Another Surprise Endorsement

 | 

In a recent Reflection, I noted that Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), son of libertarian Ron Paul (R-TX), caused something of a stir among “movement libertarians” (a phrase rather ironic — sort of like “organized cats” or “conformist rebels”) when he endorsed Mitt Romney, aka the Rich White Mormon.

Even more fascinating is the recent announcement by Wayne Allyn Root that he is resigning from the Libertarian Party’s National Committee to switch to Romney and Ryan &‐ albeit with some understandable reservations: “I don’t deny that Romney and Ryan aren’t libertarians, but Romney is a pro-business capitalist and Obama is a Marxist-socialist.”

He added, “The economy has been trashed. This is about my kids’ future, it’s about my businesses. There is no hope for America if Obama is re-elected.”

Root was the Libertarian Party’s VP nominee in 2008, running with Bob Barr. (Barr has signaled that he, too, will support Romney.)

The move has aroused a lot of criticism. One blogger called Root a turncoat who sold out after a rich Mormon helped him pay off campaign debts. Another said that Root is just angling to take a run at replacing Harry Reid (D-NV, and ironically yet another Rich White Mormon). Root seems to confirm this when he says that he “plan[s] to join Tea Party U.S. Senators like Rand Paul, Jim DeMint, Marco Rubio and Mike Lee in the near future, representing the great state of Nevada.”

What’s the old (and probably apocryphal) Chinese curse? “May you live in interesting times.”




Share This


Stop the Convention

 | 

No, I’ve had it; and I think the nation has had it too. This business of national political conventions has got to stop.

As my colleague Drew Ferguson recently demonstrated, the Libertarian Party convention is still of human interest. It is, after all, a place where ideas matter, and personalities too — the more colorful, the better. But as for the Republicans and the Democrats . . . sorry, we’ve reached the end.

As a reporter for this journal, I attended what I believe to have been the last real nominating convention of a major party, the Republican National Convention of 1996 (Liberty, November 1996, pp. 18–25). The event was almost entirely staged in advance, and the huckster room — the place where people sell pictures and trinkets and “literature” and elephants (or donkeys) — was by far the most interesting thing about it. But there was a moment when Pat Buchanan, the idol of the right-wingers, appeared unauthorized on the convention floor, and almost took the assembly away with him. From the point of view of political interest, that almost made the convention legitimate.

But nothing like that could have been expected of the Romney and Obama séances. In place of real drama, or real decision-making, what we witnessed — and very, very few Americans could be cajoled into witnessing it — was two dopey, incompetent infomercials, filled with obvious lies and the kind of product demonstrations that would make any seller of male restoration medications blush.

The trappings of old-fashioned, drama-filled conventions were retained — the platform report, the roll call, the nominating speeches — all useless, all precrafted by nameless political hacks, or discredited former office-holders (Bill Clinton, of all people, masquerading as the sage elder statesman). And all a gigantic bore.

I swear to God, after Obama’s speech at his convention, the folks on CNN actually said, “Let’s get some reaction from the delegates on the floor.” As if the nation needed to hear the “reactions” of the loser religious fanatics who populate these mobs, people regarded with sovereign contempt by the leaders of their own parties.

“Excuse me, Ms. Four Hundred Pounder, esteemed delegate from East Overshoe, Ohio, ‘employed’ as a ‘union representative’ in a public ‘school,’ and currently decorated from toe to top with goofy political buttons, can you tell us what you thought of the president’s speech?”

What’s the probability that Ms. Pounder will say, “I thought that guy was the biggest tool that ever afflicted our country”?

A synonym for “boring” is “predictable.” Now, what can be more predictable than 40 hours of astute political commentary by Democratic office-holders and other parasites about the virtues of the preordained Democratic nominee? (Substitute “Republican” in the appropriate places, and you’ll get the same effect.) Answer: speeches by the spouses of the nominees, extolling (what a surprise) their hubbies’ qualifications to be president.

