FreeColorado.com, a journal of politics and culture.

Monday, February 8, 2010

New Blog

Please see the new blog at http://blog.ariarmstrong.com/.

I'll use this FreeColorado.com URL to link to the new and archival material, display my Twitter feed and (hopefully) my new blog's RSS feed, and so on.
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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

At Least Dan Maes Answered the Questions

The following article originally was published February 1 by Grand Junction's Free Press.

At least Dan Maes answered the questions

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

Recently the Supreme Court struck down part of the McCain-Feingold censorship law in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The decision is tragic because the Court only partially restored the First Amendment, and apparently four of the justices cannot comprehend the simple phrase, "Congress shall make no law..."

Leftist critics of the ruling argue that, while a lone individual might have some rights to free speech, individuals do not have the right to freely associate to express themselves. Further, these critics claim, you have no firm right to spend your own money on expression.

To grasp the left's hypocrisy on finances, just ask a critic of the ruling whether the right to get an abortion would be preserved if women and clinics were forbidden from spending money on abortions. (Eugene Volokh raised this point.)

Regarding this case the left is perfectly consistent with its Marxist roots. Marx wrote, "The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness."

In simpler terms, you are just too stupid to independently evaluate a film or ad funded by a corporation. You need the benevolent nannies of the left to help you think straight.

Unfortunately, some people do everything they can to prove Marx right. They thoughtlessly buy junk just because the idiot box or their friends tell them to. They never read great books or otherwise develop their reasoning skills. They vote for candidates based on appearance, smooth talk, and hysterical smear campaigns against the other guy.

However, trying to save people from their own stupidity only entrenches stupidity. People cannot choose wisely if they lack the capacity to choose badly. In terms of free speech, people must be free to say and believe stupid things, if we wish to preserve the right and ability to say and believe profundities.

The law properly guards against fraudulent speech. You can't legally tell someone a used car has only ten thousand miles on it when it actually has a hundred thousand. Nor can you make up lies about a candidate. Established law already addresses such matters.

Aside from libel, however, people should be free to say whatever they want about candidates (using their own resources), whenever they want, and with whomever they want. That is precisely what the First Amendment is all about.

We can't blame bad government on advertisements. After all, smear campaigns work only if voters fail to critically judge them. It is you, the individual voter, who must carefully evaluate claims, do some background research, and seek the broader context. If you fail to do so, censorship laws will not save the republic but will only further erode its foundation.

Let us make 2010 the year when candidates articulate their views on the issues and voters decide accordingly. Let us make this election about ideas, principles, and policies, not hair dye, cowboy hats, and vocal timbre.

It is in this spirit that we introduced our Candidate Survey, found at http://tinyurl.com/cosurvey10. Unfortunately, as of our deadline, we had heard from only two candidates running for governor or U.S. Senate. Dan Maes, the Republican challenger to Scott McInnis, said he'd answer the survey and followed through on his word. We also heard from independent candidate Rich Hand. You can find their responses linked from the original survey.

Though we originally contacted all the major-party candidates (or their representatives) for those offices by January 13, our initial correspondence did not make it to the right parties in the case of McInnis and Democratic top gun John Hickenlooper. While representatives of both candidates have now confirmed receipt of the survey, they have not committed to answering it. We encourage readers to ask these candidates to answer the survey.

Maes is the underdog, and we disagree with a number of his views. Generally, though, we are impressed by his responsiveness, straight talk, sincerity, and hard work.

Maes is a pretty solid fiscal conservative. He thinks the state should cut taxes and permit the traditional energy industry to thrive (thereby also increasing the tax flow from energy). He is too unfriendly to immigrants in our view. Disappointingly, he said campaign censorship laws should be "maintained," and he thinks flag desecration should be Constitutionally outlawed.

Most disturbing is Maes endorsement of the "personhood" measure, which if fully implemented would outlaw nearly all abortions, outlaw common forms of birth control, restrict fertility treatments, and subject women to severe legal interference.

Maes also punted on several questions. For example, we asked, "Should abortion be legal in cases of rape or incest?" Maes answered, "It already is." Cute. Perhaps Maes would care to answer the question next time: what does he think the law should say?

At least Maes answered (most of) the questions. That's a start.

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John Finger: Colorado 2010 Candidate Survey

John Finger is a Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate from Colorado. Questions are shown in bold.

SUMMARY

In a Twitter-length reply (140 characters maximum), please state why you are running for political office.


Our system is broken. Both Democrats and Republicans are hell-bent on maintaining their own power, for their own purposes, regardless of the consequences. Members of both parties take an oath to defend the Constitution, then ignore the Constitution until they take the same oath again. Just look at the money which is doled out for cronyism and for projects which don't work. I will use whatever means necessary to stop our march toward socialism, get our economy going again, and not leave our children in a quagmire of debt.

[That's 528 characters!]

ECONOMIC ISSUES

* Should the federal or state government spend money in an attempt to "stimulate" the economy? If so, on what sorts of projects?


No. Government should cut taxes; it works every time.

* Should tax dollars be directed toward energy projects, tourism, or any other form of business subsidies?

No.

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights be kept completely intact? If not, how should it be altered?

N/A

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should Amendment 23 be repealed, maintained, or modified?

N/A

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should any particular state taxes or fees (such as the state corporate income tax or the subjects of the tax-cutting initiatives) be repealed or reduced? Should any be added or increased?

N/A

* Should state or federal spending (depending on which office you seek) be higher or lower than it is currently?

It should be much lower; we should not be spending money on things unless they are specified in the Constitution or are a logical extension thereof.

* Should the state or federal minimum wage (depending on which office you seek) be repealed, maintained, or increased?

The federal minimum wage should be repealed, and I would introduce legislation accordingly. The states should make minimum wage decisions for themselves.

* Should college education be subsidized by tax dollars?

Not with federal money. The states should decide this for themselves.

* Should antitrust law or its enforcement be changed?

Not easy to answer; government should oversee true competition and enforce the law when competitiveness is compromised.

* (Federal-level candidates:) Should Sarbanes-Oxley be repealed?

Yes. It doesn't catch any crooks and adds an unnecessary, enormous burden to business, hurting its competitiveness.

(my question:) Should Glass-Steagall become law again? Yes; this would prevent banks from using depositor dollars to speculate, lose money, and be bailed out once again by the taxpayers.

SOCIAL AND CHURCH/STATE ISSUES

What do you believe is meant by the "separation of church and state," and do you endorse it?


It means what the 1st Amendment says, that Congress shall make no law establishing an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. We as elected officials would have to respect each of those lines in the sand. Of course I believe it; it's part of our Constitution.

* Should religious institutions receive tax dollars for providing welfare or other faith-based services?

No. And the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships should be disbanded.

* Should the teaching of creationism or Intelligent Design be subsidized by tax dollars?

No education should be subsidized by federal tax dollars; in fact, the Department of Education should be eliminated.

* Should tax-funded schools establish a period of permitted or required prayer?

This should be up to the states to address.

* Should government officials promote religiously oriented displays and comments on government property and at government events?

Not at the federal level.

* Do you support gay marriage?

This should be decided by the states, not by the federal government. This is a 10th Amendment matter, as are several of the next questions. I'll use "states rights" and "10th Amendment" interchangeably in many of the following questions.

* If you answered no to the question above, do you support domestic partnerships, civil unions, or comparable legal recognition of gay couples?

This is again a matter of states' rights.

* Should gay couples be allowed to adopt children by the same standards as heterosexual couples?

States' rights again.

* Should government never, always, or sometimes mandate parental notification and consent before a minor may legally obtain an abortion, and, if sometimes, under what conditions?

States' rights again.

* Should government mandate waiting periods or ultrasounds before a woman may legally obtain an abortion?

States' rights again.

* Do you endorse the "personhood" measure that may appear on the 2010 ballot?

I'd want to see the wording before answering this question.

* Should abortion be legal in cases of fetal deformity?

10th Amendment. Right now, all of our opinions in the matter of abortion are irrelevant, as the U.S. Supreme Court has usurped the states' rights to decide such matters.

* Should abortion be legal in cases of rape or incest?

10th Amendment.

* Should abortion be legal in cases of risk to the woman's life, as determined by the health professional selected by that woman?

10th Amendment.

* Should elective abortion be legal?

10th Amendment.

* If you believe that abortion should be legally restricted, what criminal penalties do you advocate for a woman and her doctor for obtaining or facilitating an illegal abortion?

10th Amendment.

(my question): Should Roe v. Wade be overturned? Yes. The Supreme Court has no right to determine abortion matters. It is not within the court's purview. The court should let the states make their own laws. If one state then decides to be pro-life, while the next is pro-choice, while the next has exceptions, that's fine. That's how our system of federalism is supposed to work. But until that time comes, all of our abortion opinions are irrelevant.

* Would execution ever be an appropriate penalty for obtaining or facilitating illegal abortions?

10th Amendment.

* Should types of birth control be legal that may prevent a fertilized egg or zygote from implanting in the uterus?

10th Amendment.

* Should fertility treatments be legal that may result in the freezing or destruction of a fertilized egg or zygote?

10th Amendment.

* Should research involving the use of embryonic stem cells be legal?

10th Amendment.

* Should abortions or embryonic stem cell research be subsidized by tax dollars?

No.

IMMIGRATION

* (Federal-level candidates:) Should the U.S. expand a legal guest-worker program or legal immigration, and, if so, by how much?


I couldn't answer this question adequately, as there are too many variables. But we have no adequate system for catching guest workers who overstay their welcomes, thus allowing them to stay in the country indefinitely.

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should Colorado government force employers to verify with the federal government the legal status of potential employees, and, if so, what penalties should apply for failure to do so?

N/A

* Should federal or state tax-funded benefits (depending on which office you seek), including K-12 education, be extended only to U.S. citizens, to legal immigrants and guest workers, or to everyone in the U.S. including illegal immigrants?

U.S. citizens and legal immigrants who actually contribute to the system should be entitled to benefit from it. Illegal immigrants should be removed from the country. Let people apply through proper means to get and stay here.

PROPERTY RIGHTS

* What restrictions, if any, should be placed on the use of eminent domain?


The Fifth Amendment addresses this issue adequately: "...nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." But the Supreme Court has ruled that private property can be taken for private use, pleasing governments which want more tax revenue but undermining our right to private property. This flaunts the Constitution and should never be allowed. As a side note, Pfizer never developed the property which was the subject of this case. It just sits there; the City of New London, CT doesn't get developed property taxes from anyone. It's poetic justice.

* Do you endorse the use of eminent domain in the case of the Pinon Canyon military expansion? Do you support the military expansion if it does not involve eminent domain?

No. Do you support the military expansion if it does not involve eminent domain? Yes. I'm an Army veteran but don't see why such a huge expansion is necessary using eminent domain. The Army has such a vast maneuvering area at Fort Carson. If it needs more space, it shouldn't use eminent domain to get it.

* Should the Endangered Species Act be altered or differently enforced?

This act shouldn't even be law. The states should determine what species is endangered and what is not.

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should the smoking ban be maintained, expanded, or repealed? Should it apply to on-stage performances?

N/A

BILL OF RIGHTS

* Should McCain-Feingold and state campaign finance restrictions be repealed, maintained, or expanded?


The Supreme Court made this question moot.

* Should the federal government control what radio or television stations may broadcast?

No. Most of these issues can be decided at the state level. Where broadcasts are interstate, federal courts should employ a choice of state laws when deciding conflicts.

* Should the FTC's rules regarding blogger endorsements be rescinded?

Yes. The federal government has no business here.

* Should students with licenses be legally permitted to carry concealed handguns on the property of tax-subsidized colleges?

Yes. The 2nd Amendment allows this.

* Should additional restrictions be added (or repealed) on gun ownership? Please specify.

Felons and those clinically certified to be mentally unstable should be prohibited from gun ownership. There should be no restriction on other adults.

* Do you believe that desecration of the U.S. flag should be outlawed by Constitutional amendment?

No. As much as it hurts to see, it's a 1st Amendment right.

* Do you believe that pornography or obscene materials involving consenting adults should be legally restricted?

Anything between consenting adults intrastate should be subject to state laws. Anything between consenting adults across state lines or international borders should be allowed. Anything exploiting children across state lines or international borders should be banned.

OTHER

* Should state or federal laws (depending on which office you seek) pertaining to marijuana be altered, and, if so, how?


Federal laws governing all drugs, both illegal and prescription, should be repealed. In interstate commerce cases, the federal courts would employ a choice of state laws. The states should make their own drug laws. History offers an important lesson: when Prohibition was lifted, gangs lost revenue, government gained badly-needed revenue, business picked up, and crime dropped precipitously. We should do the same thing with drugs.

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should rules pertaining to petitioners be altered, and, if so, how?

N/A

* If there is any important issue that you believe we have missed, please state what it is and state your position on it.

(my question): What's the best way to kick-start the economy? Get the government out of the way. Lower all taxes, both corporate and individual. Repeal federal drug laws and the minimum wage. Subject Congress to the same rules as it applies to the rest of us. Partially privatize Social Security and Medicare. Make charitable contributions an unlimited deduction on your tax form. No more bailouts; nobody is too big to fail. Offer significant tax breaks to companies which make renewable energy efficient and affordable to the masses. And start listening to Ron Paul & Glenn Beck. More of this at www.fingerfavorsfreedom.com. It was www.raisethefinger.com, but the complaints outnumbered the laughs when we used it!

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Rich Hand: Colorado 2010 Candidate Survey

Rich Hand is an independent candidate for governor of Colorado.

SUMMARY

In a Twitter-length reply (140 characters maximum), please state why you are running for political office.


I am running to re-affirm our tenth amendment rights and keep Colorado money in Colorado supporting Colorado’s citizens. We must stop the federal spending and borrowing and the Governors are the last resort.

[This is 207 characters!]

ECONOMIC ISSUES

* Should the federal or state government spend money in an attempt to "stimulate" the economy? If so, on what sorts of projects?


No. We need to limit the flow of money by challenging the sixteenth amendment through a constitutional amendment of the Colorado Constitution to limit federal taxation to a maximum of 15% of income. The federal "stimulus" kills jobs by undermining free market principles.

* Should tax dollars be directed toward energy projects, tourism, or any other form of business subsidies?

Tax incentives should be used at the state level to drive behavior. In Colorado we need to diversify energy development to use all sources of energy. We should not pursue energy policy based on a political “green” agenda. We need a practical approach that focuses on energy development that works in Colorado based on our resources and 300 plus days of sunshine.

We need to minimize the cost of doing business and reduce regulatory burdens to attract business. We need to stop imposing more and more barriers to business. We need to make healthcare costs deductable for individuals so small business is not burdened with the cost of healthcare. I will review and reduce mandates on health insurance policies so that these companies compete with flexible plans that fit the consumer not some state bureaucrats vision of health insurance.

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights be kept completely intact? If not, how should it be altered?

Absolutely! We need to hold government accountable and make the state communicate the value of programs and fight for funding if necessary. If the voters don’t want to pay for a service then we don't provide it. I will look to separate funding so that Citizens understand what they are paying for in their taxes and determine if they believe it is worth supporting. We work for the taxpayer not special interests.

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should Amendment 23 be repealed, maintained, or modified?

Education is a key to success. We need to continue to encourage alternate education programs outside of public education. Amendment 23 represents the voters understanding of the importance of education and we need to continue to find the best ways to educate our kids. My plan to limit the amount of income taxes sent to Washington (challenging the sixteenth amendment) would help support additional funding for alternate education funding. We need to revisit the way we are currently funding education overall. We need to look at a stable funding mechanism that limits the fluctuation of the current tax program.

So I agree with the Amendment in principle but I have a problem with public education formulas for distribution, the amount of money leaving our state that could be used for education, and the inconsistency of the funding sources. We need to look at better ways and not be blinded by the current interests surrounding public education. It’s about educating our kids, not supporting union demands.

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should any particular state taxes or fees (such as the state corporate income tax or the subjects of the tax-cutting initiatives) be repealed or reduced? Should any be added or increased?

I would eliminate the state corporate income tax for employers that have their operations based in Colorado. We need to create jobs and stop punishing business for being successful. The more money business can make, the more they will put back into their business and the economy.

* Should state or federal spending (depending on which office you seek) be higher or lower than it is currently?

Federal spending needs to be tied directly to the constitutional limits of the federal government. Colorado citizens and businesses should pay no more than 15% of their income maximum to the federal government. We need to reaffirm the tenth amendment and challenge the sixteenth and while we’re at it repeal the seventeenth amendment.

When people feel they have control of the process they are more likely to support the services needed. Government should not be growing at this point. We have too much already. We need to reduce or transfer funds to programs that have the people’s support. The reason ballot initiatives keep failing is that people are tired of the waste and fraud in government, especially at the federal level. We should not be sending our money to bail out GM, Chrysler, Financial institutions, while we lay off our police and firefighters. People are ticked off and are making that known where they have control; at the local level. We need to bring government closer to the people and start building trust again.

* Should the state or federal minimum wage (depending on which office you seek) be repealed, maintained, or increased?

Repealed. I am a small business man and let me tell you, you get what you pay for. Good business people know this and pay accordingly. Minimum wage kills jobs for our kids and entry level workers.

* Should college education be subsidized by tax dollars?

No. A college education should be earned and not an entitlement. We need to support students that are willing to invest in themselves with tax incentives to their parents and make loans available at fair interest rates. The current system encourages higher institutions to be less efficient because they know that government is under writing college educations. A college education is critical but that means every student needs to make the commitment of their own resources. We need to drive the prices down for college by introducing some market principles into the process. They operate in a bubble and have very inefficient business practices that is supported by the knowledge that government will keep subsidizing their institutions.
Colleges need to start looking at their courses and deciding if they keep a department of foolish studies. Too many college courses today would be better suited for some other venue and we need to increase true disciplines like mathematics, sciences, engineering, history, political science etc...

Education is a business with some unique drivers. I think we need to look at tax breaks and incentives for Colorado citizens to save for a college education. I would support helping individual students that deserve college rather than throwing tax dollars at the institutions themselves.

I expect a lot of push back here because there is an industry around colleges and they believe they should not have to "compete". I would love to see every Colorado student graduate college, but every kid will want to go to college.

* Should antitrust law or its enforcement be changed?

No

* (Federal-level candidates:) Should Sarbanes-Oxley be repealed?

NA

SOCIAL AND CHURCH/STATE ISSUES

What do you believe is meant by the "separation of church and state," and do you endorse it?


It is used improperly all the time. We are a Christian nation and I am proud to believe we are endowed by our creator with inalienable rights. As Governor or any politician for that matter can't force people into any religion. The separation is simple; the state cannot infringe on people that want to worship God. The state can’t mandate a God. People need to read the founding documents and our history to reset their understanding of the first amendment. I am a man of God but I don’t endorse any particular church or religion.

You can't have a free society without a moral foundation. God should be accepted and celebrated. If that offends people they need to get over it.

* Should religious institutions receive tax dollars for providing welfare or other faith-based services?

Definitely. Government has a horrible track record of helping people get off welfare. They actually have a self interest in perpetuating it. I trust private foundations to provide social services and I would want to insure auditing of the programs is in place but if we are looking for results to help people become productive we have to trust private organizations and churches to do the job government has shown it can't.

* Should the teaching of creationism or Intelligent Design be subsidized by tax dollars?

I think all subjects that get kids thinking is good for students. I also believe there is no reason religion should not be discussed in the classroom. Are we afraid that knowing about God is going to ruin our kids? Insanity. No special tax dollars are needed we just need teachers that are willing to teach and get kids passionate about learning.

* Should tax-funded schools establish a period of permitted or required prayer?

Permitted prayer is fine. I believe with tax dollars tied to the student, parents can choose where to send their kids. That will eliminate the need for state bureaucrats to get involved. If the school prays everyday and parents don't like it they move their kids. It is a local issue to be decided in school districts.

* Should government officials promote religiously oriented displays and comments on government property and at government events?

"Government official" is a loaded term. Is a teacher a "government official" just because they work for a public school? As Governor I would promote the Christian faith and Jewish religious symbols at Christmas and Passover. I would recognize the importance of these religions on our culture and history.

* Do you support gay marriage?

No but I do support individual rights. If two people want to enter into a contract with each other and share their resources that's great. Marriage is an institution that creates the best environment to raise our kids. We need to respect that and also respect people's individual rights to enter into contracts and call it what they wish. But not marriage.

* If you answered no to the question above, do you support domestic partnerships, civil unions, or comparable legal recognition of gay couples?

I will do nothing as Governor to promote the gay agenda. I will promote the rights of individuals protected under our constitution. The gay agenda is an agenda to promote acceptance of a lifestyle most people don't agree or take part in. I do not have to accept their agenda but I will respect their right as individual citizens.

* Should gay couples be allowed to adopt children by the same standards as heterosexual couples?

This issue is more complicated for me. I believe and will support adoption of children by people with the right intentions for adopting children. First we want kids in traditional families, man and woman. But when any family is abusive and the choice is violence or no adoption I would support couples adopting these kids with the same vigorous background checks as heterosexual couples.

* Should government never, always, or sometimes mandate parental notification and consent before a minor may legally obtain an abortion, and, if sometimes, under what conditions?

Always notify parents.

* Should government mandate waiting periods or ultrasounds before a woman may legally obtain an abortion?

No

* Do you endorse the "personhood" measure that may appear on the 2010 ballot?

No

* Should abortion be legal in cases of fetal deformity?

See the one question on abortion for my stand on the issue

* Should abortion be legal in cases of rape or incest?

See the one question on abortion for my stand on the issue

* Should abortion be legal in cases of risk to the woman's life, as determined by the health professional selected by that woman?

See the one question on abortion for my stand on the issue

* Should elective abortion be legal?

