, a journal of politics and culture.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Job Killer

We are in a rough economy. More people are losing their jobs. Some businesses are having a hard time making it. Therefore, obviously, this is a great time for the automatic increase to Colorado's minimum wage, ensuring that the least-skilled, youngest people looking for a job will have a harder time finding one.

As the AP reports, the minimum wage will go up to $7.28, and to $4.26 for tipped employees, tomorrow.

Of course, the real minimum wage is zero, and that is the wage that more entry-level workers will now be receiving, thanks to Colorado's "progressive" community. But, hey, the progressives will be there to save the poor unemployed with food stamps, Medicaid, etc.

Thankfully, the kids of yuppy "progressives" can continue live off their parents as they work for free as interns, thereby "exploiting" themselves into high-paying jobs later on.


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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Attorney General Bilks Drug Producer

Tillie Fong reports:

Colorado will get $1.2 million from a national settlement with Cephalon Inc., after the pharmaceutical company was accused of marketing and promoting three drugs for "off-label" use.

The announcement by the Colorado attorney general's office Monday said the money will be used to reimburse the state Medicaid system. ...

While it is legal for doctors to prescribe Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs for off- label use, drug companies are not allowed to market or promote directly their drugs for such purposes.

Is there any claim that Cephalon's advertisements were fraudulent? No. Is there claim that Cephalon has acted negligently? None that I'm aware of. (I checked the AG's web page and found no media release on the matter.)

So this company has been punished for advertising its products and selling them to willing customers. Doing business is now often a crime in the United States.

These restrictions are a violation of the company's rights of free speech, property, and association.

While often the attorney general's office does important work protecting people's rights, in this case it has helped violate people's rights and undermined the proper purpose of government.

Let us say that a company does act fraudulently or negligently. Is there a proper government role in such cases? Yes! There is a role for both criminal fraud and criminal negligence. However, the more important role for government is to provide the legal context for tort. That is, people should be able to sue a company for fraud or negligence. Now, torts should be restricted such that companies may not be punished for unforeseeable harms or for transactions in which customers voluntarily accept risk.

But in no case would fraud or negligence justify the government transferring wealth from the company at fault to a welfare program! Instead, any damages should go directly to the victims. (Whether a state welfare agency decides to pay for certain drugs for certain purposes is a different issue, and not one that justifies legally punishing drug producers.)

In this case, though, there were no victims -- except for the company itself and its customers.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Liebowitz Explains Mortgage Meltdown

Stan J. Liebowitz of the Independent Institute wrote a paper this last fall titled, "Anatomy of a Train Wreck: Causes of the Mortgage Meltdown." He summarizes (on page 4):

[M]ortgage underwriting standards had been undermined by virtually every branch of the government since the early 1990s. The government had been attempting to increase home ownership in the U.S., which had been stagnant for several decades. In particular, the government had tried to increase home ownership among poor and minority Americans. Although a seemingly noble goal, the tool chosen to achieve this goal was one that endangered the entire mortgage enterprise: intentional weakening of the traditional mortgage-lending standards.

After the government succeeded in weakening underwriting standards, mortgages seemed to require virtually no down payment, which is the main key to the problem, but few restrictions on the size of monthly payments relative to income, little examination of credit scores, little examination of employment history, and so forth also contributed. This was exactly the government's goal. ...

The increase in home ownership increased the price of housing, helping to create a housing "bubble." The bubble brought in a large number of speculators in the form of individuals owning one or two houses who hoped to quickly resell them at a profit. Estimates are that one quarter of all home sales were speculative sales of this nature. ... Once housing prices stopped rising, these speculators tried to get out from under their investments made largely with other peoples' money, which is why foreclosures increased mainly for adjustable-rate mortgages and not for fixed-rate mortgages, regardless of whether mortgages were prime or subprime.

Liebowitz goes a long way in explaining the economic problems in which we find ourselves. One lesson to be learned is that "owernship" ought not be confused with a free market. Ownership via voluntary transactions is wonderful; ownership through political force is dangerous.


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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ten Ways to Tell You're Not Free Market

Free markets require the protection of individual rights to life, liberty, and property. While it's more important to talk about what free markets are, there are some obvious cases that show what they aren't. Following are a few, in no particular order. If you answer "yes" to the any of the following questions, you don't support the free market.

1. You endorse protective tariffs.

2. You support antitrust laws.

3. You support censorship -- i.e., government restrictions on speech -- of any kind.

4. You think something (such as a retirement fund) is "privatized" if politicians require its purchase and set the terms by which it's purchased.

5. You think the goal of raising net tax revenues justifies cutting tax rates.

6. You advocate forcing people to purchase health insurance.

7. You believe there are cases in which we must "abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system."

8. You advocate corporate welfare.

9. You advocate welfare -- i.e., the forced redistribution of wealth -- for the poor.

10. You think an "ownership society" justifies political intervention in the economy.

Obviously, these ten points are directed mostly at conservatives who pretend to support free markets while working to further socialize the economy. The left is so openly hostile to free markets that a ten-point list is rather beside the point.


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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Bush Rationalizes Bailouts

George W. Bush, a terrible president in nearly every respect, continues his assault on free markets. As Patrick Buchanan notes and others have verified, Bush told CNN in defense of auto bailouts, "I've abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system."

But Bush never had any free-market principles to abandon. He's been one of the more statist presidents, though lagging behind the likes of Hoover and FDR, dramatically expanding the scope and power of the federal government.

Bush's statement is pragmatism on steroids: it is not merely the view that principles are unnecessary, but that they should be actively violated.

But liberty cannot be saved by violating liberty. To the degree that free-market principles are abandoned, the free-market system no longer exists. Free markets are free from the initiation of force and fraud. Free markets exist when government limits its activities to protecting people's rights to life and property. When the government forcibly takes wealth from some to redistribute to others, that is not a free market, it is a politically-controlled one.

Bush might as well say that he's committing theft to protect property or assault to protect the integrity of the victim. He might as well say he's drinking vodka to stave off drunkenness, cheating to preserve fairness, or lying to protect the truth.

The primary reason that American auto manufacturers are in trouble is that they do not function in a free-market system. They function in a system of federal manipulation of the money supply, federal manipulation of the housing supply (which has generally mucked up the economy), federal manipulation of auto production, and federal manipulation of associations.

There is only one way to save the free-market system, and that is to reinstate the principles of free markets, the principles of liberty, the principles of individual rights. By trampling free-market principles, Bush is helping to destroy the free-market system.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Six Good Paintings

Ivar Zeile of Denver's Plus Gallery wrote in to tell me that I have a narrow mind for failing to confuse expensive garbage with art. I thought I would take this opportunity to indicate just how narrow-minded I am when it comes to art. My view of art is so narrow, and my view of good art narrower still, that I think most of what falls under the misnomers of "abstract" or "conceptual" isn't even art, and I am drawn only to a small portion of real art works.

Here I will mention only two artists that I've recently discovered through Art Renewal.

Donato Giancola often paints things like book covers and trading cards in the science-fiction and fantasy genres. But his best work rises above such limitations. I love his "Mystic and Rider" and "Ashling" (both of which appeared on book covers). His playful "Museum" also merits attention. "Cartographer" is a fantastic portrait, though I find the flowing maps a bit overbearing.

One thing I like about Giancola is that he is unapologetically a commercial painter. He prices his prints to sell to the general public (and indeed I purchased two). While some of his works are too tied to some particular backstory to be of general artistic interest (including his portrait of Superman), his best paintings break all such ties.

Duffy Sheridan is perhaps the better technical artist, but his work is less accessible (literally, not as art). I asked whether prints of one of his paintings are available; I was told they weren't because of the rough economy (which struck me as a peculiar answer to economic trouble). Nevertheless, I adore his "Confidant." It is beautifully, vividly painted (though I doubt I'll ever get the chance to see the original). And the expression it captures! Take a look also at Sheridan's "Trust."

What the hell -- I'll brake out of my narrow artistic confines and add a seventh painting that I've long admired: Michael Newberry's "Denouement," perhaps the finest expression of romantic love ever to grace a canvas.

While these are only a few of the works of art that I love, I do want to emphasize just how extremely narrowly I direct my artistic adoration. My contempt for faux art ranges rather more broadly.


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Economic Liberty Means Prosperity

Two stories from the newspapers today suggest something interesting about the attractiveness of economic liberty.

The Denver Post reports:

Rollie Heath, a Boulder Democrat elected to the [State] Senate, said that as lawmakers grapple in the coming session with cutting as much as $600 million from the budget because of declining revenues, they should also look at TABOR [the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights], a revenue-capping provision of the state's constitution.

The state is in a timeout from TABOR's tax-revenue limits, but that timeout expires in 2010, when Colorado will have to begin refunding to taxpayers any revenue it collects over TABOR's prescribed limit. ...

Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, who also is a member of the Committee on Job Creation and Economic Growth, shuddered at the idea.

"When did job creation become about maximizing the government's budget?" Mitchell said, "TABOR isn't constricting state revenues at all right now. When TABOR resumes, it won't cut anything.... If someone thinks that's a chokehold, they have emphysema."

It's good to see that some Republicans continue to take seriously the virtues of economic liberty.

The second story comes from the Rocky Mountain News:

Colorado may not be booming these days, but it remains among the fastest-growing states in the nation, placing third, along with Texas and North Carolina, with population growth of 2 percent.

Utah outstripped Colorado for the No. 1 spot nationwide, growing at 2.5 percent, while Arizona came in second, with growth of 2.3 percent between July 2007 and July 2008.

Still, Colorado gained 96,686 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with total population reaching 4.9 million, up from 4.8 million in July 2007.

Unlike Utah, where much of the growth comes from natural births, Colorado's surge in head count is due largely to an influx of 52,398 migrants from other states and countries, according to Robert Bernstein, a spokesman for the U.S. Census in Washington, D.C.

Is it merely coincidence that people like to move toward economic liberty? No. True, Colorado is attractive for a variety of other reasons, particularly the mountains. Yet, accounting for other variables, people tend to move toward economic liberty and away from economic political controls.

The U.S. Economic Freedom Index: 2008 Report explains the connection. The summary states:

The net migration rate for the 20 freest states was 27.36 people per 1,000, while it was a low 1.17 people per 1,000 for the 20 most economically oppressed states. “People are moving to the freest states and fleeing the least free states as our market-based migration metric of economic freedom predicts,” said Lawrence J. McQuillan, Ph.D., director of Business and Economic Studies at PRI and director of the project. “By measuring economic freedom and studying its effects, people will gain a fuller appreciation of the important imprint it makes on the economic and political fabric of America and will encourage new state legislation that advances economic liberty.” ...