In ages past, the very idea of such a speech would have been regarded as the kiss of death for any political candidate. A man is on trial for stealing from the collection plate (which is what all politicians do), and his best witness turns out to be . . . his wife? Good God! And the speeches of Mrs. Romney and Mrs. Obama, as bad as they were, were regarded by some professional political commentators as the best ones at the conventions.

There are so many awful moments to remember . . . I’ll single out just one: President Obama, apparently having nothing better to do, entering the convention hall to listen to himself being extolled by former President Clinton — who is, according to David Gergen, “the most effective speaker in America.“ Clinton, by the way, is universally known to be Obama’s bitter enemy, because of Clinton’s desire to have his (own) wife elected, so the whole affair was an exercise in what everyone knew to be in-yo-face hypocrisy. What a picture! — rivaled only by that of Mr. Obama, rushing out to hug Mr. Clinton at the end of the latter’s address.

What we witnessed was two dopey, incompetent infomercials, filled with obvious lies and the kind of product demonstrations that would make any seller of male restoration medications blush

But listen: this business of relatives is completely out of hand. First there was the Kennedy family (creeps). Then the Bush family (dolts). Now the Clinton family (real, dedicated weirdos). But to return . . . This notion of a person listening to his own nomination speech, then going onstage to hug the speaker, would have filled any previous candidate with horror. It just wasn’t done. By anybody. It wasn’t even thought of. Why? Because there was (often) a reality, and (sometimes) a decorous pretense, that real business was being conducted at a national convention, that real people were deciding whether to nominate this real person or that real person for a real and important office, and that before the nomination was made, it behooved that person to show respect, and stay away.

For whatever reason, Barack Obama couldn’t stand to do that. He had to take the stage in his own infomercial. Following which there was a roll-call “vote” of the “delegates.” What do you suppose would have happened if a group of those common people, so much extolled throughout the two parties’ conventions, had arisen to cast a vote for somebody besides the preordained candidate? There would have been a lynching, at the least. Yet these are supposed to be deliberative assemblies.

I say, away with them all. They are nothing but attempts at cheap publicity, and like all such attempts, they get cheaper and cheaper. From now on, hold your silly primaries, cast your votes in your corrupt state party committees, tabulate the results by computer, and nominate your person. Stop the masquerade. It isn’t funny anymore.




Share This


Governments Finally Outsourcing

 | 

A report out on a small Michigan city points the way for other school districts to deal with their looming fiscal problems.

The city is Highland Park, which faces a major problem with its school district, consisting of three schools and 1,000 students. The system ranks near the bottom in the state academically, and it is facing a fiscal fiasco.

In fact, only a wretched 22% of the system’s third-grade students passed the state’s reading exams, and a pathetic 10% of them passed the math exams, last year. Only 10% of its high school students tested proficient on reading, and 0% — yes, precisely none of them — tested proficient in math.

This, in a district that last year spent over $16,500 per student, which is 80% more than the average per student expenditure for the state (which last year was about $9,200 per pupil)!

Moreover, despite the fact that its student population has plummeted by two-thirds in the past five years, the district’s deficit has exploded — reaching over $11 million last year.

So the Highland Park school district has taken a bold step: it is borrowing a tool commonly employed in private industry, outsourcing — the process by which one company hires a second company to handle some part of its operations. For example, a major retailer (such as Walmart or Costco) will often hire industrial janitorial firms to handle the cleaning of their stores, rather than hiring janitors within their own companies.

Outsourcing has a number of benefits, most importantly improving efficiency and increasing accountability. It improves efficiency because the company that outsources operations will be able to hire a company that specializes in that aspect of business. It improves accountability, because if the company outsourcing doesn’t see an improvement in that aspect of its business, it can terminate the service and hire another contracting firm to do the job. This puts pressure on the contracted company to do the job properly and within the price negotiated.

Highland Park is outsourcing its entire school system to the charter school company Leona Group.

The Leona Group runs 54 schools in five states. While almost half the students in them don’t score at standard levels, that is on average better than the public schools they replace. And in Michigan, 19 of 22 schools that Leona runs do meet state standards. Moreover, Leona’s contract is for five years, so if it doesn’t dramatically improve student outcomes, it can easily be replaced. That is the missing factor in district-run schools: accountability.

