Saturday, December 27, 2008

O Come All Ye Faithful

Why evangelical Christians should rally to the libertarian cause.

As we wind down our celebration of the birth of Christ and prepare for the new year, I hope that “conservative” Christians, who are wondering where to go after the Republican train wreck of late, will give the Libertarian Party (L.P.) a second look.

If you’ve heard anything about us, you’ve probably heard that we want to legalize pot, gay marriage and all sorts of other things that no doubt turn your gut. Before you let that scare you off, let me explain our take on some of these issues. (Keep in mind that I hold no official position with the party, so if I muck it up, don‘t blame them.)

The L.P. is generally about freedom. The L.P.’s national platform states it fairly well: “We, the members of the Libertarian Party, challenge the cult of the omnipotent state and defend the rights of the individual. We hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose.” How does this effect issues supposedly important to evangelicals?

Let’s get right to the most contentious issue first: Abortion. I’m not going to lie to you, most Libertarians are probably pro-choice. Wait, come back! Not all of us. There are enough of us pro-life Libertarians for the National Committee to recognize that good Libertarians fall on both sides of the issue. The L.P.’s National Platform says: “Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.”

Yeah, I know that’s a cop-out, but there really is no middle ground here. Since Libertarians support individual rights (life, liberty, and property), there’s somewhat of a conundrum with this issue. Libertarians like me, who believe that life begins at conception, see abortion as the ultimate violation of an unborn person’s right to life. Libertarians who believe that life begins at birth see banning abortion as a violation of the mother’s liberty. To some degree, both sides are right. (Of course, I believe my side is MORE right!)

So where would a nation run by Libertarians leave us pro-lifers? We would be free to speak out against abortion in any manner that we chose (provided we didn’t harm or threaten to harm anyone else). With less money being taken from us in taxes we would be freer to contribute our money to pro-life groups, making them more effective. Since Libertarians support Constitutional restraints on the federal government and recognize that this is NOT a subject that the federal government has authority over, the people of each State would be allowed to decide whether or not abortion should be legal. That might be the best that pro-lifers can hope for, regardless of who’s in power.

Another benefit that a libertarian society would bring is that your church would be vastly more important in the community. Since Libertarians would get rid of government-run “welfare,” private charities and churches would become that much more vital. Religious charities have a long and proud history of helping people. They also generally do so much more efficiently and effectively than wasteful, values-neutral government programs. With lower taxes, more money would be flowing into church coffers and religious institutions could reclaim their historical role as society’s true safety net.

Another power that a libertarian society would give back to the people (and their collective representations, the churches) would be that of educating our children. Many evangelicals hate the fact that they have to send their kids to (or at least fund) government-run schools that teach their children that the basic tenants of their religion are a lot of bunk. Under a Libertarian government, parents would be free to send their kids to whatever school they chose, and they would be able to afford to so. Private and/or religious schools would become the norm, as would home-schooling.

The L.P. platform puts it thusly: “Education, like any other service, is best provided by the free market, achieving greater quality and efficiency with more diversity of choice. Schools should be managed locally to achieve greater accountability and parental involvement. Recognizing that the education of children is inextricably linked to moral values, we would return authority to parents to determine the education of their children, without interference from government. In particular, parents should have control of and responsibility for all funds expended for their children's education.” [Emphasis added.]

This is not just a pie in the sky idea. There are small, practical steps we can take in this direction already, such as education tax credits. Groups like Iowa Advocates for Choice in Education are already working on “expanding educational options to all Iowa families.”

All in all, Libertarian policies would reduce government coercion of everyone, including evangelical Christians. So while, yes, others would be freer to do things that you might find sinful, you would be freer to worship as you choose, choose how your money is spent and instruct your children on right and wrong. If the only way to get the government off your back is to get it off everyone’s back, that sounds like a good deal to me.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Man vs. Meat

One of the last official Republican functions that I attended, when I still had any hope for that party, was a county convention here in Iowa. To my surprise, the target of most of the ire from the assembled delegates was not Al Qaeda, illegal immigrants or even monogamous gays, it was Iowa’s deer herd. There was even a platform plank proposed to make a continuous open season for deer in Iowa. (I don’t think it made it onto the state platform though.)

The growing resentment for the horned pests is understandable. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimated a deer population of about 380,000 after the 2007 hunting season. That many deer cause massive damage to Iowa crops and massive headaches for Iowa drivers.