South Dakota, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Nevada, and Oklahoma rank among the top 10 most economically free states in the nation.

Unfortunately, none of the states is very free, and all suffer from a bloated federal government. So Colorado is freer only on a relative scale. But liberty ought not be graded on a curve. Individual rights deserve respect all of the time, not merely sometimes. What Colorado needs is more economic liberty and less political control of the economy.

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Sowell Blasts Smoot-Hawley Tariff

Thomas Sowell's point about Republican Herbert Hoover's Smoot-Hawley Tariff is worth reviewing. Citing Out of Work by Richard Vedder and Lowell Gallaway, Sowell points out:

The Vedder and Gallaway statistics allow us to follow unemployment month by month. They put the unemployment rate at 5 percent in November 1929, a month after the stock market crash. It hit 9 percent in December-- but then began a generally downward trend, subsiding to 6.3 percent in June 1930.

That was when the Smoot-Hawley tariffs were passed, against the advice of economists across the country, who warned of dire consequences.

Five months after the Smoot-Hawley tariffs, the unemployment rate hit double digits for the first time in the 1930s.

This was more than a year after the stock market crash.

Both Hoover and FDR worsened the economy in a variety of other ways, but Hoover's tariff was a horrible blunder.

Sowll ends on this ominous note: "Barack Obama already has his Herbert Hoover to blame for any and all disasters that his policies create: George W. Bush."


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Monday, December 22, 2008

Bailout for Santa Claus?

The following originally was published December 22 by Grand Junction's Free Press.

Would Santa Claus plead for a bailout?

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

For this week's column we submit the following letter that we suspect fell out of Santa's sleigh on one of his pre-Christmas runs.

Dear Mr. President and the Congress,

You've all written me many "Dear Santa" letters, asking me to fulfill your every childhood dream. I did try to give you something meaningful each year, though many of you made the naughty list more often than I would have liked.

Now it's my turn to write you a letter. It pained me to have to hire my first American lobbyist a few years ago, Edgerton the Elf. Edgerton is a good elf, but I'm afraid he's been caught up in the bailout frenzy currently sweeping your lovely little country.

Edgerton pleaded with me to write you a letter asking for my own bailout. Can you imagine -- a bailout for Santa Claus! Well, why not? It seems like everyone else is asking for a bailout on somebody else's dime. Why not me?

I am delighted to take this opportunity to explain why I oppose all bailouts.

You may wonder why I sent my elf Edgerton to Washington. It is unfortunate, shameful, even, that so many Americans treat lobbying as the practice of gaining other people's money or political advantages over their competitors.

My sole interest in keeping a lobbyist is frankly to protect myself from you. Take labor. My elves are perfectly happy to work for me, and those who wish to work elsewhere are free to do so. (I'm delighted that several of my former employees made it big in Hollywood.) Our employment arrangement is properly between us.

Yet some Americans, in a misguided desire to protect their own industries, keep trying to export the crazy American labor laws that go far beyond protecting the right to freely associate. These laws instead artificially boost the wages of some at the expense of consumers and other workers. This is among the reasons your auto producers now face the possibility of bankruptcy.

In the auto industry, executives and union members alike now want to force other Americans to hand over their money, at the cost of surrendering yet more autonomy to politicians. After all, Washington bailed out various banks and lined other pockets, so why not car makers, too?

You don't need Rudolph's nose to see where this is headed. If people who declare to be in need are able to take by political force the wealth of others, then more will figure out how to become needy, and those paying the bills will wonder why they continue to work so hard. They will even wonder why they shouldn't just throw in the mufflers and sign up for their share of the loot.

I've been around long enough to see what happens to countries that follow this course to its logical conclusion. It is the ugly spectacle of everybody trying to steal from everybody else, first under color of law, by other means later on.

Ah, but aren't I the most famous bringer of free gifts? Perhaps. But notice that they are mine to give. I have the resources and ability to do it, and I deeply enjoy it, traveling the world and keeping up with the world's children.

Also notice that I give gifts based on niceness. What is the essence of naughtiness? Here are a couple examples. This past year, little Jed from downtown -- you know who you are -- punched Jamie in the face for no good reason. And Steve from Fruita stole a candy bar from the market.

Naughtiness comes in many forms, but the sort I'm most concerned with is hurting other people and stealing from them, whether by force or through lies. So, I'm sorry to say, most of you politicians have made my naughty list big time this year. Taking people's things by force doesn't become nice just because you vote on it. Giving away things that don't belong to you isn't "playing Santa Claus."

I know you've been shoveling the smelly reindeer stuff about this, pretending you're doing it to "stimulate" the economy. The only things you've been stimulating are the special interests and your reelection coffers. It turns out that people don't feel very stimulated when they keep less of what they earn and see that dissipate in inflation.

If you really want to help people, then quit being naughty. Quit giving some the ability to impose their will on others through force. Protect people's rights to lead their own lives and interact with others by mutual consent.

Now I hope you'll excuse me, as there's purple smoke billowing from one of my work rooms. Remember you have free will, and it's up to you to move from the naughty list to nice. I've always found that to be a big part of Christmas wonder. Now, to all a good night.

Santa Claus


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Thursday, December 18, 2008

FTC Continues Whole Foods Witch Hunt

The thugs at the Federal Trade Commission continue to flog Whole Foods for the sin of selling people groceries they want to buy. You see, the FTC thinks -- strike that, pretends -- that by merging with Wild Oats, Whole Foods would somehow constitute a monopoly. Yet, beyond the inherent flaws of the antitrust mentality, it is obvious to anyone who's ever been to local grocery stores that Whole Foods doesn't hold a monopoly.

Yet we can rest easy, in this time of economic trouble, knowing that the FTC is passing along millions of dollars in legal fees to people trying to buy food.

Vincent Carroll wrote up some comments about the case a couple days ago. Ryan Puzycki does a good job explaining the basic errors of antitrust doctrine.

My goal here is simply to point out that Whole Foods in no way holds any monopoly power over the market. In addition to the fact that the huge grocery chains such as King Soopers carry a wide variety of organic products, two markets have expanded in Colorado to compete even more directly with Whole Foods.

Sprouts "offers a large selection of vitamins and supplements, all natural meats, fresh seafood, bins full of bulk foods, an extensive selection of natural and organic grocery items, rBST free milk, imported cheeses, deli meats, old fashioned bakery and more." The market has two Colorado locations open and plans to open two more.

The Denver Post reported on May 13, 2008, "Natural-food and organic-produce offerings along the Front Range will expand again when Phoenix-based Sprouts Farmer's Market arrives in the fall."

Sunflower Farmers Market -- which I visited just yesterday -- has open nine Colorado stores and plans to open two more. Progressive Grocer reported on January 16, 2008, "Sunflower Farmers Market, a rapidly growing organic and natural supermarket chain based here [in Boulder], said yesterday it plans to grow its store base in Utah and Colorado this year."

And let us not forget about Vitamin Cottage, yet another natural market, with its 25 Colorado stores and two more on the way.

The only monopoly Colorado consumers need to worry about is the FTC's monopoly on stupidity and vindictiveness.


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Pretend Art Uglifies City

I suppose because Denver is a cow town, its residents must demonstrate to the world that they can compete with the best in erecting ugly, ridiculous mounds of crap and pretending that it's art.

I learned about the latest blob from Vincent Carroll, one of the few true artists of the city, who describes John McEnroe's National Velvet as "a towering stack of crimson intestines, or slippery sausages, or whatever they are, plopped on a pedestal near the pedestrian bridge at Interstate 25 and Platte Street."

The cost to taxpayers? $53,000. Because, you know, it's not as though Denver is in the midst of a bona fide budget emergency.

Jim on Light pointed me to Joel Warner's list of more descriptive titles for the work: “Wet Salami,” "Penis Bags," "Kidney beans," "Tower of Power," and the winner, "Saggy-Boob Electric Penis."

Just great. Denver is now home to the Saggy-Boob Electric Penis. No cows here -- just high culture.

Here's yet another photo of it in case you just can't get enough.

Thankfully, we have Denver's Top Progressive Contemporary Art Gallery to let us know what we're supposed to think of the new work:

Todays Rocky Mountain News continues the coverage with art critic Mary Chandler weighing in [on December 12]. Chandler is one of the more reasoned voices in the debate, having followed McEnroe's public and gallery work for many years...

[N]ow the famous internet site [YouTube] adds a new piece to the collection called "Biggest Dick in Denver." This of course would be relating to Plus Gallery's infamous contemporary artist who apparently knows how to swing a racket but is most widely known for his cutting edge approach to contemporary art. "National Velvet" recently drew the wrath of a local right-wing radio station and the ire of select people in the community who neither understand or appreciate public art. A good citizen of the state has decided to post a reflection on the debate that is both entertaining and thought provoking on the subject, see for yourself...

He swings quite a racket, all right.

I love the gallery's progressive attitude: if you disagree with the gallery, you're just stupid, and no explanation is either possible or necessary.

We'll start with the YouTube video. The point of the video is that people can't figure out what the piece is, so they suggest it looks like all sorts of things, while a couple of silly radio talk show hosts insisted it is a collection of penises, which supposedly says more about the radio hosts than it does about the work.

Well, it is a stretch to insist it looks like penises. The fact is that it doesn't look like anything, which is why people see similarities with various other things. But the fact that some red blob looks vaguely like a pile of kidney beans or various other things to different observers doesn't demonstrate that the blob is provocative art. It may be provocative, but so what? One can find things equally provocative-looking in any dumpster for free. What it is not is art.

I also love the gallery's self-serving conflation of "public art" with tax-funded art. Obviously the two are not the same thing at all. If some group had purchased the Ugly Red Blob with its own money and erected it outside on the group's own property, it still would have been "public art" (or at least a public display), it just wouldn't have been purchased through inherently unjust wealth transfers. The rest of us would have remained free to condemn the work esthetically, but we would have been bound to recognize the rights of its owners to purchase and display it.

Now for Chandler's article, which reminds us that the pending demise of the Rocky is not in every respect a disaster. Chandler's basic theme is that, if you reject the Blob, you're hysterical and "allergic to free-range culture." An argument like that needs no reply.

The one useful thing that Chandler contributes is a note connecting the piece to Denver's Percent for Art program. According to one document I looked up, "The program directs 1% of the money used for capital improvement projects on land owned by the City & County of Denver to be applied to works of public art. Each project engages a volunteer selection panel that includes local community members, facility representatives, and arts experts."

While I'm at it, I might as well indicate some of Denver's other ugly art and artistic pretensions. Actually, The Poorest Tourist does a pretty good job of it. I had in mind particularly the piece that Tourist dubs "A Side of Fries," though his other selections are also pretty damned ugly (though most do at least fall within the category of art). Here's a much better -- uh, much more vivid -- picture of the ugly blue demon horse out at the airport.

