MHD crew arrested on the road

One of the surprise treats from my weekend family trip to Austin was crossing paths with my friends Jason and Pete from Motorhome Diaries, along with their new companion Adam. Together we had a great time crashing a Southwestern University frat party on Friday. (Personal discovery: I have a lot more fun at frat parties now than I did when I was actually in college.)

But it was only a matter of time before the RV of freedom hit a speed bump. All three have been arrested following a traffic stop that they documented with cameras and video cameras. The reasons for arrest in Jones County, Mississippi:

Adam Mueller – Disorderly Conduct and Disobeying an Officer
Pete Eyre – Possession of a Beer in a Dry County
Jason Talley – Disorderly Conduct, Disobeying, and Resisting Arrest

Obviously we don’t have the full story yet, but knowing these guys I’m going to guess that “disorderly conduct” is code for asserting their constitutional rights and not duly respecting the officers’ authoriteh. Pete was probably the calmest of them all, making possession of beer the only thing police could think to charge him with. (And speaking of which, it’s 2009! WTF is wrong with a county in which adults can get arrested for possession of beer?)

The guys are expected to be arraigned tomorrow. Hopefully they’ll get out soon and be able to report all the details. In the meantime, you might want to give them a little support at their PayPal link.

Previously: Pete videotaped an Arlington, VA officer illegally parking and was then trailed by that officer as he attempted to walk home.

Update: More details in the morning once the guys have their computers back. In the meantime, from @jdtalley’s Twitter feed: “The #MHD crew has been released from Jones County jail. I was pepper sprayed and choked for refusing to give ID.”

Liberty on the Rocks comes to the Horse Brass

The constant political happy hours and events were a bit overwhelming when I lived in DC, but now that I’m on the West Coast I do miss the regular gatherings with smart, politically active people. Fortunately, a little bit of DC-style socializing is coming to Portland next week:

Liberty on the Rocks!

Life, liberty – property – and the pursuit of happiness. Meet others who are interested in the same.

Wed., April 29
Horse Brass Pub
4534 SE Belmont St.
Portland, Oregon
5:00 to 7:00 pm

This is a social gathering. No formal program, no speakers, no dues. We’re simply building a social network that began in Denver, and has taken hold in San Francisco, Washington, DC and elsewhere.

I know Kurt, the organizer, and of course the Horse Brass is one of my favorite bars in Portland. If I can get my bar shift covered on Wednesday I will definitely be there, and hopefully I’ll see you there too.

Tax me baby one more time

The folks at Blue Oregon love love love paying taxes. “It’s an honor and a privilege to do so,” wrote Carla Axtman on Monday. Today Steve Novick goes even farther and willingly pays more than he is required to:

In completing my tax forms, I decided to make a symbolic statement of concern about what’s going to happen to our state: I didn’t take the $50 tax credit for political contributions, even though I made several times that amount in political contributions. I’m not exactly rolling in dough these days – I made a little over $40,000 last year – but I figured the state needs the $50 more than I need to be subsidized for making political contributions I would have made anyway.

As a libertarian I’m glad to see Steve spending his income however he sees fit. I’ll also give him credit for putting his money where is mouth is and voluntarily raising his own tax bill; I wish other tax advocates were equally consistent.

But that said, this is a very weird thing to do. Steve wants to see children educated, the elderly cared for, addicts treated, and the sick provided with health care. These are all noble goals. They’re not, however, goals that only the government can achieve. Charities address these needs too, and by contributing $50 to them Steve could ensure that his donation is directed to the right ends.

Instead he donates to politicians who share some, but perhaps not all of his views, who might get elected and who might succeed in putting his agenda into action. Then he gives them even more money that might or might not get spent wisely. At the end of this process, I wonder how much of his political contributions actually end up benefiting the people he wants to help?

Steve gets near the truth when he says that the Oregon tax credit for campaign contributions is “subsidizing the political contributions of the relatively wealthy.” It’s a subsidy for the politicians too, transferring money from the state treasury to their own campaigns. It’s a neat trick: the relatively wealthy get to feel good about donating to their favored politicians and the politicians get more money to crow about the good things they’ll accomplish in office.

