.

Grey Ghost Snagged

Fred Radtke, NOLA's resident anti-graffiti zealot, is hailed into court.

Greenspan and His Flaw

I've been mulling Alan Greenspan's testimony on the financial crisis to a House committee yesterday.  In fact, it kept me from getting a sound sleep last night.

He admitted to flaws in his regulatory scheme while he served as Chairman of the Federal Reserve.  

Even more disconcerting, though, is his comment that the found a flaw in his ideology.

For Alan Greenspan to say he found an instance where self-interest did not function in the market is like a Catholic hearing Mother Theresa didn't believe in God (and, as we discovered last year, she arguably did not).  One of Ayn Rand's inner circle has now publicly repudiated a core tenet of her philosophy.

I don't know if people realize how big this is.  Greenspan's contrition would appear to undercut the American free market ideology deep at its roots, fundamentally questioning the starting point that we have long held up as a guiding economic principle.

In the face of an Obama win, an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress, and the ongoing disaffection born of the financial crisis, what is left to temper 'Change' - change in the size of government and an increase in government market regulation that is contrary to all of our history?  A browbeaten and whimpering ideology is the prospect Greenspan leaves us.

I appreciate a person who reevaluates his view of the world in the face of contrary evidence and experience.  Human nature is a a strange beast.   Still, I, for one, don't accept Greenspan's tail-between-the-legs performance.  I do not yet see how adding government into the mix will save people from their own stupidity in the marketplace.  For markets to impart value, they must involve risk.  And if individuals and entities operating in the market don't look out for their self-interest, what exactly are they doing?

This colloquy between Greenspan and a Congressman captures the absurdity of the situation:

Mr. Lynch went on to say that “we have a lot of complex derivatives that are gumming up the system.”

Mr. Greenspan replied: “Many of those complex derivatives are gone, never to return again.”

Mr. Lynch expressed his concern: “I wish I could believe you that you are right and these things won’t come back, but I want to be sure…”

Mr. Greenspan: “I certainly have no objection to regulating those instruments — structured investment vehicles — for example … I just … my puzzlement is, who would buy these things?”

He added: “If you are going to tell me that there are a lot of instruments out there which make no sense, I agree with you.”

Mr. Lynch shot back: “Interestingly enough, 72 percent of them were held by hedge funds — the smartest people in the room.”

Mr. Greenspan responded: “That is what I find most disturbing. We are not dealing with people who are dumb. We are dealing with by far the most sophisticated about the way markets work that created the major problem.”

10.23.2008

Bird of Paradise














One of my favorite points in the walk to school.

Questioning the Credit Crunch

A must-read.  (ht/OOTM)

This brief report from three economists at the Federal Reserve in Minneapolis looks at the underlying data and turns the conventional wisdom of the credit crunch - supposedly attendant to the current financial crisis - on its head:

As is clear from these figures, bank credit has not declined during the financial crisis. Indeed, bank credit appears to have risen relative to trend in the month of September. Figures 2A and 2B display analogous data for loans and leases made by U.S. commercial banks. Again, we see no evidence of any decline during the financial crisis. Figures 3A and 3B display data for commercial and industrial loans. Again, we see no evidence that the financial crisis has a§ected lending to non-financial businesses. Figures 4A and 4B display data for consumer loans and show no evidence that the financial crisis has affected consumer lending.

While the report only uses data available through October 17 - so things may have changed in the past week - the contrarian perspective is eye-opening.  

It should give us pause in considering both a)whether the bailout was anything other than 'a swindle', b) whether any additional stimulus or bailout measures by the federal government are appropriate, and c) how much of the current talk about a 'drying up of credit' as a factor in the financial crisis is sheer unfounded panic.

I have wondered throughout the crisis how available credit could simply disappear.  If there's sufficient demand, someone will move into the market to provide it, albeit at a higher cost than usual.

UPDATE:  Critique 1.  More.

Brought to You By the Letter B

The next big story of the campaign.

Out of Pittsburgh.

ht/Drudge

UPDATE:  Wow.  Big surprise.  The whole thing is an Audrey Seiler-style hoax.

Shoegate Update

Initially, students were told that if Mr. Rogers' shoe was returned by Wednesday (which it was), there would be no questions asked.