As Governor this is my position on abortion. I will produce and support an education program that factually describes the procedure of aborting a child. A fetus is a life with a beating heart and with today's technology we understand more clearly than ever what happens when an abortion is conducted. We see that life struggle to get away; we see the baby's features and formation. Education will reduce abortion more than any government policy ever could. I will support laws that limit abortion at the point of the baby's ability to survive without the support of the mother. Before that point we are in very dangerous territory to hand over authority to government. I am consistently suspicious of government in our lives and when it comes to the monitoring of our woman for the purpose of applying law, I can never hand over that decision to a government bureaucrat.

Conservatives are always talking about getting government out of our lives except in the arena of abortion. I am consistent. We will all be judged by our maker and we can only do what we can to convince people of the ramifications of abortion. I will never support the tax funding of abortion under any circumstance.

This is a divisive issue and this is what I can live with as Governor. I will not apologize or pander to either side on this. This is what I believe my maker will accept at judgment time for me. Others will have a different opinion. That is their right.

* If you believe that abortion should be legally restricted, what criminal penalties do you advocate for a woman and her doctor for obtaining or facilitating an illegal abortion?

See the one question on abortion for my stand on the issue

* Would execution ever be an appropriate penalty for obtaining or facilitating illegal abortions?

No

* Should types of birth control be legal that may prevent a fertilized egg or zygote from implanting in the uterus?

yes

* Should fertility treatments be legal that may result in the freezing or destruction of a fertilized egg or zygote?

Yes not government funded

* Should research involving the use of embryonic stem cells be legal?

Yes not government funded

* Should abortions or embryonic stem cell research be subsidized by tax dollars?

No

IMMIGRATION

* (Federal-level candidates:) Should the U.S. expand a legal guest-worker program or legal immigration, and, if so, by how much?


* (State-Level Candidates:) Should Colorado government force employers to verify with the federal government the legal status of potential employees, and, if so, what penalties should apply for failure to do so?

Yes and I would impose severe penalties for businesses that hire illegal workers.

* Should federal or state tax-funded benefits (depending on which office you seek), including K-12 education, be extended only to U.S. citizens, to legal immigrants and guest workers, or to everyone in the U.S. including illegal immigrants?

We need to get the federal government to do their job of enforcing and closing our borders and as Governor we will not be supporting any illegal immigrant with any services. By creating a severe penalty for business to hire illegal workers we will see a exodus from our state. I support legal immigration and work visas. I have no tolerance for law breaking.

PROPERTY RIGHTS

* What restrictions, if any, should be placed on the use of eminent domain?


Eminent domain must pass the test outlined in the constitution. As Governor I will never use it unless the circumstances are so clear that everyone is supporting the land taking and I am the last one standing.

* Do you endorse the use of eminent domain in the case of the Pinon Canyon military expansion? Do you support the military expansion if it does not involve eminent domain?

I support the tenth amendment and state's rights. I stand by the ranchers and land owners of Pinon Canyon. I could only support expansion if 100% of the land owners agree and there is a contract in place that protects Colorado from a future pullout of Army operations. That land is too precious from a state perspective regarding the economy and if the Army ever closes up and leaves the base, where are we? Overall I think the military has many options besides taking additional land.

* Should the Endangered Species Act be altered or differently enforced?

We need to have common sense here or we will end up like California, ruining human lives for a guppy. Unacceptable to me. As Governor our people will come first and we will be good stewards of our land. They can work together.

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should the smoking ban be maintained, expanded, or repealed? Should it apply to on-stage performances?

This is a freedom issue for me. I don't smoke but I don't think government should decide how business is run. If the business wants to ban or allow smoking I am good with allowing the market to dictate. In open air we just need to respect each other.

BILL OF RIGHTS

* Should McCain-Feingold and state campaign finance restrictions be repealed, maintained, or expanded?


Repealed. I support free speech and that includes organizations and individuals.

* Should the federal government control what radio or television stations may broadcast?

If I am Governor they will control very little here in Colorado. They should only control what is important for emergency response and military frequencies to keep us safe.

* Should the FTC's rules regarding blogger endorsements be rescinded?

I don't like the FTC but I support people knowing where any information comes from and where the funding source is so they can make good judgments about the information.

* Should students with licenses be legally permitted to carry concealed handguns on the property of tax-subsidized colleges?

I support concealed, exposed, and the ability to carry a hand gun. Good citizens should be able to carry. At 18 I believe we all have adult rights and why limit that at college. I support the constitution of the United States and the second amendment is no exception.

* Should additional restrictions be added (or repealed) on gun ownership? Please specify.

No additional restrictions. I believe the more people that have guns in their homes the greater security we have.

* Do you believe that desecration of the U.S. flag should be outlawed by Constitutional amendment?

I hate the idea of our flag being desecrated because it represents the greatness of our country and veterans that have died for it. I believe the people that have died for our flag would be disgusted but would support the freedom to do so. So no I would not support an amendment although it would feel good to do so.

* Do you believe that pornography or obscene materials involving consenting adults should be legally restricted?

I think pornography is a cancer and needs to be eliminated. It undermines our woman and children and I would support throwing the bums in jail that produce it. The problem is that there are people that have come to accept this degradation of society and is not high on the minds of voters.

OTHER

* Should state or federal laws (depending on which office you seek) pertaining to marijuana be altered, and, if so, how?


I believe marijuana leads to more addictive drugs and undermines people's motivation in life. I am not convinced it has medical purposes but if it does it should be in pharmacy outlets and not in separate places where we see criminals targeting them to steal the drug.

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should rules pertaining to petitioners be altered, and, if so, how?

I love that citizens can petition their government. I believe in our representative republic but I think people generally get the issues right when the information is clear.

* If there is any important issue that you believe we have missed, please state what it is and state your position on it.

I just want to emphasize that I will ask the voters of Colorado to amend our state constitution to limit the amount of money our federal government can take from our income. It starts there. When we reduce the scope of the federal government we can focus on the things that are most important here in Colorado like a job creation environment, individual healthcare reform, and a focus on education.

We must reaffirm our tenth amendment rights, challenge the sixteenth amendment, and repeal the seventeenth amendment. It's that simple...

Rich Hand
Unaffiliated Candidate Governor Colorado

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Keynes Versus Hayek, In Rap

This video is brilliant. I'm blown away. "I want to steer markets." "I want them set free."

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dan Maes: Colorado 2010 Candidate Survey

Following are the unedited answers of Curtis Harris to the Colorado 2010 Candidate Survey. Questions are in bold.

SUMMARY

In a Twitter-length reply (140 characters maximum), please state why you are running for political office.


Colorado is heading down the same path as Washington and it must be stopped and turned around. I have the skills and conservative values to do it.

ECONOMIC ISSUES

* Should the federal or state government spend money in an attempt to "stimulate" the economy? If so, on what sorts of projects?


No. It should cut spending, increase energy income, and taxes

[January 25 Update: Maes sent in the following clarification: "Please correct/modify delete 'and taxes' as it looks like I want to increase taxes. The message was to increase energy income and energy severance taxes to the state."]

* Should tax dollars be directed toward energy projects, tourism, or any other form of business subsidies?

Only if the voters approve doing it.

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights be kept completely intact? If not, how should it be altered?

Yes.

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should Amendment 23 be repealed, maintained, or modified?

Repealed as first choice. Suspended in Ref. C fashion as a second.

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should any particular state taxes or fees (such as the state corporate income tax or the subjects of the tax-cutting initiatives) be repealed or reduced? Should any be added or increased?

FASTER should be repealed.

* Should state or federal spending (depending on which office you seek) be higher or lower than it is currently?

State should be lower.

* Should the state or federal minimum wage (depending on which office you seek) be repealed, maintained, or increased?

Maintained and re-examined based on economic realities.

* Should college education be subsidized by tax dollars?

Yes.

* Should antitrust law or its enforcement be changed?

Need more clarification.

SOCIAL AND CHURCH/STATE ISSUES

* What do you believe is meant by the "separation of church and state," and do you endorse it?


The federal government is not to create or endorse a national religion/church. I would enforce that.

* Should religious institutions receive tax dollars for providing welfare or other faith-based services?

NO

* Should the teaching of creationism or Intelligent Design be subsidized by tax dollars?

All public education is paid for by tax dollars. Thus, if the above were part of a school's curriculum it would be.

* Should tax-funded schools establish a period of permitted or required prayer?

I support prayer in schools but no specific period of time should be required or encouraged. There is enough spare time in public school schedules already w/o crating more.

* Should government officials promote religiously oriented displays and comments on government property and at government events?

It already does as part of our historic architecture which reflects the reality that our country was founded not on the principles of men, but on those God given principles captured in our founding documents by men.

* Do you support gay marriage?

No.

* If you answered no to the question above, do you support domestic partnerships, civil unions, or comparable legal recognition of gay couples?

I would be willing to discuss civil remedies in areas that gays feel they are not equally protected.

* Should gay couples be allowed to adopt children by the same standards as heterosexual couples?

NO

* Should government never, always, or sometimes mandate parental notification and consent before a minor may legally obtain an abortion, and, if sometimes, under what conditions?

Always.

* Should government mandate waiting periods or ultrasounds before a woman may legally obtain an abortion?

Yes/no.

* Do you endorse the "personhood" measure that may appear on the 2010 ballot?

Yes.

* Should abortion be legal in cases of fetal deformity?

It already is.

* Should abortion be legal in cases of rape or incest?

It already is.

* Should abortion be legal in cases of risk to the woman's life, as determined by the health professional selected by that woman?

It already is.

* Should elective abortion be legal?

It already is.

* If you believe that abortion should be legally restricted, what criminal penalties do you advocate for a woman and her doctor for obtaining or facilitating an illegal abortion?

No comment.

* Would execution ever be an appropriate penalty for obtaining or facilitating illegal abortions?

No.

* Should types of birth control be legal that may prevent a fertilized egg or zygote from implanting in the uterus?

I support the laws as they stand.

* Should fertility treatments be legal that may result in the freezing or destruction of a fertilized egg or zygote?

You ask way to many questions about an issue that is just not a priority at this time.

* Should research involving the use of embryonic stem cells be legal?

Not if there are other viable solutions.

* Should abortions or embryonic stem cell research be subsidized by tax dollars?

No and no.

IMMIGRATION

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should Colorado government force employers to verify with the federal government the legal status of potential employees, and, if so, what penalties should apply for failure to do so?


Yes and 10,000.00 per incident.

* Should federal or state tax-funded benefits (depending on which office you seek), including K-12 education, be extended only to U.S. citizens, to legal immigrants and guest workers, or to everyone in the U.S. including illegal immigrants?

They already are per federal law. It should stop at all levels.

PROPERTY RIGHTS

* What restrictions, if any, should be placed on the use of eminent domain?


It should be limited to cases where exercising it is indisputably for public use only. I use the word "use" versus interest or benefit.

* Do you endorse the use of eminent domain in the case of the Pinon Canyon military expansion? Do you support the military expansion if it does not involve eminent domain?

I do not "endorse" the use of it anywhere. I would support it reluctantly only if the Army can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they have no other options but to do so. I support a mutual agreement between willing sellers and leasers, and the Army as a first option.

* Should the Endangered Species Act be altered or differently enforced?

No opinion.

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should the smoking ban be maintained, expanded, or repealed? Should it apply to on-stage performances?

No opinion.

BILL OF RIGHTS

* Should McCain-Feingold and state campaign finance restrictions be repealed, maintained, or expanded?


Maintained. Moot now, isn't it?

* Should the federal government control what radio or television stations may broadcast?

They already do via the FTC.

* Should the FTC's rules regarding blogger endorsements be rescinded?

?

* Should students with licenses be legally permitted to carry concealed handguns on the property of tax-subsidized colleges?

Yes

* Should additional restrictions be added (or repealed) on gun ownership? Please specify.

No

* Do you believe that desecration of the U.S. flag should be outlawed by Constitutional amendment?

Yes

* Do you believe that pornography or obscene materials involving consenting adults should be legally restricted?

It already is.

OTHER

* Should state or federal laws (depending on which office you seek) pertaining to marijuana be altered, and, if so, how?


Yes. Med. mar. is a disaster and must be regulated like a pharmaceutical.

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should rules pertaining to petitioners be altered, and, if so, how?

No.

* If there is any important issue that you believe we have missed, please state what it is and state your position on it.

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Candidates Should Giddy Up and Answer Survey

Grand Junction's Free Press published the following article on January 18, 2010.

Candidates should giddy up and answer our survey

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

Shucks, mayor; you done warmed our Western hearts with your down-home talkin' and dusty cowboy hat.

While announcing his candidacy for governor, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, a.k.a. "Hickenritter" (if you listen to GOP Chair Dick Wadhams), a.k.a. "Hick," said it's "Giddy up time in Colorado." Yippie ki-yay. Now all he needs is a running mate named Tonto.

What we want to know is whether Hickenlooper's campaign is more Lone Ranger or more Woody from Toy Story. To help us out, the mayor can answer the survey we sent to him the day he announced. We'd be much obliged.

We sent the survey to all the major-party candidates for governor and U.S. Senate. All Colorado candidates are welcome to respond, and answers will be published unedited at FreeColorado.com. We hope voters and other journalists encourage candidates to answer the survey. Voters have a right to know where the candidates stand on the issues. You can find the survey at http://tinyurl.com/cosurvey10.

Before we describe the survey, we offer an important elections announcement [that is now dated]. Tomorrow, January 19, is the final day to affiliate with a party if you wish to be involved in the caucus process. While Hickenlooper scared away his competition, many candidates face preliminary party votes.

To affiliate with a party, first you need to get a Colorado voter registration form, available at http://tinyurl.com/mesavote. You can scan in the form and email it to voter.info@mesacounty.us; deliver it in person to 544 Rood Avenue, Suite 301A; or mail it to P.O. Box 20,000, Grand Junction, 81502, postmarked by January 19. We thank the Mesa County Elections office for helping us with this information.

Now back to the survey. We have this crazy idea that elections should be about more than hair color, fancy slogans, and name-calling. We believe that elections should mostly be about the issues. Ideas matter. Where do the candidates stand? What do they believe?

Obviously any survey will reveal only so much about a candidate. For example, our survey doesn't include questions about the Democratic health bill. Most candidates are already talking about this issue, and we hope they clearly articulate their views on their web pages and elsewhere.

Our survey was more intended to reveal positions that candidates aren't talking about as much. We want to know whether candidates endorse corporate welfare. We want to know where they stand on key business controls, such as antitrust and Sarbanes-Oxley.

We also want candidates to quit obscuring their views. For example, while Scott McInnis used to be "pro-choice," he now calls himself "100 percent pro-life." But what does that mean? Does he want to ban absolutely all abortions? If not, what exceptions would he allow? The matter of abortion (and related issues such as birth control) will be particularly important this election, given a measure may again be on the ballot to define a fertilized egg as a person.

We want to know where candidates stand on immigration issues. Should a guest worker program be expanded? Should the Colorado legislature force businesses to verify with the federal government the legal status of potential employees? Should businesses be fined for failure to do so? Should tax-funded benefits ever be extended to non-citizen immigrants?

What about property rights? Do candidates endorse eminent domain, the forcible taking of private property? Under what circumstances? Do candidates endorse the smoking ban, even for on-stage performances?

Regarding the Bill of Rights, where do candidates stand with respect to free expression and the right to bear arms? For example, should adults with a concealed-carry permit be able to carry a handgun on tax-funded campuses?

Medical marijuana will be a huge issue this legislative session; where do candidates stand on that matter and on marijuana laws generally? What about rules governing petitioners? What about the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights?

Whether you're Republican, Democrat, unaffiliated, or other, you should care about candidates' positions. We hope that, in 2010, voters make a stand and demand that candidates state their views clearly, openly, and for the record.

Here's what you can do to help. Please contact your federal, state, and local candidates and encourage them to answer our survey and explain their views elsewhere. If you're a Republican, you can find a list of federal and state-wide candidates at http://tinyurl.com/2010gop. We called the Colorado Democrats, and a representative said that hopefully a list of candidates will be made available at ColoradoDems.org. Otherwise you may need to poke around on the internet or call a party office.

Candidates have a responsibility to reveal their views, and voters have a responsibility to critically and fairly evaluate candidates' positions. It won't do to take comments out of context or otherwise misrepresent what a candidate is about.

We will get the government we deserve. It's time for candidates to cowboy up. And it's time for us voters to earn our spurs.

Update: As of January 24, we've received a reply from one candidate running for governor or U.S. Senate: Dan Maes.

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Theater Smoking Ban Violates Free Expression

The January 10 Denver Post published my letter under the title, "Why smoking ban shouldn’t apply on stage." The letter replied to a January 4 editorial.

The Post argues that, because actors can use fake cigarettes on stage, the state smoking ban should apply. But just because The Post is capable of publishing fake news and commentary doesn't mean it should be forbidden from publishing the real thing. The owners should decide policy, and patrons should decide which plays to see. It is a matter of property rights as well as free expression. By inviting politicians to set policy in the playhouse, The Post invites them to do the same in the newsroom.


Free association is also a critical right under assault by the smoking ban, in the theater as well as other private establishments. Actors too have a right to reach mutually agreeable terms for working. A play properly involves the mutual consent of theater owners, actors, and patrons. Politicians violate the rights of all those parties by interfering.

The Post is schizophrenic regarding the First Amendment (which is odd given that free expression is what enables newspapers to do business). Thankfully on January 22 the Post stood with free speech by declaring that individuals retain their rights when they join an association to promote ideas with their financial resources.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dan Maes Gets Real; He and Acree Talk Health

"Some guy named Dan Maes also remains in the race, and he has about the same chance of becoming the next governor of Colorado as I do."

"Anybody who thinks Dan Maes has any chance of winning the Republican primary and beating Bill Ritter is simply delusional."

"Dan Maes doesn't have a chance in hell of becoming the next governor of Colorado."

Who wrote these nasty things about hard-working gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes? And what did Maes ever do to that vindictive SOB?

The lines are mine. And, while Maes has offered a pointed response, he's taken my needling well. And I respect that. An underdog who can't deal with people throwing scraps will never be anything more than an underdog.

Moreover, it seems like every political event I go to, Maes is there. I heard him give his stump speech last night at Liberty On the Rocks. I saw him Tuesday at the rally against Obama Care. I saw him last month at an Independence Institute holiday party, where Maes listened to my complaints for another twenty minutes or so. Maes takes questions -- and answers them.

Meanwhile, this is the only sign I saw of Scott McInnis (the other Republican in the race) at Tuesday's rally:



(In fairness, McInnis has given public addresses and uploaded some of these to YouTube.)

If memory serves, I first saw Maes June 27 of last year at an Aurora Republican Forum. What I recall from his speech that day is that there was nothing important to recall. LIghtweight, I thought. But last night I saw a candidate for governor. He talked energy. He can effectively challenge Governor Ritter's "New Energy Economy" with the Real Energy Economy. He talked Constitutional restraints of federal power. He talked low taxes. He spoke with passion. He spoke from the heart.

What's more, Maes is a genuine guy. He's fun to talk to. He's fun to listen to. He's even fun to make fun of. McInnis, on the other hand, is well known for his testy personality and media meltdowns.

True, Maes has suffered from lackluster fundraising (though it seems to be picking up a bit). However, Maes also beat McInnis in the unscientific, skewed poll put out by the People's Press Collective.

Delusional? No chance in hell? I was stunned that Ritter dropped out of the race. I thought Scott Brown didn't have a chance in hell of winning his U.S. Senate race. Well, it looks like hell is freezing over and political probabilities must be tossed aside.

I would like to see a Maes/Hickenlooper showdown because I'd like to see two real guys, two businessmen, have a serious discussion about the important issues facing Colorado. (I'm sure Hickenlooper would also love to face that showdown.) With McInnis, I get the feeling that his main purpose is to package his message and play it safe. (McInnis could easily change my mind on this point simply by providing straightforward answers to the Armstrongs' Colorado 2010 Candidate Survey). Moreover, last night I had a chance to chat briefly with Maes's delightful wife and elder daughter, each of whom could be a major asset to his campaign if willing to play that role.

However, Maes has some serious problems. His lack of political experience translates to difficulty raising funds. His ideological problems are more serious.

While Maes is friendly toward free markets for a Republican, generally Republicans suck on economic liberty. I worry about three things from Maes.

First, Maes is fairly strong on property rights but not as strong as I'd like. He said that eminent domain "is a constitutionally acceptable process and should be applied on a case by case basis. Application of the practice should only be exercised when there is a clear and convincing case for a purely public use and benefit." That's better than most politicians on the subject. But, for me, the right answer is that eminent domain is always and everywhere a violation of property rights.

Second, while Maes has admirably taken a stand against corporate welfare, he is amenable to discriminatory taxation. My view is that, while existing tax breaks should not be removed, otherwise we should seek to establish tax parity, rather than punish some businesses more severely than others with higher taxes. Maes said, "Our state constitution clearly states we are not to make investments in private entities. I want to honor the spirit of our federal and state constitutions. I do see tax breaks as viable incentives to spur our economy."

Third, while Maes opposed the federal health bills, he inconsistently advocates free markets in health. Here's what he said on Tuesday:



Here is the worrisome line: "We need to keep health care within the free market system. But we'd have to encourage private industry to get serious about pre-existing conditions. If they don't take on pre-existing conditions, then government has every right to do so. So I want to make sure private industry accommodates that need."

Maes's position is unclear to me. Either he is saying that insurance companies must be politically forced to ignore pre-existing conditions when accepting customers, or he is saying that tax dollars should fund government-run insurance that ignores pre-existing conditions (as Cover Colorado basically does now). The former position leads inexorably to an insurance mandate, as my dad and I have argued. (See also my earlier article.) I welcome Maes's clarification of the matter.