No catalog of ugly Denver art is complete without special mention of Daniel Libeskind's House of Horrors art museum. Some require the use of nausea medication in the building to keep from vomiting. It looks as though it were once a proper building, but a giant Samurai warrior chopped it into pieces with his giant sword, letting the pieces fall where they may. The joke is that the building is at least protected from terrorist attacks -- because it already looks like it's been hit.

But remember that there is beauty in the world. After all of the above I need a good long break with Art Renewal.


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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

'I Haven't Read Any Statute' on Gun Shows, Buy-Back Organizer Says

The New Covenant Christian Church intends to host a gun buy-back on December 27. Volunteers with the effort also collected ten guns at or near City Park on December 6, for which they paid a total of $500, according to Pastor Reginald Holmes of New Covenant.

According to Colorado law, the event on December 6 as well as the scheduled event on December 27 qualify as gun shows, yet organizers made no indication that they followed the gun-show law on December 6 or intend to do so at the later event. Holmes said, "This is not a gun show," but he admitted, "No, I haven't read any statute" on the matter." He said he would evaluate the text of the statute and get back with me.

As I've reviewed, the statutes are clear on the matter. Statute 12-26.1-106 states a gun show is in operation when "not less than three gun show vendors exhibit, sell, offer for sale, transfer, or exchange firearms." A "vendor" is defined as "any person who exhibits, sells, offers for sale, transfers, or exchanges, any firearm at a gun show." The statute lists no exception for later turning in the guns to the police.

The statutes further define three main requirements for gun shows. First, anyone accepting guns must undergo a background check. Second, a licensed gun dealer must be on hand to record each transaction. Third, organizers must post notice of the gun show and its background-check requirements.

Holmes talked about his goals and criticized my interpretation of the statute.

Holmes said the problem for the December 27 event is "getting enough sponsors... We've used our money up to this point, and haven't got much support from the community."

Holmes said of the December 6 event, "We had over 40 people to show up to turn guns in... We had $500 on hand, we took in ten guns," and turned them into Denver's "Manager of Safety, as well as other Denver police officers."

Holmes said that, on December 27, "there will be police officers on hand." Will the organizers pay them? "No, we're not paying them." Holmes said police "probably won't be there for the whole thing," only "for the collection" of the guns.

However, Detective Sonny Jackson said "we're not involved in that" as far as he's aware, though organizers might have spoken with a police official without his knowledge.

I should have asked Holmes who specifically he or his fellow organizers contacted on the Denver police force regarding the December 27 event, because I've now talked to two detectives who know of no police involvement with it. I asked Jackson to get back with me if he learns more information about this.

Jackson did point out that any gun turned in will be investigated. The "only agreement [with event organizers] is that we would take custody of the guns, then have them investigated and destroyed." He added that the guns would be investigated to "see if they've been used in any crime that we're looking at... basically any gun we get we investigate the weapon to see if it's been used in a crime."

I asked Jackson whether the policy of investigating the guns conflicts with the "no questions" policy of the buy-back. He said he's unsure of the exact promises made by the event's organizers, but police policy is to investigate the guns.

Because those turning in the guns are not directly investigated, there may not be any direct link between the gun and the person turning it it. However, I imagine that if the police found the gun to have been used in some crime, they would try to track it back to a purchase from a licensed dealer.

Jackson said, "I have no idea whether it's considered a gun show or not." He said he'd have to refer the question to an attorney. He asked me if I'd solicited the advice of an attorney, and I said that I was going by the plain language of the statute.

Holmes continued to describe the December 6 event: "We paid the persons for the gun. When they turned them in, they were paid $50 on the spot. People didn't get the message that the buy-back had been canceled. People showed up with a real eagerness to turn their guns in. We turned away at least 40 to 50 people, and many of them had multiple guns."

I asked Holmes if, on December 27, volunteers will take the guns, pay for them, then turn them over to police. He said, "That's the way we're hoping it will work."

Holmes said his event is not an attack on legal gun ownership: "This is a hot-button political issue. This issue is being very much misunderstood by certain members of the press, usually those from the right, those who are NRA flag wavers, who think we're attacking 2nd Amendment rights, but that's absolutely ridiculous... We're talking about getting rid of illegal weapons. We don't believe people should own guns illegally. We want all these illegal guns off the street."

I asked him what he considers to be an illegal gun. He offered this example: "If your gun is to be registered, and it is not registered." However, Coloradans don't have to register guns, though they do have to register to carry a gun concealed. (Federal law requires the registration of certain guns, such as fully-automatic ones, but I doubt that anybody will turn in a full-auto at the buy-back.)

He also said was was talking about cases in which "you have obtained it illegally." Presumably this includes things like theft and straw purchases.

I asked him whether the organizers made any effort to learn whether the ten guns collected were obtained illegally. Holmes said, "We didn't ask."

Holmes said, "We don't want people to come to this country illegally, we don't want them to drive illegally, and we don't want them to own guns illegally... Illegal guns is a problem we have nationwide. In the inner-city, we have a major problem."

On December 6, "We got 9 millimeters, we got revolvers, we got sem-automatic weapons, we got shotguns, we got all kinds of guns that people were willing to turn in."

I noted that those guns are legal to own. Holmes replied, "Sure it is. It's perfectly legal to own it, if you own it legally."

I then asked Holmes about the gun-show statutes. Is the buy-back a gun show? Holmes answered, "No. We're not doing a gun show, because they sell guns at gun shows. We're not selling guns. This is not a gun show."

I pointed out that the statute does not restrict a gun show to organizers selling guns. What about the "three gun show vendors" clause? "There are no vendors, they're citizens." Yet I pointed out that the people turning in the guns are "vendors" under Colorado law.

Holmes pointed out, "The guns do not remain in our possession, these guns are going straight to the police department. You know of any gun show that does that, you gotta let me know."

I answered that the statute makes no exception for later turning in guns to the police.

"That's your interpetation," Holmes said. He asked, "Are you an attorney?" I said I wasn't, but the language of the statute on this point is clear. It was at this point that he admitted he hasn't read the relevant statutes, though he said if I sent him a copy he'd review them.

Holmes suggested that I was not practicing journalism; I said that I'm an opinion writer, and that the applicability of the gun-show law is interesting.

Holmes said, "If you have an agenda, we need to terminate this conversation. You crossed the line, son... into interpreting the law. You're not going to waste my precious air [cell phone] time arguing about whether this is a gun show."

I risked pushing the line of questioning a bit further, and asked him whether his group intends to follow the gun-show statutes on December 27. He answered, "You are not an attorney, so to pose that kind of question, I would not even dignify that with an answer."

Did he vote for the gun-show law -- Amendment 22 -- in 2000? He said he's not sure, as it wasn't a large issue for him.

As I am an opinion writer, I feel free to close with a personal note. Holmes seemed to take my questions about the gun show law as a personal attack, and Mike McPhee from the Denver Post also thought my questions constituted a failure to "support" the buy-back (speaking of an agenda). But, as I explained in my answer to McPhee, my interest in the buy-back itself is peripheral.

My personal attitude is that, if the buy-back encourages a few criminals to turn in their guns and find a life of peace, that's wonderful. I imagine the surrounding attention in the community about crime will have a much greater impact than the buy-back itself. I also suspect that most or all of the guns turned in will be clunkers never used in any crime and not obtained illegally. I think the organizers ought to simply encourage criminals to turn in their weapons to the police without payment, and that the funds probably could find better uses, such as a scholarship fund.

However, if Holmes wants to buy guns and turn them into the police, that's his business, so far as I'm concerned. I opposed the gun-show law in 2000 and continue to oppose it. Nevertheless, the law clearly applies to the buy-back. I will not be surprised if somebody contorts the language to claim otherwise. Whether the law is uniformly enforced as written, or enforced only on those who don't enjoy police favoritism, strikes me as a fairly big deal. The fact that the law is absurdly broad is something I pointed out back in 2000.


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Brook Makes Newsweek

Recently Newsweek interviewed Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand institute. He said a number of interesting things, only a few of which I'll quote here.

For the first time I'm aware of, Brook laid primary responsibility of the current crises at the feet of the Federal Reserve. He's claimed the Fed was a major cause; here he says:

The current crisis was caused by the housing bubble, and the primary cause of the housing bubble was the Federal Reserve keeping interest rates at 1 percent in 2003. They were asking people to borrow money, basically begging them. The financial problem we face today was a problem of overleverage, of too much debt -- but that's exactly what Federal Reserve policy encouraged.

Newsweek claimed that "AIG's downfall was due largely to credit-default swaps." Brook replied, "There's nothing wrong with credit-default swaps. If they'd let AIG fold, we would have discovered that. There's been no problem with the credit-default swap-market to date."

Citing the CFA Institute's 2008 Derivatives and Alternative Investments, Wikipedia explains:

A credit default swap (CDS) is a swap contract in which the buyer of the CDS makes a series of payments to the seller and, in exchange, receives a payoff if a credit instrument (typically a bond or loan) goes into default or on the occurrence of a specified credit event (for example bankruptcy or restructuring).

I haven't looked into why Newsweek thinks this was a key to AIG's downfall, or what role it actually played. It is clear, though, that the issue is peripheral to the mortgage meltdown.

Brook predicted renewed interest in Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged:

I think it's going to go up dramatically. I think it already has. [People] are saying, "We're heading toward socialism, we're heading toward more regulation." "Atlas Shrugged" is coming true. How do we get out? How do we escape?

Indeed, there's still plenty of time to put Atlas under the tree...


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Monday, December 15, 2008

Thank You, Energy Producers

I found the juxtaposition of these headlines currently running at the Rocky Mountain News humorous:

Sub-zero cold snaps Denver's record low temperature by 13 degrees

17 below zero at DIA; more snow on the way

Ski areas face big challenges in globally warmer world, study says

I ventured out briefly last night wearing long pants, boots, and a wool jacket and hat. I was immediately chilled. It's the kind of cold that makes your nose feel like it's freezing shut.

But I'm toasty warm. I'm listening to music and typing on the computer. My wife retrieved the mail in her toasty-warm car. Soon I'll plug in the Christmas tree lights and cook up some dinner.

I looked out my window today and noticed that four of my neighbor's houses were emitting steam from their furnace outlet pipes. Mine was going, too.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the producers of natural gas, electricity, and gasoline that made my day safe and enjoyable on this beautifully arctic day.


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Salazar Move Could Boost GOP

Both the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News are reporting that Colorado Senator Ken Salazar will become Obama's Secretary of the Interior. That's good for Salazar, and perhaps good for Colorado, but it may or may not be good for the Democratic Party of the state.