The downside of having such an active government is that we tend to forget about civil society’s private solutions to public problems; the importance of people wielding the levers of power looms too large in our view. Steve’s extra $50 in taxes is, as he says, a “small symbolic gesture.” I’d humbly suggest that a more effective gesture would be cutting out the political middlemen and donating that money to a cause that directly addresses his concerns.

On the road

My friends Jason, Tom, and Pete are embarking on a fantastic adventure:

The Motorhome Diaries is the story of three friends who took to the road in April 2009 to search for freedom in America. Along the way the friends — Jason, Pete and Tom — interact with individuals and groups from diverse backgrounds and viewpoints at college campuses, homes, businesses and organizations that are united by one thing: increasing individual freedom and responsibility and decreasing the scope of government.

Their story takes place in a 30 foot used motorhome affectionately dubbed M.A.R.V. (Mobile Authority Response Vehicle). Driving from the urban jungles to picturesque small towns and everywhere in-between, they connect with those who reject government violence in favor of a voluntary society. Through the stories of the individuals they interview they explore the historic shift in power from individuals to the government and the growing movement of those who are fighting back to reclaim their liberties.

They consider their project to be a near-real time documentary since they will post quickly edited videos online so their trip can be viewed on MotorHomeDiaries.com. There, you can read their frequently posted blog and tweets. Videos, photos and media will be posted rapid fire.

Sounds great, but where is Portland on the itinerary? Clearly an oversight!

Follow their travels at MotorhomeDiaries.com

Reassessing Atlas

Like many libertarians, I have a love/hate relationship with Ayn Rand’s books. There’s no doubt that reading them in high school was a transformational experience that, along with studying economics, put me on the path toward liberal ideas and political advocacy. But the books can be a little too transformational, luring inquisitive minds into the trap of ideology; I’d suggest that young people reading them do so with a healthy dose of criticism. Reading news like this, however, tilts the balance strongly in Rand’s favor:

The House voted this week to reauthorize and reform national service laws, which could open the door for compulsory national service. The plan will explore whether to establish a “volunteer corps” to see if “a workable, fair, and reasonable mandatory service requirement for all able young people” should be developed.

Translation: Think military draft, only you don’t get a gun and you still have to do it if you have flat feet.

At a time when the government is seriously considering coercing all Americans to toil in its service, I’ll take my doses of radical individualism wherever I can find them. Leo Grin captures what’s great about her books in an otherwise critical roundup of perspectives at NRO:

At base, Rand’s fiction is the stuff of fantasy and myth, in the best sense. Howard Roark and John Galt fill outsized roles once occupied by the likes of Achilles and Odysseus, Arthur and Lancelot. Impossibly brave and resourceful, towering in their loves and hates, they stand as sterling exemplars of treasured traits. The need for such larger-than-life heroes is evergreen.

How quickly we have forgotten the unutterable darkness of the shadows cast by various strains of collectivism throughout the 20th century! More than a hundred million dead, entire populations subjected to inhuman servitude: Against that monstrous, encroaching gloom, Rand crafted tales that sanctified freedom and individualism, burning away the saccharine happy-face of liberalism and exposing the fangs and poison sacs beneath. True, outside of Rand’s fevered imagination, Atlas is unlikely ever to shrug with such thunder and panache. But for more than 50 years, countless readers have been quietly transformed by the strength and resonance of her capitalist clarion call.

Still relevant in the Age of Obama? With all due respect to Whittaker Chambers, if we didn’t already have her, we’d have to invent her, double-quick.

Liberty on TV

Cable is one of the things I gave up when I moved to Portland. And since I don’t get decent broadcast reception in my apartment, this means I’ve given up TV entirely. By the time I arrived here there was very little left that I wanted to watch. I lost interest in Meet the Press after Tim Russert’s death, Boston Legal had only a few episodes remaining before cancellation, and aside from Top Chef everything else I watched just served as a distraction while at home. I’m happy to say that I don’t miss it at all.

It’s unlikely that I’ll go back to TV anytime soon. Much of what I want to watch is online already and, if I wanted to watch TV series, Netflix is much cheaper. I miss out on contemporary quality shows like Battlestar Gallactica, but cable competing with Netflix is essentially current television shows competing with all television shows that have come before. Given that I haven’t watched any of the acclaimed series from HBO or Showtime that have come out in the past decade, there’s not much reason for me to pay for cable instead of catching up via DVD.