Again, Maes is mostly good on fiscal matters, and I have no doubt he would outperform any Democrat (and most Republicans) on economics. But Maes has a much more serious problem: social issues.

Maes has endorsed the so-called "personhood" measure likely to appear on this fall's ballot. This would ban all or almost all abortions if fully enforced. It would also outlaw forms of birth control (including the pill) and fertility care that may result in the destruction of a fertilized egg. Colorado voters overwhelmingly trounced the "personhood" measure in 2008, and Maes will make few political friends by supporting it.

Maes also said that marriage "is a privilege that is ordained in the Scripture." However, last night he granted that "civil remedies" can solve the problems of homosexual romantic unions. He said churches should not be forced to conduct gay marriages, and with that point I fully agree.

Maes strikes me as a common-sense kind of guy, so I will be interested to hear how he responds to concerns about the horrific and far-reaching implications of the "personhood" measure.

Meanwhile, all I've heard from McInnis is an ambiguous claim that he's "100 percent pro-life." Does McInnis want to outlaw absolutely all abortions? Voters deserve to know this.

As Paul Hsieh has written, independent voters, especially in Colorado, "want the Democrats out of their pockets and the Republicans out of their bedrooms."

For the first time I am very interested in following the Republican primary.

* * *

Also at Tuesday's rally, State Representative Cindy Acree offered her take on health reform:



Acree wants "tax equity at the federal level" to allow people to buy insurance with pre-tax money. That's fantastic. However, she also wants a "new delivery system for primary care all over the state with public-private partnerships." That sound to me like more tax subsidies and government controls.

So, while Republicans rallied against the federal Democratic health bills, they hardly advocate consistently free markets in health care. Hopefully advocates of liberty will continue to persuade them.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Coloradans Speak Out Against Obama Care

As Massachusetts voters filled Ted Kennedy's former Senate seat with a Republican, Coloradans rallied against the Democratic health bill, vowing to pass a state initiative blunting the force of the federal bill -- should it pass and be signed into law by President Obama.

Neurosurgeon Sanat Dixit spoke out against the Democratic health bills:



Jon Caldara introduced the rest of the speakers and offered his own thoughts (presented here in a selection of clips).



I captured the views of some of the ralliers.





State Senator Shawn Mitchell adds his concerns:



Here Justin Longo offers the perspective of a young buyer of a high-deductible health insurance plan:



See the People's Press Collective for more.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Haitian Catastrophe

Right now, the most important thing we can do as average Americans is to donate to charitable relief organizations, budgets permitting. (Jennifer and I chose the Red Cross.) And we can offer our gratitude and support for Americans going to Haiti to help. The magnitude of destruction is overwhelming.

We must also denounce the lunacy of people like Pat Robertson, who said the earthquake was a result of a Haitian "pact to the devil." (Mercifully, Rick Warren said on his Twitter feed, "Labeling any natural disaster as God's judgment is nonsense.")

Then, as the dust settles, the majority of us not directly involved in relief efforts should contemplate how to mitigate the harm of such disasters in the future.

The first obvious thing to note about Haiti is that its government is corrupt and its people oppressed. The Heritage Foundation ranks Haiti as "mostly unfree," ranking 147 out of 179, behind Russia.

A second point to note is that the Haitian government knew the earthquake was coming and did little to prepare for it. As Cassie Rodenberg reports for Popular Mechanics:

Back in 2008, Eric Calais and Paul Mann, geophysicists who study fault lines in the Caribbean, predicted that Haiti would soon face such a devastating quake. ...

Calais says that because Haiti poses safety concerns and a difficult work environment with a poor road access system, it's been neglected by seismologists. ...

But his research didn't translate well enough to elicit safety precautions before the quake. Though Calais notes that earthquakes can't be prevented, he says there was enough advance warning for the Haitian government to make preparations, and, in fact, his team alerted the government four to five years beforehand.

"We've told the Haitian government that the Enriquillo fault is a major player," Calais says. "We've told them exactly where the fault is. We've told them how fast it was building up elastic energy, and we've told them that right now, if it was to go, it could produce a 7.2 in magnitude or larger event."

The government has worked with the team and listened to its foreboding reports, Calais says, but for the most part, Haiti has failed to implement emergency plans and restructure crucial buildings.


Economic liberty and a government constrained by the rule of just law is necessary for human life. Statism kills. Corrupt governments kill. Stifling economic development kills.

Michelle Malkin points to a post by Jim Roberts: "Long-term reforms for Haitian democracy and its economy are also badly overdue." (I profoundly disagree with Roberts's calls to violate economic liberty at home through forced wealth transfers in order to promote economic reform in Haiti.)

John Stossel refers to the excellent summary of the matter by economist Don Boudreaux:

The ultimate tragedy in Haiti isn't the earthquake; it's that country's lack of economic freedom. The earthquake simply but catastrophically revealed the inhuman consequences of this fact.

Registering 7.0 on the Richter scale, the Haitian earthquake killed tens of thousands of people. But the quake that hit California's Bay Area in 1989 was also of magnitude 7.0. It, though, killed only 63 people.

This difference is due chiefly to Americans' greater wealth. With one of the freest economies in the world, Americans build stronger homes and buildings, and have better health-care and better search and rescue equipment. In contrast, burdened by one of the world's least-free economies, Haitians cannot afford to build sturdy structures. Nor can they afford the health-care and emergency equipment that we take for granted here in the U.S.

These stark facts should be a lesson for those who insist that human habitats are made more dangerous, and human lives put in greater peril, by freedom of commerce and industry.


If you want to live, if you want to promote human life, you must advocate capitalism.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

American Lung Association Earns "F" in Liberty

Dear American Lung Association,

I am sorry to learn that your organization deserves an "F" in its understanding of liberty.

I was shocked to read in today's Denver Post that the ALA has endorsed the violation of property rights (via the smoking ban), higher taxes, and more state spending in Colorado.

While I approve of your organization's work to persuade people to quit smoking, in this case you are substituting the force of the state for rational argument. The ends do not justify the means, and you are promoting unjust policies that violate people's rights.

As harmful as smoking is, it is not nearly as harmful as a government that systematically violates property rights and economic liberty. By seeking to forcibly limit people's choices, you are preventing them from acting on their own judgment. The freedom to act on one's judgment, consistent with rights of property and person, is the bedrock of liberty and prosperity. If you take away people's ability to make mistakes, you necessarily undercut their ability to take responsibility for their lives and reach the heights of human potential.

The ALA should mind its proper business of persuading people to improve their health, not promote state policies that violate rights. It should go without saying that I do not donate to organizations that promote the violation of property rights and economic liberty.

Sincerely,
Ari Armstrong

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Giddy Up Time in Colorado

(See 8 minutes into John Hickenlooper's announcement for the governor's race.)

HickMcInnis

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Curtis Harris: Colorado 2010 Candidate Survey

Following are the unedited answers of Curtis Harris to the Colorado 2010 Candidate Survey.

If nothing else, Harris, a third-party candidate for the the Second Congressional, gets points for speed. He was the first candidate to reply to the survey.

SUMMARY

In a Twitter-length reply (140 characters maximum), please state why you are running for political office.

The present US Government is driving America to socialism and economic disaster. Both major political parties and the Congress are at the heart of the problem. I want to return the Federal government to its Constitutional limits and restore individual liberty in this country.

ECONOMIC ISSUES

* Should the federal or state government spend money in an attempt to "stimulate" the economy? If so, on what sorts of projects?

No. Economies are stimulated by economic freedom.

* Should tax dollars be directed toward energy projects, tourism, or any other form of business subsidies?

No. Corporate welfare is the result of or leads to government corruption. There is no place for it in a free economy.

* Should state or federal spending (depending on which office you
seek) be higher or lower than it is currently?

Much lower.

* Should the state or federal minimum wage (depending on which office you seek) be repealed, maintained, or increased?

Repeal the Federal minimum wage. The States are free to chose their policy. Minimum wages are a proven killer of entry-level jobs.

* Should college education be subsidized by tax dollars?

Certainly not Federal dollars. I would not support state funding, either.

* Should antitrust law or its enforcement be changed?

Yes. Federal enforcement is often politically motivated and/or based on flawed economics.

* (Federal-level candidates:) Should Sarbanes-Oxley be repealed?

Yes.


SOCIAL AND CHURCH/STATE ISSUES

* What do you believe is meant by the "separation of church and state," and do you endorse it?

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”
I endorse the First Amendment. That being said, this country is founded on the primacy of the rights of people as endowed by their Creator. The exclusion of general religious principles (morality) from government is a mistake.

* Should religious institutions receive tax dollars for providing welfare or other faith-based services?

Not from the Federal level.

* Should the teaching of creationism or Intelligent Design be subsidized by tax dollars?

Not from the Federal level.

* Should tax-funded schools establish a period of permitted or required prayer?

This should be up to local school districts and parents. A daily period of meditation would have done me a lot of good when I was in school.

* Should government officials promote religiously oriented displays and comments on government property and at government events?

Promote? No. Allow? Yes.

* Do you support gay marriage?

The Federal government has no role at all in marriage, gay or otherwise. I support loving, committed relationships. How the people of the States and local governments chose to define these is up to their people.

* If you answered no to the question above, do you support domestic partnerships, civil unions, or comparable legal recognition of gay couples?

These are different labels for marriage. The love and commitment in the relationship is all that matters.

* Should gay couples be allowed to adopt children by the same standards as heterosexual couples?

This is not a Federal matter. I do not have the knowledge or experience that would qualify me to have an opinion.

* Should government never, always, or sometimes mandate parental notification and consent before a minor may legally obtain an abortion, and, if sometimes, under what conditions?

Again, no Federal role. However, I support parental notification unless there is evidence of abuse within the family.

* Should government mandate waiting periods or ultrasounds before a woman may legally obtain an abortion?

Abortion is a State, not Federal matter. There are two questions here. Should abortion be legal? Should there be waiting periods?

As a practical matter, government should not interfere in family matters during the first trimester.

* Do you endorse the "personhood" measure that may appear on the 2010 ballot?

I am not familiar with this measure.

* Should abortion be legal in cases of fetal deformity?

Again, no Federal role. It is the family’s decision.

* Should abortion be legal in cases of rape or incest?

Again, no Federal role. Otherwise, yes.

* Should abortion be legal in cases of risk to the woman's life, as determined by the health professional selected by that woman?

Again, no Federal role. There can be a big argument over what constitutes “risk of life”.

* Should elective abortion be legal?

Again, no Federal role. As a practical matter, government should not interfere in family matters during the first trimester.

* If you believe that abortion should be legally restricted, what criminal penalties do you advocate for a woman and her doctor for obtaining or facilitating an illegal abortion?

I believe the States can decide on abortion restrictions after the first trimester. I have no opinion on penalties, except the one below.

* Would execution ever be an appropriate penalty for obtaining or facilitating illegal abortions?

No.

* Should types of birth control be legal that may prevent a fertilized egg or zygote from implanting in the uterus?

States choice. My personal opinion - Yes.

* Should fertility treatments be legal that may result in the freezing or destruction of a fertilized egg or zygote?

States choice. My personal opinion - Yes.

* Should research involving the use of embryonic stem cells be legal?

States choice. My personal opinion - Yes. The research should not be Federally funded.

* Should abortions or embryonic stem cell research be subsidized by tax dollars?

Certainly not Federal dollars.


IMMIGRATION

* (Federal-level candidates:) Should the U.S. expand a legal guest- worker program or legal immigration, and, if so, by how much?

Yes. I don’t know how much, but there is unmet demand for skilled people in this country, so the additional visas or immigration would add value to our economy. People that love freedom and have the ability to add value to America should be welcomed.

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should Colorado government force employers to verify with the federal government the legal status of potential employees, and, if so, what penalties should apply for failure to do so?

The Federal government has a Constitutionally authorized role in immigration control.

* Should federal or state tax-funded benefits (depending on which office you seek), including K-12 education, be extended only to U.S. citizens, to legal immigrants and guest workers, or to everyone in the U.S. including illegal immigrants?

Not to illegal immigrants. In any case, most Federal benefits are not authorized by the Constitution.


PROPERTY RIGHTS

* What restrictions, if any, should be placed on the use of eminent domain?

Eminent domain is for legitimate public use only and the property owner must be fairly compensated.

* Do you endorse the use of eminent domain in the case of the Pinon Canyon military expansion? Do you support the military expansion if it does not involve eminent domain?

I am not familiar enough with the situation to have an opinion at this time.

* Should the Endangered Species Act be altered or differently enforced?

Yes. It has become a weapon against healthy growth in our economy and often violates private property rights.


BILL OF RIGHTS

* Should McCain-Feingold and state campaign finance restrictions be repealed, maintained, or expanded?

McCain-Feingold should be repealed. It is unconstitutional. In general, campaign finance is a free speech issue and should not be restricted. Voters should have complete access to information on candidates' campaign funding.

* Should the federal government control what radio or television stations may broadcast?

Since these signals cross State lines and can have an effect on the welfare of the United States, there is a legitimate Federal role. Beyond protections against slander, libel, and content unsuitable for minors (violations of the rights of others), there should be no content control.

* Should the FTC's rules regarding blogger endorsements be rescinded?

Yes.

* Should students with licenses be legally permitted to carry concealed handguns on the property of tax-subsidized colleges?

Yes.

* Should additional restrictions be added (or repealed) on gun ownership? Please specify.

No additional restrictions. I think Colorado's laws in this area are a good model for the nation.

* Do you believe that desecration of the U.S. flag should be outlawed by Constitutional amendment?

No.

* Do you believe that pornography or obscene materials involving consenting adults should be legally restricted?

No.


OTHER

* Should state or federal laws (depending on which office you seek) pertaining to marijuana be altered, and, if so, how?

Again, no Federal role here. Repeal the federal laws and leave it to the States.

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should rules pertaining to petitioners be altered, and, if so, how?

* If there is any important issue that you believe we have missed, please state what it is and state your position on it.

Nothing is more important than getting the Federal government’s fiscal and monetary policies under control. Many functions of the Federal government are not authorized by our Constitution and must be phased out. Corresponding cuts in spending, taxes and regulation will allow our economy to grow and produce the tax revenue necessary to eliminate the deficit and reduce government debt.

Thank you.


Curtis Harris
www.HarrisAgainstCongress.com
http://itsthecongressstupid.blogspot.com

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Colorado 2010 Candidate Survey

Created by Ari and Linn Armstrong

[January 24 Update: Links to candidates' replies and related material are posted following the survey.]

The following survey is open to all Colorado candidates running for the 2010 elections. Candidates should fill out the survey and return it via e-mail to ari(at)freecolorado(dotcom). The survey should be sent as text only within the body of an e-mail, not as an attachment. Answers will be published in full and without editing at FreeColorado.com. Candidates should include contact information for verification purposes.

We will personally send the survey to all major-party candidates running for governor and U.S. Senate. We may send the survey to other candidates as well. We do not have the resources to send the survey to -- and track answers from -- every single candidate in the state. However, all Colorado candidates are welcome to respond to the survey, and FreeColorado.com will publish every reply received.

Obviously we may choose to quote from a candidate's answers in our own articles, as may other journalists.

Voters interested in the answers of a particular candidate are encouraged to ask that candidate to send us a reply. Moreover, we encourage other journalists to press candidates for their answers to these important questions.

We have heard from various candidates who decline to answer at least some surveys. We strongly encourage candidates to answer ours. We believe that Colorado voters deserve to know where candidates stand on the issues.

Our goal is to fairly elicit a candidate's substantive views on a variety of critical issues. While many of the questions may be answered yes or no, we encourage candidates to offer whatever nuances they deem appropriate. If you think a question is loaded, tell us why. If you want to explain how your thinking has evolved or how your answer squares with your record, please do so. If you have not developed a position on some issue, say as much. We will reproduce your answers as given. We do ask that candidates not confuse nuance with evasiveness.

Note: Some questions are marked for state-level or federal-level candidates. While all candidates are welcome to answer all the questions, candidates for one level of government need not answer questions specific to another level.

We believe that candidates can be fair to voters only by revealing their views on the important issues of the day. We look forward to reading and publishing the replies.


SUMMARY

In a Twitter-length reply (140 characters maximum), please state why you are running for political office.


ECONOMIC ISSUES

* Should the federal or state government spend money in an attempt to "stimulate" the economy? If so, on what sorts of projects?

* Should tax dollars be directed toward energy projects, tourism, or any other form of business subsidies?

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights be kept completely intact? If not, how should it be altered?

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should Amendment 23 be repealed, maintained, or modified?

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should any particular state taxes or fees (such as the state corporate income tax or the subjects of the tax-cutting initiatives) be repealed or reduced? Should any be added or increased?

* Should state or federal spending (depending on which office you seek) be higher or lower than it is currently?

* Should the state or federal minimum wage (depending on which office you seek) be repealed, maintained, or increased?

* Should college education be subsidized by tax dollars?

* Should antitrust law or its enforcement be changed?

* (Federal-level candidates:) Should Sarbanes-Oxley be repealed?


SOCIAL AND CHURCH/STATE ISSUES

* What do you believe is meant by the "separation of church and state," and do you endorse it?

* Should religious institutions receive tax dollars for providing welfare or other faith-based services?

* Should the teaching of creationism or Intelligent Design be subsidized by tax dollars?

* Should tax-funded schools establish a period of permitted or required prayer?

* Should government officials promote religiously oriented displays and comments on government property and at government events?

* Do you support gay marriage?

* If you answered no to the question above, do you support domestic partnerships, civil unions, or comparable legal recognition of gay couples?

* Should gay couples be allowed to adopt children by the same standards as heterosexual couples?

* Should government never, always, or sometimes mandate parental notification and consent before a minor may legally obtain an abortion, and, if sometimes, under what conditions?

* Should government mandate waiting periods or ultrasounds before a woman may legally obtain an abortion?

* Do you endorse the "personhood" measure that may appear on the 2010 ballot?

* Should abortion be legal in cases of fetal deformity?

* Should abortion be legal in cases of rape or incest?

* Should abortion be legal in cases of risk to the woman's life, as determined by the health professional selected by that woman?

* Should elective abortion be legal?

* If you believe that abortion should be legally restricted, what criminal penalties do you advocate for a woman and her doctor for obtaining or facilitating an illegal abortion?

* Would execution ever be an appropriate penalty for obtaining or facilitating illegal abortions?

* Should types of birth control be legal that may prevent a fertilized egg or zygote from implanting in the uterus?

* Should fertility treatments be legal that may result in the freezing or destruction of a fertilized egg or zygote?

* Should research involving the use of embryonic stem cells be legal?

* Should abortions or embryonic stem cell research be subsidized by tax dollars?


IMMIGRATION

* (Federal-level candidates:) Should the U.S. expand a legal guest-worker program or legal immigration, and, if so, by how much?

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should Colorado government force employers to verify with the federal government the legal status of potential employees, and, if so, what penalties should apply for failure to do so?

* Should federal or state tax-funded benefits (depending on which office you seek), including K-12 education, be extended only to U.S. citizens, to legal immigrants and guest workers, or to everyone in the U.S. including illegal immigrants?


PROPERTY RIGHTS

* What restrictions, if any, should be placed on the use of eminent domain?

* Do you endorse the use of eminent domain in the case of the Pinon Canyon military expansion? Do you support the military expansion if it does not involve eminent domain?

* Should the Endangered Species Act be altered or differently enforced?

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should the smoking ban be maintained, expanded, or repealed? Should it apply to on-stage performances?


BILL OF RIGHTS

* Should McCain-Feingold and state campaign finance restrictions be repealed, maintained, or expanded?

* Should the federal government control what radio or television stations may broadcast?

* Should the FTC's rules regarding blogger endorsements be rescinded?

* Should students with licenses be legally permitted to carry concealed handguns on the property of tax-subsidized colleges?

* Should additional restrictions be added (or repealed) on gun ownership? Please specify.

* Do you believe that desecration of the U.S. flag should be outlawed by Constitutional amendment?

* Do you believe that pornography or obscene materials involving consenting adults should be legally restricted?


OTHER

* Should state or federal laws (depending on which office you seek) pertaining to marijuana be altered, and, if so, how?

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should rules pertaining to petitioners be altered, and, if so, how?

* If there is any important issue that you believe we have missed, please state what it is and state your position on it.

Thank you.

Candidates Should Giddy Up and Answer Survey (Free Press column)

At Least Dan Maes Answered the Questions (Free Press column)

Curtis Harris Libertarian for Congress

Dan Maes Republican for Governor

Rich Hand Independent for Governor

John Finger Libertarian for U.S. Senate

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What Are Conservatives Trying to Conserve?

The following article originally was published on January 4 by Grand Junction's Free Press.

What are conservatives trying to conserve?

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

Conservatives are a strange bunch. They support free trade, except when they want to outlaw or restrict select medicinal plants or forcibly stop employers from hiring willing workers of their choice.

Conservatives support freedom of conscience, except when they want to censor what they declare to be obscene works, punish the mishandling of the flag, or force people to fund religious programs with which they disagree.

Conservatives advocate strong national defense, except when they support a war the president declares unwinnable, along with years of "nation building" at the expense of American lives.

Conservatives endorse federalism, except when they want the national government to tell states how to handle marriage.

Conservatives uphold independence, except when they call on politicians to imprison women for getting an abortion.

Conservatives tout the dignity of the individual, unless that individual happens to be gay or a brown-skinned laborer from Mexico.

Conservatives declare to stand for time-honored principles, except when they "compromise" to raise taxes, pass smoking bans in violation of property rights, expand health welfare, endorse corporate welfare, and use the invasive tax code to crack down on the "crime" of productive work.

We have to wonder just what it is that conservatives are trying to conserve. How can we make sense out of the hash of modern conservatism?

A common explanation is that conservatism is a "fusion" of faith-based tradition and libertarian free-market leanings. There's something to that. The problem is that faith often clashes with tradition, while libertarian government-bashing often clashes with individual rights.