Statistics on show that there are usually 7,000 to over 8,000 deer-vehicle collisions in Iowa each year. The Iowa Department of Transportation reports that 12 people were killed in deer-related accidents in 2007, double the previous five-year average. According to data from State Farm Insurance, the number of deer-vehicle collisions in Iowa has risen 12.2 percent over the past five years. Iowans now have a one in 105 chance of hitting a deer every time they drive, the fourth highest likelihood in the nation behind West Virginia, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Besides all this, these animals taste great and their heads make attractive wall furnishings. Although I’ve never been deer hunting, even I can recognize the fact that if ever God made an animal crying out to be killed, eaten and stuffed, it is the Iowa whitetail!

Luckily, the Iowa DNR allows ample opportunities to hunt them. For deer, Iowa now has a youth season, a disabled hunter season, two archery seasons, two muzzleloader seasons, two shotgun seasons, two antlerless seasons and a nonresident holiday season. My problem comes with some of the regulations that the DNR places on deer hunters.

The most glaring one is the ban on “two-way mobile radio transmitters,” (which includes cell phones) during deer hunting. According to the DNR regs: “You cannot use a two-way mobile radio transmitter to communicate the location or direction of game or furbearing animals, or to coordinate the movement of other hunters.” [Emphasis added.] To me, this would seem to be a safety issue.

My wife and I can’t walk around Wal-mart without coordinating our efforts over the cell phone. It would seem that diverging groups of armed men walking about in the woods should be afforded the same level of coordination. One team in a hunting party should be able to find out EXACTLY where their other team is before they start shooting.

Perhaps the Iowa DNR should revisit some of its regulations. Some of them probably made sense when Iowa’s relatively small deer herd needed a “sporting chance” against hunters. Now deer are everywhere and hunting basically amounts to pest control, so its time for some of these rules to go, especially rules that place the safety of some soon-to-be-sausage over hunters. Hunting accidents are statistically rare in Iowa. Let’s keep it that way.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Dr. Obama, First Do No Harm

Speaking about the failing economy, President-elect Obama coolly diagnosed, "We understand that we've got to provide a blood infusion to the patient right now to make sure that the patient is stabilized, and that means that we can't worry short-term about the deficit. We've got to make sure that the economic stimulus plan is large enough to get the economy moving." Since the “patient’s” infusion would come from the patient itself (through either taxes or debt), “Doctor” Obama’s treatment may be more like an old-fashioned bloodletting than a true cure.

Obama, like many in Washington (in both parties), is a devotee of Keynesian economics, the ideas of British economist John Maynard Keynes. His theories were first published in 1936 and were quickly adopted by America’s big government progressives, like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. One of the key theories of Keynesian economics is that during economic downturns the government can “prime the pump” by increasing its spending. Since Keynes’ theories increase the size and power of government, it’s no wonder his ideas have always found so many acolytes in D.C.

Keynesian economics has many critics however. Notable detractors include economists Milton Friedman, Robert Lucas, Murray Rothbard, and Henry Hazlitt. Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek criticized the collectivist approach of Keynesian economics, which requires centralized planning, which Hayek argued leads to totalitarian abuses.

Besides its push for bigger, more authoritarian government, Keynesian economics just doesn’t seem to work. As the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, points out: “[T]he notion that bigger government leads to more growth is theoretically suspect: any money that the government ‘injects’ into the economy with new spending (or tax rebates) must first be borrowed and diverted from private use. The economic pie gets sliced differently, but it is not any bigger.”

Many argue that the Great Depression wouldn’t have been as long or severe if it wasn’t for the Keynesian “cures” employed by the Roosevelt Administration. Later examples of Keynesian policy in practice haven’t fared much better. “Huge increases in government spending under both Hoover and Roosevelt did not help the economy during the 1930s, and more recent Keynesian initiatives—Gerald Ford's rebates in the mid-1970s, Japan's stimulus efforts in the 1990s, and President Bush's rebates in 2001 and 2008—do not seem to have generated positive results,” states the Cato Institute.

Since our public debt currently stands at about $10.6 trillion, and the government is already racking up record deficits this year and no doubt next year, can we really afford to increase spending on anything, particularly for economic “cures” that don’t generally work? (To put that $10.6 trillion figure in some kind of perspective, remember that it took America the time period from George Washington to Ronald Reagan to accumulate ONE trillion in debt. We’re now on pace to add that amount of debt this year alone. With the looming crisis in Social Security and Medicare, that number is sure to go up.)