All of which is a long way of saying that last Friday’s John Stossel and Drew Carey special Bullshit in America is the first show in a while to make me wish I could watch at home. (Or even better, in a room packed with friends in DC — Portland isn’t the kind of city that airs 20/20 in its bars.) Luckily, the show is available on YouTube. The arguments are oversimplified, of course, but they offer a much needed perspective in the mainstream press. Here’s my favorite segment, on federal medical marijuana raids:

President Obama and AG Eric Holder have admirably promised to end raids on medical marijuana dispensaries that are legally recognized by their state governments. However Charles Lynch, featured in the video above, remains a victim of federal prosecution. He will be sentenced to a minimum of 5 years in prison on Monday. If Obama is serious about respecting state law, he will issue a pardon in this senseless case.

The rest of the special and Drew Carey’s Reason.tv videos that inspired it can be viewed here.

Speaking of online videos, my friend Caleb Brown has put together what may be Cato’s best production yet. Here he tells the story of Susette Kelo, whose little pink house was notoriously seized by the city of New London with approval from the Supreme Court. Today the lot where her home once stood remains empty, a testament to government waste and eminent domain abuse.

Who is John Galt?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about free market types “going Galt” to protest current economic policies. This provokes my friend Jeff, and many others, to say “Go ahead, be my guest.” They’re right that few productive people are really going to venture off into the wilderness and watch the rest of the world descend into chaos, and that adolescent power fantasy is undeniably part of Atlas Shrugged’s appeal. But there’s a more sophisticated reading than that, one that’s relevant to current debates. Jason Kuznicki puts it very well in the third item of this post:

Ayn Rand hated F. A. Hayek, but in a weird way, the Hayekian idea of the entrepreneur — a little guy who happens to stumble onto a tiny, useful bit of knowledge, and who finds himself free to employ it — is a better fit to the relatively more sophisticated view of Rand’s work, which holds that Atlas is just a metaphor, not a blueprint for world takeover. Schumpeter’s heroic entrepreneur is, I think, empirically wrong, but better suited to a literal reading of Atlas.

Who is John Galt? An ephemeral process. And if you could follow that, well, you get the libertarian gold star for today.

I won’t pretend to have any great insight into how current policies will affect that process; Jim Manzi takes a stab at it here, arguing that they could be very detrimental to entrepreneurship. Even if, like Jeff, you’re not concerned about losing talent, losing investment capital and reducing the rewards to innovation should be a significant concern.

A fascinating paper from Tyler Cowen is worth contemplating here (“Caring About the Distant Future: Why It Matters and What It Means,” [pdf]). He makes the underappreciated point that economic growth isn’t simply cumulative; growth provides the fuel for further growth in an exponential process. To oversimplify, a few years delay in getting Edison’s bulb to market is a few years in which other entrepreneurs toil less productively in the dark. From the paper:

Just as the present appears remarkable from the vantage point of the past, our future may offer comparable advances in benefits. Continued progress might bring greater life expectancies, cures for debilitating diseases, and cognitive enhancements. Millions or billions of people could have much better and longer lives. Many features of modern life might someday seem as backward as we now regard the large number of women who died in childbirth for lack of proper care. It is a simple failure of imagination to believe that human progress has run its course. [...]

The importance of the growth rate increases the further into the future we look. If a country grows at 2 percent, as opposed to growing at 1 percent, the difference in welfare in a single year is relatively small. But over time the difference becomes very large. For instance, had America grown 1 percentage point less per year between 1870 and 1990, the America of 1990 would be no richer than the Mexico of 1990. At a growth rate of 5 percent per annum, it takes just over 80 years for a country to move from a per capita income of $500 to a per capita income of $25,000, defining both in terms of constant real dollars. At a growth rate of 1 percent, such an improvement takes 393 years.

Robert Lucas put it succinctly: “The consequences for human welfare involved in questions like these are simply staggering: Once one starts to think about [exponential growth], it is hard to think about anything else.”

Again, I’m not bringing this up with regard to any particular policy. But we are living in a time in which drastic measures are being taken in response to an immediate economic crisis, the costs of which will be felt for decades to come. The impact these policies will have on the ephemeral process of market production deserves attention. Conservatives and libertarians threatening to “go Galt” aren’t merely expressing selfish frustration at having to pay more taxes; they’re calling our attention to the vital moral imperative of considering long-term growth.

