A blog of politics, law, religion, and the tricky spots where they collide.

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The Boston bombing provided the opportunity for the government to turn what should have been a police investigation into a military-style occupation of an American city. This unprecedented move should frighten us as much or more than the attack itself.

Ron Paul, presented without comment.

3 GOP Electoral College members say they may not vote for Republican ticket of Romney/Ryan

This is one of the more interesting articles I’ve read recently. It’s not that I care whether some disgruntled Republican casts a vote for Ron Paul in the general election. It’s that we still have an electoral college. And it’s possible that in a very, very tight election some jerk could throw the entire country into chaos.

Imagine. Romney wins a very tight election with exactly 270 electoral votes. The Republicans keep the house. The Democrats take the senate. One guy decides that he’s going to vote for Ron Paul for President. Now Romney gets 269 votes. Obama has 268. Nobody has a majority. And the House of Representatives chooses between Obama, Romney and Paul for President. Except once the Republicans figure out what is happening, a handful of them cast votes for Paul Ryan as President. So now it’s a Ryan vs. Romney vs. Obama fight in the House. (But the vote happens with each state getting one vote—so it’s weird too.) And the same sort of thing happens in the Senate. Except that people don’t really want a Romney-Biden administration. So a few electors strike out on their own there. Some cast votes for Obama. Some cast votes for Hillary Clinton. But that doesn’t work because the Constitution is weird and is written so that Biden gets the vote in a case like this.

And the strangest part of it all is that this doesn’t provoke a Constitutional crisis. It’s already written down.

"Secrets" of the "Audit" of the "Federal Reserve"

Warning: This post is really boring. I just got sucked into reading a report on the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending programs. I have no impulse control. On the upside, there are worse things that could happen to people with no impulse control.

Ration World and a few others on my dashboard have brought a recent “audit’ of the Federal Reserve to light alleging $16 Trillion in “secret bailouts.” This raised two red flags.

First, $16 Trillion is a lot of money. I might believe one or two trillion. But claiming $16 Trillion in bailouts is a bit like claiming you drove through a school zone at 250 miles an hour. It’s maybe possible. And it would definitely be scandalous if it were true. But … it seems pretty unlikely. At a minimum, it’s worth a bit of investigation.

Second, the chain of links goes back, to knowtoomuch.info, which posts some great stories about banking conspiracies and the dangers of the fluoridation of water. So … right. It’s worth checking the source on this one.

The source is this GAO report and this article by Bernie Sanders.

Like a sucker, I decided to read through most of the report so you don’t have to. Here’s what came up.

  • The Fed did a lot of things through a lot of different programs designed to stabilize the financial system and keep interest rates low.
  • It worked.
  • The Fed did not lose any money on any of these programs.
  • Even though the programs weren’t designed to maximize returns, they generally turned a profit.
  • The GAO’s recommendations were generally pretty minor. For example, they think some of the vendor contracts should have been bid more competitively. There were no big shockers.
  • The Fed had a number of programs on standby in case things got worse that were never used.

Incidentally, the “$16 trillion” number is the total amount of all the loans. Many of those loans were overnight loans. So a year’s worth of over-night $10 billion loans would register as $3.65 trillion in loans, even though only $10 billion was actually at risk. (Sanders would call that a $3.65 trillion bailout. I think a $10 billion bailout would be more accurate.) The total amount of loans outstanding at any given point peaked at $1.2 trillion in 2009. There were also about $1.25 trillion in mortgage backed securities purchased.

Most of these loans were totally unraveled by 2010. It looks like the rest can comfortably be paid off without any nasty surprises. Or, to put it differently, the GAO report that Ron Paul so desperately wanted makes the Fed look pretty awesome for navigating a nearly impossible situation and coming out okay.

I welcome the Tea Party and Ron Paul supporters. That’s great for our party. But it’s time to be good sports and get behind Governor Romney

Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman is worried that Ron Paul’s supporters in Nebraska will manage to get enough support to secure Paul a place on the ballot at the Repulican National Convention. The stakes are fairly high for Paul’s supporters. Even if Romney secures the nomination,1 Paul’s voice would be heard loudly at the convention.

Heineman’s statement most interesting in how dismissive it is of Paul’s supporters. You can “line up and be a good sport” if your team loses—but it was only a game. If you actually, say, believe in something, “sportsmanship” does not require you to pretend to support somebody you don’t actually support.

  1. He will. 

Bait and Switch

Traditionally, the Democrats have sought to preserve civil liberties and reduce military adventurism. Running the country means that princpled stances sometimes run into other principled stances and compromises are made. Compromise means controversy. Civil libertarians have reason to be frustrated.1 So do those who categorically oppose military intervention.2 No politician is entitled to your support—and nobody should blame you for looking around.