As far as I can tell, the two leading candidates to replace Salazar are his brother, Congressman John Salazar from the Western Slope, and Andrew Romanoff, Speaker of the Colorado House (who loves tax hikes).

I wouldn't be at all surprised if Governor Bill Ritter named Salzar for the position, for several reasons. First, that would be the safest bet for preserving the seat for the Dems; Salazar has the name and the Western appeal. Next, that would allow Ritter to name Bernie Buescher to Congress. (Buescher, a prized Dem, was just beaten in his state house race in an upset.) I'm not aware of anybody better to fill John Salazar's shoes from the D side.

[Update: I'm wrong on that point, as somebody noted in the comments. While Ritter can appoint the Senator, he cannot appoint a House member. Ed Quillen pointed me to the Federal Constitution, which in Article I, Section 2, states, "When vacancies happen in the representation from any state, the Executive authority thereof shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies."

Colorado statute 1-12-201 states, "When a vacancy occurs in the office of United States senator from this state, the governor shall make a temporary appointment to fill the vacancy until it is filled by election." Statute 1-12-202 states "the governor shall set a day to hold a congressional vacancy election..."

I think this fact makes it unlikely that Ritter would name John Salazar to the Senate, for, without Obama's coattails and with nervousness about one-party rule, I think the seat very likely would go Republican. But that creates the problem for Ritter of putting somebody up for Senate that the Republicans can take down in a couple years.]

That move would take Buescher out of the running for Secretary of State, which Ritter will fill because Mike Coffman went and got himself elected to Congress.

That leaves Ritter to choose between Andrew Romanoff and Ken Gordon, both tax-and-spend, anti-gun, Denver Dems. My vote (not that Ritter cares) is for Gordon. Even though most of his politics stink, he actually has some good ideas about running elections (though I fear he may follow the common Dem line and reduce identification requirements for voting).

The problem for Ritter is that he probably has to expose the Senate or House seat. I think John Salazar would be a strong candidate for Senate in two years. But Buescher is a proven loser in his area. I think Westerners already tire of the Democratic takeover. But any senatorial candidate but Salazar probably would invite a very strong Republican challenge.

There are several Republicans who would love a contest against the likes of Romanoff or leftie Congressional member Diana DeGette. I'm thinking of Bob Schaffer, who just lost the senatorial contest to Mark Udall; former Congressman Scott McInnis, who claims he could have beat Udall; and former governor Bill Owens. Hell, even Elway might decide he's ready for some politics. There are probably a half-dozen other Republicans who could pry the seat from a tax-and-spend Denver Dem.

Maybe Ritter will come up with a name that doesn't seem obvious to me. But so far I don't see how he can avoid putting at risk the Third Congressional or the Senate seat. Not that I'm terribly concerned about that.


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'Taxpayers... Bleeding at Every Pore'

Here I continue my review of Burton Folsom Jr.'s new book, New Deal Or Raw Deal? In Chapter 6, Burton describes employment payments and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). At the end I relate the history to modern events.

As I've reviewed, federal politicians generated the unemployment problem of the Great Depression through trade-killing tariffs, investment-killing Federal Reserve policies, and job-killing wage controls. On top of this, politicians imposed price controls and reduced crops of food and cotton, thereby increasing the costs of food, clothing, and all manner of other goods and services. Most of these controls resulted from the bipartisan efforts of Hoover, FDR, and Congress. And yet we are to take FDR as some sort of national hero for forcibly redistributing wealth to his victims. And how did that work out?

In 1932, Congress under Hoover passed a $300 million Emergency Relief Construction Act to provide money to states claiming to need it. Roosevelt increased the funding under his Federal Emergency Relief Administration. This had two main effects. First, state leaders had a strong incentive to claim need and to perpetuate need. Second, individuals had a strong incentive to stay on tax-funded relief. It turns out that rewarding people for staying in need tends to generate needy people.

Folsom quotes FDR's concession of 1935 "that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber." (This is one bit of advice I wish modern Democrats would heed.) FDR's answer was to repeal the federal controls that had caused and worsened the Great Depression -- we can only wish. Instead, FDR sought to nationalize various industrial projects under the WPA.

While the WPA boasted real achievements, Folsom reviews, it also fostered worthless make-work schemes. Moreover, the project became deeply politicized. Not only were the funds often directed regionally for political reasons, but individuals were "encouraged" to hold the right political views and make the right political donations to keep their tax-funded jobs.

The line about bleeding taxpayers came from Oklahoma Senator Thomas Gore, who alone voted against the WPA -- and got trounced for it come election time. The country got a taste for interest-based politics.

Folsom curtly answers his main question posed as the chapter's title: "Relief and the WPA: Did They Really Help the Unemployed?" Folsom argues that, prior to the New Deal, "charity had been a state and local function." Critics will answer that the magnitude of the Depression demanded Federal action. Folsom proves that the programs were politicized; that doesn't prove they didn't also achieve their objective or that modern programs can be improved, his critics will return. Folsom rests his case with Henry Hazlitt, who points out that tax-funded projects necessarily come at the expense of the activities that otherwise would have been funded directly by those earning the money.

Public works seems to be the main part of the New Deal that President Elect Barack Obama hopes to duplicate. Obama also wants to expand forced wealth transfers to the unemployed and impose harsher wage controls (though the inflation Bush and Obama seem determined to unleash may make such wage controls superfluous).

It is inevitable that Obama's make-work programs will be politicized; his "green" program is inherently so. No doubt the regions and firms with the best political connections will get the most dollars.

Yet, despite all this, do public-works projects help the economy? It is true that widespread malinvestment -- such as that encouraged by the federal government relative to mortgages -- requires a period of painful readjustment. But that's not a problem that can be fixed through public works. Instead, increased federal spending -- which must come from new taxes or deficits -- will only divert resources critically needed elsewhere for recovery. As Folsom quotes Hazlitt, "for every public job created... a private job has been destroyed somewhere else."

(The argument that various public works are justified because they are public goods -- an argument that I find defective -- properly has nothing to do with trying to spend our way out of a recession.)

Poor old Gore -- who was blind, it turns out -- saw clearly the problem of "taxpayers... bleeding at every pore." Well, if Obama and his followers get their way, we ain't seen nothin' yet.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

How Hoover and FDR Damaged Agriculture

In the typical vision of the Great Depression, hungry children in tattered clothing sulk in the streets. What is not typically recognized is that FDR's policies reduced and destroyed crops of grains and cotton, thereby increasing the costs of food and clothing. FDR may have rhetorically sympathized with the poor, but his policies greatly harmed them.

Burton Folsom, Jr., describes these problems in Chapter 5 of his book, New Deal or Raw Deal?, which I began to review earlier.

Here's the basic story. Hoover with his Smoot-Hawley Tarriff destroyed American agricultural exports. Then, with the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, Roosevelt paid farmers with tax dollars to stop growing crops on some of their land, artificially propped up the prices of various (politically selected) agricultural products, and unleashed thousands of bureaucrats to enforce the Byzantine controls. The bureaucrats were, of course, paid to reduce agricultural output and increase prices through taxes on food processors that were passed along to consumers.

And yet some people continue to praise FDR as an enlightened, "progressive" president, despite the profound harm of his stunningly stupid programs.

Folsom notes on page 67, "In 1933, the U.S. was plowing under 10 million acres of cotton and killing 6 million piglets; in 1935, the U.S. was importing 36 million (bales) of cotton and 2 million pounds of ham and bacon."

Folsom's chapter on agriculture thus provides important details on the Great Depression. However, the chapter also illustrates Folsom's inability to essentialize and prioritize. Of the 16-page chapter, Folsom devotes the final four-and-a-half pages to reviewing the dispute between FDR's man Rexford Tugwell and Virginia Senator Harry Byrd. It's an interesting story, and it does illustrate the nature of FDR's bureaucratic takeover of America. And yet I found myself wondering why Fosom is so stingy with some elements of the story and so spendthrift with others. The fact that FDR under-tipped for train service is a mildly interesting, peripheral point -- hardly one meriting the four-fifths of a page that Folsom devotes to it as a part of the bit on Tugwell, itself a peripheral story.

Nevertheless, Folsom lays bare the folly of FDR's political controls.


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Investors Clear Houses

Last August I wrote:

The first thing we noticed is that many houses on the market in our area are completely trashed. ...

By encouraging people to buy houses who would not otherwise qualify, the federal government has handed over the keys to people who frankly are not ready for home ownership. Many simply aren't ready to take care of the houses or to competently rent them out, so they end up dumping trashed-out houses on the market. My guess is that this is a large, if not the major, cause of depressed housing prices in many areas.

Today's Denver Post offers information on the housing market that seems to verify my speculation:

Of the 150,000 home sales in the metro area in the past three years, about 3,400 homes appear to have been fixed and flipped within a 12-month period, according to an analysis by Your Castle Real Estate. The analysis includes six counties -- Jefferson, Arapahoe, Adams, Douglas, Denver and Broomfield.

The gross margin, or difference between purchase price and sales price, on fix and flip homes has steadily increased from an average of $38,792 during the first quarter of 2005 to $80,538 during the third quarter this year.

I assume that a big reason for the increase in margin is that people are buying houses in horrible condition and whipping them into shape.

Clearly there are people who are good at evaluating houses and fixing them up. Unfortunately, the government has gone into direct competition with them, meaning that wasteful bureaucrats will push out profit-driven businesses:

The City and County of Denver has received $6.1 million through the federal Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 to acquire and redevelop foreclosed properties that might otherwise become sources of abandonment and blight. It's applied for an additional $10 million from the state.

But Denver has no business entering the housing market. The practice falls far beyond the proper scope of government -- which is to protect individual rights -- and it involves the use of forcibly transfered funds.

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Smoking Ban in Theaters Under Review

If you're performing a play in which smoking is an integral part of the character, you have the right to smoke on stage, right? It's part of your rights to property, contract, and free speech, right? Wrong. Colorado's smoking ban makes no exceptions for this.

Thankfully, the Denver Post reports:

The Colorado Supreme Court has agreed to review the constitutionality of the statewide smoking ban as it is applied to live theater performances.

This is the first victory in a two-year legal battle between three local theater companies and the Colorado Department of Health.

Curious Theatre, Paragon Theatre and Boulder's Theatre 13 argue that smoking onstage is expressive behavior protected by the First Amendment. A Denver district judge rejected that argument in October 2006, and a three-member appellate court followed suit last March.

The review will begin in March.

It is a tragedy and an injustice, however, that the entire smoking ban is not up for review, for the smoking ban is thoroughly unjust. It violates not only the right of free speech but the right of property and contract.