Dr. Obama, your “patient” is hemorrhaging. Before you apply your Big Government leeches, you might want to pay heed to the medical dictum, “First, do no harm.”

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Happy Hour Cancelled- Miserable Hour Starts at Five

No doubt many denizens of Iowa’s bastion of liberalism, Iowa City, are rooting in favor of gay marriage in the Varnum v. Brien case now before the Iowa Supreme Court. Unfortunately liberals, just like conservatives, seek to expand freedom for their chosen groups while seeking to restrict it for others. Iowa City officials are currently advancing their jihad against alcohol drinkers in general and bar owners in particular.

Facing a “crisis” of binge drinking because of all the young folks attending University of Iowa, city officials are pushing for an ordinance to end drink specials such as the age-old “happy hour” wherein drinks are cheaper. Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey said, “Our objective ... is to reduce price specials and pricing that encourage excessive drinking,” reported the Cedar Rapids Gazette on Wednesday. Iowa City already bans two drinks for the price of one and all-you-can-drink specials. Not happy with just throttling bar owners in their own town, city officials are also leaning on the state legislature for a similar state-wide ban.

Gazette columnist Todd Dorman, on his blog, predicts that at least the statewide ban faces bleak prospects in the Iowa legislature this time around. Since the legislature has spent the last couple of years doing everything except waterboarding bar owners, Dorman states that legislators may be reluctant to give the businesses “another kick in the shorts.” A similar ban failed in the Iowa Legislature in 1997.

No doubt the city ordinance will go through however. And when it comes to pushing for laws to make us Iowans healthier (and less free), the liberals are a tenacious bunch. Iowa City was one of the first to ban smoking and started the trend that is now a state-wide ban. We can expect to see similar bans on drink specials introduced every year until they get their way.

As I see it there are three primary reasons to oppose this ban.

Firstly, it impedes the right of business owners to run their businesses as they see fit and the rights of patrons as well. Bar owners already must navigate a labyrinthine set of government regulations, zoning laws and licensing procedures. They don’t need more red tape and more potential fines.

For bar patrons, the ban restricts their right to live their lives as they see fit, even if that involves getting plastered. Raising prices to control people’s choices is just paternalistic government overreach. As long as patrons are of legal drinking age, aren’t causing problems or getting behind the wheel of a car, it’s no one’s damned business if they drink too much. Legal drinkers might want to use one of the liberals’ own favorite catchphrases against them: “My body, my choice!”

Secondly, this is an unnecessary infringement on the private market. (This might just be another way of stating my first objection.) Many folks like myself belief that the government shouldn't interfere in the market unless there is some coercive or non-consensual activity involved, such as fraud or theft. If bar owners were holding guns to the heads of patrons, forcing them to drink excessively, the government should get involved.

Bureaucrats should not be controlling the prices for drinks or any other consumer product, the market can set prices just fine. Looking at their balance sheets, bar owners will set drink prices appropriately low to get people in the door, but high enough to turn a profit. Since politicians from Iowa City to Des Moines to D.C. don't seem to mind meddling in the free market, this argument is probably a lost cause.

Lastly, the ban probably won’t help much. If you chase binge drinkers out of the bars, they’ll just drink elsewhere, probably in less structured environments. That’s if it chases them out at all. I know that in my wild and woolly younger days, my buddies and I didn’t pay any mind to drink prices. The only thing that mattered was when our wallet was finally empty. Even if it did work, any slight reductions in binge drinking would not justify the first two intrusions in personal liberty.

I hope this ban doesn’t go state-wide. First the people controllers went after the smokers. Now it’s the drinkers. Next it will be sin taxes on junk food or God knows what else. That’s when I might have to put down my bag of pork rinds and fight!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Gay Marriage In Iowa

On December 9th, the Iowa Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Varnum v. Brien, which is a suit against Polk County brought by six same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses. The lower court ruled that denying these Iowans the right to marry was unconstitutional. The case may well decide whether gay marriage will or will not be allowed in Iowa.

Although I’m a country boy with conservative personal (although not always political) beliefs and a Christian upbringing, I hope the plaintiffs win and gay marriage is allowed. I don’t care much about “gay rights,” but I do care about “individual rights.” If those individuals happen to be homosexuals, so what?