The right’s recession

I’ve complained often about the job market in Portland, but things may not have been much better for me even in recession-proof DC (though of course I could have just kept my job there). Elizabeth Nolan Brown covers the dim prospects for libertarian/conservative writers and activists: politicians are out of power, publications are closing down, and donations to non-profits are taking hits.

At her blog she also breaks the disappointing news that Doublethink is shutting down its print operation, going online only.

Free money, fr33 agents

I’ve been remiss in not linking yet to a couple of new sites from my friends.

First is Stimulus Watch, designed by my Crispy on the Outside co-blogger Jerry Brito. It’s a wiki site that lets citizens track stimulus spending proposals, vote on their importance, and supplement the descriptions with local knowledge. It’s searchable by location so you can find the proposals in your area. Oregon has 159 “shovel-ready” projects in the website, ranging from the plausibly appropriate to a $1.5 million dollar request for resurfacing tennis courts in Eugene.

The second is one of my new favorite blogs, Fr33 Agents by my friends Jason Talley and Tom Pearson. They profile libertarian activists and cover the “this movement like the fan boys and girls that we are.” Their daily updates are a great source for keeping up with grassroots opposition to big government interference in our lives. Go check them out.

Good on Barr

Bob Barr has a remarkably honest op-ed in today’s L.A. Times:

In 1996, as a freshman member of the House of Representatives, I wrote the Defense of Marriage Act, better known by its shorthand acronym, DOMA, than its legal title…

I’ve wrestled with this issue for the last several years and come to the conclusion that DOMA is not working out as planned. In testifying before Congress against a federal marriage amendment, and more recently while making my case to skeptical Libertarians as to why I was worthy of their support as their party’s presidential nominee, I have concluded that DOMA is neither meeting the principles of federalism it was supposed to, nor is its impact limited to federal law.

In effect, DOMA’s language reflects one-way federalism: It protects only those states that don’t want to accept a same-sex marriage granted by another state. Moreover, the heterosexual definition of marriage for purposes of federal laws — including, immigration, Social Security survivor rights and veteran’s benefits — has become a de facto club used to limit, if not thwart, the ability of a state to choose to recognize same-sex unions.

Even more so now than in 1996, I believe we need to reduce federal power over the lives of the citizenry and over the prerogatives of the states. It truly is time to get the federal government out of the marriage business. In law and policy, such decisions should be left to the people themselves.

In 2006, when then-Sen. Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment, he said, “Decisions about marriage should be left to the states.” He was right then; and as I have come to realize, he is right now in concluding that DOMA has to go. If one truly believes in federalism and the primacy of state government over the federal, DOMA is simply incompatible with those notions.

I’ve voted for the Libertarian Party candidate in all three presidential elections in which I’ve been eligible, usually as a protest vote rather than to express an actual desire to see the candidate in office. I don’t know if Harry Browne would have made a decent leader, though “better than Bush” seems a safe answer. Michael Badnarik clearly would not have been. Ron Paul, to whose Republican campaign I donated prior to the newsletter scandal, was better as a figurehead than a policymaker.Yet Barr really does have a sharp mind for policy and an admirable ability to revise his own views; see his writing on the Drug War, another issue where he alienates old conservative allies. It’s disappointing that his campaign never took off, but I’m glad to see he’s still making his voice heard. We need more like it right now.

Rigging the system

Whenever I tell people that I support scrapping practically all of our campaign finance laws, they say that I must have a ridiculous amount of trust in politicians and private donors. Nothing could be further from the truth, which is one reason that disclosure for large donations is one regulation I could potentially still support. It takes much greater faith in human nature to believe that allowing incumbent politicians to write the laws governing their own elections will lead to a healthy democracy. In his most recent column, Radley Balko summarizes the many ways the ruling parties have rigged the system to keep challengers at bay:

Consider these two figures: Congress’ approval rating right now is a dismal 19 percent. Clearly, we aren’t happy with the people who are governing us. Yet 90-95 percent of the incumbents running for re-election to Congress will be victorious on election night. Many will run unopposed. Between gerrymandering their districts to ensure a friendly electorate, campaign finance legislation, debate rules that effectively bar third-party participants, onerous ballot access rules, and the privileges of office, the Democrats and Republicans have ensured that the vast majority of the country will chose only between one of two candidates this year — candidates who, when it comes right down to it, really aren’t all that different.