Today, however, we receive word that while no charges are being filed with the NOPD, the TUPD - at the request of the administration - is investigating the matter.*

Questions are being asked.  While I can understand the frustration involved, one party here, it seems, is not keeping its word - and whatever tipster out there led to the return of the shoe will have relied to her detriment on what could have very well been construed as a promise of immunity.

Also, collective punishment in the form of an administration-mandated ban on all student activities appears to remain in place, as I confirmed yesterday with an SBA official who was seeking to lift the ban.

*Programming Note:  I have refrained from posting the actual contents of the email received today, per a previous request by the sender.  And, to clarify, I'm blogging about this matter because it is unfolding in the setting of an academic institution where I am a student, as opposed to a business, professional, or government setting where I would certainly be more circumspect.

100 Miles In

According to the ACLU, I'm living in the 'Constitution-Free Zone."

Alright!  Who's ready to force the neighbors to quarter some soldiers?

Ok, lame humor (and likely the sole attempt at Third Amendment humor in my life) aside, the issue of reduced Fourth Amendment rights within 100 miles of the U.S. border is worth closer scrutiny.  The checkpoints deep within the United States seem an overbroad tactic for the purpose stated.  Still, the ACLU moniker itself seems a bit overbroad - it's really alleging a 'Fourth Amendment-Free Zone.'  But, I suppose it doesn't have quite the same sexy, motivating ring to it.

The zone, as envisioned by the ACLU, encompasses vast swaths of both Louisiana and Wisconsin.  And the entire states of Florida, Michigan, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Delaware, New Jersey, Hawaii and New Hampshire:
















Does or would the zone actually apply in eastern Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana? I'll have to get a copy of the statute authorizing the checkpoint procedure in place to determine whether the shores of Lake Michigan, which are wholly within the United States and do not border on any other nation would actually constitute 'the border.'  For now, I'm a tad skeptical.

10.22.2008

Palin's Glasses - An Echo? Premonition of a Landslide?
















Alf Landon.  GOP Presidential Nominee.  1936.

Weinmann Whispers: Procedural Considerations

I have shared the two email excerpts that I believe sit at the heart of the case against the currently detained Chao Tang.  Stipulating, for sake of argument, that they constitute a substantive threat, what are we left with?  Why is this story still worth following?

It's about the procedure.

I share here a number of snippets from the final appeal of his Joint Hearing Board loss.  The appeal was made by Mr. Tang with the assistance of a number of Tulane Law students.  Mr. Tang needed and attempted to get an advisor:










Apparently, Mr. Tang could not get an advisor despite his efforts:










Emails submitted as evidence in the case buttresses the point:










Mr. Tang also alleged an inability to access his case file:













Finally, Mr. Tang's brief asserts that the Board that held the initial hearing regarding his charges was not comprised of the requisite number of people as required by the rules.  Specifically, there was one less person than mandated - and, somewhat importantly - one less student:





Overall, the emails cited in the appeal display an individual facing something bordering on Kafkaesque:










In the end, the points appealed laid out above are separate from the underlying actions and words found to constitute violations of the rules.

In addition to the two email excerpt threats I have already shared here, part of the substantive violation may center in part on this email, sent by Mr. Tang on August 4, the date listed in the charges against Mr. Tang as the date of the alleged incident at the root of this entire saga:

"All have to swim in the same acid vat of Posnerian skepticism."

One of my professors asks over at Balkinization: Is Judge Richard Posner a conservative? 

ht/Volokh 

The 504ward

Excellent.

An incentive to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship in NOLA with the goal of retaining young talent.  NOLA needs more of this!

Searching for a SOFA: A U.S.-Iraqi Security Agreement?

What, you say?  In the hubbub of domestic news here in America over the past month, it's been largely overshadowed in the media.

But there's an important draft understanding between the U.S. and Iraq - which seeks to hammer out a status-of-forces agreement (SOFA) - creaking and groaning its way toward final resolution.  It's been in the works for months.  

Secretary Gates says that U.S. troops in Iraq will lose their legal mandate to be in Iraq at the end of this year when a UN authorization ends if the replacement deal is not finalized.  A number of Iraqi clerics are now opposing the draft, and the Iraqi Cabinet is calling suddenly for changes.

The document has some hefty implications

The agreement calls for U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraqi cities by next June 30 and from the entire country by the end of 2011, while allowing those timelines to be extended by mutual consent.