Ideally the question at stake should not be whether or not gays should be granted marriage licenses, but whether or not a government entity should be issuing marriage licenses at all. Marriage existed long before the Iowa state or Polk County governments and throughout most of its history marriage didn’t need a bureaucrat’s stamp of approval. In England, for example, it wasn’t until 1754 that marriage became regulated by law.

Cato Institute scholar David Boaz argues that marriage licensing, like many over-reaching government functions, could be privatized. Says Boaz: "‘Privatizing’ marriage can mean two slightly different things. One is to take the state completely out of it. If couples want to cement their relationship with a ceremony or ritual, they are free to do so. Religious institutions are free to sanction such relationships under any rules they choose. A second meaning of ‘privatizing’ marriage is to treat it like any other contract: The state may be called upon to enforce it, but the parties define the terms. When children or large sums of money are involved, an enforceable contract spelling out the parties' respective rights and obligations is probably advisable. But the existence and details of such an agreement should be up to the parties.

"And privatizing marriage would, incidentally, solve the gay-marriage problem. It would put gay relationships on the same footing as straight ones, without implying official government sanction. No one's private life would have official government sanction--which is how it should be.”

However, according to the plaintiffs in Varnum v. Brien, Iowa law refers to marriage, directly or indirectly, at least 540 times. The state has effectively tethered itself to the marriage business, so the ad hoc approach of fighting within the current licensing regime is probably the best course for same-sex advocates.

While the government might have to be brought into this kicking and screaming, it appears that culturally we’ve already crossed the Rubicon. A recent survey of Iowa voters found that about 60% favored allowing same-sex unions. 28.1% supported “gay marriage,” while another 30.2% supported same-sex “civil unions.” 32% opposed both.

If gay marriage does go through, I know a lot of folks that are going to go through the roof. But my conservative-Christian friends can console themselves with the fact that, if they’re right, God will have far worse punishment waiting for gay couples than mere license denial. But it is His call, not the state’s.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

How To Deal With Pirates? More Freedom!

Probably not the biggest threat to the republic, but a growing annoyance nonetheless, is the threat of piracy against commercial shipping. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reports a dramatic increase of pirate attacks in 2008. There were a total of 199 pirate attacks reported to the IMB during the first nine months of this year. “The increased frequency of piracy and heightening levels of violence are of significant concern to the shipping industry and all mariners. The types of attacks, the violence associated with the attacks, the number of hostages taken, and the amounts paid in ransoms for the release of the vessels have all increased considerably,” stated IMB Director Captain Pottengal Mukundan.

A lot of the increased pirate activity is off the coast of Somalia, particularly in the Gulf of Aden. This region accounts for almost a third of pirate attacks worldwide. Kenyan officials estimate that the Somali pirates have made at least $150 million in ransom money. That was before the pirates seized a Saudi oil tanker carrying $100 million worth of crude oil last week. They are demanding $25 million in ransom for the ship and crew.

Like good businessmen, the pirates are re-investing much of their ill-gotten booty (that’s the only movie-pirate terminology I’ll use, I promise me hearties!) back into their business. The pirates appear to be buying new and better speedboats, and more powerful weapons such as rocket-propelled grenade launchers (RPG’s) and 14.5 mm heavy machine-guns.

The growing threat has caused national governments and the U.N. to reluctantly say that they should probably do… something. Several nations already have a few warships patrolling the area. NATO has four vessels in the region, soon to be replaced with four from the European Union. The U.S. 5th Fleet also has several ships patrolling the area and the Yemeni Coast Guard is working hard.

However, U.N. rules restrict the ability of naval forces to respond to pirate attacks. NATO spokesman James Appathurai explains: "[Navy ships] can patrol. They can deter. They can even stop attacks that are happening, but what they do not do is then board the ship that has been hijacked elsewhere to try and free it."

While global bureaucrats scratch their heads and try to figure out how to deal with pirates, the shipping industry is doing what it can. They have re-routed ships around dangerous areas, which may add thousands of extra miles to a trip, increasing costs. They have advised their crews of passive measures such as traveling at night without lights, to avoid detection and battening all hatches to avoid boarding. Private security companies, such as the now infamous Blackwater, have offered their own patrol boats to protect shipping for a price.

Lest we make this problem more complicated than what it is, let’s look at the facts. Pirates are just criminals, like seaborne muggers. Navy ships (like cops) cannot be everywhere and therefore cannot guarantee the safety of every civilian ship. The similarities to routine street crime are apparent. A partial solution to reducing piracy is therefore pretty similar to what has reduced violent crime domestically: reduce the number of unarmed victims.