The libertarian anti-government strain is a minor part of the conservative movement. Many libertarians join their own party, avoid politics, or loudly distance themselves from conservatives. Down-with-government conservatism, illustrated by Grover Norquist's infamous and unfortunate line about drowning government in a bathtub, alienates the general public and tends toward the reactionary, in the sense of reacting against anything to do with government rather than championing some positive value.

That leaves three major conservative traditions: tradition, faith, and liberty.

Tradition explains why so many conservatives oppose gay marriage and immigration. They want things to stay just the way they are. The problem is knowing which traditions to conserve and which to change. Slavery was a tradition for many centuries, overturned by liberal-minded abolitionists who wanted to fundamentally change society. Rule by king was a tradition.

For too many conservatives, tradition is just a rationalization for advocating policies and cultural trends without the bother of having to justify them on moral grounds. Tradition is the fall-back of the thoughtless.

Sensing the weakness of a strictly traditional approach, many conservatives turn to religious faith. Christians may lay aside Old Testament calls to murder people for homosexuality, witchcraft, adultery, and parent-cursing.

Christians cannot avoid the fact that the New Testament "contains scores of commandments demanding the redistribution of wealth and property from those who created it to those who did not," as Craig Biddle points out in The Objective Standard. The Marxist injunction, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs," finds its "origin in the Bible," Biddle notes.

Many Christians openly apply Biblical principles to the welfare state; for example, the Colorado Catholic Conference advocated tax-funded "health care coverage for all people from conception until natural death."

Conservative Christians do a lot of comical dancing trying to pass through the eye of a needle with their riches intact. Yet, in terms of Biblical principles, the best such conservatives can do is say that, yes, people have a moral duty to redistribute their wealth, only they should be free to do it or not. The fact remains that the Bible says precious little in defense of political and economic liberty, individual rights, or the value of economic prosperity.

As Sarah Palin writes in her biography, her brand of conservatism rests on the alleged truth "that man is fallen." The presumption is that people just aren't good enough to live in a socialist order. Instead, such conservatives argue, politics must cope with vicious humanity. Then faith-based conservatives who appeal to our "fallen" nature wonder why they can't capture the moral high ground.

We are conservatives only in the final sense of the term: we want to conserve liberty and indeed radically expand it. We hold that liberty is not a gift from men or the gods, but a necessity for thriving human life. To live successfully, we need the freedom to act on our own judgment regarding ourselves and our property. Government must protect our rights, but it must be restrained by a written constitution that limits political power. Unlike the libertarians, we are not against government; we are for a government that robustly protects individual rights.

The interesting thing about this brand of conservatism is that it sounds a lot like what liberalism was always supposed to be, until its purported defenders twisted that movement to the opposite purpose. The best conservatives, it turns out, are also the only true liberals.

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Review Questions for Daniels's Essays on Antitrust

This set of review questions is part of the Liberty In the Books program, a monthly discussion group. These questions cover two works by Eric Daniels on antitrust that go well together for a single meeting. These essays are part of a cycle on antitrust. Previously I published questions for Alex Epstein's essay, "Vindicating Capitalism: The Real History of the Standard Oil Company." In the future Liberty In the Books will cover Dominick Armentano's book, Antitrust: The Case for Repeal.

The first work covered here is Daniels's essay, "Reversing Course: American Attitudes about Monopolies, 1607-1890." It is contained in the book The Abolition of Antitrust, edited by Gary Hull.

Daniels's second essay is "Antitrust with a Vengeance: The Obama Administration's Anti-Business Cudgel," published by The Objective Standard.

As noted previously, these review questions are intended to inspire discussion of the material, not establish a tight outline for discussion.

Reversing Course

1. What was the general change in federal economic policy from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s? (Pages 63, 65-66)

2. What was the most common understanding of "monopoly," before and after 1890? (Page 64)

3. What were the English origins of monopolies? (Page 67)

4. What was the nature of the English revolt against monopolies? (Pages 67-68)

5. What was the significance of the English Case of Monopolies and subsequent Parliamentary action? (Pages 68-69)

6. What was the colonists' view of monopolies? (Pages 69-70)

7. What was the fundamental ideological conflict that divided the English Parliament and the colonists? (Pages 70-71)

8. What was the position of state constitutions on monopolies? (Page 71)

9. According to Daniels, what is the difference between American patent law and the establishment of coercive monopolies? (Pages 71-72)

10. In what ways was the Constitutional Convention friendly toward monopolies? What were the concerns about monopolies raised in that debate? (Page 73)

11. In what ways, and on what grounds, did Congress empower monopolies? (Page 74)

12. How did Alexander Hamilton, Daniel Webster, and Joseph Story defend monopolies? How did their arguments lead from protecting coercive monopolies to breaking up large free-market businesses? (Pages 75-76)

13. How did free enterprise challenge coercive monopolies? (Page 76)

14. How did the fight over the steamship monopoly play out? What was the impact of the 1824 Supreme Court ruling in Gibbons v. Ogden? (Pages 77-78)

15. What were the arguments that continued to be made in favor of monopolies in the 1800s? (Pages 78-79)

16. What was the Charles River Bridge case, and what was the significance of the arguments made in that case? (Pages 79-83)

17. In what ways did Andrew Jackson restrict coercive monopolies? (Page 83)

18. How did judicial definitions of monopoly change after the Civil War? (Page 84)

19. What were the Slaughterhouse Cases of 1873, how were they decided, and what was the impact of the ruling? (Pages 84-85)

20. What were the circumstances of the case of Munn v. Illinois, and what was the impact of the case's legal resolution on property rights? (Pages 86-87)

21. What was the nature and impact of Henry Demarest Lloyd's works on monopoly in the 1880s? (Pages 88-89)

22. What arguments were presented in favor of the Sherman Antitrust Act? (Page 89)

23. What is Daniels's critique of the "public good" as a standard of law? (Page 90)

Antitrust with a Vengeance

24. Why did C. T. Dodd and John D. Rockefeller create a trust in the late 1800s? (Page 22)

25. What were the cultural and political conditions that led to the Sherman Antitrust Act? (Page 22)

26. In what ways are the antitrust laws nonobjective? (Page 23)

27. Why do producers need a stable legal environment, and how does antitrust legislation undercut this? (Pages 23-24)

28. How has antitrust legislation brought business under federal control? (Page 24)

29. How did antitrust enforcement change (and how did it remain the same) from the Bush to the Obama administrations? (Pages 21, 24-25)

30. How have other federal economic controls undermined free-market competition? (Page 25)

31. What is Daniels's critique of Steve Forbes and L. Gordon Crovitz, who also oppose stepped-up antitrust enforcement? (Pages 26-27)

32. What does Daniels see as the proper role of government with respect to business organization and operation? Is he right? (Page 27)

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Jimmy Lakey Runs for 7th Congressional

I attended the Red Rocks Liberty On the Rocks December 7 meeting, where Adam Schrager discussed his inspiring book about Ralph Carr. Jimmy Lakey, a candidate for Colorado's 7th Congressional district, also attended that meeting, so I pulled out my audio recorder and asked him some questions.

In business Lakey promotes Christian music. Lakey adopted a son from Africa and continues to participate in charity work there. His biographical notes take up Part I.



For Part II, Lakey said he is running to protect the future of his son as a new American citizen. He said he is not and does not want to be a career politician. He questioned the decision of Ryan Frazier -- another Republican in the race -- to extend same-sex benefits in Aurora in a time of fiscal downturn.



For Part III, Lakey contrasted his views with those of incumbent Ed Perlmutter. While Lakey stressed his fiscal conservatism, Lakey also discussed his "faith-based beliefs" and endorsed the "personhood" measure slated for the 2010 ballot (defining a fertilized egg as a person).

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Maes Talks Taxes, Abortion, and Eminent Domain

I have been dismissive of Dan Maes, who is challenging presumptive front-runner Scott McInnis for the Republican nomination for governor. (See my first, second, and third set of comments.) But Maes shows up and answers questions, and that counts for a lot. His tenacity earns him at least a second glance -- especially given that McInnis is the ideal candidate of few.

I talked with Maes at the December 21 Liberty On the Rocks holiday party (er, "Christmas party!") hosted by the Independence Institute. We talked about a number of issues, but I assured him the conversation was off the record. He also complained that I had not given enough consideration to his candidacy. So I figured I'd invite him to further articulate some of things we talked about, on the record. I sent him five questions, which he generously answered. My questions are in bold.

I appreciate you giving me your time at the II event to discuss your campaign.

I would like to again give you the opportunity to further articulate your views, on the record. I have a number of questions arising from our conversation. I will be happy to publish your replies, unaltered, on my web page.

1. As governor, what would be your role in dealing with the military's desire to expand Pinon Canyon operations? [See the write-up about McInnis's statements on eminent domain for background.]


I would like to act as a mediator and seek out a mutually beneficial solution if possible. I do not see issues like this as zero sum. I only have the ranchers' input thus far and they have presented a very strong case for preservation based on many valuable criteria not limited to private property rights, less federalization of state land, and cultural history. I await the Army's position in detail beyond a GAO report that has unaddressed exemptions in it.

2. Generally, when do you believe eminent domain is appropriate, if ever?

It is a constitutionally acceptable process and should be applied on a case by case basis. Application of the practice should only be exercised when there is a clear and convincing case for a purely public use and benefit.

3. Please explain what specific economic policies you would adopt. Would you seek to cut specific taxes?

Yes, personal income tax and business property tax. Possibly explore a Fairtax (consumption tax).

Cut specific state programs?

Yes, TBD.

Roll back specific economic controls?

Clarify please.

[I was under the impression that Maes wanted to cut certain regulations on business, and I was trying to figure out which regulations he might want to repeal or modify. I will be happy to post Maes's additional comments on the matter if he cares to send them.] Many politicians, including W. Bush and Obama, promised to cut taxes, so I'm looking for some specific proposals.

I see our energy industry and the accompanying tax revenues as an enormous potential for our state just like our energy producing neighbors. With aggressive and responsible energy policies we could increase these revenues dramatically. Simultaneously, I have articulated my position on downsizing government FTE [full-time employees] by up to 4000.

I will defend Tabor while seeking a better balance with the effects of Amendment 23. I am a strong advocate for public schools as I have two children attending them, however; we must seek more fiscally responsible reform.

Cutting taxes is part of my plan but only after we have struck an appropriate sizing of state government and started a statewide recovery.

4. As you know, the Colorado legislature directs corporate welfare to a variety of industries, including tourism and energy. What are your views of corporate welfare?

I would like to examine the specifics in each case. Our state constitution clearly states we are not to make investments in private entities. I want to honor the spirit of our federal and state constitutions. I do see tax breaks as viable incentives to spur our economy.

5. The "personhood" measure slated for the 2010 ballot states, "As used in sections 3, 6, and 25 of Article II of the state constitution, the term 'person' shall apply to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being." Please explain your views on this measure.

I support it with the understanding that the life of the child is equal to that of the mother and shall never be considered more important than that of the mother.

I appreciate your pledge to answer the survey coming soon from my dad and me. That will probably come out the first days of January.

In closing, understand that we have 3 months until caucuses, 5.5 months until state assembly, and 11 months until the general election. It is still a tad early to have all the answers but I hope I have given you something to start with. Contrary to my opponent, I do have a copy of the current state budget and will continue to examine it, get consultation on it, and come
ready to provide even more specifics in the near future. Thank you.


I will indeed be interested to see whether McInnis is as forthcoming in his answers to the upcoming survey. (I also hope the survey prompts even more specific and revealing answers from Maes on a variety of issues.) I believe the voters of Colorado deserve to know where candidates stand on the issues.

By the way, a People's Press Collective article discusses some of the recent comments of the candidates, including McInnis's comments about the CSU gun ban.

Talking both with Maes and with Clive Tidwell, the underdog in the U.S. Senate race, I picked up a "throw the bums out" vibe, which is to be expected from candidates with no political experience running against seasoned former politicians. However, I have no interest in replacing one bum with another, potentially worse one. While experience and biography do matter in these political races, I hope ultimately they are about fundamental ideas and their application to policy. So I will continue to try to get candidates to articulate their ideas and policies as fully as possible. I hope the voters -- and other political writers -- join me in this.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

E-Books: Amazon Versus Barnes and Noble

I've been complaining quite a lot about Amazon's e-book service. My basic complaint is that, because of Amazon's proprietary software, Amazon e-books will only play on devices supported by Amazon's reader software. Presently that excludes my Mac, which means that the only way I could buy Amazon e-books was to also buy Amazon's Kindle (or an iPhone or Touch, which runs the software).

I don't want to buy a Kindle because it does way more than what I want it to do, and as a result it is quite overpriced for my budget and needs.

Thankfully, I have friends who tend to be early adopters of new technology. One of these friends (Diana Hsieh) lent me her Kindle for a few days so that I could check it out. This was quite helpful, because, as Amazon has no physical store front, it is otherwise impossible to pick up and play around with the Kindle before buying it.

I also purchased Karen Armstrong's The Case for God from Barnes and Noble (BN), because it will read on my computer (with the BN reader) and I wanted to try it out. I'm contemplating buying several more books through BN but I worry that they won't read on the e-reader I may ultimately buy and that I won't be able to integrate my purchases from different suppliers. (The word is that Apple is also getting into the e-book game, which could change the industry dramatically.)

BN's Nook is not yet available for purchase, so I cannot directly compare the two services. I'm reading the God book on my Mac screen and comparing that with text on the Kindle. But that's what I have to work with.

I'll begin with the BN e-book. It was easy to buy (once I set up my account), and the BN e-reading software installed and functioned flawlessly. The text looks fabulous on my great Mac screen, and it is easy to increase the font size and resize the window for a narrower column of text.

There is a huge disadvantage with the BN e-book and a minor one. The huge disadvantage is that the e-book will only read with the BN e-reader software, which bugs the living hell out of me. What is the point of having universal formats like pdf and HTML if e-book sellers refuse to use those formats? By contrast, an mp3 song you buy from any vendor will play on any device on the standard software. You don't buy mp3s from Amazon that play only on the Amazon music reader. (Apple-formatted songs will only play on iTunes, but, as I've noted, Apple can get away with this because the company is so great at making players.)

Incidentally, today I spent $63.10 at the Cato Institute's store to purchase seven e-books. These were straight pdf downloads, so I don't have to worry about the compatibility issues of DRM. I do think that publishers should sell both pdf and HTML formats so that users can select the format best adapted to the reading device.

The minor disadvantage is that the BN e-book has no standardized page numbers. Instead, the pagination adjusts to the window and text. The problem is that BN e-books are useless for citation purposes, unless we've gotten to the point where nobody cares about page references because books are so easily searchable. If I do a review of the book, I'll look up the page numbers, ironically, with Amazon's "look inside" feature. Perhaps that should give Amazon the idea that its business model in this area sucks.

There are some advantages to reading an e-book on a computer screen that I did not anticipate. For note-taking, I can easily open a text window next door. The BN e-book allows the reader to cut-and-paste short passages, which is awesome. I also love the way the endnotes work. Click on the endnote to move to that note at the end of the document; click the number again to go back to that point in the text. That beats the hell out of flipping back and forth in a paper copy.

What about the Kindle? Previously I had indicated that I didn't much like the Kindle's design, whereas the Sony e-reader looked more appealing. I have since visited a Sony e-reader in a Target store, and I now think it completely sucks. What I didn't notice before is that the Sony device features ten menu buttons on the right-hand side, which screams poor design. The Target model didn't even work right, which didn't fill me with confidence. It seemed a lot more like a toy than a serious reader.

The Kindle, by contrast, is an elegant machine. The screen looks marvelous, and, while I have not yet spent hours reading from it, I have no doubt that will prove no problem. The Kindle's controls are a lot more intuitive than I thought they would be. One key control is a miniature joystick, which works fabulously. (I'm used to operating a similar control on my Canon video camera.)

The Kindle, then, is great at what it does. The problem is that it does way too much for my needs, and therefore costs way too much for my budget. The Kindle is like a Hummer, when all I'm looking for is an economical and reliable little Honda. Because I don't want to buy a Kindle, and because Amazon e-books will not yet read on my Mac, I am simply not going to buy any Amazon e-books. (Again Amazon might consider the fact that its business model is completely stupid, though at least the company is working on more readers.)

The main thing that the Kindle has that I absolutely do not want in an e-reader (for the money) is wireless technology. What I want is a cheap little USB cable through which I can load e-books from my computer library onto my reader. The ability to buy books on the road is of practically no value to me.

I didn't realize you can browse the internet on a Kindle, which is cool, but again the coolness is not nearly worth the money. Of course I loaded up my own web page. The browser was tracking the loading progress -- I kid you not -- in kilobytes, with a "k." I finally got irritated by the wait and hit the stop button, at which point (at least part of) my web page displayed, and quite nicely. But, seriously, who wants to browse the internet s-l-o-w-l-y in black and white? If I want to browse the internet on the go, I'll buy an iPhone or Touch. I'd much rather carry two devices that do what they're supposed to do than one device that sucks at most of its functions.

Speaking of suckage, I tried the Kindle's audio reader software. Painful. If I were blind, I imagine I could get used to it. But it would be a real struggle. Think of the challenge of getting past Keanu's acting to enjoy the Matrix, then multiply that by a thousand.

The Kindle has a built-in speaker and audio-processing software, so it will play mp3s and audio books. That's cool, but I'd much rather buy a less-expensive e-reader plus a $59 iShuffle. Just sell me the reader. That's all I want it to do.

As an e-reader, the Kindle works great. If I could just buy the e-reader part of the Kindle at a lower price, I'm pretty sure I'd do it. The dictionary is very cool. You just push the joystick until the cursor is in front of the word of interest, and the definition pops up at the bottom.

It is possible to take notes and record them with a Kindle document. Again push the joystick until the cursor is where you want it, then start "typing" your note. The keyboard, as I anticipated, is horrible. I mean, if you were a sentient ferret or something, it would probably be the perfect size. Maybe it's okay for the "texting" generation. But I absolutely hate it. I'd much rather scribble down a few notes on a piece of paper. So, Kindle minus wireless minus the keyboard minus the high price is a device I'd love to buy.

At least the Kindle has standardized "locations" (rather than "pages"), but these don't match the paper version. They are also listed as ranges (such as "locations 14-19"), which is strange. Will publications allow Kindle-specific citations, or will Kindle buyers need to check the page references against the paper versions? I don't know why publishers don't simply insert a page counter into the text itself matching the hard-copy page counts. This is trivially easy to do, though it would be a minor distraction while reading the text. Granted, some older books already have many different paginations. But there's no reason for new books not to feature the same page references for the hardback, softcover, and e-book versions.

The Kindle will run pdf files fine. You can even upload them via USB. But to run files like Word and HTML, a user must send the file to a Kindle-specific e-mail, then Amazon "will convert the document to Kindle format." So, in other words, to get an HTML file from my computer to my Kindle sitting right next to it, I need to send the HTML file half-way around the world to wherever Amazon keeps its computers, where Amazon will convert this already-standard-format file to the completely-non-standard Amazon format, then send the file back to my Kindle wirelessly. Did I mention that Amazon's business model for the Kindle is completely ridiculous? I mean, God forbid that I'm able to send an HTML file via a USB cable and read it with my $259 e-reader. I mean, Amazon can install software that will (sort of) read the text out loud, but it can't figure out how to let me read HTML files directly?

I only had one minor problem while using the Kindle: at one point, when I was trying to jump to a linked table-of-contents entry, the Kindle thought I was trying to highlight some vast portion of the document. But I soon figured out how to cancel out of that mode, and with a little jiggling got the joystick to do what I wanted it to do. (Much of this tinkering I was doing while reading Amazon's tutorial, which is a pretty good document.)

If my income were more upper-middle-class than lower-middle-class, I'd gladly buy the Kindle, despite the risk of betting on an e-book reader that turns out to be the equivalent of Beta or HD DVD. But, given that the Kindle does way too much and therefore costs a lot, I'll wait to buy a reader until the market has settled down a bit, the formatting issues have been resolved, and I can buy a nice low-end reader for $150 or less. At this point I will either wait to buy e-books or buy BN e-books that at least will read on my Mac.

It was a fun date, but the Kindle is not yet marriage material.

December 23 Update: I just had a thought: why doesn't Amazon allow e-book purchasers to view the books in a web browser with password protection? Then Amazon wouldn't even need to release additional readers. Any device with a browser would suffice. Also, I sincerely hope that Apple makes an economy-model reader, as I imagine the Tablet will be priced well outside my budget.

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Ralph Carr Shows Politicians Can Stand for Liberty

The following article originally was published December 21 by Grand Junction's Free Press.

Ralph Carr shows politicians can stand for liberty

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

If you still have last-minute Christmas shopping to do, we have a suggestion. Adam Schrager, the thoughtful 9News reporter, wrote a book called The Principled Politician: Governor Ralph Carr and the Fight Against Japanese American Internment. This delightful account of important Colorado history came out in paperback earlier this month.

Carr served as governor from 1939 to 1943, an era spanning parts of two of the nation's greatest challenges: the Great Depression and World War II. Carr responded to both these crises by defending liberty and individual rights.

As Carr entered office, Colorado government faced a $1.8 million deficit. Unlike many of today's politicians, whose answer to deficits is to raise taxes and "fees" or increase government spending, Carr called for fiscal responsibility.

Schrager writes that Carr "announced plans to abolish many of the state bureaus and boards established by the last administration." He also "proposed shifting the net income tax benefiting schools into the state's general fund." During a speech he "told the crowd that anyone who joined the civil service to have an easy job financed by taxpayers... could expect to be fired."