It gives the U.S. legal jurisdiction over American troops and civilian government personnel accused of crimes while on-base or on-duty. Iraqi authorities would have jurisdiction over U.S. personnel accused of serious crimes while off-base or off-duty. 

Some have mused, too, about whether the items negotiated in the agreement require a full-out treaty.

10.21.2008

2008 - Where I'm At

















Mike and Steve have both shared their insights on the presidential election.

And so it's my turn.

First, I've come a long way since 2004.  In that November, back on the University of Wisconsin campus, I was out waving signs for Bush with the College Republicans as a junior.  Running excessively on the inertia of my youth, I gave the man I had met in The Blue Room in 2001 the benefit of the doubt in the wake of 911, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the new war in Iraq.  I grimaced a bit privately as the party soured, I carried water.

But Bush did not revert to what I considered conservatism after re-election, after the trials subsided.  Not at all.  I've grown increasingly disgusted by the bloated government spending, domestic spying, religious trappings, and sheer lack of intelligence of the administration.  Bush has acted antithetically to conservatism, but his actions have been taken as conservatism.  He has driven the term off a cliff.

I grew as well in the intervening years, determining who I was, learning to apply a greater deal of skepticism to all things political.

What am I looking for in a president at this juncture?  I've spent an almost absurd amount of time and energy keeping abreast of the election in the past two years, trying to see the thing from as many perspectives and angles as possible.  I've encountered Obama, McCain, and Barr in person at some point this election season.  Still, I approach the ballot with some trepidation.

I am looking for a president who will refrain from and reverse increased government spending and government growth, which I believe is fundamental to maintaining some semblance of meaningful individual liberty.  I am looking for a president who will bring respect back to the office with competence, basic intelligence, a thorough understanding of history, and a sense of governing as something other than pure politics.  I am looking for a president who will be cognizant of foreign affairs concerns, treating our chief rival states as more important than terrorism, recognizing and dealing with threats in a firm, but nuanced manner, ultimately refusing to cede America's place in the world as the better option of possible hegemons.

 
What a refreshingly intelligent, measured candidate.  Barack Obama alone recognizes the nature of China's threat to the United States' preeminence in the world.  He is eloquent and by and large positive.  He is able to call upon an impressive array of respected, well-known advisors.  He has proven incredibly even-keeled and resilient on the long slog of the campaign trail.  And he seems reasonable, drawn to stability.

But Barack Obama coupled with a Democratic supermajority congress in the wake of a financial crisis is a recipe for reversing any of the efforts to untangle the more nefarious aspects of the New Deal from American life.  He plays his cards close to the chest (see his repeated present votes).  He promises everyone everything (see his tax plan).  He fundamentally views government as a force for good.  He is fine with federal government involvement in traditional state prerogatives such as education and healthcare.  His judicial nominees would likely be decidedly, nay very, very liberal (see his failure to vote for John Roberts).  Big labor would likely dictate too many of his policy choices.  He does not seem to have a solid grasp of non-urban life in America.  His own inability to handle media criticism makes me suspicious of his commitment to robust free speech.

Barack Obama would likely improve America's image in the world.  But half of his promise, the quality that mesmerizes far too many people, is rhetorical vagary and platitude.  He is comparatively inexperienced for a presidential candidate.  Yet his choice of Biden shows he is not the new politics, but the (safely) calculating old.  And many of his rabid supporters, unfortunately, tap into the old, venomous anti-Bush emotions, giving off an air of haughty, condescending, inevitability that rankles.  I fear Obama will be given carte blanche by adoring fans at precisely the moment it would be most inappropriate.  In the wake of eight years of the Bush administration, the hurdle for Obama couldn't be lower.


This is the candidate who most closely aligns, I think, with my most pressing concerns.  He, too, has seen and been involved in some of the worst aspects of Bush conservatism and distanced himself from them.  He emphasizes smaller government, reduced government spending, a more modest foreign policy, and a profound attention to the strictures of the Constitution.  He has a sense of history.  He actually focuses on individual liberty as an ends to the American experiment in government.  He has been a vocal critic of the bailout plan.  He was reasonable, knowledgeable, accessible, and personal when I met him earlier this fall.