Charter schools have some major advantages over district-run schools. While the charters are overseen and funded by the district, they have substantial freedom when it comes to setting union contracts, curricula development, and teacher standards. And precisely because they are not controlled by teachers unions, they are usually much less costly to the taxpayer.

Indeed, Leona Group will charge the district only $7,100 per student, plus an annual management fee of $780,000 — dramatically less than what the district is currently paying.

Public school outsourcing is a growing trend. Highland Park is the second district in Michigan to outsource its schools to charter schools. Several districts in Georgia have also done the same thing. Of course New Orleans has already converted most of its schools to charters (which has already produced a dramatic increase in graduation rates) and even allows its students to use the newly issued state educational vouchers.

Other districts are now eyeing this novel idea — novel, that is, only in the world of government; it has been a staple of private industry management forever. In Michigan alone there are 48 districts in fiscal peril (with a collective $429 million in annual deficits).

Naturally, the teachers unions are fighting outsourcing fang and claw, but given the looming financial disaster, the pressure for extensive education outsourcing is increasing rapidly.

Outsourcing district-run schools to charter school companies is a tool that many districts can and should consider, especially as more and more of our cities declare bankruptcy.




Share This


Non-Governmental Reform

 | 

While our attention can be temporarily redirected to more pleasant matters, it does not take long to remember that the banking and financial systems are in need of serious reform.

The most recent episode of irresponsible trading in the US was by Knight Capital Group. The Group instituted a new software system with a glitch that led to a loss of over $400 million in less than an hour of trading. The glitch was the result of the software being put into practice before it could be fully tested. The thought was, if this new software could be implemented ahead of the competition, Knight Capital would gain an edge on its competitors. The rush to beat the competition led to a premature, and thus irresponsible, implementation of its new software. There is no evidence of intentional deception or corruption as was the case with Barclay's, Enron, or MF Global; but it was irresponsible.

Nevertheless, reform does not mean government-led or government-mandated action. Government oversight and intervention are not the answer; a restructuring of how companies operate and reward their employees is. Government reform is always fighting the previous battle. Reforming the way companies operate is the only real response.

The recommendations I make are necessary but not sufficient. I make them not only in consideration of my work as a political theorist and ethicist but also as a result of my experiences as a small business owner who struggles with how to balance profit, ethics, and the law while keeping his employees focused on doing the right thing as they make money.

As long as monetary gain is the motive there will always be corruption and irresponsible behavior, simply because the acquisition of money is not the simple effect of responsible or ethical behavior. We cannot eliminate money or profit. It would be equally foolhardy to think government regulations will do the trick. Whatever restrictions are passed, someone will be waiting to figure out a way around them. But there are three organizational modifications that businesses can make that will help curb abuse and irresponsible behavior. Of course nothing will prevent this sort of behavior entirely, and modifications will always need to be made to keep up with changing times, but what I outline will avoid the false assumptions of government regulation.

First, those in charge of carrying out a company's day-to-day operations should be different from those in charge of managing profit margins. For instance, if a salesperson at a car dealership earns a commission on the cars she sells, she will have no immediate incentive to be honest or fair with the customer. Her goal will be to sell cars at the highest possible price. The same holds true for financial planners. If a planner has to choose between two investments for a client, one that will earn him a higher commission even though it's not the best option for the client, he will be inclined to do so. To say or expect otherwise is naive. Similarly, if those in charge of developing investment software for Knight Capital (not those whose salaries were tied to successful trades) were also in charge of deciding when it was fit to implement, the outcome could have been different. A software engineer making a fixed sum, whose future income will depend on the quality of the software, will have more of an incentive to get it right.

Second, there needs to be transparency. When a firm makes fundamental alterations to business practices or operating procedures, the changes must be submitted to the company's board for approval and made known to all customers and investors whom the changes may affect. Not only will this provide an opportunity for internal checks to keep bad business practices from being put into action but it will make poorly conceived or unethical plans less likely to be presented in the first place. If I know that the changes I make will be open to scrutiny I will be much less likely to act badly.