Whole thing here. For a more in-depth look at campaign finance, John Samples’ The Fallacy of Campaign Finance Reform is well worth reading.

Struggling to identify the lesser evil

I’m not going to endorse anyone in this election. As with the previous two presidential races in which I’ve been eligible to vote, I’ll be throwing my ballot to the Libertarians on the theory that my vote has a vanishingly small chance of affecting the outcome and its marginal value is greater for a small third party than for the Big Two. I’m also glad to have a respectable candidate on the LP ticket this year; I won’t have to hold my nose voting for Bob Barr as I did voting for the insane Michael Badnarik. I expect McCain and Obama both have the potential to be disastrously bad presidents and I won’t take an affirmative act in favor of either of them. The question then isn’t so much which of them I’d rather see in office as it is whose victory will drive me to the fewest shots of bourbon on election night and beyond.

One of my friends recently pointed out that this site has an anti-Obama bias. He’s right, but it’s not because I think Obama is substantially worse than McCain. It’s because so many intelligent people seem to be under Obama’s spell, taking it on faith that he’s going to be a fantastically transformational president. The few McCain supporters I know are more grounded. They don’t particularly like the guy or what he stands for, but they soberly think him the lesser of two evils, especially given Democrats’ control of Congress. (There are plenty of stupidly enthusiastic McCain supporters as well, but I don’t think they read this blog.)

Throughout this campaign I’ve wavered about which of the two I think would be least destructive in office. I initially favored Obama, if for no other reason than to kick the reigning bastards out. I later drifted toward McCain based on the superiority of many of his policy ideas. Then he nominated Palin for VP and it got really hard to be a self-respecting McCain defender. Ever since the convention the McCain campaign has been an intellectual disaster. Perhaps there is no way McCain could have won this election, but he could have at least forced Obama into a more substantive discussion. If he had, he could have made a respectable play for the politically secular, socially tolerant, economically literate voter. It’s extremely disappointing that he didn’t, because he could have made a good case for himself on a number of issues:

Trade: McCain boasts an admirably long career of promoting free trade. According to Cato’s trade vote tracker, since 1997 he’s voted 88% of the time against trade barriers (35 of 40 votes) and against subsidies 80% (8 out of 10 votes). Obama has a thinner record, but it’s consistently anti-trade: Out of 18 opportunities to vote in favor of free trade, he did so only 4 times. This matches his rhetoric on the campaign trail, where he stokes resentment toward foreign trade by blaming outsourcing for our economic woes. McCain’s the clear favorite here.

The popular line among Obama-leaning libertarians right now is that Obama is only appearing anti-trade to get elected and that he’s clever enough to implement better policies once he’s in office. Maybe, but that’s not the way his record points. It strikes me as equally likely that he’ll be true to his word on restricting trade and waver in his support of civil liberties, as he in fact has a record of doing. Counting on Obama to stand up against his own rhetoric, Democratic interest groups, and an anti-trade, pro-regulation Congress is a thin reed on which to place one’s hopes.

Climate change: The best way to cut carbon emissions is to tax them directly or institute a system of cap-and-trade. Ideally no candidate would propose anything besides these ideas and some highly targeted grants to basic research. In the real world politicians invariably support handouts to special interests, too.

Obama and McCain both support cap-and-trade, though Obama’s targets are slightly more ambitious and therefore more costly. They both support subsidies to coal and renewable power. Obama has his own grab bag of other subsidies and handouts to promote. Though you won’t hear them say much about it now, Obama and Biden both have a long history of boosting ethanol, subsidies McCain has had the guts to call out as wasteful sops to farm states that don’t actually help the environment. McCain would advocate subsidies for the construction of nuclear plants and offer prizes for research; there are reasons to be dubious of the nuclear idea and thankfully he may not be able to win support for it.

On an issue where both candidates spout a lot of nonsense, McCain’s plan has an edge for likely being less expensive. If you’re against throwing money at reducing carbon emissions, McCain’s your man. If you’re in favor of doing that, he’s still your man because he’ll waste less money in the process. A major obstacle to addressing climate change is getting the system of cap-and-trade instituted in the first place; if McCain doesn’t reduce emissions to the degree you prefer you can tighten the restrictions four years later. Whatever reasonable position you may have on climate change, there’s a good argument for McCain being the smarter pick.