Still, Barr has failed to make himself more than a footnote in this election.  He has not garnered sufficient attention, perhaps in part because of media focus on the Olympian contest in the primaries and now the general between candidates of great starpower.  He has not managed to secure the backing of Ron Paul - his one shot at capitalizing on the libertarian dynamo that invigorated the earlier months of the election.  

As McCain's chances fade back in Wisconsin, a Barr vote looks less and less unreasonable for someone choosing between McCain and Barr.


I feel as though I should begin this portion with a tragic quote from MacBeth.  This is not the same John McCain I cheered for in 2000.  Admittedly, in the wake of Bush, John McCain had no right getting to this point in the campaign.  His unlikely rise from the dead to win the GOP primary showed the weakness of the Republican position this year - only the party's most unorthodox character would have a chance.  But McCain the candidate has grown frantic, embracing tax cuts he opposed, gambling on dramatic surprise moves (see Hurricane cancellation, Palin nomination, and return to Washington).  The maverickness wore thin.  The Palin pick, its flimsiness, and Palin's cringe-inducing weakness in the Couric interviews reflected most poorly on McCain's judgment.  And many of the issues he's commendably bipartisan on...are not so hot (see campaign finance reform, etc.).  He backed the bailout and supports buying up mortgages.

Still, McCain's record stands.  He has been bipartisan on high profile issues, giving him more credence on unifying than Obama (e.g., voting for Breyer and Ginsburg).  Bailout support aside, he has kept up a running attack on government spending for decades.  He is pro-life, yet he is not a religious extremist or fundamentalist - it is simply not what drives him.  His stance on gay marriage, deferring to the states, is noteworthy for a Republican, and no worse than Obama's tepid take on the topic.  He was right on the surge.  While his age has been a concern, it hasn't noticeably limited him in any major way on the campaign trail.  And, as mocked and dismissed as it is at this stage in the game, McCain did serve in the military.  His crucible moment as an individual is still relevant in a consideration of his overall character and what makes him tick.  He is his own man.  And he would likely work to thwart a Democratic congress on some key issues in a divided government.

McCain has been slaughtered by the media - which, by and large, has repeatedly accepted the framing the Obama camp disseminates (100 years in Iraq, etc.).  His desperation in recent weeks and his failure to change the tenor and direction of the race in the debates has hurt him.  Colin Powell's endorsement of his rival bespeaks the crippled nature of the Republican Party and the unfortunate effect it has had on McCain, forcing him to walk a tightrope that has slowly sliced him in half as he sought to appease the base and the moderates.

****
The window to mail my ballot grows short.

The Shoe, Having Been Found

...we get this disturbing notice:

Announcement Headline
ALL STUDENT ORG AND SBA EVENTS ARE CANCELED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE

All SBA and Student Org Events that are to be canceled until further notice due to recent events. Please contact M- S- (m----@tulane.edu) or J--- F--- (j-----@tulane.edu) if you have questions. Please contact Julia or Melissa if you have questions about your particular event.

Expires
10/31/2008

SBA

Why?

PIRG-ination

WISPIRG is racking up big numbers:
A University of Wisconsin student group has registered 5,463 students — 19 percent of the undergraduate student body — to vote in November’s general election.

The drive, called the New Voters Project, was run by Wisconsin Student Public Interest Research Group and set a new record nationally for students registered to vote in a semester.

It's always hard to count on student turnout, but those numbers are pretty huge. And after talking with the Obama campaign, they're expecting big numbers from student turnout. Wisconsin is getting bluer.

Due consideration

The LiB crew kicked around the idea of making a blog endorsement this season, but instead agreed to laying out our own philosophies. Mike has laid out a fine case for Barr. I'm not ready to endorse, but I would like to lay out my thinking going into this election:

McCain
Way back when, in primary season, I thought, "Gee, it would be just swell if John McCain got himself the nomination. Just think: a socially moderate Republican who is fairly free-trade and whom I generally like on foreign policy. How much better could it get?"

Then John McCain proceeded to go completely batshit crazy. He sang songs about bombing Iran. His "suspension of campaigning" was a bad joke, and he's in thick on an ill-considered bailout. He chose Sarah Palin as his running mate (a woman I was prepared to like until I started actually reading about her and listening to her). So I don't trust John McCain. Being a hero in a Vietnamese prison camp is a fine thing, but a president it does not make. He's lost his "maverick" status in this campaign. Indeed, the Republicans, having completely given up their mantle of being small government, deserve to lose. The way Republicans govern no longer comes anywhere close to the Republican ideals that brought me to their side at first.