We wish we could hear Carr's common-sense wisdom reflected in today's political debates. (All quotations are from Schrager's book.) "The way to save money is to stop spending it." "Spending and lending is unsound and... thrift and the full payment of debts... is simple and common honesty."

While seconding the nomination of Wendell Willkie, who lost the presidential contest of 1940, Carr said, "If we are ever to save this country, we must first save business. Every one of you is in business -- big business and little business, farmers, stockmen, laboring men, industrialists."

Carr turned down a chance of running with Willkie (a wise move in retrospect) to continue his work in Colorado. Carr said, "What have we done to justify your returning us to office? We have taken the income of the state of Colorado. We have lived within it. We added not a dime of new taxes. We cut the levy for state purposes... and we balanced your blooming budget."

Carr opposed Roosevelt's expansive political controls: "The New Deal has usurped the powers of the state [and] undermined personal liberty."

Carr added, "It is not disloyal to oppose and to question the policy of one who has not yet proved himself omnipotent and to require that he too be limited and circumscribed by those same ideals and standards governing others. We insist that the president recognize and follow the Constitution which created him."

Carr summarized his basic political philosophy with an eloquence rare in politics: "The individual is supreme and government is established only to protect and foster his rights." He later added, "Every time the individual submits to a central government for a solution of another problem of business or life, there is a consequent surrender of individuality, of privilege, of right."

Carr argued that the term "liberal" had been stolen by the left. He said, "The true liberals are those who consistently follow the proposition that liberty means freedom to exercise individual rights unaffected by external restraint or compulsion... The underlying theory of the Constitution is found in the proposition that every man may use the talents which God has given him, may reach any goal toward which he sets his eyes, and may enjoy the fruits of his ambition, his study and his toil, provided only that he does not use his powers to injure his fellows."

The fate of the nation changed on December 7, 1941, when Japanese bombers attacked the U.S. base at Pearl Harbor. Carr rose to the challenge, setting up "an emergency meeting of the Colorado Council of Defense for the next morning," Schrager writes.

While most Coloradans responded to the crisis admirably, some turned to paranoia and racist threats. Some called Japanese Americans "vipers" and "yellow rats." Various politicians and media personalities wanted to put them into concentration camps. The Denver Post wrote, "To hell with the Japs!" Nels Smith, governor of Wyoming, said "there would be Japs hanging from every pine tree" if sent to that state.

Carr rejected racism. He said, "We have among us many of a new generation of Japanese people born in the United States -- sincere, earnest, and loyal." He offered a "hand of friendship" to immigrants. He urged protection of the Bill of Rights and the "security, freedom, and opportunity" it offers.

In a public address, Carr granted the existence of enemy "fifth columnists" and assented to federal relocation policies. Yet he also spoke for "loyal German, Italian, and Japanese citizens who must not suffer for the activities and animosities of others." He warned against "the danger of inflammatory statements and threats against these unwelcome guests" forcibly sent to Colorado.

Though we may not approve every detail of Carr's career, he has richly earned his place in history as a man who defended liberty. We thank Schrager for telling his inspiring story.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Going Digital

What is extraordinary about my lifetime is that I will have witnessed the birth of the home computer industry and (if things go well) the complete conversion of all relevant media forms to digital formats separate from any particular physical "carrier" medium.

In recent days I have written about the still-problematic e-book industry as well as the move toward online video content. Fittingly, today I found an article by Matt Buchanan covering both these stories in the context of Apple's business innovations. Before getting to that story, though, I thought this is a good time to step back and gaze at the landscape.

The basic art forms are these: music, painting, sculpture, literature, dance, theater, film, and architecture. There are certain hybrids, like opera (musical theater) and illustrated fiction.

Art presented as a structure (sculpture, architecture) may be photographed and filmed, and only in these derivative forms digitized. (One may view a photograph of the Parthenon, but obviously viewing the photo is not at all the same experience as visiting the place.) Performance art may be recorded in audio or on film, and the recorded presentations may be digitized. Going to hear a symphony is a different experience than listening to a recording of a symphony, though the audio quality might be very similar.

Paintings obviously may be digitized, and the similarity of the digitized piece to the original, while generally fairly close, varies significantly by art work. The School of Athens is fantastic on a modern computer screen, but it simply does not compare with the real thing, whereas the Mona Lisa is nearly as impressive digitally (I write as I duck the stones).

Literature is readily digitized, for the same reasons that literature can be translated and read aloud. Literature is the most purely conceptual form of art, and its mode is language, and language is inherently separable from any particular medium (which is not to discount the qualities of a musty old book).

Film inherently converts a performance to a two-dimensional image, so the digitization process is perfectly natural. Some modern "films" may begin with hand drawings but develop primarily digital animation.

For our purposes, the upshot is that film, music, and literature are the most-easily digitized art forms, with paintings following behind. Regardless of how we categorize photography in terms of art, obviously it has joined film in making the natural jump to digital formats. (General retail outlets don't even sell film cameras any more.)

The basic modes of mass communication are text, photographs, speaking, and video (I'll say rather than film, which is now mostly outdated).

The above facts indicate that the modes of digitizing the fine arts match up pretty will with the modes of digitizing mass communication. Whether we are talking about fine arts or mass communication, in the digital world we are basically talking about text, still images, audio, and video. Any digital content basically combines those four sorts of presentation. Basically, if you can see it or hear it, where the seeing or hearing is the point of the thing, it can be digitized. (Whether the sense of touch can be effectively digitized remains to be seen, but a world where more than a few would want such a thing would be a very different world from our own.)

Music has essentially gone digital now. My first album was a record, as in a disc of plastic etched to stimulate a needle. (Genesis, baby, as in the band.) Interestingly, I've never actually looked up the term "analog" until just now: "of or pertaining to a mechanism that represents data by measurement of a continuous physical variable, as voltage or pressure." Anyway, within my lifetime music has gone from entirely analog to almost entirely digital.

Moreover, music has largely made the break from a particular, dedicated medium. While the music CD remains popular, increasingly people buy music online and save it to a hard drive or flash drive.

Video similarly has largely gone digital. Due to its increased file size it remains more tied to the DVD, though this is rapidly changing. My step-dad had one of those VHS video recorders you had to rest on your shoulder to operate. I own a digital video camera that records directly to flash memory. YouTube allows pretty much anybody to upload any video that's under ten minutes, while a variety of services display movies and "television" shows online.

Obviously photography has gone digital. While 35 millimeter film was the standard consumer-grade film in my childhood, today I can't name anybody I know who owns a film camera.

Strangely, text, while far more easily digitized than audio, photos, or video, remains largely bound to ink and pulp. They still print newspapers and books in large quantities. The stickiness in converting text to digital formats is funny given that the analog formats are created from digital source files. Word processors were among the first computer applications.

My mother used a real typewriter in college. I mean, you hit the key, and it caused a metal arm to strike the paper through an inked ribbon. No electricity! When I was in high school, I learned how to type on an electric typewriter; the metal arms were replaced by a rotating ball, but the mark was still made by a metal form striking the paper. Now I don't know anybody who uses anything other than a computer to generate polished text. (Well, I've met two people who still write by hand, a novelist and a philosopher, but they lie well outside the norm. Of course somebody then transforms their scribbles to digital text.)

So why is it that practically everyone generates text digitally but then many still convert it to ink on pulp? There are two main reasons, one involving technology and the other business organization. The technological problem is that reading text on computer screens tends to create eye strain (as I am already experiencing in the writing of this post). It's a lot easier to sit down for several hours and read an ink-on-paper book than it is to read a digital display of the same text. But the new eye-friendly e-readers seem to be on the road to solving this problem.

The second problem is that nobody has yet figured out a great way to sell e-books or profitably publish news online. I think it extremely likely that some combination of business leaders will solve all of these problems within the next few years. I think that, within the next decade or so, printed newspapers will be mostly gone and that the paper-on-ink book industry will look a lot like today's record industry.

Whether we look at video, audio, still images, or text, the trend is the same: people will no longer buy a physical good, they will buy a digital file online and store it on some sort of data drive.

Today I went to Target and spent just over $15 to purchase a four gigabyte "thumb" drive. I loaded it with videos, photos, audio files, database files, and text files, then dropped the device into my pocket. We no longer need dedicated physical objects to store these things. We buy them via an energy stream, then we store them on a universal storage device and enjoy them via some software program running on a gizmo.

I know that techies have already rolled their eyes and closed this page in annoyance, but I stand in awe of the digital revolution that has occurred in just a few years. These simple, obvious, and mundane facts all around us mark a turning point for our species.

As for Buchanan, he reports that Apple appears to be gearing up to expand its online video market and its small-sized computer market. As Philip Elmer-DeWitt indicates for Money, Apple's "Tablet" and associated deals may revolutionize the e-book industry.

Very soon digital content via the internet will be the norm, and records, tapes, CDs, DVDs, newsprint, and pulp books will become quaint (and even eccentric) throwbacks to an earlier age.

Update: I was just poking around at the Cato Institute's web page, and I noticed that the outfit is selling Tom Palmer's new book as an e-book for $14. This is available through Kindle for $9.99. However, I called Cato and was assured their digital books are straight pdfs, and to me that is well worth the extra four bucks.)

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NCR Says Antitrust Not Right Approach for Video; Kiosks May Dent Netflix

As I wrote last month, I've stopped doing business with Redbox, the DVD kiosk service, because that company initiated antitrust actions against film companies.

Last week I learned that NCR has acquired DVDPlay and plans to convert those "kiosks to its BLOCKBUSTER Express brand." It turns out that, in my region, these kiosks are placed in many Safeway stores.

On December 17, I sent the following e-mail to NCR:

Dear Mr. Dudash,

I no longer do business with Red Box because that company initiated antitrust actions against others, and I regard such action as unjust and a violation of individual rights.

Before I decide whether to do business with NCR/ DVDPlay, I'd like to know whether your company has initiated any antitrust actions or intends to do so. I will be happy to publish your response, and to make my consumer decisions accordingly.

Sincerely,
Ari Armstrong


Today I received the following reply:

Hi Ari, we have not initiated any lawsuits against the movie studios at this time. We have said publicly that we do not believe that is the right approach, and we are instead working with the studios to find a solution that addresses their needs, our needs and -- most importantly -- the needs of our consumers.

However, as I'm sure you can understand, I cannot comment on what actions we may or may not take in the future. But, certainly, we have not filed any lawsuits to date and have said publicly that we do not agree with the approach of litigation.

Jeff

Jeff Dudash
Public Relations
NCR


That is certainly good enough for me. I have already rented two videos from DVDPlay to see how the system works, and now I plan to rent from the service regularly.

The DVDPlay kiosk worked very well. The problem is that the consumer cannot view DVD availability by kiosk online, nor can the consumer reserve a rental online. Redbox allows both of these things, which makes that service quite a lot more useful. Hopefully, once the conversion to Blockbuster is complete, the service will upgrade its online capabilities. (I asked Dudash about this and will update this post if he answers.)

After I dropped Redbox, I upgraded my Netflix account from one-at-a-time DVD rentals to three-at-a-time. Now that I've found DVDPlay, I've reduced my Netflix account to a the single disc plan.

I figured that, while I was at it, I'd ask Netflix about its business plans. It seems to me that Netflix could offer the best of both worlds by renting DVDs through the mail and charging an additional per-rental fee for online new releases.

Right now Netflix rents DVDs for a monthly fee and offers online content at no additional charge. I've found some outstanding online offerings this way, such as Jim Henson's The Storyteller. But Netflix offers none of the hot new releases online.

Obviously Netflix also rents new releases by mail. The problem is that they tend to be delayed. I dropped the new Terminator film and Hangover from my Netflix list and rented them from DVDPlay. Currently Inglourious Basterds is listed on my Netflix queue as a "very long wait," as is Four Christmases. Public Enemies and Julie & Julia are listed as "long waits." My plan is to remove all these films from my Netflix queue and rent them at DVDPlay (if available).

Meanwhile, Amazon and iTunes rent new-release movies online for $3.99. So I can pay a dollar at DVDPlay, or I can pay four times as much to view the same content through my cable modem. For me, this is no contest. The kiosk is within easy walking distance, and I like to walk around, anyway. While I have rented many movies from kiosks, I have paid not one red cent for online video rentals (not counting the online content included with my Netflix membership).

Is Netflix planning to compete with the kiosks and with the online rental sites for new-release business? No.

I called up Steve Swasey, Netflix's Vice President of Corporate Communications. He graciously took my call. He said that Netflix is and intends to remain a subscription-based company. He pointed out that Netflix has been growing despite the competition.

Moreover, Swasey said that Netflix users tend to be more interested in the company's deep catalog and excellent customer service. (I readily granted that these are strong points for the company.) Swasey sensibly said that "a great release from 1974 is a great movie," whereas a new release may not be so great. With Netflix, he said, customers can find older movies "tailored to you." As examples, he noted that the films Crash and Hotel Rwanda have been Netflix favorites. (I hated the first film and appreciated the second.)

Swasey said that "new releases just aren't that important to most Netflix users," who instead enjoy the large catalog, tailored recommendations, and "extreme simplicity" of the monthly subscription.

As much as I enjoyed talking with Swasey and appreciate his perspective, I just don't buy his rationale. I think it would be in Netflix's interests to offer pay-per-view online rentals for new releases.

I would gladly pay Netflix an extra couple bucks to watch a new release online, rather than wait for weeks for the DVD or deal with a kiosk. This would be an added service, so only customers who wanted it would have to worry about it. Everyone else could maintain the "extreme simplicity" of the monthly subscription. (I don't regard online rentals as terribly complicated or confusing.)

I think it's obvious to everybody that the DVD is a dated medium. Its days are numbered. So, within a few years (I don't care to guess precisely how many), both DVD kiosks and the Netflix mail service will be aborted. Interestingly, NCR plans to enable consumers "to download movies from the kiosks to portable memory cards," but I don't see how this will ultimately compete with online rentals.

DVDs must be produced and physically distributed, whether by store, mail, or kiosk. They break. They cost money on top of the digital content. Meanwhile, as streaming costs go down, the marginal production cost of an online rental will drop closer and closer to zero.

Obviously Netflix is aware of this, as the company has already started offering online content. The problem is that Netflix wants to limit the number of any particular disc it buys, which is why new releases end up with "very long waits." Yet Netflix can't offer unlimited new releases online for $8.99 per month, which is the minimum plan for unlimited online viewing.

As I suggested to Swasey, I think the reason a lot of Netflix users aren't as interested in new releases from Netflix is simply that it's difficult to get them there, and, like me, they use some other service for new releases.

At some point Netflix is going to have to figure out how to offer new releases via online rentals, if the company wishes to continue to exist. Here's my ideal plan: I pay $8.99 per month for unlimited online viewing of older content, plus $1.99 per viewing of a hot new release. (New releases could drop into the general pool after a certain number of weeks.) Under such a scheme, I would give Netflix 100 percent of my video rental business.

The problem for Netflix is getting from here to there. The company is stuck in a "Netflix hole" in which new releases are largely inaccessible to members.

How to solve this problem? Here is my suggestion. Netflix can keep its current plan for whoever wants to keep using it. Then Netflix can create an entirely new, online-only plan, as described above (monthly fee plus a modest pay-per-view fee on new releases).

Update: Here's another obvious approach: Netflix could offer a standard online video program for, say, $9 per month plus pay-per-view on new releases, and a premium program that includes unlimited viewing of new releases for, say, $20 per month. That way, people who care nothing about new releases, or who only want to watch them occasionally, can sign up for the less-expensive account, while others can pay more for full access.

That, Mr. Swasey, is what I call "extreme simplicity" -- and a business model that would vault Netflix to the top of the competition.

Until then, I will be happy to do new-release business with NCR, which has, at least for now, sworn off unjust antitrust actions.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Review Questions for Epstein's Essay on Standard Oil

As I recently noted, Liberty In the Books, which I co-moderate, reviewed Alex Epstein's essay, "Vindicating Capitalism: The Real History of the Standard Oil Company."

I strongly recommend that free-market activists join a reading group in their area -- or start a new one. See my notes for some ideas about how to do that. (Alternately, if you live out in the boondocks, you can follow the Denver group's lead on your own.)

Following are my review questions that we used to guide our discussion. Remember, the point of review questions is to inspire discussion and keep it basically attached to the assigned reading. There is no need to discuss every question on the list. Page numbers here refer to the printed edition; I also include the section headers. This reading, assigned in advance of our meeting, worked great for a two-hour discussion.

1. Describe the views of John D. Rockefeller expressed by:‎
a) Henry Demarest Lloyd, 1881 (Pages 29-30)
b) Ida Tarbell, 1904 (Page 30)
c) Howard Zinn, 1980 (Page 31)
d) Paul Krugman, 1998 (Page 31)

2. What is the view of free markets expressed by Ron Chernow and John Sherman? (Pages 31-32)

The "Pure and Perfect" Early Refining Market

3. What is the theory of "pure and perfect competition?" (Pages 32-33)

4. What is Epstein's basic economic critique of the doctrine of "pure and perfect competition?" (Page 33)

5. What were the benefits of kerosene to human life? (Page 33)

6. What caused the dramatic increase in kerosene refineries from 1859 to 1864? What were some of the problems with earlier refineries? (Pages 33-35)

7. What was the trend in refineries from 1865 to 1870? (Page 35)

The Phenomenon

8. What regional advantages contributed to Cleveland's oil refineries of 1863? (Page 36)

9. What were the characteristics of Rockefeller's first refinery? (Page 36)

10. What in Rockefeller's background contributed to his success in business? (Pages 36-37)

11. In what specific ways did Rockefeller improve efficiency, expand markets, and advance technology in his industry? (Pages 37-39)

12. What is "vertical integration," how did Rockefeller practice it, and what are the benefits? (Page 38)

13. What was the state of Rockefeller's venture in 1870? (Page 40)

The Virtuous Rebates

14. What was Ida Tarbell's view of the railroad rebates granted to Rockefeller, and what is Epstein's criticism of Tarbell? (Page 41)

15. Why did railroads grant Rockefeller rebates? (Pages 41-42)

16. Were Rockefeller's practices "anticompetitive?" (Pages 42-43)

The Missing Context of Standard's Rise to Supremacy

17. From 1870 to 1880, what challenges did oil refineries face, what was the growth of Standard Oil, and what was the shift in oil prices? (Pages 43-44)

18. Why doesn't Epstein believe that cartels can succeed? (Pages 44-45)

19. What was the strategy of the South Improvement Company, and what were the results? (Pages 45-46)

20. What was the Pittsburgh Plan, and what were the results? (Pages 45-46)

From 10 to 90 in Eight Years

21. According to Epstein, what motivated Rockefeller to buy out various competitors? (Pages 46-47)

22. Did Rockefeller's treatment of some competitors to "a good sweating" constitute "predatory pricing?" (Pages 47-48)

23. What was the state of Standard Oil in 1873 and 1874? (Pages 48-49)

24. What arguments did Rockefeller make to competitors to persuade them to sell their businesses to him? (Pages 47, 49)

25. How did the Pennsylvania Railroad attempt to compete with Standard Oil, and what was the result? (Pages 49-50)

26. How did Standard Oil operate from 1870 to 1880, and what happened to the level of oil production and to kerosene prices? (Pages 50-51)

The 1880s and the Peril of the "Monopolist"

27. Did Standard Oil operate according to standard antitrust theory in the 1880s? (Page 52)

28. What was the "peak oil" theory articulated in the mid 1880s? Was was the problem with this theory? (Sound familiar?) (Page 52)

29. Why did Rockefeller expand oil production in the 1880s, what did he find, how did he cope with "skunk oil," and what did this do for Standard Oil? (Pages 52-53)

30. What new competitors did Standard Oil face in the 1880s? (Pages 53-54)

31. What was the difference between Standard Oil and government monopolies? (Pages 54-55)

The Standard Oil Trust and the Science of Corporate Productivity

32. What was a trust, and what legal problems did it overcome? (Page 56)

33. What were Standard Oil's successes as a trust? (Pages 57-58)

34. What were Rockefeller's skills as a business manager? (Pages 59-60)

35. What changing market conditions did Standard Oil face from 1899 to 1914, and what happened to the company's output and market share? (Page 60)

36. What were the journalistic and political responses to the successes of Standard Oil? What was the motivation of this reaction? (Pages 61-62)

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Scott McInnis on Eminent Domain

In the comments to my recent post about Dan Maes, "Mike" reminded me about a proposal to expand military lands around Piñon Canyon.

Lynn Bartels writes for the December 10 Denver Post, "Republicans opposed to the military's Piñon Canyon expansion project are disappointed that property rights weren't addressed when party leaders unveiled a new platform and rallied around gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis."

Here is how the Post's article summarizes the issue: "The Army wants to [expand] its 235,000-acre Piñon Canyon training maneuver area by almost 100,000 acres. The Army has promised to acquire the land only from a willing seller or through a long-term lease, but landowners in the impacted areas in southeastern Colorado fear their property will be seized, adversely-affected or the military will eventually want even more land."

It is important, then, to distinguish between expansion of the military lands and the use of eminent domain. Property rights do not always protect the owner from being "adversely affected." For instance, unless you live in an HOA that controls for such things, your neighbor might paint his house an ugly color, park ugly cars in front, and otherwise do things that incidentally reduce the value of your property. So we must limit the discussion to actual violations of property rights, such as the use of eminent domain to forcibly seize property from those unwilling to voluntarily sell it.

According to State Representative Steve King, McInnis said the government "is no longer threatening eminent domain in the Piñon Canyon expansion." Apparently, then, McInnis's support of the project assumed that eminent domain would not be used.

However, the Fifth Amendment states that private property may be taken for public use for just compensation. Do McInnis's critics wish to claim that government ought never use eminent domain, even though the Constitution explicitly authorizes it? That's my position, but I think McInnis's critics need to detail their views. If Republicans are going to beat up their candidates for considering eminent domain for an obviously public use, that's a high bar, and one that should be set intentionally rather than as a pretext for partisan attacks.