Subsidies and spending: Speaking of subsidies, remember that $300 billion farm bill from this past spring? McCain has consistently opposed farm subsidies, preferring to defend the interests of US farmers by opening foreign markets to trade. Obama staunchly supports the handouts, with the exception of opposing our notorious sugar protectionism. Until he had to win the Florida vote, that is. Now he supports that too.

Predictably neither candidate is addressing the true causes of uncontrolled government spending: entitlements and the military budget. They both want to expand the military and neither is likely to meaningfully reform entitlements, though McCain does have a decent fiscal record. McCain at least will be better at resisting new government largesse. I worry about the new entitlements a liberal Democratic supermajority will put into place — spending programs that will be practically impossible to reverse once they’ve been implemented.

Health care: I don’t pretend to know how to “fix” the US health care system. I am convinced that decoupling health insurance from employment and bringing more market pressures to bear on health care costs would be worthwhile approaches to reform. McCain’s plan would transfer the tax credit from employers to individuals, free up the insurance market by allowing plans to compete across state lines, and open group plans to new kinds of associations. These all strike me as steps in the right direction.

Taxes: Making sense of tax policies is a struggle even for experts and I don’t pretend to be one. Neither candidate is pushing comprehensive reform. Clive Crook argues that McCain has undersold his plan since after accounting for his refundable health insurance credit it will arguably make middle class Americans better off than they’d be under Obama’s. This issue, along with long-term deficits, has received too little attention in the campaign.

Foreign policy: No, McCain doesn’t have an advantage here, but Obama’s not as superior as people think. He is not principally opposed to committing US troops to foreign intervention; he’ll just commit troops to presumably nicer, smarter wars than McCain would. He may prove dangerously hawkish on Iran if diplomacy fails to prevent it from moving forward with nuclear projects. He and McCain seem equally reckless regarding Georgia. But a key difference is this: When a President McCain proposes sending our troops into a new arena, he’ll face skepticism from the media and a Democratic Congress who will accuse him of continuing failed policies from the Bush years. President Obama will get a free pass since he’s by definition smart and nice and doesn’t fight stupid wars like Bush did. When Obama proposes deploying US troops, who will step up to counter his ambitions? And why does he want to add 90,000 troops to the military unless he foresees a use for them?

Divided government: The most compelling reason to vote for McCain is that he’ll face a Democratic Congress. Though it’s hard to run a pro-gridlock campaign, for advocates of limited government it’s the best thing McCain’s got going for him. If we have learned one thing from the post-9/11 Bush Administration, it is that we should be wary of trusting a charismatic president whose party controls both houses of Congress in time of perceived crisis. This year the crisis is financial rather than military, the presumptive president even more charismatic than before, and Congress potentially even beyond the reach of filibuster by the minority party. That’s a hell of a lot power to trust in one man. Would President McCain, or even President Palin, be so terrible as to make this the preferred alternative?

A counter to this argument is that Republicans need to spend some time in the wilderness to renew their small government credentials. I agree, and for that reason I’m glad to see that they’ll lose even more seats in Congress and that they’re sweeping George Bush under the rug as thoroughly as possible. But I’m not sure that handing the levers of power entirely to the Democrats is worth the long-term cost or that exiled Republicans wouldn’t look instead to culture warriors like Palin to redefine the GOP. Hoping they’ll return with a new Goldwater or Reagan or Gingrich is taking a big risk for a very uncertain payoff.

On a related note, a last argument in McCain’s favor is that there’s a decent chance he’d be a one-term man. He even flirted with the idea of making a one-term pledge. Obama will likely enjoy two. Except in the unlikely event that there’s been no economic recovery or a foreign policy disaster four years from now, he’ll be in a position to win re-election. So what’s worse, eight years of Obama, or four of McCain followed by a potentially open contest?

That’s the best case I can make for McCain. I don’t find it compelling; the specter of McCain-Palin foreign policy looms too large over any prospect of them assuming office, especially in the worst possible scenarios. If McCain hadn’t chosen such an obscenely unqualified vice presidential nominee I could feel more confident in preferring him. If Republicans could maintain control over just one house of Congress I could rest easier about Obama’s big government ambitions. We’re left instead with two atrocious choices. For all the reasons given above, I can’t join in the chorus of libertarians half-heartedly rooting for Obama. I can’t root for McCain either, but I confess I’ll feel more relief than I perhaps should if by some miracle he wins on Tuesday. Luckily, it appears there’s little chance he’ll have the opportunity to prove me wrong.