Would voting for McCain send a message to the Republican Party that a socially moderate candidate is feasible today? Could it help push the party in a socially liberal, government-out-of-my-bedroom direction? Would having a Republican president create enough deadlock to at least give a pause in spending? Given Russia's resurgence, isn't McCain the one man who has the force to stand up to Putin? The party is completely in disarray at the moment, and pushing a socially moderate candidate may be the thing the party needs at the moment. But at the end of the day, it is doubtful that McCain would really stand up against government spending, and that is dangerous.

Obama
I'm mulling going for Obama this year. Yes, his tax policy is wrong -- most of his economic positions are wrong. I'm mostly drawn to his obvious intellect and steadiness. I also like a large part of his foreign policy -- especially his desire to engage, rather than shun, countries like Iran (I think here he falls in line nicely with George F Kennan's thinking about presidential summits during the Cold War). In the wake of a disastrous 8 years of Bush's spurning of diplomacy, having a man in the Presidency who believes in reaching out to rebuild relations with our allies and possibly calm situations with our enemies. These are important pluses in his column.

But in the face of the looming economic crisis and a Democratic Congress that may be filibuster-proof after the election, it is clear that Obama will do more to increase the size of the government than anyone since the New Deal. That possibility comes very close to canceling out everything I like about the man.

Barr
So what about Bob Barr?

Let's be straight: voting third party is throwing your vote away. I'd like to think that if enough Republican-leaning independents (ie - myself) broke for Barr, the GOP would be forced to sit up and take notice of a voting bloc it can't afford not to pander to. But the GOP doesn't work that way, and won't until the Rove smash-mouth, win-by-playing-to-the-base strategy is completely washed out of the system. And that's certainly not this election.

The part of me that wants to vote for Barr to "teach the Republicans a thing or two" is the same part of me that wants to shout "hey you kids, get off my lawn" from a rocking chair on my porch while waving a cane above my head. Is that a good enough reason to go third party?

Presidential Campaign Cartoons

A cornucopia of good stuff from 1860-1912.

The Flip Side of the Coin

Some positive light on Tulane students.

Tulane students assist a fellow student victim of rape, leading to the Uptown arrest of a suspect, an undocumented foreign worker believed to be responsible for two earlier rapes in the area.

A Not So Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Someone stole one of Mr. Rogers' original shoes during Tulane Law's Barrister's Ball at the Louisiana Children's Museum.  Somebody better check Picture Picture for any video evidence.


I had a great time at Barrister's, but I don't recall seeing the shoes in question.  I did put a puppet of X the Owl back in a life-size mock-up of his treehouse early in the evening, though, when I found him on the floor.

Tank: The Actual Charges

At long last, I've homed in on what Chao Tang was actually charged with in the series of events that led to his expulsion from Tulane University and his subsequent detention in a federal facility, where he is now facing deportation.

The following snippet outlines the date of the incident that sparked the removal procedures under the law school's Code of Student Conduct, as well as the specific provisions of that Code that were allegedly violated:









These accusations were levied against Tank on September 15, which he states he received on September 16.  He had sent the emails to two professors containing threatening language, which I've outlined in a previous post, on September 5 and September 6.  He was also on interim suspension at this point (from September 12 onward).

Detainees Barred from Leaving Gitmo

The D.C. Circuit struck down, at least temporarily, a federal judge's attempt to release 17 Chinese Uighur detainees into the U.S.

This election I'm voting Barr

That's right, I'm going for real change and voting for Bob Barr because as a Libertarian, he supports the free market as well as reducing the size and burden of government which are the biggest issues to me.

Looking at the big picture, there seems to be little difference between McCain, Obama, and their parties. Take your pick: warfare or welfare, both increase government. In fact with such looming financial disasters as the insolvency of social security due around 2040 and the increasing amount of federal debt, any candidate who isn't addressing these role of government issues is just arguing about the arrangement of chairs on the deck of the Titanic.

I don't think many people know about our country's future financial situation, especially people my age who will be paying their entire working lives to receive little if anything when they reach retirement in the 2050's. Out of the candidates and parties only the Libertarians offer a real solution by phasing out the failing programs before more damage is done and trying to get the government back on course to sound policies.