Article II of the Colorado Constitution contains these provisions:

Section 3. Inalienable rights.

All persons have certain natural, essential and inalienable rights, among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; of acquiring, possessing and protecting property; and of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.

Section 10. Freedom of speech and press.

No law shall be passed impairing the freedom of speech; every person shall be free to speak, write or publish whatever he will on any subject, being responsible for all abuse of that liberty...

Section 28. Rights reserved not disparaged.

The enumeration in this constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny, impair or disparage others retained by the people.

The smoking ban clearly is a violation of some people's liberty and rights, and it should be overturned or repealed. Whether owners of establishments ban smoking on their property, and whether customers choose to enter certain establishments based on their policies, is properly up to them.


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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Folsom Reviews FDR's Errors

With my dad I've written an overview of the political follies of the Great Depression. Yet the era deserves much more attention. Within the past few days I received Burton Folsom, Jr.'s New Deal or Raw Deal?, and I'll post some notes about it here.

I was at first concerned that I'd purchased a dud. The book's publisher made a big mistake by including an introduction by Stephen Moore, who brings to the book his widely recognized name -- and his partisanship. Moore blasts "liberal Democrats" for their proposals to control the economy, conveniently omitting the fact that Republican George W. Bush massively expanded Medicare and pushed for hundreds of billions in "bailouts."

Folsom's first three chapters are weak. His first chapter on the FDR mythology lays out the established view in unnecessary detail. The second chapter on FDR's background is basically useless in understanding FDR's presidency, though Folsom places great weight on the fact that FDR was a lousy businessman and a great politician. The first two chapters easily could have been combined and condensed.

Folsom's third chapter explains some of the causes of the Great Depression. I learned an interesting detail about the Smoot-Hawley Tarrif, which Folsom concurs was a major cause of the Depression. The tax scheme, which reduced exports "from $7 billion in 1929 to $2.5 billion in 1932," encouraged various European nations to repudiate their war debts to the United States; "if we wouldn't let Europeans trade with us, how could they raise the cash to repay us?"

Folsom points to the failure of the Federal Reserve without indicating that the institution by its nature tends to disrupt the rational economic planning of producers.

The most important part of Chapter 3 is Folsom's review of FDR's "underconsumption" theory, which Folsom describes in his first chapter as the view that "workers did not have adequate purchasing power during the 1920s to buy the products of industrial America." Folsom quotes, and disproves, FDR's economic analysis of the '20s, an analysis rooted in the false doctrine of "underconsumption." FDR's economic beliefs also led him to follow in Hoover's footsteps and try to "improve" the economy through wage controls, though the effect of such controls was to maintain high rates of unemployment. I wish Folsom had done more to explain the ideological roots of this "underconsumption" theory, which is essentially Marxist at root.

Folsom is better at delving into the facts of particular programs. Folsom's Chapter 4 is a great review of the insanity and economic harm of FDR's National Industrial Recovery Act, or NRA. The measure encouraged businesses to cartelize and set prices. Folsom reviews example after example of how the federal government cracked down on business owners for selling goods and services less expensively than their competitors demanded. The NRA led to Byzantine regulations and police-state enforcement. The NRA, effective from 1933 till the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1935, displays FDR's penchant for central economic "planning." Not deterred by the Supreme Court's rebuke, FDR soon returned with Guffey-Snider Act, which set coal prices and eventually undercut the United States coal industry. FDR even dreamed of an international cartel, which he and his advisors would control. The good news for us today is that few seem interested in repeating this particular sort of insanity.

I'll continue my notes on Folsom's book in a later post...


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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Modest Proposal for the Rocky Mountain News

I love the Rocky Mountain News. Like many in the community, I am saddened that the selling block seems more like the chopping block.

Can the paper be saved?

Probably not, if we take the "paper" bit literally. But I do think that the Rocky could be saved with modest funds (I mean, "modest" for the various rich people who could swing the project), if the publication were converted to an internet-only source of news and political commentary.

The first simple fact to recognize about newspapers is that practically nobody reads them cover to cover. Some people pick them up for news, while others pick them up for sports, entertainment, advertisements, or political commentary. The classic newspaper model is to combine all of those elements into a package that many people will buy. Well, that model is failing (or at least weakening) in the internet age.

I believe I've purchased a single newspaper in the past year, and that's because I had an article published in it. I get my news and commentary through a variety of online publications (including the Rocky) for free (well, for the cost of looking at ads). I get my classifieds through Craigslist. I get my entertainment news through Westword and Fandango. I don't care about sports, but if I did I'd turn to ESPN or some such.

I've heard that Boulder Weekly is doing okay in print, and I assume the same holds true for Westword. Those are specialty, weekly print publications that focus on entertainment news and regional issues. They are not "news" papers. They're also free. They follow a different model than what the Rocky needs to embrace.

Another fact about the Rocky is that most of its content can be had elsewhere. Any college graduate can chase ambulances. Basic sports news is ubiquitous. I typically read outside columns that appear in the Rocky days before they appear in print. The fact is that I read only a small minority of the news articles that appear in the Rocky.

Just to give a quick example, I'll offer a run-down of the headlines now available online in the Rocky's local news section, along with my immediate reaction.

"Survivor meets cops who saved her" -- Don't care, and if I did I'd watch TV.
"Driver on cell phone rolls semi, jams I-76" -- Don't care. If I want traffic news I'll listen to FM.
"Weather: Big meltdown sets stage for more snow" -- Hello,
"Secretary of state candidates narrowed to three finalists" -- Okay, that's interesting.
"Patrol names new lieutenant colonel" -- Yawn.
"Extra!" -- Extra lame.
"Jury convicts man in shootout at Vietnamese restaurant" -- Don't care.
"Mansion matter mulled" -- You've got to be freaking kidding me. Don't care.
"Man survives snowstorm in camp restroom, but dog dies" -- Tough luck.
"LEAP offers shield from winter's wrath" -- I had to read the description for this one: "Patty Hancock's ancestors rumbled across the plains to Colorado on a covered wagon." Don't waste my time.
"Study lauds state's disease watch system, but faults vaccine supply" -- This is potentially interesting, but not to me.
"$286 million Justice complex 'going smoothly'" -- Potentially interesting.
"Boulder rape crisis center taking more calls" -- Interesting, but isn't this available through the Daily Comrade?
"'Call in gay' aimed at public awareness" -- This is barely interesting.
"Secretary of state finalists narrowed to three" -- Because I want to read the same story twice.

The upshot is that most of the Rocky's news section is wasted effort, and most of the rest is duplicated effort. Where's the market niche?

Yes, a city does need a basic news service. We have that. I at least want to run down the headlines to see generally what's going on. But I don't need the Rocky to do that.

The Rocky excels at offering political commentary and deeper analysis of news stories. That's why I read the paper. There is no other reason I need it. So I suggest that the Rocky stick to what it does well, and cut the rest.

Dump the entertainment, dump the cartoons. Dump the basic sports news. Dump the ambulance chasers. Dump the weather. Dump the AP and all outside content.

More importantly, dump the dead trees and ink. Dump the distribution trucks. Dump the newspaper boxes.

Do what you do well, and do it where it's cheap and most convenient for your readers: the internet.

Notice that my proposal would eliminate the overwhelming majority of the newspaper's costs.

I'm talking about a total staff of perhaps twenty people in a minimalist facility.

The cornerstone of the Rocky is Vincent Carroll. You have to keep him. Generally the commentary section is outstanding. I can live without Paul Campos, and I rarely read Tina Griego or Bill Johnson. On the news side, people like Lynn Bartels write interesting, original stuff that I can't get elsewhere. The Rocky has actually let go some of its best talent in order to keep the stuff that nobody cares about.

The focus of the publication should not be to cover all of the stories, but to cover some of the stories very well. The Rocky should not hire writers to fill in gaps; it should hire good writers and then turn them loose on the city and state. (The publication should also make available its archives.) I'm not even opposed to entertainment and sports writers, so long as they offer some sort of unique value. For example, I've taken to reading restaurant reviews that Jason Sheehan writes for Westword. Hire talent.

The financing? I don't know. Obviously an internet-only publication will lose most of its advertising dollars. I think a nonprofit is probably the way to go. Clearly some people make money through internet advertising. These are not details that I've worked out.

I do know, however, that I've heard of no better plan for keeping the Rocky alive.


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Liberty, Not Lies

Terence Jeffrey pointed me to an article by William Kristol for the New York Times that argues against "small-government conservatism." Following I summarize Kristol's reasons.

* Though Jeb Bush has railed against "big-government" policies, "in his two terms [as the governor of Florida] state spending increased over 50 percent."

* "Five Republicans have won the presidency since 1932: Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes. Only Reagan was even close to being a small-government conservative."

* The 1994 "Contract With America" failed to deliver.

* W. Bush expanded Medicare.

Krisol concludes, "So talk of small government may be music to conservative ears, but it's not to the public as a whole."

But then Krisol adds the following parenthetical note: "Besides, the public knows that government's not going to shrink much no matter who's in power." No, the public knows that Republicans have expanded federal spending even faster than the Democrats.

But this contradicts Kristol's main point. Kristol thinks "small-government" Republicans aren't popular. The truth is that the public knows that most Republican politicians who claim to support a "small government" are damned liars.

Perhaps the reason that the public does not vote for a small government that protects individual rights and economic liberty is that Republicans offer no such policy, and those who claim to do so routinely advocate a massive welfare state, religious controls, and economic controls in the name of "small government."


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Enya's Winter Night

Enya's new album, And Winter Came, contains several tracks that rank among her best work (with her collaborators, the Ryans.) It's a great Christmas album, and obviously marketed for that, but it's a great album period.

Listening to one of the online mini-documentaries, I learned that Enya writes the music first, then Roma Ryan works up the lyrics. The lyrics read by themselves don't always seem especially impressive. "Have you seen the mistletoe? / It fills the night with kisses." But, from the same song, these lines, though equally obvious, seem poignant:

Green is in the mistletoe
and red is in the holly...
Gold is in the candlelight and
crimson in the embers.
White is in the winter night...

But when Enya sings it, everything seems lovely and meaningful. Of course it fills the night with kisses!

I think the entire album is worth your collection. However, if you're picking out tracks from iTunes, here are my recommendations, in the order they appear on the album:

1. "White Is In the Winter Night" -- The lyrics above are from this song. As Roma Ryan suggests, you could sing this one around the fire with your family.
2. "Trains and Winter Rains" -- This song, set in winter but not about the holidays, is musically the most interesting of the album, I think. You can watch the video on Enya's web page.
3. "Last Time By Moonlight" -- A lovely and lyrical piece.
4. "One Toy Soldier" -- As we might expect, the song has a great rhythm. It's about Christmas, but more deeply it's about the worry of disappointing oneself and others, then overcoming that by finding the right beat.
5. "My! My! Time Flies" -- This is Enya's swingingest song, and playful, and I quite like it. Be sure to read the fun lyrics. It's a song about reflection, and moving forward.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Car Czars?