The God-touched president

Radley’s been posting the YouTube videos of John Stossel’s recent special on American politics. Since I don’t have a TV in Portland yet, I’m grateful. Here’s my favorite segment, a look at how the complex campaign finance laws backed by McCain and other progressives confound political outsiders.

The opening sequence is good as well.

In a related vein, here’s Cato’s Gene Healy discussing the 1933 film Gabriel Over the White House, in which a hack president is touched by an angel and transforms into a benevolent dictator finding solutions to all the country’s problems.

No one’s expecting Obama to round up and execute his opposition, but “the God-touched president” is an apt metaphor for how high expectations of his leadership have risen. Perhaps the most distressing thing about Obama is how he’s taken a generation attuned to the knowing irony of The Colbert Report and South Park and brought them back to the earnest belief in salvation through politics seen in this Roosevelt-era movie.

Cato in The Post

My friends at Cato get a nice profile in The Washington Post today:

The specter of the most titanic intervention in the markets since Franklin Roosevelt started sewing the safety net has folks at the Cato Institute reaching for something strong.

“I’m thinking of taking up drinking,” says David Boaz, executive vice president.

He’s kidding, of course. Just a little gallows humor from the author of “Libertarianism: A Primer,” who has a Goldwater poster and two busts of Adam Smith in his office.

Instead, in their handsome building on Massachusetts Avenue, faced with a proposed $700 billion government bailout of Wall Street, this town’s most gung-ho libertarians and free-marketeers are reaching for their coffee and their keyboards. They are invigorated. The prospect of doom and ruination for everything they hold dear only makes them stronger.

I feel bad for the media intern who will have to figure out how to log all the references and quotes from the article, but I’m glad to see Cato get such a sympathetic treatment. Now if only the Post would start incorporating more free market policy ideas into its articles…

An a-Paul-ing endorsement

Recently I was feeling nostalgic for Ron Paul. If Obama’s likely to win the White House anyway, it would have been far better to see him spar with an intellectually interesting Republican rather than a political hack like McCain. Then yesterday he endorsed Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party for president. Dave Weigel offers a taste of Baldwin’s rhetoric. Such as this, from a few days after 9/11:

…it is now time for the American people to realize that the liberal policies of the last 30 years have created the opportunity for terrorists like those who attacked us Tuesday to accomplish their heinous crimes. America’s foolish fascination with multiculturalism and unrestricted illegal immigration made it easy for those Islamic terrorists to do what they did…

Our Founding Fathers knew that our nation’s protection was ultimately in the hands of God. Freedom and security are the blessings of God. Since God was no idle spectator when our country was birthed, He is no idle spectator today. Both blessing and judgment belong to Him. He can accomplish either according to His will.

It is, therefore, imperative that America returns to God! For nearly a half-century, we have forsaken the moral principles of Heaven. We have legally murdered too many unborn babies. We have too readily accepted aberrant, sexual behavior. We kicked Heaven out of our schools, out of our homes, and out of our hearts. As a result, God is giving us a little taste of Hell.

This in a year when the LP nominated former Congressman Bob Barr, one of the most credible candidates the party’s ever put on the ballot. As with Paul’s disgraceful failure to fire the guy who authored his racist newsletters, the Baldwin endorsement shows an appalling lack of judgment. Paul accomplished a fair amount of good with his primary campaign, but as far as I’m concerned now he can’t fade into obscurity fast enough.

Update: James Poulos has more reactions here.

“The Libertarian” speaks

Forbes.com launched a new column this week called “The Libertarian” featuring Richard Epstein. I’d rather see libertarian ideas mainstreamed than walled off into their own cage at the ideological zoo, but I’m glad that Epstein is contributing regularly. He’s a fascinating scholar and his book Skepticism and Freedom is one of the most rigorous defenses of classical liberalism there is. The introduction to the column is light but the coming articles about labor markets promise to be interesting.

[Via the University of Chicago Faculty Blog.]

Barr on drugs

When it comes to drug prohibition, Bob Barr is far, far saner than either major candidate.