Another comment by McInnis on the matter is more troubling. According to the Post, McInnis said, "Balancing the deep need that Colorado has for quality jobs with the rights of Piñon Canyon property owners requires leadership and dialogue."

I believe that property rights should be consistently protected, not "balanced" against some alleged need to forcibly seize property for somebody else to use. I would be interested to learn if McInnis's Republican critics believe that eminent domain should be abolished across the board, or if they merely want to restrict the practice to somebody else's property.

In the meantime, it would be helpful if McInnis would further clarify his views on eminent domain and property rights.

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Liberty In the Books

With Amanda Teresi I co-moderate Denver's Liberty In the Books, a monthly reading group that discusses free-market literature.

I strongly recommend that others around the country start up their own free-market discussion groups. I believe that our nation is at a crossroads and that advocates of liberty need to step forward and articulate the case for economic freedom. One critical element of effective free-market activism is familiarity with relevant economic principles and history. Participants in a discussion group can help educate each other as well as offer support and encouragement for free-market activism. With that goal in mind, here I describe how the Denver group functions and what we're reading.

Please note that I cannot personally evaluate or endorse other reading groups that might use my recommendations or discussion notes. Thus, potential participants are strongly encouraged to independently investigate any other group claiming to use discussion notes for Liberty In the Books. Amanda owns the rights to the name, "Liberty In the Books." I own the copyright to any material I write about the group or about selected readings. Thus, whether you use the name "Liberty In the Books" is between you and Amanda. I suggest you pick a unique name for your group and perhaps say something the the effect that you follow the Liberty In the Books model, without claiming any formal ties or endorsement. Groups are free to distribute my review questions at will, so long as no claim is made that I endorse any group other than my own.

If you have an interest in starting an economic liberty reading group in your area, how should you proceed?

The first thing to do is to refine your purpose. Amanda and I decided to focus on the relationship between economic theory and history. Thus, the complete title of our group is "Liberty In the Books: Economics In Action." I do NOT want to discuss the arcane debates between the Austrian and Chicago schools. I do NOT want to discuss the finer points of Austrian praxeology versus positivism. I do NOT want to discuss libertarian anarchism versus the minimal state. (I'll discuss such things elsewhere, but not in this group.) Instead, the purpose of the group is to learn about the application of basic free-market principles to modern and historical political policies. It is a "political economy" group in the traditional sense of that term.

So far the Denver group has read the following works:
* Lin Zinser and Paul Hsieh, Moral Health Care vs. 'Universal Health Care'"
* Amity Shlaes, The Forgotten Man
* Thomas Sowell, The Housing Boom and Bust
* Henry Hazlitt, Economics In One Lesson
* Alex Epstein, "Vindicating Capitalism: The Real History of the Standard Oil Company"

Later I'll post discussion questions for works the Denver group has read. (I'll use the blog label "Liberty In the Books.")

Your group needs clear leadership. Amanda and I co-moderate the Denver group, and our decisions regarding the group are final. You might opt for a more democratic structure (though I think that may invite pointless and time-wasting debate). I choose the readings for our group in consultation with Amanda. (Obviously I'm open to suggestions from other members.) Another discussion group I'm in selects readings by informal, mutual agreement.

After you decide to start a group, you need to get members. You might want to start a very small group among friends. In that case, you can simply contact your interested friends and set up meeting times. Otherwise you can advertise for the group via existing activist networks in your area.

Another reading group I participate with, the Atlas Shrugged Reading Groups, successfully advertised for members with Facebook ads. You can also issue media releases and post your information on public calendars.

How should you handle membership? I've now participated in three Colorado discussion groups, and I've experienced no problem with troublesome members. Instead, I've really enjoyed getting to know others from the community and discussing important ideas with them. Nevertheless, I do think it's important to have membership guidelines, just in case you need to ask a disruptive participant to leave.

I endorse the Atlas guidelines: "The goal of the group is to better understand [the reading material] in a friendly and constructive way, not to engage in acrimonious debate or proselytizing."

Following are the guidelines I sent to the Liberty In the Books membership:

The purpose of Liberty in the Books: Economics in Action is to provide a fun forum for free-market advocates to discuss economic principles and history and their application to the important issues of the day, with the goal that members will be better able to publicly articulate the case for free markets.

Members should strive to regularly attend meetings and read the selections. Readings generally will run less than 100 pages per month and will cover various areas of policy as well as basic economic principles. Some readings will be available online, others through special reproduction rights acquired by the event's organizers. Occasionally members will need to purchase a book, which typically will provide readings for several meetings.

In order to keep the discussions interesting and topical, members should focus their comments on the reading material, though of course they may draw upon additional information that sheds light on the readings.

The group assumes a general support of free markets, enabling members to discuss matters of history and economics in greater detail than would be possible if members fundamentally disagreed about economic liberty. While membership is open, the moderators may, at their discretion, limit discussion that falls outside the purpose of the group.

While the group will discuss economics in history and theory, discussion should not assume any prior, specialized knowledge of history, economics, or policy, other than what is provided by the selected reading material. Discussion should remain accessible to any intelligent layperson familiar with the reading material, rather than veer into highly technical issues of interest only to a few.

While the moderators welcome feedback and advice from members, the moderators' decisions pertaining to Liberty In the Books are final. Moderators may, at their discretion, begin with a short presentation, invite outside discussion leaders, establish other parameters for discussion, ask disruptive members to leave, alter the location or time of meetings, change future reading selections, and in other ways guide the group.

Members are the guests of the club's organizers, who will strive to make Liberty In the Books consistently fun, inspiring, and informative.


Where to meet? If you are meeting with a small group of friends, where everyone knows each other well, you can meet at someone's home. However, if you plan to start a larger group with more open membership, I strongly encourage you to meet at a public location, such as a bookstore, library, or coffee shop. I've found that Borders Books is often particularly open to reading groups. The Denver group meets for two hours. Meetings of 1.5 hours also work well, and longer meetings may suit your group's needs, though you'll need to plan for a break.

To organize meetings, I suggest a Google group or a comparable method of communicating with members. (Make sure you get somebody's permission to add them to a such a group.) You need to set a reliable meeting location in advance (and check on the location close to the meeting), assign the reading material, and send out review questions and any other related notes.

How should the moderator conduct the meeting? I basically serve as the moderator for the Denver group, in collaboration with Amanda. You might want to ask for volunteers to help moderate.

The moderator has two key roles: start and end the meeting on time, and keep the discussion focussed on the reading material. The moderator must use some discretion in deciding when to cut off tangents. Obviously a major goal of the group is to apply knowledge of history and economics to modern problems, so discussion is bound to stray from the reading material at times. However, a meeting that constantly veers off track into marginal (or heated) debates or unrelated topics will tend to alienate the better members.

The moderator should strive to get everyone involved in the discussion without making anyone feel pressured to talk when the person would rather just listen.

A meeting that devolves into rancorous debate between two or three participants is a disaster.

I have found that, unless a reading group consists of friends who know each other and the reading material well, discussion questions form the basis of an effective meeting.

I write the review questions for Liberty In the Books. Diana Hsieh writes excellent review questions for the Atlas groups.

The moderator should be guided by the review questions without being bound by them. The goal is NOT to cover every single question and to spend the same amount of time per question. Rather, the moderator should use the questions to get the discussion started and keep it basically connected to the reading material. Some questions are more important than others, and some questions can be omitted from the discussion.

Moderating a good discussion group is an art. A good moderator is sort of like a good pilot; passengers usually only focus on what the moderator is doing when the flight gets bumpy. Your job is to keep the discussion going smoothly and to point out the nice views.

Participating in a local free-market discussion group can be enormously rewarding. You can deeply enrich your knowledge of economics and history. You can find motivation -- and motivate others -- to actively promote economic liberty. And you can make and maintain important friendships. If you are not already part of a reading group in your area, why not join an existing group or start one yourself?

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Tea Partiers Get Partisan

I liked the Tea Parties better when they were about issues, not partisan politics.

Yesterday I received the following e-mail:

Defend the Republic Rally

Saturday, December 12th from 1:00 to 2:00pm

Colorado State Capital Building - West Steps
Colfax & Lincoln
Denver, CO 80203

Northern Colorado Tea Party is encouraging all supporters to attend this rally. We are asking for a voice in the debate taking place regarding the 2010 elections. If we want the GOP to listen to us, we need to show them we are a political force to be reckoned with here in Colorado.

As the war between the United State of America and the Progressives in both political parties continues to wage, the Tea Party and 912 supporters have stepped up and answered the call of duty.

Let us stand together at the State Capital on Saturday, united to make one single statement:

Principle Over Party in 2010

Speakers will include:

Mike Holler - Author of The Constitution Made Easy
Lu Busse - Leadership Chair for Co 912 Project
Dan Maes - Candidate for Colorado Governor
Tea Party & 912 Activists


See the Denver Post article by Jessica Fender or the People's Press Collective review by Michael Sandoval for more background.

So the complaint is that Republican leaders have endorsed a candidate who might actually be able to win. I'm confused as to why this is some sort of grand sin. Anybody who thinks Dan Maes has any chance of winning the Republican primary and beating Bill Ritter is simply delusional.

(For the record, I'm registered unaffiliated, so I'll have no vote in the GOP primary. I have yet to decide whether any candidate in the governor's race will get my vote as the lesser of evils. I voted for Ritter last time around.)

As somebody who has attended, written about, and spoken at various Tea Party and related events, I have to wonder about this overtly partisan turn of the Northern Tea Party. I thought this was about issues, not parties. I thought it was about liberty, not personality.

I challenge those organizing the December 12 rally to articulate their ideological differences with Scott McInnis, and their ideological affinity with Dan Maes. I must frankly question the motives of those unable or unwilling to do so. Please leave a comment or respond via e-mail.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Abolish the FTC: New Blogging Rules

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has imposed unjust new rules -- "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising" -- that take effect today.

Eric Robinson summarizes the nature of the rules:

[The FTC's rules] suggest that bloggers or other consumers who "endorse" a product or service online may be liable for civil penalties if they make false or unsubstantiated claims about a product or fail to disclose "material connections" between themselves and an advertiser. (Although Richard Cleland, assistant director of the FTC's division of advertising practices, told Fast Company that the Commission will focus on warnings and cease-and-desist orders, rather than monetary fines, and told PRNewser that the Commission will target advertisers for violations, not bloggers. Another FTC official reiterated this.)


The new rules pose a variety of problems. The FTC has no legitimate authority to issue such rules, which defy the First Amendment and constitute censorship and the chilling of free speech. The rules are extremely broad, ranging from free review copies of books to Twitter posts. The rules are arbitrary and ambiguous, such that their precise requirements and penalties cannot be determined in advance. The rules thus open the door to political abuses. The rules are discriminatory in that they subject bloggers to different standards than print journalists.

The FTC is acting in blatant defiance of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and therefore the FTC should be abolished and its rules rescinded.

First I summarize the basic arguments against the FTC's rules. Then I link to other commentaries about those rules. Finally I review and analyze the rules in some detail.

FTC's Rules Overreach and Violate Rights

1. The FTC's rules constitute censorship and onerous controls.

Censorship consists not only of forcibly restricting what people may say and write, but forcing people to say and write things against their judgment. In this case, the FTC is forcing people to issue disclosures regarding communications that do not in any way violate anyone's rights.

Edward Champion points to an article by Caroline McCarthy for Cnet News indicating that the FTC rules apply to Facebook and Twitter posts as well. The FTC's Richard Cleland told McCarthy, "There are ways to abbreviate a disclosure that fit within 140 characters [Twitter's limit]. You may have to say a little bit of something else, but if you can't make the disclosure, you can't make the ad."

The FTC thus requires that any Twitter post that could be construed as an "endorsement" include a disclosure that meets the FTC's guidelines, within 140 characters. Such a policy limits the amount of information a user can post to Twitter or discourages the use of Twitter for certain purposes.

Champion notes that even an "Amazon Affiliates link" might trigger the FTC's disclosure requirements.

The FTC's rules constitute onerous controls in that they require bloggers and others to spend time complying with the FTC's rules. For example, the primary documentation of the rules runs 81 pages in length. The effort spent complying with the rules detracts from time available to write about other issues.

2. The FTC's rules are capricious and nonobjective.

The FTC's rules, by the agency's own admission, cannot be decided in advance in all cases. Instead, the FTC will "consider each use of these new media on a case-by-case basis for purposes of law enforcement" (page 8. Unless otherwise specified, page numbers refer to the FTC's documentation of the rules).

The FTC's rules depends on what "consumers are likely to believe" about a communication, a subjective guideline that cannot be determined in advance (e.g., page 4).

The rules also extend to those who supply free samples or review books. Using the example of a video game manufacturer who sends a free copy of a game to a reviewer, the FTC states, "The manufacturer should advise [the recipient] at the time it provides the gaming system that this connection should be disclosed, and it should have procedures in place to try to monitor his postings for compliance" (pages 79-80). What constitutes adequate compliance, and under what circumstances a supplier might be subject to enforcement, the FTC declines to detail.

In an interview with Edward Champion, the FTC's Richard Cleland offered only guesswork in answer to whether a free movie screening constitutes compensation: "The movie is not retainable. Obviously it's of some value. But I guess that my only answer is the extent that it is viewed as compensation as an individual who got to see a movie."

Cleland chose to "reserve judgment" on another matter. Champion writes, "In cases where a publisher is advertising one book and the blogger is reviewing another book by the same publisher, Cleland replied, 'I don't know. I would reserve judgment on that. My initial reaction to it is that it doesn't seem like a relationship.'"

Cleland further told Champion, "These are very complex situations that are going to have to looked at on a case-by-case basis to determine whether or not there is a sufficient nexus, a sufficient compensation between the seller and the blogger, and so what we have done is to provide some guidance in this area. And some examples in this area where there's an endorsement."

Furthermore, as Champion reports, whether the FTC will target bloggers with fines -- and how much the fines might be -- remain points of ambiguity.

In other words, often there no objective way to determine when and how the FTC's rules apply prior to an enforcement action by the FTC.

As Walter Olson notes, "FTC enforcers will engage in their own fact-specific, and inevitably subjective, balancing before deciding whether to press for fines or other penalties. In other words, instead of knowing whether you're legally vulnerable, you have to guess."

Moreover, Olson notes, the receipt of freebies can "after some ill-defined point" create a relationship requiring a blogger "to disclose that relationship whenever writing about the institution in question."

Ann Athouse argues that the FTC has "deliberately made a grotesquely overbroad rule, enough to sweep so many of us into technical violations, but we're supposed to feel soothed by the knowledge that government agents will decide who among us gets fined. No, no, no. Overbreath itself is a problem. And so is selective enforcement."

The FTC's rules will therefore have a chilling effect on free speech. Those who are not part of an organization with legal representation -- and those who cannot independent afford to pay lawyers -- will now face a serious risk in publishing commentary.

Moreover, book publishers and others will face increased costs associated with complying with the rules, increasing the difficulty especially of small firms to publish works and advertise via review copies.

3. The FTC's rules open the door to further political abuses.

Political operatives inside government once turned to tax audits to punish ideological opponents. More recently campaign finance complaints have chilled free speech. The FTC's rules will provide yet another opportunity for political attack dogs to harass their opponents by filing complaints with the FTC based on perceived technical violations of the rules.

Even if the FTC clears the accused party, fighting such complaints can consume considerable money, energy, and worry. The possibility for such politically-motivated abuses will further chill free speech.

The FTC's Richard Cleland told Caroline McCarthy, "As a practical matter, we don't have the resources to look at 500,000 blogs. We don't even have the resources to monitor a thousand blogs. And if somebody reports violations then we might look at individual cases..."

McCarthy notes that "angry readers may use the regulations to attempt to get back at blogs they don't like." Ron Workman predicts that "the trolls will have a great time turning these offenders in."

4. The FTC's rules undermine the equal protection of the laws.

The FTC "acknowledges that bloggers may be subject to different disclosure
requirements than reviewers in traditional media" (page 47).

The FTC's Richard Cleland explicitly acknowledged that the FTC's rules subject bloggers to different standards than newspaper book reviewers.

5. The FTC's rules violate privacy.

A blogger properly has the right to choose what information to disclose and what information to keep private.

In some cases, the FTC's rules might require bloggers to disclose information that could compromise an individual's privacy or safety. For example, following in the footsteps of America's founders, someone might choose to write anonymously about a controversial political issue, such as abortion or homosexuality. A blogger with a material connection to the writer could not write about the anonymous work without disclosing personal information about the author.

The ability to write anonymously is central to the First Amendment, as it was central to American independence and the creation of the United States Constitution.

6. The FTC's rules are unnecessary.

In clear-cut cases of a seller paying somebody to promote a product, generally those parties do have a moral obligation to potential customers to disclose the nature of the relationship. However, most things that are moral obligations ought not be forced by law.

Publications large and small generally implement policies to assure readers or viewers that their material is free from financial incentive, or that any incentive is disclosed. Bloggers have an incentive to disclose relevant material connections in order to build trust with readers, and consumers tend to promote reputable sources of information. Producers and consumers of information tend to interact voluntarily to resolve potential problems of disclosure.

Those who hide a clear bias generally suffer exposure and ridicule, as John Lott discovered after posting positive comments about his own work under an assumed name.

The government does have a legal responsibility to crack down on fraud. For instance, if someone claims to be an uncompensated reviewer but is in fact paid to write positive reviews, that would constitute dishonest fraud, properly the target of a criminal or civil suit.

However, short of fraud and overt calls for violence, what people say and write, and how they say and write it, is properly none of the government's business.

The FTC's rules rest on the fallacious doctrine that material conditions determine ideas. Granted that some people express views because of financial incentives, generally what matters most is a person's ideological conclusions. While ideology is necessary to integrate ideas, it can adhere to the facts of reality or stray from them. Often the more dangerous bias arises not from financial incentives but from ideological blinders, and obviously no federal rule can address that vastly more serious problem.

Even a direct and substantial financial connection need not indicate any financial bias. Often a paid spokesperson already supported the product in question. The much weaker and distant material connections the FTC's rules may also cover, ranging from free books to Amazon links, don't pose any serious problem of bias, and certainly not any problem serious enough to warrant threats of federal enforcement actions.

Whether a substantial financial relationship is present or not, and whether it is disclosed or not, consumers of information and products have a responsibility to critically evaluate claims. A consumer who takes a single blogger's weakly substantiated word about some product is frankly an idiot, and no federal rule can compensate for that.

The FTC's rules continue the trend of infantilizing American adults. The FTC presumes that American consumers are just too stupid to check the facts for themselves and properly evaluate claims about products. Yet such rules tend to generate a self-fulfilling prophesy: they encourage consumers to rely on government bureaucrats to do their thinking for them. Such rules promote Homer Simpson's mentality: "The whole reason we have elected officials [and their legions of bureaucrats] is so we don't have to think all the time." Thus, such rules undercut the self-responsible individualism that is the backbone of America's success.

Links to Other Commentaries About the FTC's Rules

Regulating Speech to Death
by Diana Hsieh
October 5, 2009

A double standard for online speech
by Vincent Carroll
October 14, 2009

Interview with the FTC’s Richard Cleland
by Edward Champion
October 5, 2009

FTC: Bloggers Must Disclose Payments for Reviews (NYT)
by Ron Workman
October 5, 2009

Yes, new FTC guidelines extend to Facebook fan pages
by Caroline McCarthy
October 5, 2009

Where Did You Get That Keychain?
by Walter Olson
October 16, 2009

New FTC Rules Aim to Kill the Buzz on Blogs
by Eric P. Robinson
October 8, 2009

The FTC going after bloggers and social media is like "sending a government goon into Denny's to listen to the conversations in the corner booth and demand that you disclose that your Uncle Vinnie owns the pizzeria whose product you just endorsed."
by Ann Althouse
October 6, 2009

Letter to the FTC on Guides Governing Bloggers>
by Laura Sell, Senior Publicist, Duke University Press
October 7, 2009

Disclosures

The document, "Ari Armtrong's Disclosures Unjustly Compelled by the FTC," has now been published. I will update it from time to time in an attempt to comply with the FTC's unjust and rights-violating rules.

As I note in that document, "I do not expect that the FTC's rules will be ambitiously enforced in the short-term. Many bad laws (and authorized rules) have no noticeable impact when they are first implemented. Often such laws and rules remain on the books for years before bureaucrats and prosecutors take advantage of them to actively violate people's rights. That does not make their existence more comforting."

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dan Maes Describes Top Five Issues

Dan Maes doesn't have a chance in hell of becoming the next governor of Colorado. This is a guy who lists under his "public service" qualifications: "Boy Scout Leadership as a teen and in his early 20’s." Scott McInnis, on the other hand, served in the state legislature before spending twelve years in Congress. Maes has no political credentials. He has zero chance of winning the Republican primary, and if by some bizarre chance every other possible Republican candidate died first, Maeas would have zero chance of beating Ritter.

Nevertheless, Maes did respond to a question quickly, and that counts for something.

On November 24, Maes sent out the following e-mail:

I was speaking with a county chairperson today and the subject of leadership for the party came up. He expressed his unhappiness with the lack of leadership in the republican party. I do not think he was referring to the state office but rather to our elected officials and candidates. The question is...was he issuing a challenge to me or simply stating a fact?

Lesson one when talking to me, I actually do listen. Number two, I look for those messages one is really trying to communicate. Maybe he was just venting but perhaps there was more to it all especially in light of the so called attempt to provide leadership this week by those without the authority or credibility to do so.