Oh, boy...

Congress and the White House inched toward a financial rescue of the Big Three auto makers, negotiating legislation that would give the U.S. government a substantial ownership stake in the industry...


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi touted the notion of a "car czar" Tuesday to supervise an auto industry bailout...

A "car czar?" Just what country are we living in? And here I thought that people had learned their lesson that central planning doesn't work. The national government has just partially nationalized the banks, and now it seems intent on partially nationalizing auto producers.

Originally, I didn't think we'd be in for much of a recession, relatively speaking. But federal politicians seem absolutely intent on mucking up the economy as much as possible, which could well put us in a long-term slump.


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Monday, December 8, 2008

Denver Post Reporter Omits Gun Show Rules for Buy Back

As I've pointed out, a proposed gun buy-back project in Denver falls under Colorado's gun-show laws, passed in 2000 as Amendment 22. Statutes declare that a gun show exists when "not less than three gun show vendors exhibit, sell, offer for sale, transfer, or exchange firearms," and a "vendor" is "any person who exhibits, sells, offers for sale, transfers, or exchanges, any firearm..." So the gun buy back is a gun show under Colorado law.

This is a fact that the Denver Post's Mike McPhee does not think his readers ought to know. After McPhee co-wrote a December 6 story about how the buy-back was delayed over a permit snafu at City Park -- it turns out that park rules prohibit firearms -- I asked McPhee about the gun-show angle.

I wrote, "You still haven't reported whether the gun buy-back's organizers plan to follow the gun-show laws; the group is clearly a gun show under Colorado law."

McPhee replied, "adn why are you so worried if they fall under the gun-show laws? you don't support this buy-back? why not?"

But the issue is not whether I support the buy-back, but whether the law will be enforced uniformly, or only on those disliked by the establishment. The premise that police should enforce the law selectively, according to a political agenda, is quite dangerous. So I wrote back, "I'm not 'worried' about it; I'm just wondering if the law will be uniformly enforced. Why are you so resistant to reporting the relevant facts?"

McPhee replied:

I'm not resistant at all, and don't know why you think I should report it, or why you even care if I report it.
The cops know about this, the city knows about it, everyone knows about it.
If the guns are turned over to the cops, who will be near by, what is your concern?
Finally someone is doing something good, and you're all worried if he's got a license or something.
Go buy back some guns with him, or give him a donation. i'll report that.

In other words, McPhee admits that he's not interested in reporting the facts about the gun-show law because of his personal agenda.

I am happy to take this opportunity to answer McPhee.

First, insofar as the buy-back encourages gangsters and other criminals to hand over their guns and give up their lives of violence, it is a worthy project. However, offering $50 for guns is only going to encourage people with broken or crappy guns worth less than $50 to turn in their guns for a profit. Active criminals are unlikely to turn their guns in, especially given the event is, as McPhee points out, closely linked with the police. To me, a better program simply would have been to encourage criminals to destroy their weapons and stop committing crimes. Another problem with the buy-back is that it was not limited in outreach to criminals; various promoters said they wanted peaceable people to turn their guns in, too. But that has nothing to do with stopping crime. (A firearms training program for responsible citizens would do a lot more to deter crime.)

But the central issue is not about whether the gun buy-back is a good idea. It is about the unintended consequences of unjust laws, and whether those laws will be selectively enforced according to the political agendas of the establishment.

I opposed Amendment 22. Back in 2000, I warned that the definition of a gun show was arbitrary and would "only serve to harass peaceable gun owners." I didn't anticipate that the law also would apply to gun buy-backs.

No, I do not think that the organizers of the buy-back -- legally the gun show -- should be subject to those restrictions. I don't believe those restrictions should exist in law. However, I also see an enormous problem if police enforce the gun show laws only for organizations they don't like, and wink at the law when it suits their political agenda.

Now, I do not know whether the event's organizers are aware of the applicability of the gun-show law to their proposed event. I have not yet been able to find contact information for Alvertis Simmons, and I've left a message for Pastor Reginald Holmes of New Covenant Christian Church, where the rescheduled buy-back is planned. Perhaps the event's organizers are aware of the law and plan to follow it. This is a question that reporters should answer, and that I will answer as soon as I can get ahold of the relevant parties.

I've also asked a spokesperson with the Denver Police Department whether officers will attend the event, whether they will be on duty, and whether they will ensure enforcement of the gun show statutes. I will post those answers as soon as I receive them. [Update: Denver Police Detective Sharon Avendano called me back at around 12:45 p.m. She said, "We have not been notified or advised of this at this time," even though the police "were [notified] on the last one they had," the one scheduled for December 6 that was cancelled. It's unclear to me, then, why McPhee believes the police "will be near," when the police apparently had not been contacted about the rescheduled event.]

To review, Colorado law imposes three main requirements on gun shows: the organizers must post a notice regarding the gun show, they must have a licensed firearms dealer on hand to record each transaction, and anybody receiving guns must undergo a background check.

The background check may not be a problem, as Simmons has said people can "drop the gun in the box," presumably for the police to pick up. McPhee asserts that "cops... will be near by," but I'd like verification of that fact. Will police officers be present at the church during the entire event? (Good luck getting criminals to show up.) Will they collect the box after the fact? Will anyone else receive guns?

Notably, the gun-show law does not make any exceptions if police are the recipients of the guns. While the background checks presumably would be taken care of, the posting and recording requirements would still apply.

Also note that Colorado law imposes criminal penalties on the people turning in their guns, if they don't make sure the recipient has undergone a background check. The person turning in a gun has the legal obligation to "obtain approval of a transfer from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation after a background check has been requested by a licensed gun dealer." Presumably the CBI could issue a blanket approval for a particular officer.

One question I'd like to ask Simmons and Holmes is whether they voted for Amendment 22.

The advocates of Amendment 22 intended to make it harder to transfer guns. They've succeeded, in ways that neither they nor I anticipated. But this is a fact thus far excluded from Denver's newspapers, which were hardly as reserved about cheerleading the passage of Amendment 22.


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Uncertainty and Recession

I've just posted an article by my dad and me explaining some of the important causes of the Great Depression. George Will points to another problem both then and now: the uncertainty that results from seat-of-the-pants interventions.

The $700 Billion bailout was passed with no specific plan for how the money would be spent. Much of it was frittered away on special-interest corporate welfare. Through the bailout, the government forced various firms to take the money, or else, and interfered with private contracts. That bailout, and the various others that have been passed and proposed, reward failure and punish success, and they do so after the fact. Meanwhile, laws such as antitrust put business mergers under the arbitrary thumb of federal agencies. The net result is that people don't know what they should do as economic actors, because the rules of the game are arbitrary and always changing.

Will quotes Russell Roberts of George Mason University:

By acting without rhyme or reason, politicians have destroyed the rules of the game. There is no reason to invest, no reason to take risk, no reason to be prudent, no reason to look for buyers if your firm is failing. Everything is up in the air and, as a result, the only prudent policy is to wait and see what the government will do next. The frenetic efforts of FDR had the same impact: Net investment was negative through much of the 1930s.

If federal politicians want to help end the recession, they should quit rewarding failure with other people's money, restore rights of property and contract, move toward monetary stability, and generally quit overriding individual rights with political controls.


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Politicians Caused and Worsened the Great Depression

The following article originally was published December 8, 2008, by Grand Junction's Free Press. Links have been added here.

Politicians caused and worsened the Great Depression

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

Do we really want a new New Deal? The answer depends on whether we think Roosevelt's New Deal made things better or worse during the Great Depression.

The Progressives count FDR a national savior and see Barack Obama as the Second Coming. Yet, while the term "progressive" evokes concern for the poor and community spirit, it names the politics of taking people's wealth by force and controlling their lives.

Progressive sophistry extends to the New Deal. For example, in a column for the New York Times, Paul Krugman writes, "Now, there's a whole intellectual industry, mainly operating out of right-wing think tanks, devoted to propagating the idea that F.D.R. actually made the Depression worse. So it's important to know that most of what you hear along those lines is based on deliberate misrepresentation of the facts. The New Deal brought real relief to most Americans."

Beyond the fact that left-wing academics and newspaper columnists hardly prove more reliable, a large body of scholarly work shows the destructiveness of the New Deal and earlier policies.

Historians Paul Johnson and Jim Powell take a dim view of FDR, as does Amity Shlaes in her book The Forgotten Man. Shlaes is an economist at the Council on Foreign Relations. In a recent column, George Will cites other scholars critical of the policies of FDR and Hoover. Economists Richard Vedder and Lowell Gallaway criticize FDR in their book Out of Work. This book was published through the Independent Institute of California, but Krugman might address its arguments rather than smear its authors.

So let us look at some of the relevant facts in the space available. While natural disasters can disrupt the economy, in large, prosperous economies such as ours the most powerful threat to economic health comes from ill-informed and special-interest-serving politicians. Economists who follow von Mises point out that inflationary spending skews the flow of capital, leading to painful readjustment.

Monetary politics played an important role in causing the Great Depression. Especially since the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, the federal government has largely controlled the banks. In 1927, Benjamin Strong, governor of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, cut his bank's lending rate to provide what he deemed a shot of whiskey to the stock market. Then, in 1928 and 1929, the Federal Reserve sharply increased rates, sucking the wind out of the economy.

The Federal Reserve also contributed to the easy lending behind the modern mortgage crisis. The government, intent on preventing a deflationary spiral, is keeping lending rates low and spending trillions in new money. However, not only does this prevent healthy economic adjustments, it leads to harmful inflation. Central planners have a hard time maintaining a steady money supply.

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act that Hoover signed in 1930 devastated international trade. However, Hoover supported the tariff in 1929 before the crash. Amity Shlaes cites a telegram from a General Motors executive: "Passage bill would spell economic isolation United States and most severe depression ever experienced."

Thankfully, today few seem interested in imposing that sort of protectionism. However, Obama wants to restrict trade under the protectionist covers of "strong labor standards and strong environmental standards."

The policies of Hoover and FDR devastated the labor market. Now the unemployment rate in Colorado approaches 6 percent. In 1933 it was 25 percent nationally. After falling, it spiked up to 19 percent by 1938, long after FDR took office in 1933.