The Libertarians are the only party against the war that will actually do something about ending it. Back in high school I was for the war but the turning point came a few years ago when I was finally able to admit to myself that I definitely wouldn't want to be there fighting, from which it follows that I certainly can't support sending my peers to that. The democrats got themselves elected in 2006 saying they'd end it, but then they realized that if they drag it out as long as possible, they can be against it every election!

Also let's face, the war on terror is a result of the blowback from our previous interferences in the Middle East. They're fighting us because we're over there in their area and we're over in their area because they fight us. The republicans have gotten nonsensical about it these last few years especially, in my opinion, by using the word "homeland."

What has all this security gotten us other than a more obtrusive spying government, militarized police, mystery lists, and databases? I am most definitely not afraid of being attacked. In fact are the terrorists even trying? I've worked at a county fair the last three years and those types of local events are sitting ducks for something as simple as a bomb in a trash can--there's virtually no security and there are tons of weird looking people carrying all sorts of weird things. I would only start to worry if things on this local level started to become threatened but even then, there are thousands of these kind of events every year.

A libertarian foreign policy would see a great reduction in foreign interference. If we're not messing with other countries all the time, and we simply wanted to trade and do business then maybe the world would start to like us again. It just doesn't make sense how invading countries and forcing people to vote encourages democracies to form. Perhaps if we focused on ourselves we could become a shining example of liberty, rights, and prosperity to the rest of the world. Of course with all of this, Libertarians know they can't just drop things, they have to phase them out for a smooth transition.

On the economy, Libertarians are against these crap bailouts and other government interference. The best way to get through this economy (which was caused by government interference in the first place) is to let it purge the bad companies. There will be a sharp downturn, but if left alone, it should recover in a year or two and we can start to grow again. With the government committed to bailouts, both big parties are for it as did both candidates vote for it, the companies that make products and services that people aren't buying are supported with the people's money anyway and the economy will fester along for several years of stagnation. A bigger concern is with the magnitude of the current crises which could put the very value of the dollar at risk. Libertarians are for protecting the value of money.

A lot of people, it seems to me, support McCain because he's not Obama and support Obama because he's not McCain and settle to vote for the more tolerable one. This is bad because then every election, each of the major candidates only has to be slightly less crappy than the other one reinforcing a general downward trend. If the big parties still get elected, then why should they do anything different?

The other option I was considering was to not even bother to legitimize the whole thing and simply not vote, except that would have sent the wrong signal. It could have been chalked up to being apathetic or bad weather when in fact I really do care very much. Voting third party lets the big parties know that I, a potential supporter, am out here.

Regardless of how you vote, be sure to consider all your options.

For Whom to Vote?

















The doppelganger of Steve S says:  Today, LIB will be doing a series of posts that either layout whom we individually intend to vote for, or what we have in mind as we weigh our options here in the final days.  

10.20.2008

Why The Financial Crisis Is No Deathblow to Libertarianism

Slate's Jacob Weisberg tries to throw libertarianism on the pyre, claiming the financial crisis fatally incriminates it.

In trying to take advantage of the crisis situation to advance his philosophical ends, he utterly fails to make his case, and all the fanfare of finality in the piece seems a bit ridiculous.  There's no corpse to toss on the fire.

Libertarianism is not to blame.  And it certainly isn't dead.  In the face of two major candidates promising massive government involvement in the economy and expansion of government, libertarianism may soon take on new life, as it becomes all the more relevant to maintain balance in American society.

As Steve S noted after I sent it to him, the article is infuriating not only for its conclusions, but also for its strident tone.  And it deserves a full Klostermanic Fisking:

A source of mild entertainment amid the financial carnage has been watching libertarians scurrying to explain how the global financial crisis is the result of too much government intervention rather than too little. One line of argument casts as villain the Community Reinvestment Act, which prevents banks from "redlining" minority neighborhoods as not creditworthy. Another theory blames Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for causing the trouble by subsidizing and securitizing mortgages with an implicit government guarantee. An alternative thesis is that past bailouts encouraged investors to behave recklessly in anticipation of a taxpayer rescue.

Well, I'm glad he finds it entertaining.  I find it quite serious: artificialities in the marketplace since the creation of the Fed and moral hazard-inducing government signaling undermines the need for individual responsibility in interactions with the marketplace.  Poor government policies in the mortgage industry (no pun intended) get to the heart of the matter and show what misguided government-backed altruism can do at the base of the financial systems.