I jumped in this race months before others did. Obviously, I had a lot of catching up to do; but more importantly, I sensed there was a leadership vacuum myself that someone had to proactively fill. That has been my style since I was a teen. When a position needed to be filled or a responsibility taken on, it was not unusual for me to stick my hand up for the job. Ah, you might have thought I was the sucker in the old days but all those rolls prepared me for what I am doing today. Boy Scout Troop Leader, Student Council Member and President, Senior Class President, Captain of the football team, manager and owner of businesses... you get the point. Many ask, why do it? It is just how God wired me I suppose and for better or worse, I am here trying to become a leader for the Republican party.

I will suffer the slings and arrows of those who would rather be leader. That is also part of leadership. I will continue to work hard in my attempt to earn the right to be your leader. Do actions match words?

Dan Maes
The People's Candidate for Governor
www.danmaes.com


Thinking that his campaign is rather Quixotic, I asked, "Hey Dan, I challenge you to describe five *substantive* differences of policy or ideology you have with McInnis. I will be happy to publish your reply on my web page."

This morning he obliged (sort of):

Hi Ari,

Responding to your question regarding differences in me and Scott McInnis is a bit difficult in itself because Scott rarely articulates policy in his forums and speeches. We tend to hear about his family, how long he has been in Colorado, and railing against Bill Ritter. His failure to articulate any real policy was the main reason for the recent Contract for Colorado which had Josh Penry and Tom Tancredo helping his campaign actually develop a message of any kind. Thus, I do not see any connection between this document and his past or future behavior and thus nothing to differentiate myself on.

I will leave the opposition research to you and I will not attempt to articulate where Scott is on any issues. I will tell you where I stand.

1. Pinyon Canyon - I await the facts from the Army. I will seek a mutually beneficial resolution via willing sellers/leasers if at all possible.

2. Taxes - I am a true fiscal conservative and for downsizing government, and reducing taxes to spur growth not just maintaining status quo.

3. Social Issues - I have said consistently that we must stop preaching and start reaching out for a more diverse party yet I stand firm on a pro-life, and pro marriage between a man and woman platform. Some claim to have recent "revelations" and a come to Jesus but do their actions match their words?

4. Qualifications - people confuse experience with qualifications. The Governor's office is an executive office not a legislative one. Legislative experience does not translate into executive experience. Scott has very little to no executive experience. I have 20+ years of managerial and executive experience. This experience is the core qualification for the office and our current president is a great example of a legislator turned executive.

5. Campaign Style - I am becoming very popular very fast because I connect with people and truly care about what is important to them. Ask anyone who has spent a few minutes with me and they can sense the genuine, honest, hard working person who wants to earn their support and work for them. This is not 1994 anymore. People want to be treated like they are the boss. They are more informed and educated than ever before. I recognize that and treat people accordingly.

Ultimately, after all the facts are considered, people perform gut checks and ultimately ask themselves, do I like and trust this candidate. They are discovering more and more that they like and can trust me. Maybe that is the reason the full frontal assault against any choice in this primary has happened so early in this election cycle.

Thank you for the opportunity to address your readers.

Dan Maes
Re-Energizing Colorado's Economy
Republican Candidate for Governor
www.danmaes.com


Perhaps I should upgrade Maes's chances from zero to one. But hell is a pretty big place.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dear Dean Singleton, Please Charge Me

Westword's Michael Roberts reports that "Dean Singleton... plans to start charging readers for lotsa online content at select MediaNews papers in California and Pennsylvania beginning in 2010." This is relevant to us in Colorado because Singleton also publishes the Denver Post. Are fees for the online Post in our future?

God, I hope so.

Good journalism is hard work. Good investigative journalism is especially hard and time-consuming work. People tend not do do a lot of hard work without compensation. (I imagine Roberts would confirm this.) Thus, journalism needs to pay.

Journalism can pay in one of three general ways: advertising, philanthropic contributions, and reader payments. Advertising can be direct or indirect; for example, Michelle Malkin runs direct advertising, and her entire blog serves to advertise her books. (You'll notice that I advertise my own book, Values of Harry Potter, on my web page. And it makes a fine addition to the tree or stocking!) I would be interested in learning how much of the Incredible Shrinking Westword's revenues come from print versus online advertising. (While the weekly's print edition has gotten noticeably smaller, its online content has expanded dramatically.)

I doubt anybody is going to make a generous gift to the Post.

That leaves reader contributions to supplement advertising revenues. These payments can be by the piece or via subscriptions.

As I suggested earlier, I think papers (and it's funny even to still call them "papers") should give readers a choice: watch an annoying ad, pay a monthly or annual subscription, or pay to read a single article at a time.

How is that not the best of all worlds? Cheapskates can still read content for free, except they have to pay with their time by watching a real advertisement. Regular readers can subscribe, preferably for a low annual rate (I would seriously consider paying, say, $50 per year to read the Post online). And occasional readers who value their time can pay some token amount -- perhaps an amount that varies with the ambition of the piece -- to read a single article. As I also mentioned before, the key to this is to figure out a very-fast way to make micropayments (else there is no time savings).

The fact is that readers who value good content and don't want to waste time looking at ads will be prepared to pay to read that content. I absolutely hate the Post's online ads that pop up, block text, push text down the page, and otherwise annoy the living hell out of me when all I'm trying to do is read a spot of news. I would much rather pay a little than deal with those sorts of ads.

I think it's worth revisiting what Post editor Greg Moore said in September:

In terms of advertising being a means of supporting original [journalism]... right now advertising provides like 85 percent of our revenue. It's still a huge, huge, huge driver. It's a huge source of revenue. It's going to be probably for a while. But I think our survival -- and when I say survival I'm not talking about the newspaper, I'm talking about our ability to do journalism -- I think we'll have to shift to a different model. And I think that model is that the user will have to pay for the content that he or she consumes.

I don't think that the cat is out of the bag. I think that the record industry sort of proved that, the music industry sort of proved that you can change people's behavior. Napster, in the mid-1990s, everyone thought that would just sort of kill everything, and they put those people in jail, put them out of business, and now people pay for music. They do it differently -- they don't buy albums anymore, they buy singles, but they still pay a lot of money for music.

So I think there's still hope for us, that we can sort of reverse this trend. As somebody said, I think the worst decision that was made by the owners of newspapers was to sort of be stampeded into giving away their content for free. But it doesn't mean that it's over.


Unfortunately, rather than quote somebody who knows what he's talking about, such as Moore, Roberts quotes some clueless blog post by Rob Burgess.

Burgess quotes survey results from NewFiction:

80 percent of consumers recently surveyed by Forrester Research say they would discontinue their favorite free print content if they were asked to pay for it. Less than 10 percent of respondents would agree to subscription models; only three percent would opt for micropayments.


Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner nicely summarize the problem with this in their new book SuperFreakonomics: "There is good reason to be skeptical of data from personal surveys. There is often a vast gulf between how people say they behave and how they actually behave" (page 7).

If you ask people if they want to pay for something they now get for free, what do you expect them to say? They're going to give you some variant of "no."

But if a person actually has a choice of reading a great article and paying, versus not reading that article, in at least some cases the person is going to pay up and ask for more. (Again, I think newspapers would be smart to offer a third option of spending time watching an ad, probably in the form of a short video. These sorts of ads are already common on a variety of web pages.)

So Burgess's first argument is bunk. Let us turn to his second argument:

You ruined everything in the beginning by starting with giving everything away for free. It has now been almost 15 years since the Internet broke wide and you're just NOW getting around to asking people to pay for your content? I don't blame people for not wanting to pay for it anymore, why should they? Who would pay for something they can get for free?


The options are not "get free content" versus "pay for content." The other option is "get no content," at least as far as investigative journalism is concerned. With that as the alternative, paying doesn't look so bad after all. People "should" pay, and they should be willing to, if that's the only way to get hard-to-produce content they want to read. (Again, easy-to-produce content will remain free, and ads can help pay for hard-to-produce content.)

What Burgess seems to think ridiculous is Singleton's comment, "We have to condition readers that everything is not free." But Singleton's comment is perfectly sensible. Moore uses the example of paying for music online. Today many people pay to receive television stations that they could otherwise get for free, because the reception is better and the broadcast stations are packaged with cable-only stations. Consumers change their behavior all the time, even (or especially) after they say they won't.

There ain't no such thing as free journalism. If journalists aren't willing to work without compensation, philanthropists don't pay, and advertising doesn't pay enough, the only alternative is for readers to pay, if they want the benefit of the product.

Really advertising is a way of extracting a payment of time from readers. Again, I think papers should offer that alternative. I would much rather pay in dollars, as for me that would be the far less costly alternative.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

People Vote for Freedom with Their Feet and Effort

The following article originally was published November 23 by Grand Junction's Free Press.

People vote for freedom with their feet and effort

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

"Why are they all running to Colorado? What have they got down there that we haven't got?" So asks a villain in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. He complains about Colorado's primitive, lazy government that "does nothing outside of keeping law courts and a police department."

A young worker answers, "Maybe it's something you've got that they haven't got."

High taxes, economic controls, and intrusive politicians and bureaucrats kill production. Unfortunately, fearing Colorado's economic stagnation, the politically connected call not for more economic freedom but for more taxes. They act like doctors who prescribe bloodletting for anemia.

A recent Qwest-funded report from the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation bears the title, "Toward a More Competitive Colorado." But some of the report's recommendations would lead to higher taxes, less competitiveness, and a weaker economy.

The report notes that Colorado ranks well in areas of health, education, and investments. Yet, rather than promote more of the Western liberty that made Colorado prosperous, the report worries that politicians aren't spending enough of other people's money on college, preschool, infrastructure (however that's defined), and welfare.

"A Gordian Knot exists in Colorado's Constitution that makes governing a challenge," the report complains. That seems to be code for "gut the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights."

Though especially concerned about education, the report declines to discuss freeing colleges from state controls, expanding competition for K-12, and cutting taxes so families can better afford college and philanthropists can donate more.

The only constitutional change we need is to repeal Amendment 23, which sets education spending on auto-pilot regardless of economic conditions.

Meanwhile, as the Daily Sentinel reported Nov. 17, the Pew Center declared Colorado in "fiscal peril" because, darn it all, people get to vote on tax hikes.

Either people restrain the politicians or the opposite becomes true. The more the political class oppresses the people, the more people move away or reduce their production.

Rand's novel is about the nation's top producers going on strike against oppressive politics, some moving to Galt's Gulch where they can live in freedom. In Free to Choose, Milton Friedman warns that people vote with their feet, moving where they can enjoy the fruits of their labor.

This is true between states. Regarding last year's U.S. Economic Freedom Index, lead author Lawrence McQuillan summarizes, "People are moving to the freest states and fleeing the least free states."

Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal declared New York the "tax capital of the world." The paper noted, "According to Census Bureau data, over the past decade 1.97 million New Yorkers left the state for greener pastures -- the biggest exodus of any state."

The same is true around the world: people tend to leave more repressive countries and move to freer ones. Recently we celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall, built by tyrants to keep an oppressed people from moving away.

Britain suffered a "brain drain" as their doctors sought to escape socialized medicine. When introducing the National Health Service, Aneurin Bevan bought off doctors for their political support, reportedly saying, "I stuffed their mouths with gold." Upon implementing the new system, he declared, "We now have the moral leadership of the world."

Yet many doctors suffered indigestion. Some found that this gold tasted a lot more like thirty pieces of silver. Others rebelled against the new political controls. They wanted no part of the "moral leadership" that put bureaucrats in charge of health. Some of these doctors moved to the United States.

If we go further down England's path, some doctors will move out of our country and cater to medical tourists. Others will retire early.

We've seen examples large and small of people giving up. Higher car fees have convinced some to sell the extra car or put off purchasing a new one. Some work less for taxable income and trade more goods and services (though such exchanges are supposed to be taxed, too).

Chris Edwards recently published disturbing figures at Cato. He writes, "While consumption, exports, and the government sector were up, private investment has fallen through the floor." Fearing more federal political controls, Edwards calls this "the death of private investment in America."

Meanwhile, unemployment nationally has crept over the double-digit marker, despite (or partly because of) President Obama's "shovel ready" stimulus projects. No need to look very far to figure out what it is that Obama is shoveling. An ABC headline illustrates part of the problem: "Jobs 'Saved or Created' in Congressional Districts That Don't Exist."

As one of our friends wondered, "You mean taking money out of the private sector, creating money out of thin air, and indebting future generations actually doesn't make us more prosperous?"

If we want to return to prosperity in Colorado and in our nation, we need less political interference and more economic liberty.

Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari, edits FreeColorado.com from the Denver area.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Environmentalist Clowns Threatening Human Life

Today's Colorado Springs Gazette published my op-ed, "Environmentalist clowns threatening human life," reviewing a November 18 talk by Keith Lockitch. (The online version is dated November 20, while the print date is November 21.)

See also additional quotes from environmentalists.

For the story about the environmentalists dressed up as clowns, see the Denver Daily or Denver Post.

Here is the entire piece:

Environmentalist clowns threatening human life

Climate change threatens our nation. Pollution is the cause. We must reverse course now to save future generations from misery.

Contrary to environmentalist hysteria, the problem is not carbon dioxide warming the earth. Instead, our political climate of freedom suffers the pollution of environmentalist controls of our industrial economy.

On November 18, environmentalists dressed up as clowns rallied at the state capitol to demand that Colorado shut down a coal-fired electricity plant.

That night, Keith Lockitch, an environmental analyst with the Ayn Rand Center, explained in a Denver talk why environmentalist controls threaten human life and well-being.

People need industrial energy to live and flourish, Lockitch emphasized. Indeed, modern energy enables us to respond to climate disasters and weather extremes, natural forces that have always threatened human life.

Throughout human history and still today in undeveloped regions, droughts, floods, freezes, and heat waves have devastated food supplies and caused wide-scale suffering and death. What allows the developed world to largely escape such dangers is our relatively free, industrial economy.

Consider the droughts of the 1970s, Lockitch suggested. While the weather caused massive death and starvation in undeveloped regions of Africa and India, the United States suffered “only minor economic losses.”

Americans respond to freezes by turning up their furnaces. If it gets too hot we turn on air conditioning. If one farming region suffers a freeze, drought, or other problem, we ship food from elsewhere. To learn about potential dangers, including bad weather, we turn on our electricity-powered televisions or computers.

Industrial energy allows us to live longer, healthier lives. If we get sick, we ride in oil-powered ambulances to electricity-powered hospitals. While people in undeveloped regions continue to die from smoke inhalation from cooking fires, we use clean gas or electric stoves. Yet many environmentalists would hamper industrial prosperity.

The political question, Lockitch said, is separable from the scientific question of climate change. Whether or not human carbon dioxide emissions will seriously contribute to harmful warming, free- market capitalism enables us as investors, entrepreneurs, producers, and consumers to respond to problems, whatever their causes.

Don’t environmentalists merely want us to change from fossil fuels to renewable sources? Lockitch pointed out that prominent environmentalists opposed solar farms in the Mojave desert and wind farms off the shores of Massachusetts. Many environmentalists oppose nuclear power. Their goal is to limit human activity regardless of the availability of energy.

Lockitch outlined the problems with wind and solar. Americans currently use around 600 coal-fired plants. It would take 1,000 wind turbines on 40,000 acres of land to replace a single plant. Their production would require enormous costs.

Coal plants can expand or reduce output based on demand. “You can’t turn on the sun, and you can’t turn on the wind,” Lockitch noted. At a coal plant the energy is stored in the coal itself. Wind and solar plants produce electricity at unpredictable times in uncontrollable amounts, and it cannot easily be stored for future use. What happens if you face an emergency during a blackout caused by low wind?

That’s not to say that Lockitch is committed to fossil fuels. He pointed out that Rand wrote a novelized account of a motor with cheap, clean, and abundant energy.

To Lockitch, the question is not ultimately about fossil versus renewable energy. It’s about freedom versus controls. On a free market, people can decide how best to use fossil fuels and what new energy sources deserve research and investment.

Does the future hold advances in nuclear power, solar collection, or some yet-unimagined source of energy? Free-market capitalism spurs productive development.

Environmentalists might enjoy clowning around and imagining a renewable-energy utopia. In the real word, our lives and well-being depend on modern industrial energy production. To protect ourselves we must defend free-market capitalism. That means we must clean up the economic pollution of environmentalist controls.

Ari Armstrong, the author of Values of Harry Potter, publishes FreeColorado.com.

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Independence Institute's 25th Anniversary Banquet

P. J. O'Rourke offered a perfectly delightful address at the Independence Institute's 25th Anniversary Banquet, held in Denver on November 19. He mostly blasted leftist policies but saved some of his best lines for Republicans. For example, he said that building a wall between us and Mexico would be a boon to the Mexican ladder industry.

I captured a number of interviews on camera:




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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Environmentalist Clowns

As environmentalists dressed as clowns protested coal-fired electric plants in Denver -- see the reports from the Denver Daily News and Denver Post -- Keith Lockitch prepared to give a talk at the Auraria campus that evening explaining the profound human need for industrial energy. (More on this soon.)

In the Q&A, Lockitch pointed to two quotes from environmentalists indicating that they don't want cheap, abundant energy, even if it is "clean" and "renewable."

Paul Ehrlich said, "Giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun."

Amory Lovins said, "If you ask me, it'd be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it."

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Family DNA Matching Risks Police Abuses

Earlier this year, I criticized a new law that allows police to take DNA samples from people they arrest for a felony, absent any criminal conviction. As the Denver Post summarized, "The bill was amended to allow police to take DNA tests upon arrest but for the sample not to be processed unless a person is charged. The sample will be destroyed if no charges are filed."

As I noted, the law will "encourage police and prosecutors to arrest and charge people just to get a look at their DNA."

Now that Denver police have advanced a program to match crime-scene DNA to samples on record, it is no longer a question of whether the law will be abused, but when.

Michael Roberts writes for Westword, "Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey... [has] been working with colleagues in the Denver Police Department's crime lab, among others, to prove the efficacy of a method able to connect DNA not in law-enforcement databases to samples from family members..."

Morrissey told Roberts, "We're running [a sample] against the DNA of somebody else whose sample we obtained legally."

Except that obtaining somebody else's DNA legally is now trivially easy. You just come up with some plausible complaint against a person and arrest him. Voila -- a legal DNA sample.

So let's say the police suspect Joe Blow of committing some crime, but they can't easily find Joe Blow. But they know where to find Sam Blow, Joe's brother. If only we could figure out if the DNA we found belongs to Joe! All we need to do is get a look at Sam's DNA. And if Sam isn't feeling so cooperative...

I do not doubt that taking DNA samples from everybody in the population would help solve more crimes. Hell, we could get a database going with every single person's fingerprint, DNA, eye scan, special markings, and so on. We could also install every newborn with a barcode and GPS tracker. Update: CNN also carried the story on the DNA tests. Defense attorney Stephen Mercer told CNN, "If they want to drive down the street and do no-knock searches of homes, they would catch bad guys. But at what cost to our society?"

Or, we could retain our liberties. "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated..."

November 25 update: "Panel: British police arrest people just for DNA samples." Coming soon to a Colorado city near you?

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Outlawing Low-Priced Books Robs Your Wallet and Freedom

The following article was originally published online by the Denver Post under the title, "Why we should keep selling low-priced books."

Outlawing low-priced books robs your wallet and freedom

by Ari Armstrong

Some stores sell popular books to willing customers at low prices, and they must be stopped! At least that's what the American Booksellers Association (ABA) argued in an October 22 letter to the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice.*

The letter, signed by the ABA Board of Directors, including Cathy Langer of Denver's Tattered Cover, complains that Amazon, Wal-Mart, and Target sell some "hardcover bestsellers," including books by John Grisham and Sarah Palin, for only around $9. Moreover -- horror of horrors -- Amazon sells digital books for only $9.99.

The letter argues that selling low-priced books to people who want to buy them constitutes "illegal predatory pricing that is damaging to the book industry and harmful to consumers."

You might think that "lower prices will encourage more reading and a greater sharing of ideas in the culture," but you would be wrong, the ABA claims. Low-priced books will drive out "many independent bookstores," put book buying "in very few hands," and eventually allow "mega booksellers to raise prices," the ABA asserts.

The ABA's position ultimately is self-destructive. Free speech, and freedom of conscience more broadly, depends on property rights and voluntary association, liberties the ABA undermines.

Writers, publishers, sellers, and buyers have the right to agree to terms they find mutually beneficial. A publisher that wishes to prevent a retailer from selling a book below a certain price may properly set that as a condition of the transaction.

Once a retailer purchases books from a willing publisher without pricing restrictions, the retailer properly has the right to sell the book for any amount it deems proper. If the retailer wants to sell books below cost as a loss leader, give them away, or pay people to take them, that's between them and their customers.

When politicians control the physical conveyance of ideas, they can control the ideas themselves. As a villain in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged explains, "If you breathe the word 'censorship' now, they'll all scream bloody murder... But if you leave the spirit alone and make it a simple material issue -- not a matter of ideas, but just a matter of paper, ink and printing presses -- you accomplish your purpose much more smoothly."

The ABA helps establish the principle that people with guns -- for ultimately brute force is what imposes Department of Justice rulings -- can invalidate people's independent decisions. This same principle opens the door to outright censorship.

The ABA's position also rests on economic myths. Part of the cost savings of large retailers comes from publishers selling books in large orders. The ABA would force publishers and readers to eat the costs of more tiny orders.

Independent bookstores that cannot compete on price should find other ways to attract willing customers if they wish to stay in business. For example, Tattered Cover hosts many public events featuring authors and other speakers. (I spoke at a media panel hosted by the store on September 24.) Tattered Cover also carries a large selection of books that customers can physically look at and buy instantly.**

The ABA's suggestion that "mega booksellers" would eventually "raise prices" higher than what independent stores now charge is laughable. Not only will many competing booksellers remain in business despite low-priced books, but attempts to raise prices inevitably attract new competitors.