The left claims the problem is that FDR didn't spend enough of other people's money in his massive welfare and make-work schemes. But the reality is that Hoover and FDR caused the high unemployment through a series of policies and laws that kept the monetary wages of some artificially high. These wage controls worked in concert with the deflationary monetary policies of the late '20s and mid '30s to keep a huge portion of the population out of work. It is of little consolation that FDR "brought real relief" to those he first helped deprive of employment.

Today the auto industry wants taxpayers to foot the bill for its failure. Notably, this industry remains strangled by the union favoritism started by Hoover and perfected by FDR.

When politicians "stimulate" the economy, they do so by distributing wealth from some to others. So when Obama or Governor Ritter claim to "create" jobs in the "new energy economy" or other sector, remember that they're destroying other jobs and replacing them with politically-correct ones. The proper remedy for government-induced unemployment is not more corporate and personal welfare, but rather a repeal of the policies that damaged the employment market.

Politicians caused the modern mortgage crisis through easy-lending policies (see our November 10 article), and they caused they Great Depression through a series of central controls (only some of which we've reviewed here). Will Americans keep getting suckered by political "solutions" to the economic problems caused by politicians? Or will we finally demand economic liberty?

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Obama Signals Massive Federal Spending

Well, here it comes. We can't claim he didn't warn us. Obama will try to socialize medicine and massively increase federal spending.

The Denver Post reports:

President-elect Barack Obama is formally launching his ambitious health-care reform effort with a call for ordinary Americans to spend the last two weeks of December talking about health care, then sending their ideas to Washington.

Former Sen. Tom Daschle, the man who will lead the reform effort and Obama's likely nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, reached out to citizens during a health-care summit in Denver on Friday morning. He cast it as the first step in an ambitious effort that will end in a much improved health-care system for the country -- and one that won't be derailed by economic crisis.

Especially now that the Rocky Mountain News appears to be on its way out, we can look forward to more such journalistic cheerleading for Obama's grand spending sprees.

Obama, the Post declares (citing Tom Daschle), will "increase access to health care for the poor and uninsured."

Of course the system is rigged to solicit the opinions of those special interests who desire the concentrated benefits of wealth transfers. But Americans who favor liberty may also send in comments. (I include my comments below.)

Paul Hsieh explains why Obama's plan would lead inexorably to a government take-over of medicine. See also a piece by Grace-Marie Turner (via Brian Schwartz).

Obama also wants to redirect resources on a massive scale to politically-approved enterprises. The New York Times reports:

President-elect Barack Obama promised Saturday to create the largest public works construction program since the inception of the interstate highway system a half century ago...

Mr. Obama's remarks showcased his ambition to expand the definition of traditional work programs for the middle class, like infrastructure projects to repair roads and bridges, to include new-era jobs in technology and so-called green jobs that reduce energy use and global warming emissions.

Given the government ownership of roads, the government will fund such projects. Yet, given that system, the dedicated gas tax is the best way to link use to funding. The only goal should be to improve the roads, not to "stimulate" the economy, a recipe for wasteful special-interest spending. (The proper policy of turning the transportation infrastructure over to a free market lies beyond the scope of this post.)

Spending in other industries will only further bring them under the direct control of the federal government. We'll see more spectacles like the one of car manufacturers prostrating themselves before their political masters, promising to be good boys and girls and make things the way Big Mommy thinks best.

Obama's policy, to the degree that it is implemented, will stifle entrepreneurial creativity, turn business leaders into servants of the political class, and transfer funds away from the productive to the profligate.

Following are my comments to Obama:

Dear President-Elect Barack Obama,

I am writing express my support for individual rights, which you appear ready to undermine. People have the right to decide for themselves how to spend what they earn and on what terms to cooperate with others. The government's sole legitimate function is to protect our rights to life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness.

You propose to expand the forcible redistribution of wealth, not only to advance the government take-over of medicine, but to "create" numerous politically-approved jobs.

Yet the failures of modern health care are a direct result of previous political controls of medicine, including tax policies that have tied insurance to employment and mandates that have increased the cost of insurance.

Your make-work schemes will not add net jobs to the U.S. economy; they will only divert resources away from some jobs to ones that you and your political supporters favor. The funds inevitably will be influenced by special-interest politicking. The modern mortgage crisis, like modern problems in medicine, were caused by misguided political controls, including manipulation of interest rates, government-sponsored lending institutions, and unjust lending mandates. The proper response to the mortgage crisis is a renewal of economic liberty, not a continuation of failed political controls.

I am not persuaded that your administration will listen to the voices of Americans who favor liberty. As you surely know, special interests will dominate your solicitation process, as they stand to gain from your wealth redistribution plans. Meanwhile, the many Americans who stand to pay the price in terms of higher eventual taxes, inflation, and lost economic opportunities may be mostly ignored. I urge your administration to rethink your unjust policies of "spreading the wealth around" by political force. I urge you to instead help restore the nation to its heritage of liberty.

Ari Armstrong

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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Rand on Prohibition, Hoover

Yesterday I briefly discussed Rand's take on Prohibition and FDR. Jeff Britting turned me on to a couple of comments that Rand made about Prohibition and Hoover. Mark Wickens looked up these quotes and sent me the result. Here's what Rand had to say:

Only one thing is certain: a dictatorship cannot take hold in America today. This country, as yet, cannot be ruled -- but it can explode. It can blow up into the helpless rage and blind violence of civil war. It cannot be cowed into submission, passivity, malevolence, resignation. It cannot be "pushed around." Defiance, not obedience, is the American's answer to overbearing authority. The nation that ran an underground railroad to help human beings escape from slavery, or began drinking on principle in the face of Prohibition, will not say, "Yes, sir," to the enforcers of ration coupons or cereal prices. Not yet. ("Don't Let It Go, Part II," The Ayn Rand Letter, Vol. 1, No. 5, December 6, 1971, page 21 of the bound volume.)

President Nixon opened the way for [McGovern] (just as another "conservative," President Hoover, opened the way for the welfare-state policies of President Roosevelt). ("The Dead End," The Ayn Rand Letter, Vol. 1, No. 20, July 3, 1972, page 85 of the bound volume.)

It has been an interesting hundred years, and I suspect our times will grow more interesting still.


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Gun Buy-Back Hits Legal Snag

On November 14 I pointed out that a proposed gun buy-back in Denver would have to meet the legal requirements of a gun show. The organizers would have to post gun-show notices, have a licensed gun dealer on the premises to record the transactions, and make sure that anyone accepting guns goes through a background check. There's still no word on whether the organizers intend to follow these legal requirements. However, the event was delayed due to another legal problem, as the Rocky Mountain News reports:

Denver park officials said organizers obtained a permit for the anti-violence part of their program. But the city forbids firearms in any park. ...

Alvertis Simmons, an event organizer, said the rally was the subject of media reports and that he explicity told city officials it would include a gun buy back program. Organizers were offering gun owners $50 in exchange for each firearm.

But, Simmons said, no one from the city told him it would be illegal to hold the gun buy back at the park until Friday.

Simmons and organizers have decided to postpone the rally until Dec. 27, when it will be held at the New Covenant Christian Church, 825 Ivanhoe St.

So now a church will host the gun show. I'll check to see whether the church intends to follow the law. We wouldn't want any loopholes, now would we?


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Friday, December 5, 2008

Prohibition Free for 75 Years

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, I wrote a letter to the Rocky Mountain News that the paper published today. Here I extend my comments.

I summarize in the letter, "Then, like today, Republicans promoted statist controls of both economy and social life. Democrats ramped up the economic controls but promised to liberate people in their personal choices."

The paper edited out the next line: "Prohibitionist Republicans alienated many freedom-minded voters -- including arch-capitalist Ayn Rand -- and Roosevelt trounced Hoover in the presidential contest."

I called the Ayn Rand Institute to verify the claim about Rand. Jeff Britting, archivist for the organization, said that Rand voted for FDR in his first presidential election because of his opposition to prohibition. However, Britting noted, Rand later became more political and became a vocal critic of FDR and the New Deal. The information is contained in unpublished audio recordings from the 1960s. Apparently Rand expressed concern about the expansion of state power as well as the problem of organized crime.

While poking around on the internet, I also found the claim that Isabel Paterson voted for FDR the first time around. Biographer Stephen Cox noted that this information is contained in Paterson's letter to Lillian Fischer, dated September 8, 1932. Cox writes:

She had voted for Roosevelt. She didn't like him, but at least he was opposed to prohibition. She made no comment on the fact that his platform favored certain economic policies that she approved, such as a balanced budget and a deep cut in federal spending. Once the New Deal got underway, she reminded people about his unkept campaign pledges; during the election, however, she seems to have taken them no more seriously than he did. [The Woman and the Dynamo, page 165, endnotes omitted.]

The parallels between then and now are striking. Bush, like Hoover, dramatically expanded the power of the federal government. Bush, like Hoover, alienated many voters with his commitment to social controls.

Note that I am not arguing that FDR won because of Prohibition; I am arguing that Prohibition was an important contributing factor. Likewise, Republicans did not get trounced during this last election solely because of their social conservatism and faith-based politics. As I have stated, I think McCain hammed the final nail in his own electoral coffin when he rushed to the District of Columbia to push through Bush's bailout. This proved to the American people, most of whom opposed the bailout, that, like Hoover, modern Republicans are enemies of economic liberty.

I do not think that Obama will be as destructive as FDR was. (Nor do I think people like Paterson or Rand could have predicted just how bad FDR would turn out to be.) Those decades of the 20th Century were dominated by the rise of Communism. My dad is currently reading The Haunted Wood, and he reports that FDR's government contained Soviet-friendly officials. Those were the ideas of the era. Today, the collapse of Communism continues to inform people's basic worldviews, and free markets continue to attract many. But this is an aside. Despite the many differences between the times, Bush is in many important respects Obama's Hoover.

Also edited out of the letter was this bit about Hoover:

Hoover complained about the violent police raids, crime, disrespect for the law, and international smuggling associated with Prohibition, but he praised its "high purpose" and hoped "it was the final solution of the evils of the liquor traffic." He wanted to return control to the states while achieving "elimination of the evils of this traffic."

These claims come from two sources. The first quotes some of Hoover's comments on Prohibition. The second is Hoover's acceptance of nomination speech on August 11, 1932. What struck me about this speech is Hoover's wishy-washiness. He seems to want to maintain a general policy of Prohibition while restoring power over the matter to the states.

I was also struck by FDR's condemnation of "the saloon" even as he forcefully demanded the repeal of the 18th Amendment:

And talking about setting a definite example, I congratulate this convention for having had the courage fearlessly to write into its declaration of principles what an overwhelming majority here assembled really thinks about the 18th Amendment. This convention wants repeal. Your candidate wants repeal. And I am confident that the United States of America wants repeal.