There are rebuttals to these claims and rejoinders to the rebuttals. But to summarize, the libertarian apologetics fall wildly short of providing any convincing explanation for what went wrong. The argument as a whole is reminiscent of wearying dorm-room debates that took place circa 1989 about whether the fall of the Soviet bloc demonstrated the failure of communism. Academic Marxists were never going to be convinced that anything that happened in the real world could invalidate their belief system. Utopians of the right, libertarians are just as convinced that their ideas have yet to be tried, and that they would work beautifully if we could only just have a do-over of human history. Like all true ideologues, they find a way to interpret mounting evidence of error as proof that they were right all along.

Does anyone have a really good explanation for what went wrong?  Libertarians are not strait-jacketed utopians as painted in Weisberg's piece.  They realize free markets are not perfect, but they are the better option among available possibilities.  And I think libertarians generally are prepared to take the good along with the bad when it comes to free markets - ideological purity, then, would manifest itself as pragmatism in recognizing that, ok, things aren't always going to be prosperous in a world of scarcity.  Markets are cyclical.  Further, Weisberg's indictment of libertarianism based on the financial crisis is the thing that's just as tired as the dorm-room debates he denigrates about the fall of the U.S.S.R. killing Marxism.

To which the rest of us can only respond, Haven't you people done enough harm already? We have narrowly avoided a global depression and are mercifully pointed toward merely the worst recession in a long while. This is thanks to a global economic meltdown made possible by libertarian ideas. I don't have much patience with the notion that trying to figure out how we got into this mess is somehow unacceptably vicious and pointless—Sarah Palin's view of global warming. As with any failure, inquest is central to improvement. And any competent forensic work has to put the libertarian theory of self-regulating financial markets at the scene of the crime.

Here, Weisberg simply states his opinions.  As Illya Somin points out, other countries with socialist governments and markets went down, too.  Libertarians have been winnowing through all the debris to the roots of the crisis.  To equate Sarah Palin with libertarianism is somewhat absurd - she's repeatedly called for more oversight during the financial crisis, etc. - and generally doesn't seem to have a consistent economic position beyond a populist situational response.  Weisberg, hacking it up, does exactly what he slams - he presumes, in simplistic knee-jerk fashion, that the cause of the crisis was a lack of regulation and attacks libertarianism for having a heretical view in the "vicious and pointless" manner he decries.  Moreover, we arguably don't even have self-regulating financial markets and haven't for some time.

To be more specific: In 1997 and 1998, the global economy was rocked by a series of cascading financial crises in Asia, Latin America, and Russia. Perhaps the most alarming moment was the failure of a giant, superleveraged hedge fund called Long-Term Capital Management, which threatened the solvency of financial institutions that served as counter-parties to its derivative contracts, much in the manner of Bear Stearns and Lehman Bros. this year. After LTCM's collapse, it became abundantly clear to anyone paying attention to this unfortunately esoteric issue that unregulated credit market derivatives posed risks to the global financial system, and that supervision and limits of some kind were advisable. This was a very scary problem and a very boring one, a hazardous combination.

Markets involve risk.

As with the government failures that made 9/11 possible, neglecting to prevent the crash of '08 was a sin of omission—less the result of deregulation per se than of disbelief in financial regulation as a legitimate mechanism. At any point from 1998 on, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, various members of their administrations, or a number of congressional leaders with oversight authority might have stood up and said, "Hey, I think we're in danger and need some additional rules here." The Washington Post ran an excellent piece this week on how one such attempt to regulate credit derivatives got derailed. Had the advocates of prudent regulation been more effective, there's an excellent chance that the subprime debacle would not have turned into a runaway financial inferno.

Markets involve risk.

There's enough blame to go around, but this wasn't just a collective failure. Three officials, more than any others, have been responsible for preventing effective regulatory action over a period of years: Alan Greenspan, the oracular former Fed chairman; Phil Gramm, the heartless former chairman of the Senate banking committee; and Christopher Cox, the unapologetic chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Blame Greenspan for making the case that the exploding trade in derivatives was a benign way of hedging against risk. Blame Gramm for making sure derivatives weren't covered by the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, a bill he shepherded through Congress in 2000. Blame Cox for championing Bush's policy of "voluntary" regulation of investment banks at the SEC.