The ABA absurdly argues that low-priced books will cut off writers' ability to get published. As a book author, I can attest that writers today have unprecedented opportunities to publish their works. Amazon is particularly friendly to writers and publishers.

Tattered Cover does not carry my book, and if I had to rely on independent bookstores my book never would have been published. Yet I did not seek government action to force Tattered Cover's decisions. Tattered Cover has the right to stock the books it wants at the prices it wants, and it should respect the rights of others to do likewise.

We should expect better from the ABA and from Tattered Cover, often a champion of free speech in Colorado. Ultimately the business of ideas depends upon the integrity of the unforced mind.

Ari Armstrong is the author of Values of Harry Potter and publisher of FreeColorado.com. He lives in Westminster.

* See some of the resulting media coverage.

** November 13 update: As somebody noted in the comments, Tattered Cover now plans to sell used books as well. The Denver Post has the story. Offhand this strikes me as a good idea. The standard fee for shipping and handling for used books at Amazon is $3.99, sometimes more than the price of the book. Tattered Cover can't offer as wide a selection of used books, but the customer can physically examine the used book and get it right away with no additional transport costs.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The McInnis Juggernaut

A number of my friends are upset that Josh Penry has withdrawn from the Colorado governor's race, leaving Scott McInnis as the clear Republican frontrunner.

The word is that a political attack group threatened to hammer Penry if he stayed in the race. Welcome to politics. Such strong-arm tactics are hardly new in the American political arena. They are the norm.

The fact is that Penry trailed in fundraising, name recognition, and polling against Governor Bill Ritter. So, in retrospect, it comes as little surprise that the Republican establishment supported McInnis or that Penry decided to pick a fight he knows he can win.

Some guy named Dan Maes also remains in the race, and he has about the same chance of becoming the next governor of Colorado as I do. There's also been talk of roping former Congressman Tom Tancredo into the race. I think that would be a disaster for the GOP. There are a lot of things I like about Tancredo (as well as a lot of points of disagreement), but he simply isn't governor material. He's too divisive, too polarizing. He always won his conservative district, but he would bomb in the Denver-Boulder corridor.

So that leaves McInnis as the presumptive nominee. Even though McInnis used to serve in Congress, I have little idea what his ideas are.

I find it amazing that his web page features a "Scott on the Issues" button that offers exactly zero direct information on McInnis's views. Instead, the reader is directed to an OnTheIssues.org page. An "ideas" candidate McInnis is not.

So who is Scott McInnis?

Taking abortion as a good indicator of a candidate's relationship with the religious right, Lynn Bartels reports for the Denver Post:

Gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis, for example, entered Congress as a pro-choice Republican, although he exited in 2004 having received a zero ranking from NARAL Pro-choice America, an abortion-rights advocacy group.

"He makes no bones that he changed his views while in Congress," said McInnis spokesman Sean Duffy.


Bartels follows up:

He voted against some abortion measures, supported others and once chaired the national Republicans for Choice.

"I personally don't support abortion," McInnis said in 1996, "but feel the decision shouldn't be made between a woman and the government but between a woman and her doctor."

He said Friday he no longer feels that way, although he has maintained his reputation as a political moderate.

"You grow older and you have kids and grandkids and friends die and you realize how important life is," said McInnis, 56.


At a November 3 event at Colorado Christian University, McInnis said, "I'm 100 percent pro life. I oppose gay marriage," Bartels reports.

(Maes, obviously trying to appeal to the state's social conservatives, added, "Marriage is not a right, it's a privilege, and it is a privilege that is ordained in the Scripture.")

Bartels summarizes McInnis's history with the issue of abortion:

The Rocky Mountain News in 1996 called McInnis a maverick on abortion.

He long had opposed partial-birth abortions and backed parental notification. But he opted to allow for privately funded abortions at overseas U.S. military hospitals, to let federal employees choose health insurance plans to cover abortions and to preserve federal funding for family-planning programs.

In 1995, NARAL tracked 21 roll-call votes. McInnis sided with their issues seven times.


From a civil libertarian perspective, McInnis is mixed, judging from the votes noted by On the Issues. In 2004 he voted against a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. But thrice he voted for an amendment banning flag desecration in violation of free speech and property rights.

I'll certainly have some questions for "100 percent pro life" McInnis. Does he want to ban abortion even in cases of risks to the woman's life, rape, incest, and fetal deformity? Does he want to overturn Roe v. Wade? Does he support the "personhood" measure likely to share the 2010 ballot?

Ritter (for whom I voted) is a tax-and-spend, corporate welfarist bungler, no doubt. Yet, even though Ritter also nominally opposes abortion, I don't have to worry about him trying to throw my wife in prison should she need to end a medically risky pregnancy.

McInnis couldn't possibly be any worse than Ritter on economic issues. But, as much as I don't want Ritter in my wallet, I certainly don't want McInnis in my bedroom or doctor's office. It remains to be seen which candidate will least frighten mainstream Colorado voters.

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Low-Cost Tech Could Cool Planet

The following article originally was published November 9 by Grand Junction's Free Press.

If planet did warm, low-cost tech could cool it

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

In our last column we expressed skepticism that human-caused global warming will ever amount to much. We have little trust in the politically subsidized computer simulations responsible for most of the fuss. Obviously, natural causes play a major role in climate change, and historically carbon dioxide levels have followed -- not caused -- warmer temperatures.

The "precautionary principle" counsels us to act even if the risk is uncertain. Unfortunately, few environmentalists practice much caution regarding the economy. While the harms of climate change are speculative, the harms of widespread political economic controls are certain and severe.

But what if? What if the earth did warm from man-made (or entirely natural) causes, and what if this caused significant problems for people? If that were the case, then low-cost technology could quickly solve the problem, argue Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner in SuperFreakonomics.

Levitt and Dubner have been accused of claiming a consensus for global cooling in the 1970s, misrepresenting other people's work, and other failings. We've read a number of these criticisms, and we've read the book. We conclude that various detractors are smearing SuperFreakonomics to suppress its information. Read the book and reach your own conclusions.

The book devotes the last of five chapters to climate change. However, Chapter 4 sets the stage by describing "cheap and simple" solutions to various problems. For example, better hand cleansing in hospitals dramatically decreased deaths. Forceps have saved the lives of babies and mothers. Fertilizing crops with ammonium nitrate has dramatically increased yields. The polio vaccine wiped out that disease. Seat belts curbed auto deaths.

The final example of the chapter is a proposal to control hurricanes. Nathan Myhrvold of Intellectual Ventures developed the idea based on a plan of British engineer Stephen Salter. The proposal is to employ a bunch of "large, floating" rings in troubled spots of the ocean. Waves of warm water lap into the rings, pushing the warm water down a tube and bringing cooler water to the surface. Goodbye hurricanes.

The chapter on climate change focuses on two other ideas floating around Intellectual Ventures for cooling the earth. One plan involves pumping sulfur dioxide through a long hose into the upper atmosphere, mimicking the cooling effects of natural volcanic eruptions. This would quickly cool the earth, yet the effects would rapidly disappear if pumping stopped. The other plan is to seed more clouds over the ocean.*

Cooling the earth with sulfur dioxide would cost an estimated $100 million per year, less than what environmentalists spend fear mongering. Dramatically cutting carbon dioxide emissions would cost an estimated trillion dollars per year, or 10,000 times as much.

Moreover, cutting carbon emissions wouldn't accomplish much. Beyond the problem of getting developing nations such as China to curb emissions -- fat chance -- "the existing carbon dioxide would remain in the atmosphere for several generations," Levitt and Dubner point out.

So, given that the sulfur dioxide pump is radically cheaper, safer, and more feasible, many environmentalists conclude that we should only limit carbon emissions instead. Al Gore thinks it's "nuts" to explore geoengineering solutions like the pump.

Environmentalists don't worry that volcanos emit sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, naturally cooling the earth. But many are dead set against humans doing the same thing. Why? Because, to the radical environmentalist, anything "natural" is good, and anything human is bad. Such environmentalists really don't care about the earth's temperature. What they care about is limiting human activity.

While geoengineering is the big take-home point, Levitt and Dubner challenge a number of environmentalist dogmas along the way. For example, "buying locally produced food actually increases greenhouse-gas emissions" because "big farms are far more efficient than small farms."

Myhrvold believes that wind and other alternative energies -- touted by our "New Energy Economy" governor as a pretext for corporate welfare -- "don't scale to a sufficient degree" to replace traditional energy. He adds that solar cells are not perfect: "only about 12 percent [of light] gets turned into electricity, and the rest is reradiated as heat -- which contributes to global warming."

Meanwhile, the authors suggest, we should not forget the benefits of modern energy. Before the gas-powered automobile, people used horses, and this generated a great deal of manure. Imagine vacant lots with manure "piled as high as sixty feet." Imagine manure "lining city streets like banks of snow." Thank human ingenuity for automobiles and the oil that powers them.

In the 1800s, American lights relied on harvesting thousands of whales each year. Our authors write, "The new oil industry... functioned as the original Endangered Species Act, saving the whale from near-certain extinction."

We worry a bit about the book's treatment of a few topics such as altruism. Yet, while SuperFreakonomics may be a fancy title for plain old economics mixed with clever research, it offers a wealth of fascinating insights.

* November 13 update: Here's something not mentioned in the book: one young scientist thinks CO2-eating rocks might help.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Udall Harms Consumers

Senator Mark Udall pushed a law harming consumers, and now he is blaming other victims of his unjust law -- credit card companies -- for the harm that he caused.

As I wrote earlier this year, Udall advocated a law violating contracts between credit card companies and their customers. I summarized, "The new controls will have two main effects. They will ensure that the young and the poor have less access to credit. And they will make it harder for responsible cardholders to negotiate good terms."

I didn't write about another, short-term harm of the bill. Because Udall's controls make it harder for credit card companies to charge irresponsible borrowers higher rates, some of those companies responded by charging some higher rates immediately, before the law went into effect. This is a predictable response. If a credit card company thinks a customer might become a problem, say by getting overextended and missing payments, Udall's bill gave those companies the incentive to take action before the bill limited their ability to act consistent with their contract with the customer.

In other words, Udall screwed customers who might have faced higher rates in the future by sticking them with immediately higher rates.

This is a classic case of a legislator blaming his victims for the harmful consequences of unjust legislation.

So what is Udall's response? Is it to admit his mistake and repeal the unjust law? Of course not. Now Udall is pushing a new law to hasten the implementation of the old law.

Credit card companies have probably already responded to the bill, so the new law will not save anybody from higher rates. Nor will it save anybody from the harms of the initial legislation. Because credit card companies will have a harder time raising rates on irresponsible borrowers, they will be less likely to issue cards to riskier clients. In other words, Udall's bill screws the poor, the young, and those trying to get back on their financial feet. Udall will make sure that, rather than get less-favorable credit terms, some such people will get no credit terms.

As the Wall Street Journal explained on October 29:

But if customers are being taken to the cleaners, it is because U.S. lawmakers like Mr. Dodd sent them there. In May, Congress passed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act, which bars rate increases without a 45-day notification. To reduce their risk under this law, banks in the U.S. are rushing to raise rates before it takes effect in February. Thus the Senator's latest political grandstand.

In the unlikely event that Mr. Dodd's new legislation passes, banks would limit their risk in other ways, such as canceling cards or refusing to extend credit to marginal customers. The unavailability of credit can also be a burden on struggling families, not to mention having a depressive effect on the economy.


What's amazing is that, even as he explains how his bill harmed consumers, he can't stop crowing about it or making empty promises to fix it.

In an October 29 e-mail, Udall writes:

The last thing families and small businesses need is their credit card company jacking up rates with no warning - but that's exactly what’s happening. In the first six months of this year - as Congress was writing common-sense reforms - credit card companies raised rates an average of 20 percent, according to one study. It's wrong, families need immediate relief, and that's why I've introduced two bills to put an end to credit card companies' abuses. This is something I've been fighting for since I served in the U.S. House of Representatives, and I'm going to ensure we do everything in our power to prevent credit card companies from taking advantage of consumers. ...

Earlier this year, we passed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act (Credit CARD Act) to prevent credit card companies from unfairly squeezing their customers with excessive rate hikes and predatory billing practices. That bill gave credit card companies until February of next year to implement many of the reforms. But instead of playing by the rules, credit card companies have been taking advantage of the implementation period to jack up already high interest rates even higher. The result is unfair rates that are further burdening families that were already struggling with debt.

I've introduced two bills to put a stop to this. One bill, which I introduced this week with Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, would freeze interest rates immediately, giving consumers some immediate relief. The second, which I introduced last week, would move up the date for reforms to go into effect by more than two months, to Dec. 1, 2009, preventing companies from gaming the system and protecting consumers who play by the rules. This is like the classic story of David vs. Goliath - and I'm happy to take on Goliath.


If Udall wishes to catch a glimpse of Goliath he need look no further than the mirror.

In a November 5 e-mail, Udall continues:

In May, the president signed sweeping new legislation to protect consumers from abusive credit practices.

The bill, which I cosponsored, gave credit card companies until February 2010 to institute common sense reforms, like requiring advance notice of interest-rate increases, banning the practice of universal default, and protections for young people.

Instead of using this "grace period" to update their computer systems and implement the new policies, credit card companies put the squeeze on hard working, responsible credit card users by unfairly jacking up their rates.


Udall issued a media release to the same effect.

Udall is incensed that his bill prompted credit card companies to raise rates in some cases. But he apparently cannot even conceive of solving the problem by repealing its cause: his own bill.

Unfortunately, Udall is not the only legislator playing this game. The November 5 Denver Daily reports:

With Colorado Congresswoman Betsy Markey leading the charge, the U.S. House yesterday voted to move up the deadline for credit card companies to comply with federal credit card reform legislation.

The 331-92 vote came after Markey, D-Fort Collins, expressed great anger and frustration over credit card companies changing agreements — including raising interest rates on consumers by as much as double -- in anticipation of the legislation. ...

"I am appalled at the complete and utter disdain with which credit card companies are treating their customers," Markey said in a statement following the vote.


And I am appalled at the complete and utter disdain with which Senator Udall and Representative Markey are treating their constituents. Udall and Markey should stop hurting people.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Election '09 and the Separation of Church and State

Last year, I argued that the big loser in Colorado's elections was the religious right. Particularly here in the Interior West, Republican candidates who want to ram religious dogmas down people's throats by force of law tend to scare the living hell out of voters, and that's a major reason why Democrats now control all three branches of government in Colorado.

The general approach among Colorado Republicans seeking statewide or competitive congressional offices next year is to talk about the economy and downplay the "social" issues.

While I focus on Colorado politics and largely ignore races elsewhere, the three big races of 2009 may give an indication of where the Republican Party is headed, particularly with respect to the influence of the religious right. The three major results are these:

* In the New Jersey governor's race, Republican Chris Christie beat out Democratic Governor Jon Corzine.

* In the Virginia governor's race, Republican Bob McDonnell beat Democrat R. Creigh Deeds.

* In New York's 23rd Congressional special election, something very strange happened. Initially, the race featured Republican Dierdre Scozzafava against Democrat Bill Owens (not to be confused with Colorado's former Republican governor Bill Owens). But then upstart Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman garnered the support of grass-roots conservatives, prompting Scozzafava to drop out of the race. Owens beat Hoffman 49 to 45 percent.

So what does this mean?

Obviously the elections have implications far beyond the influence of the religious right. To some degree, the two Republican victories signal displeasure with Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress. Just as Obama benefitted last year from many votes against the other guy, so Republicans may be picking up protest votes this year.

But I am particularly interested in the dynamics of faith-based politics. I want to look at a few indicators, not conduct an exhaustive investigation.

Looking at New Jersey, Christianity Today reports that "Corzine targeted Christie in an ad criticizing Christie's support of a constitutional ban on abortion and opposition of funding stem cell research."

The claim about the constitutional ban is a little tenuous; it dates to a 2003 story in the Star-Ledger paraphrasing the former president of an organization that endorsed Christie in a 1997 race.

On his web page, Christie is certainly no friend to a woman's right to choose, but neither does he call for anything like a comprehensive ban. Here's what he has to say about abortion and homosexual couples:

I am pro-life. Hearing the strong heartbeat of my unborn daughter 14 years ago at 13 weeks gestation had a profound effect on me and my beliefs. The life of every human being is precious. We must work to reduce abortions in New Jersey through laws such as parental notification, a 24-hour waiting period and a ban on partial-birth abortion.

I also believe marriage should be exclusively between one man and one woman. While, I have no issue with same sex couples sharing contractual rights, I believe that marriage should remain the exclusive domain of one man and one woman.


It sounds very much to me like Christie endorses legal abortions in most cases and civil unions for homosexuals. His proposed restrictions are bad, but they're a far cry from the worst.

The Star-Ledger confirms this:

In an interview, Christie today outlined his own positions on social issues, saying he evolved from pro-choice to pro-life with the birth of his children but would not use the governor's office to "force that down people's throats." However, he said he favors restrictions on abortion rights such as banning partial-birth abortions and requiring parental notification and a 24-hour waiting period.

He said he favors the state's current law allowing same-sex couples to form civil unions but would veto a bill legalizing same-sex marriage if it reached his desk.


Notably, Christie focuses on "cutting taxes, controlling spending and creating jobs."

An Associated Press article neglects to mention abortion, stating that the race "focused on New Jersey's ailing economy, its highest-in-the-nation property taxes and even Christie's weight." Craig Royer told the AP, "I'm tired of the Democrats. I voted for Chris Christie because he's not Jon Corzine."

In Virginia, "a quarter said their vote for McDonnell was also a rejection of Obama," the AP reports.

McDonnell wants more restrictions on abortion, and he opposes even civil unions for homosexual couples. Yet it doesn't seem that he was particularly keen to run on social issues. McDonnell ran far away from a 1989 thesis he wrote taking a hardline religious conservative stance on a variety of sexual and reproductive matters. The AP believes that "McDonnell dominated the campaign's central issues: jobs and the economy."

Richmond Magazine notes, "The moderator at the July 25 debate noted that neither candidate appeared to want to discuss 'culture war' issues in the campaign."

Of course, the fact that many Republicans are trying to simultaneously appeal to the religious right in the primaries and hide that fact in the generals remains troublesome.

Moving to New York, it's not hard to see why Scozzafava was hated by free market advocates as well as the religious right. Michelle Malkin writes:

There was no fiscal conservatism to balance her social radicalism. It wasn't merely that she was "pro-choice." She was also a proud recipient of a pro-abortion award named after eugenicist Margaret Sanger.

It wasn't merely that she favored higher government spending. It was also that she supported the stimulus, which every single House Republican in office opposed, on top of her support for the union-expanding card-check bill, on top of her ambiguous statements on the energy tax-imposing cap-and-trade bill.


In this case, the AP does see faith-based issues as important, claiming that Scozzafava quit "under pressure from the party's right wing because of her support of abortion rights and same-sex marriage."

So what does Hoffman believe? In his election-night comments, he makes no reference to faith-based issues, choosing instead to talk about "freedom, sound fiscal management and citizen government."

Hoffman's "issues" page deserves some comments.

Hoffman seems to have little idea what a free market is or how to defend it. He opposes the stimulus, which is good, but then he favors "a bill that puts real money in the hands of Americans to spend." So what are we talking about here? Putting the nation deeper in debt to hand out "free" money to people who didn't earn it?

Hoffman's notes on health policy are particularly telling. He writes, "Although universal health care sounds great in theory, we can't afford to do everything at once... I believe our first step should be to bring the spiraling costs of healthcare under control [How?]... Then, as the economy picks up we can work to insure everyone."

So now conservatives agree that it's the federal government's legitimate role to "insure everyone?" Wow.

Hoffman says he'd cut spending. But what would he cut? Entitlements, which threaten to bankrupt the nation? Apparently not. He would cut "wasteful earmarks," an insignificant portion of the federal budget.

Surprisingly, Hoffman is pretty good (from a free market perspective) on immigration, writing, "The answer... is not to put up a wall and stop all immigration. The answer is to create an easier path for immigrants to enter the United States -– and to work here -– while at the same time getting tough on illegal immigrants who commit crimes." He also looks good on gun rights, and he opposes cap-and-trade.

"Where do you stand on the issue of Roe vs. Wade?" Hoffman answers, "I am pro-life, period." Because apparently that's all the commentary the issue merits on a candidate's "issues" page. But is he serious? Does he oppose abortion even if the mother's life is at risk?

At best, Hoffman was a lightweight.

I don't have a good sense of the dynamics of the race or what voters talked about and cared about. The New York Times claims that "grass-roots groups that have forcefully opposed Democratic economic and health care policies... rallied behind Mr. Hoffman."

The sense I get is that, while religious conservatives helped blast Scozzafava out of the race, Hoffman didn't play up the faith-based stuff too much with regular voters.

Interestingly, Marilyn Musgrave, ousted from her Congressional post by Colorado voters tired of her obsession with faith-based issues, played a role in the New York race through the Susan B. Anthony List, reports the Times.

The Hoffman vote, then, was a combination of disgust with the Republican candidate, disgust with the Democrats, and supporters of a variety of issues ranging from tax reform to abortion bans. It's the sort of messy race that allows just about everybody to claim some sort of victory.

Maine is also a curious case. Voters rejected same-sex marriage, which, as I've argued, is for many not a faith-based issue, especially given the alternative of domestic partnerships. At the same time, voters rejected tax restrictions and expanded medical marijuana. So, if you're a conservative, Maine went one for three. If you're a left-winger, Maine went two for three. I'm disappointed with the tax vote but thrilled about medical marijuana.

So what is the upshot? The Republican party remains schizophrenic. Because it is ambiguous about free markets and split on faith-based issues, its hope seems to rest on voters' discontent with the Democrats. And that's pretty pathetic.

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