Many of those looking for somebody with a more hardline stance on civil liberties and against military action found Ron Paul.3 Ron Paul, a Republican, has emphasized that he cares about “liberty,” by which he means a combination of protecting civil liberties and an extreme hands-off approach toward economics, even when that comes at the expense of a lot of people without a lot of money or influence. And if you joined Ron Paul for his civil liberties stances, maybe you’ll adopt—or at least tolerate—some of his economic stances as well.

So what happens when Paul loses the race and Romney gets the nomination? Romney’s stances on civil liberties and military action is far worse than Obama’s. He wants to “double Guantanamo” and stick with the Afghanistan war indefinitely. Apparently he’s against allowing same-sex couples to adopt now too. But, like Paul, he’s a Republican. And he’s going to make a hard sell that he’s going to protect the same kind of “economic liberties” that Paul did.[^4] And a lot of Paul supporters are going to come around—even though Romney is dramatically worse than Obama on the issues the primarily claim to care about.

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The next time I interview for a job, I'm going to try the Ron Paul approach

  • Interviewer: What interests you about our company?
  • Me: I hate it and think it should be dismantled.
  • Interviewer: What are your primary qualifications for the job?
  • Me: I would systematically destroy your company.
  • Interviewer: Why do you want to destroy our company?
  • Me: Your company has a successful and diverse market line and a global presence. But when it was incorporated, the founders had envisioned a little mom and pop operation. I think we need to return to their vision.

Why this is happening

The Iowa Caucuses have a lot of evangelical voters. Prior to tonight, they had been split between Bachmann, Gingrich, Cain, Santorum, and Perry. Romney (a Mormon) never got traction. Ron Paul did pretty well—but A few days ago, Santorum got some critical endorsements—which means that even the people who didn’t much like Santorum came out to root for the home team.

New Hampshire will, of course, be different. But … look at the percentage of the voters who voted for Santorum or Gingrich or Perry. After tonight, the Gingrich/Perry voters will get the memo that Santorum is their guy. So … this isn’t great news for Romney. He’s still in a decent spot … but this is not the result he would have liked.

(Whether or not Santorum or Romney ultimately ends up a vote ahead isn’t terribly relevant—except that I’d like the glory for calling the Santorum victory earlier than anybody else. For all practical purposes, this was a tie.)

Ron Paul, same-sex marriage, and the death penalty

jeffmiller writes:

Questioning libertarians on same-sex marriage seems silly to me, since most libertarians I know support same-sex marriage.  It might be more productive to challenge President Obama, who has stated that he thinks marriage must be between a man and a woman.  Questioning libertarians over the death penalty also seems silly to me, since most libertarians I know are against it.  It might be more productive to challenge President Obama, who supports the death penalty because he thinks communities need to get out their anger or something, which is just about as appalling a reason as one could pick.

Looking beyond Ari, it’s been depressing to see so many liberals criticize Paul on issues where President Obama is by every conceivable measure far worse under the liberals’ own standards.

Jeff is right that Obama’s stated positions on same-sex marriage, the death penalty, and so on are at odds with many of his supporters. Similarly, Paul’s stated stance on same-sex marriage is at odds with many of his supporters.

That said, we ought to ask how the Paul administration would compare with the Obama administration on these fronts. The Obama administration has repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, declined to defend DOMA, and signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The record isn’t perfect—but it represents real progress.

Paul, on the other hand, has called Don’t Ask Don’t Tell a decent policy, opposes any sort of hate crimes legislation,1 and is apparently uncomfortable using a gay friends’ bathroom,

We also need to ask who a particular candidate would nominate as judges, who would serve as attorney general, how an administration would prioritize problems, and so on. If Paul were to (improbably) win the primary, we would have to choose between a Democratic administration and a Republican administration. I suspect that Jeff will agree with me that the Obama administration has been much better on these two issues than a Republican administration would be—even if that Republican administration was influenced by Ron Paul’s brand of compromised libertarianism.

  1. Yes, I understand why Paul opposes hate crimes legislation. If anybody wants to discuss why this legislation is important, we can do that later. 

(Source: kohenari)

Drone Strikes and the American Way

War means death. If you order a BLT sandwich, don’t act surprised when it comes with bacon in it. Bacon is an integral part of a BLT. You got exactly what you ordered. Support for war is support for death. You don’t get to choose who dies. Many of the dead will be non-combatants. Some will be children.

I don’t want anything in this post to trivialize, understate, or excuse any of the horrors of war. Those we kill or fail to protect are also every bit as human and every bit as important as you and I are. Their families mourn their deaths just as our families would our mourn deaths. A lesser evil is still evil.

Nor do I intend to criticize anybody’s condemnation of those we kill. If the political cost of killing civilians is sufficiently high, perhaps we’ll try harder not to kill civilians. This has certainly worked in the past. We no longer firebomb cities. Our weapons are increasingly precise. Again, a lesser evil is still evil.

I do, however, want to explain both why I haven’t been more vocal in condemning President Obama’s continued use of drone strikes along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border and why I don’t consider a strict anti-interventionist policy to be a morally superior policy.

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