This was a collective failure.  Blame individuals who didn't pay their mortgages at the grassroots level.  Blame Congress for mandating mortgages for people who had no possible way to sustain them.  Blame the creators of the derivatives.  Blame the entities that bought and traded them.  Blame the entities like Moody's and Standard and Poors that didn't devalue them until it was too late.  Blame anyone who didn't heed Warren Buffet's common sense jeremiad years ago.  Blame the three guys mentioned.  The financial crisis is not simply some catchall blackball for the libertarian ethic, it's a token of the compounding stupidity and neglect of many along the way.

Cox and Gramm, in particular, are often accused of being in the pocket of the securities industry. That's not entirely fair; these men took the hands-off positions they did because of their political philosophy, which holds that markets are always right and governments always wrong to interfere. They share with Greenspan, the only member of the trio who openly calls himself a libertarian, a deep aversion to any infringement of the right to buy and sell. That belief, which George Soros calls market fundamentalism, is the best explanation of how the natural tendency of lending standards to turn permissive during a boom became a global calamity that spread so far and so quickly.

The philosophy is not that the market is always right, but that it is more often right.  And even when it suffers corrections, it is fundamentally a better and more preferable system with respect to not just economic outcomes, but political outcomes as well - as far as individual liberty is concerned.  Companies and investors can learn from history.  Or not.  Creating derivative financial instruments that apparently nobody can even understand or price is simply not intelligent and deserves to be slapped down by the market at some point.  It's not the free market system that should be indicted, but the stupidity and unwise risk taking of some individuals within it - things that could just as easily manifest themselves in government or government attempts to regulate.

The best thing you can say about libertarians is that because their views derive from abstract theory, they tend to be highly principled and rigorous in their logic. Those outside of government at places like the Cato Institute and Reason magazine are just as consistent in their opposition to government bailouts as to the kind of regulation that might have prevented one from being necessary. "Let failed banks fail" is the purist line. This approach would deliver a wonderful lesson in personal responsibility, creating thousands of new jobs in the soup-kitchen and food-pantry industries.

Libertarianism does not derive solely from abstract theory - it observes the basic workings of the world and points out the accumulated societal constraints  and distortions interposed.  Here, Weisberg is at his worst.  He shows he's about economic stability uber alles.  I think consistency in opposition to massive government intervention in the economy of any kind is admirable.  Strings get attached.  And he speaks as if once banks fail, no new banks - which would have to take a more conservative line in credit manners and leveraging - will spring up to meet demand.  Moving forward, collective wisdom gained from the hardships of any financial downturn will tend toward wiser decision on the parts of various business entities in how they approach decision-making.

The worst thing you can say about libertarians is that they are intellectually immature, frozen in the worldview many of them absorbed from reading Ayn Rand novels in high school. Like other ideologues, libertarians react to the world's failing to conform to their model by asking where the world went wrong. Their heroic view of capitalism makes it difficult for them to accept that markets can be irrational, misunderstand risk, and misallocate resources or that financial systems without vigorous government oversight and the capacity for pragmatic intervention constitute a recipe for disaster. They are bankrupt, and this time, there will be no bailout.

It is Weisberg in his overbroad flailings against libertarianism that is bankrupt in the end.  Denying any of the potentially counterintuitive libertarian explanations or critiques of the crisis scenario marks the adoption of a heroic view of government that is not at all justified given the examples of history.  It is immature to think that economic well-being is the only legitimate end to be served as we think of how to react to the financial crisis.  Libertarians understand that markets can be irrational, misunderstand risk and misallocate resources - but they know that past experience shows the checks and balances of a more free market tend to reduce these things.  And advancement does not simply end when the market corrects.

What's more, government can certainly - and is probably more likely - to cause the same problems when it interacts with and controls aspects of the economy.  Libertarians find Rand so emblematic because she seemed a lone voice amidst the ascendancy of the New Deal - a regrettable short-term response to financial crisis that morphed into a long term welfare state.

A dash of libertarianism is crucial today in the face of a Democratic president with two Democratic houses of Congress coming off a financial crisis.  Or in the face of a Republican administration that seems to be promising, as the government-bloating Bush administration before it, to promote more big government programs like purchasing mortgages.