The third recommendation is delay. When delay procedures are institutionalized, time is available to evaluate any changes in policy or procedure. For instance, if Knight Capital had had a mandatory 90-day evaluation period for any software changes there is a good chance that the most recent fiasco could have been avoided, which would have saved the firm and its investors a lot of money. The SEC already recognizes the benefit of delay, which is why it stops trading whenever a stock drops too drastically in too short of a time. When people are given pause, cooler heads usually prevail.

The recommendations I outline are not a cure-all, but they tap into fundamental issues that must be addressed if any worthwhile reform is to be implemented. Current reform efforts require outside regulation that is generally too slow to adapt and is too easily circumvented. If, however, we change the way companies do business by taking into account how people make decisions, we will be off to a better start.




Share This


Enviromentalists vs. the Environment

 | 

A brilliant piece by Robert Bryce highlights one of the more incredible recent developments in the Green Gaia world — the rising opposition of the soi disant “environmentalists” to a proven weapon against the dreaded Anthropogenic Global Warming that threatens destruction to Mother Earth. That weapon is natural gas — which, to put the point in a scatological way, is an afflatus of said Mother Earth.

Specifically, in the last year, the two major energy bureaucracies — oh, pardon me, “agencies” — have reported what one would naively suppose is very good news: America is dramatically cutting its CO2 emissions, thus sparing Earth further defilement! On May 24, the International Energy Agency (the IEA) in Paris and the US Energy Information Administration both reported that America’s CO2 emissions dropped by nearly 8% (430 million tons) since 2006, the greatest reduction recorded by any country in any region.

Yahoo! We’re number one! (Let’s all chant together: U-S-A, U-S-A!)

The reasons the IEA gives for that drop are that the US is using less oil, especially during this extended recession. But the biggest reason seems to be the flourishing of natural gas production brought by the use of fracking.

The drop in natural gas prices has led to a dramatic switch from coal to natural gas in generating electric power. Last year alone saw an increase in gas-powered electricity production by 34%, and a drop in coal-powered electricity by 21% — a decrease that lowered carbon emissions (not to mention air pollutants) dramatically.

Lawrence Cathles, professor of earth and atmospheric studies at Cornell, recently published a report arguing that moving our economy to natural gas would be a much quicker and cheaper way to replace coal than by moving to “renewables” (solar and wind energy) or even nuclear power — and it would lower carbon emissions by up to 40%.

But the major environmentalist groups, as well as the government regulatory agencies they control (such as the EPA), are still fighting fracking and pushing “green” energy.

What a joke.




Share This


Words, Mindless Words

 | 

An Allstate ad in a recent Wall Street Journal has set me to wondering whether vogue words in ordinary speech and political speech are examples of the same mindless imitation. “Allstate led the fight by advocating for national Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) standards.” But why the “for”?

Because that extra word, like “advocate” itself, has become the latest vogue. “Prior to” and “incredible” have long become so deeply entrenched that they hardly seem like vogues any more. “Thrust,” as in the “thrust” of a speech or a proposal, enjoyed a vogue some years ago; but it seems to have gone out of fashion.

Nowadays terms like “crumbling infrastructure,” “climate change” (the currently more voguish term for “global warming”), “big corporations,” corporate and individual “greed,” the “1%” and “99%," “fair share,” “shipping jobs overseas,” “obesity epidemic,” and miscellaneous “crises” crop up everywhere. Often they carry policy implications. I wonder whether they betray the same mindlessness as “advocate for.”




Share This


Social Security Guns Up

 | 

A fascinating little article suggests that despite the rosy assurances of the Obama administration that Social Security is in fine shape, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is preparing for civil unrest.

The article reports that the SSA just purchased 174,000 rounds of ammo — and not just any ammo, but real ’boon-stopping hollow-point bullets (you know, the ones that expand when they hit you, tearing apart your internal organs). The ammo will be distributed to 41 SSA offices around the country. All this ammunition, by the bye, is for .357 semi-automatic handguns, quite formidable pieces for such an anti-gun administration.