Two years ago the platform on which I ran for Governor the second time contained substantially the same provision. The overwhelming sentiment of the people of my State, as shown by the vote of that year, extends, I know, to the people of many of the other States. I say to you now that from this date on the 18th Amendment is doomed. When that happens, we as Democrats must and will, rightly and morally, enable the States to protect themselves against the importation of intoxicating liquor where such importation may violate their State laws. We must rightly and morally prevent the return of the saloon.

But, if FDR hated "saloons," he had no aversion to alcohol. He said of the Volstead Act on March 13, 1933:

To the Congress:
I recommend to the Congress the passage of legislation for the immediate modification of the Volstead Act, in order to legalize the manufacture and sale of beer and other beverages of such alcoholic content as is permissible under the Constitution; and to provide through such manufacture and sale, by substantial taxes, a proper and much-needed revenue for the Government. I deem action at this time to be of the highest importance.

I was unable to nail down the details about the quote, "I think this would be a good time for a beer." Wikipedia links the quote to the Volstead amendment. Yet others link the quote to the 21st Amendment.

I got the information about Colorado's wine industry from a web page hosted by the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board. I found it ironic that, while the state government once destroyed the wine industry, now it actively promotes it through dedicated tax funds.

Yet the evening wears on, and I have not yet made my own toast to the repeal of Prohibition.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Criminal Libel Makes Bad Law

Vincent Carroll describes a recent case of criminal libel, then concludes:

[J.P.] Weichel [of Loveland] may not be a very nice guy, but the answer isn't to put him in jail for speech that doesn't endanger a soul. If what he said was false, then the victims should sue him for libel.

But leave the district attorney out of it.

It is a horribly written, nonobjective law:

18-13-105. Criminal libel.

(1) A person who shall knowingly publish or disseminate, either by written instrument, sign, pictures, or the like, any statement or object tending to blacken the memory of one who is dead, or to impeach the honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation or expose the natural defects of one who is alive, and thereby to expose him to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule, commits criminal libel.

(2) It shall be an affirmative defense that the publication was true, except libels tending to blacken the memory of the dead and libels tending to expose the natural defects of the living.

(3) Criminal libel is a class 6 felony.

Notice that the law expressly allows the possibility of true "libel," though the more common sense of the term implies that a libelous statement is false. The first paragraph contains no test of truth.

We have every right -- and indeed a moral responsibility -- to "blacken the memory" of bad people who have died, as well as to impeach the reputations of the living insofar as they negatively impact the culture or polity.

Colorado's criminal libel statute is an affront not only to free speech but to justice.

I hereby publicly declare that the politicians who supported the passage of this statute thereby violated liberty and justice and implemented an idiotic law. My express purpose here is to "blacken the memory" of those politicians. I further publicly declare that among the "natural defects" of Larimer County District Attorney Larry Abrahamson, who filed charges against Weichel, is a willingness to trample liberty and justice, insofar as he sanctions the criminal libel statute. I intend here to impeach his reputation, and I heartily encourage the public to heap upon him hatred, contempt, and ridicule for this case.

(While I hate to follow such a diatribe with a magnanimous note, Abrahamson may have inadvertently performed a public service by again bringing this unjust law to public light and giving the 2009 legislature another opportunity to repeal it. Now all Abrahamson needs to do to restore his reputation is to testify for the law's repeal.)


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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Kopel Talks Guns, Taiwan

Dave Kopel discussed guns, Taiwan, and at the Independence Institute banquet November 13. Listen to the mp3 recording of the interview. A partial transcript follows.

Ari: We're with Dave Kopel. First of all, congratulations on the Supreme Court gun case.

Dave: Thank you very much.

Ari: I know you did a lot of work on that and a lot of work over many years doing research. Where's this headed? Do you think the federal Dems will take the lead of Colorado Dems and kind of play hands off on the gun issue, or are you worried about what the federal Dems are going to do on that? I know you've written about Obama's anti-gun stances, but are they really going to do anything or are they going to play hands-off?

Dave: I think even while we fear the worst, we can hope for the best. It's very unlikely that anti-Second Amendment stuff is going to be the top of the Obama and Democratic Congressional agenda early in 2009, because the economic issues are so much larger right now. But Obama is in his heart probably the most extreme anti-gun president we've ever had. So my guess would be, he'll do like John Howard did in Australia, and various administrations did in the United Kingdom, which is have a very fierce anti-gun agenda ready to go as soon as there's a terrorist attack or some other infamous crime, and they sense a brief window of public panic when they can try to push something through without the time for reflection.

Ari: Are there already or do you know of upcoming legal challenges based on the Supreme Court's decision and ruling, which was fairly limited in its application?

Dave: There are a variety of cases going forward. The most important issue is going to be whether the Second Amendment is a limit only on the federal government, or like most of the rest of the Bill of Rights it also limits state and local governments. There have been challenges to the handgun ban in Chicago, challenges to the ban on gun possession in San Francisco's public housing authority, and a challenge to a local ban on gun shows in Southern California. And any of those cases could be the one which I hope will go the Supreme Court. And while we have a good Supreme Court -- before Obama ruins it -- I'd like to see a case get up there and have the incorporation issue decided. That is, whether the Second Amendment is incorporated in the Fourteenth Amendment and thereby made applicable to the state and local governments.

Ari: Are you going to continue to play an advisory role in those cases, or is that uncertain at this point?

Dave: I will play every possible role I can to help out...

Ari: Well, again, congratulations on that, and thanks a lot for your tireless efforts.

Dave: It's another sign of how ideas really do matter. And this has been a long struggle over thirty years to bring the Second Amendment back from its moribund state in law. It was always very strong in the hearts and minds of the American people, but there was a lot of scholarship written over the last thirty years, and I was happy to have played a part in helping with some of that, that has really made the Second Amendment regain its proper role in American life, and as an important part of the Bill of Rights, just like any other.

Ari: Do you have any other projects going right now? I know you're always writing about something.

Dave: I've been doing more and more work on Taiwan issues is recent years, and trying to support the rights of democratic self-determination of the people of the independent nation of Taiwan, which is a target of Chinese imperialist neocolonialism... I want to do what I can to help Taiwan maintain its freedom and independence...

Ari: There's this strange tension in China, where they still have many totalitarian aspects, but they also have some more market robustness. Do you see one side as gaining force over another, or is it just a hopelessly chaotic mix and the moment? How do you see that as developing over the next decade, say?

Dave: It's very hard to predict, and it could go either way. But clearly the model that the Chinese dictatorship wants is the one they see in Singapore, which is where you maintain an authoritarian government, at the same time having enough economic freedom to keep the people happy...

Ari: Do you have anything else that I should be reporting on my web page?

Dave. Yeah. Thanks to you and to the Colorado Freedom Report for the great work you've been doing for ten years. You have accomplished a great deal single-handed. You're an important voice in Colorado's political dialog. And I agree with you about 97 percent of the time, and even on those other three percent, I think you provide an important perspective, and it's a great blessing for Colorado to have you here. Even though you don't realize it in your own atheistic way, God's put you here for a purpose.

Ari: Well, I appreciate that, seriously, Dave. Well, thanks a lot for your time, and we'll see you next year.

See the collected posts about the Independence Institute's 2008 banquet.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Celebrate Repeal of Prohibition

Rock Bottom Brewery pointed out in an e-mail that this Friday, December 5, marks the 75th anniversary of the repeal of prohibition. We can celebrate the repeal of this ignoble experiment, even as we strive to overcome its evil step-children of controls on alcohol, drugs, and guns.

Rock Bottom announces:

[J]oin us for a celebratory toast to the 75th Anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition and cheer like it's 1933!

... In 1933, after too many days and weeks of empty pints (4708 days too many), there was finally an end to the drought and we were again OK to join our friends, raise a glass, and cheer a historic day in our history!

Here's to another 75 years of good times and great beer!

I'll drink to that.


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Monday, December 1, 2008

Penn Pfiffner Celebrates Defeat of 59

I caught up with Penn Pfiffner at the November 13 Independence Institute banquet. Pfiffner led the charge against Amendment 59. Following is a slightly redacted transcript of my conversation with him.

Ari: Congratulations on the defeat of Amendment 59, the net tax hike that would have debruced the state. I was happily stunned that that lost. How did that happen?

Penn: What we can say about the group that put Strike a Better Balance together: our job really turned out to be notifying the citizens what the real nature of the measure was. Because the proponents had made it seem like this was about another small and unimportant stream of income for education, and almost like it was an afterthought. And the title, and everything else, is to mislead you into thinking that this wasn't about taxes, that this was about education funding. So what it turned out that we needed to do was to inform the Colorado citizens of the true nature of it, that it really was this massive, what could have been the largest tax hike in Colorado history. And then once the citizens recognized that, then as you saw, they turned down every new tax measure. This was an easy one to turn down just because, not only did it sit on the back of the citizens, in terms of the tax burden, but it also took away from them their ability to control the government, to cap the government. At this point -- we made this point in the campaign -- we forced the government to come to us with specifics. "This is what we want to do, it's a program and it's going to cost this much." If 59 had passed, they could have ignored the citizens, and just had a blank check.

Ari: What does this say about the state of the electorate, when Coloradans defeated the big tax hikes, but voted for people who are fairly friendly toward tax-and-spend policies?

Penn: I can't be sure why we saw two such disparate outcomes, that people would vote for big tax-and-spenders, and a whole panoply of them, it's not just one or two -- it's control at Wasthington, it's control here at the state level -- and yet they'll turn down tax hikes. A large part of it, I think, is fear of the ridiculous activities that are going on in Washington in terms of bailouts and getting rid of what should be a fine bright line between government and private business, instead have the government take over the businesses. I think part of it was tremendous fear about how deep a recession we might be going into and how bad it's going to get, and what it will mean to their family's budgets, if the taxes had gone through. But I also think it was some amount of rejection of the old Washington regime of George Bush. And I think some people voted without having a real foundation for knowing what this "change" will mean, and not recognizing that the real change is going to be antithetical to furthering liberty and furthering individual responsibility.

Ari: Offhand, do you know what the spending disparity was on the 59 campaign, pro versus against?

Penn: More than 200 to 1. We came up with less than $10,000. We were joined by the Colorado Union of Taxpayers, and I sit on the board, so there's some overlap. But we put out $5,000, maybe $6,000 for radio ads for Strike a Better Balance, CUT put out about $5,000 for radio ads, and the other side had about $2 million.

Ari: Well, that's a stunning victory for liberty, so thanks for the work on that, and for that surprising victory.

Penn: Yes, it was surprising, and we can celebrate a little bright spot.

See the collected posts about the Independence Institute's 2008 banquet.

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