Oh, wait — I forgot. Anti-gun progressive liberals only oppose citizens owning guns, not governments.

But the SSA's armaments are nothing compared to those of Homeland Security, which earlier this year bought 450 million rounds of .40 caliber hollow point ammo, on top of 750 million rounds of other calibers.

I have suggested often before in these pages that the Social Security system is unsustainable in its current form, and will be more or less insolvent in about a decade. It is already running a deficit, “covered” only by the fraudulent “trust fund,” which is just a pack of federal IOUs.

At that point, one of five “solutions” will be employed. Benefits could be dropped by about a fourth for all recipients. Or benefits could be “means-tested,” meaning that anybody who is well enough off not to “need” Social Security would just be denied it, despite having paid into the Ponzi scheme for decades. Or the government could print money and debase the currency, causing inflation (which is a kind of universal tax). Or 401k and other private retirement accounts could be “nationalized,” i.e., seized and used to shore up the Social Security system (as happened not long ago in Argentina). Or SSA taxes could be jacked up on all income levels.

Each of these outcomes would make some group, or the whole country, very angry.

Hence the hollow point ammo. Gut-shoot granny with hollow-point bullets when she storms the local SSA office, pissed off because her promised retirement support hasn’t materialized . . .




Share This


Two Years

 | 

Today the three women belonging to the band Pussy Riot were convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred,” a charge that resulted from a brief protest they staged in a Moscow cathedral last winter. They were sentenced to two years in prison.

The women, who have been held by the authorities since their arrest last March, will now disappear into the bowels of the Russian prison system. A few hundred Russians held a protest outside the courtroom. The crowd, which included former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov, was quickly broken up by police, and Kasparov was arrested. As this is written, there are unconfirmed reports of beatings.

According to a New York Times dispatch from Moscow, defendant Nadezhda Tolokonnikova said the following in her closing statement:

To my deepest regret, this mock trial is close to the standards of the Stalinist troikas. . . . Who is to blame for the performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and for our being put on trial after the concert? The authoritarian political system is to blame. What Pussy Riot does is oppositionist art or politics. . . . In any event, it is a form of civil action in circumstances where basic human rights, civil and political freedoms are suppressed.

Two years. A severe blow to liberty was struck in Moscow today.




Share This


Free the Grrrls!

 | 

Liberalism, in its better sense, hardly exists in Russia. Male chauvinism, gay-bashing, and other aspects of cultural reaction are rampant throughout contemporary Russian culture. Tolerance for edgy and avant-garde cultural expression has improved only slightly since the days of Communist rule. A prime example is the response to the antics of the Russian grrrl band Pussy Riot. Last February 21, three members of the band — Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova — entered the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow and gyrated before the altar for about 40 seconds. The women were taken into custody and charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred,” for which Russian law provides a penalty of up to seven years in prison. The verdict in the case will be announced tomorrow.

That Russia’s thug-president Vladimir Putin and the Russian patriarch Kirill I have led the way in condemning Pussy Riot should surprise no one. What is somewhat surprising is the lack of sympathy for the women in Russian society generally, including among so-called liberals. The three women maintained a stoic front during their trial, which has only exacerbated the hostility toward them expressed by many Russians. That women should act up and then refuse to show remorse or beg for mercy clearly touches a nerve in a society still dominated by hypermasculine posing. It has been left to the so-called international community to take up the cause of Pussy Riot. A broad mix of prominent organizations and people — including Amnesty International, German parliamentarians, and Madonna — has helped put Pussy Riot’s plight on the world’s front pages.

The international uproar has had some effect. President Putin stated recently that the women’s punishment should not be too harsh. Apparently a not guilty verdict was never a possibility. As for the punishment, we shall know tomorrow how severe (or not) it will be.

The women of Pussy Riot are not especially talented. Compared to PJ Harvey or even Bikini Kill, they are rank amateurs. And they probably exercised poor judgment by making a scene in the cathedral. But in a normal, civilized, liberal (in the best sense) society, they would face trespassing charges and a small fine. In Russia they face the prospect of several years’ imprisonment for what amounts to a harmless prank.

The Russians are a great people with a tragic history. And in general I believe that the internal affairs of other nations are none of my business. But the Pussy Riot show trial is a blatant affront to artistic expression and individual freedom. Libertarians should join the Pussy Riot Global Day protests that will be held tomorrow, August 17.




Share This


The Ryan Pick

 | 

With his selection of Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate, Mitt Romney has decided the 2012 presidential election. Barack Obama will be reelected president of the United States.

Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, brings Romney needed credibility with conservatives. Indeed, over the past few days establishment conservatives have been waging a pick-Ryan campaign in the media, and probably behind the scenes with Romney’s people as well. Ryan is a serious figure intellectually, and commands respect within establishment political circles. But he has spent over a decade in Congress, and as a result is viewed with some skepticism by Tea Party types. He will not excite the yahoo wing of the party as Sarah Palin did in 2008.

But just how much Ryan solidifies Romney’s support from the base is beside the point. Indeed, the Ryan pick shows just how out of touch Romney is with political realities. Conservatives were going to hold their noses and vote for Romney anyway, because they hate Obama. What Romney needed was a VP pick who would help him win over independents, particularly women. Ryan doesn’t do that. But the damage the Ryan pick does to Romney goes beyond this.

The problem is Ryan’s plan for Medicare. I’m not going to discuss the merits of the Ryan plan here; this is a piece about electoral politics. The Ryan plan will be pounded day in and day out by Democrats. By November Ryan and Romney will literally look like losers, irritable and worn from weeks and weeks of defending a plan that most people (and all oldsters) will perceive as the evisceration of a sacrosanct entitlement. Even people over 60 who belong to the Tea Party believe that their Medicare benefits must be preserved, no matter the cost.

Romney’s people may believe that Ryan will bring them Wisconsin, and winning that state becomes a bit more likely with Ryan on the ticket. But it’s still very much a reach for the Republicans. Scott Walker’s success in surviving the recall election earlier this year is not likely a harbinger of Republican prospects in November. Many Walker voters who were standing up against Wisconsin’s public employee unions (i.e., voting their pocketbooks), will not support cuts in Medicare and Social Security.

Had Romney been looking to pick off a battleground state, he should’ve picked Rob Portman of Ohio. Ohio is bigger than Wisconsin, and Republicans had a decent chance of carrying the state. Portman might have put them over the top there. The Ryan pick places Ohio more firmly in the Democratic column.

I originally thought that Romney would pick a woman or a Hispanic (Marco Rubio), because he lags badly with both groups. I did an analysis in June that gave President Obama 22 states and the District of Columbia with a total of 270 electoral votes, the minimum needed to win. With five months to go the election was clearly very much up for grabs. I thought then that Romney would pick Portman, as Ohio is a state Romney needs to win if he is to prevail. With the selection of Ryan, Romney has probably lost Ohio and Florida, which in June I had going to the Republicans. If Romney loses both Ohio and Florida, there is no way he gets to 270 electoral votes.

The idea that major structural reform of Medicare and Social Security will play politically, in a time of economic uncertainty and widespread voter despair, is utter nonsense. Yet that is what Romney apparently believes, based on his selection of Ryan. Romney truly is out of touch with reality. His dippiness was already apparent in his views on foreign policy. His economic policies — on tax reform, job creation, and yes, entitlement reform — were in fact far more sensible than anything put forward by the Democrats, and this constituted his main advantage over Obama. But by placing radical reform of Medicare and Social Security in the forefront of the political debate — that is, by picking Paul Ryan — Romney has cost himself the election. The only question now is how big Obama’s margin will be.




Share This
Syndicate content

© Copyright 2013 Liberty Foundation. All rights reserved.



Opinions expressed in Liberty are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Liberty Foundation.

All letters to the editor are assumed to be for publication unless otherwise indicated.