While some ships have done so for years, arming civilian mariners faces several challenges. Firstly, squeamish trade groups such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) oppose doing so because they believe it puts crews at greater risk. Instead, the IMO recommends that merchant ships take the passive measures listed above and post lookouts with high-pressure water hoses to ward off pirates. Spraying pirates who have rocket-launchers and heavy machine-guns with a water hose is the safe option? Sounds like ritualistic suicide. Spraying them with lead makes more sense to me. Since one cruise ship was able to scare away armed pirates with simulated machine-gun fire, it’s obvious that REAL guns would have a deterrent effect.

Second, arming civilian crews faces legal challenges. Mariners are bound by the national laws of the ports that they visit. Since most nations outlaw civilian gun ownership, crew members would risk arrest at most stops.

If everybody is so afraid of armed civilians, why not wave the federal magic wand over armed volunteers and turn them into “officials.” How about a program similar to the Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program, run by the Federal Air Marshall Service, implemented among civilian airline pilots after 9-11?

Willing crew members, employed by willing ship owners, could volunteer for the program. They would receive weapons training from the U.S. government and some type of official recognition, perhaps with special membership in the Navy or Coast Guard Reserves. Official status would no doubt allow the crew members to enter into more ports than they could as armed civilians, as well as allowing them weapons that they might not otherwise have access to. One or two crew members manning weapons such as the M2 .50 caliber machine-gun, M240 7.62mm machine-gun, Mk-19 automatic grenade launcher or even light weapons would not only deter pirate attacks but would give ships a fighting chance against them if they attack anyway. [The merchant seaman pictured above (circa 1984) is armed with a 12 gauge shotgun. While effective for repelling boarders close-in, it's effective range of 50 yards would be outclassed by the heavy weapons used by today's pirates.] The program could require that these weapons be securely stowed under lock and key until needed, as the FFDO program does.

This wouldn’t be the perfectly libertarian solution to the pirate problem. That solution would be the high-seas equivalent of “Vermont Carry,” wherein civilians carry whatever guns they want, no permit required. Unfortunately there's no way other countries would recognize this right.

But a voluntary, government sanctioned program as described above, in addition to un-sanctioned arms bearing and passive security measures, would help to reduce piracy of American vessels. It would give civilians more flexibility in protecting their lives and their livelihood. That’s always a good thing.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

National Servitude

There's a visceral buzz in the country, or at least on tv, in anticipation of the "Change" coming in January when Obama will take the nation's helm. What sort of change will he bring? I perused his official website to see.

On thing that caught my eye was the "America Serves" section of the site. This details Obama's plan to help the citizenry to "serve" their country. Although it has been scrubbed of the specifics that were posted on it briefly (Obama wasn't elected on specifics after all), the section still gives the bare-bones of his plan.

In "America Serves" the president-elect promises that "[t]he Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation’s challenges." Obama not only plans to expand the national service programs AmeriCorps and Peace Corps, but will also conjure up several new service programs. A Classroom Corps will work in "underserved" schools. There will also be a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps and Veteran Corps.

Kids as young as middle school will be expected to perform 50 hours of community service per year. The federal government would withhold funds from local schools that don't put their students to work the requisite number of hours (a fact missing from the newly sanitized site). College students will be expected to perform 100 hours per year. For their servitude, the older kids will be given a $4,000 tax credit toward college tuition.

If you think that a lifetime of hard work (wherein the average American works about 113 days per year to earn enough to pay their tax bill, essentially working involuntarily for the government during that period) might get you off the hook for continued "service," think again. "Obama will encourage retiring Americans to serve" their community too, his site explains.

To be fair to Obama, the guy he beat also supports expanding national service. Among other programs, McCain praised the example of "City Year," an AmeriCorps program that serves 18 cities. “City Year members wear uniforms, work in teams, [..] and gather together for daily calisthenics, often in highly public places such as in front of city hall,” wrote McCain. He enthusiastically explained that in another program, The National Civilian Community Corps, members “not only wear uniforms and work in teams… but actually live together in barracks on former military bases[.]” This idea is no doubt the authoritarian equivalent of Viagra for the militaristic McCain.

Since "national service" started out meaning compulsory military service, it's ironic that the military has moved toward a more freedom-friendly volunteer force (as it should), while the politicians in DC seem determined to push compulsory service into new areas of civilian society.

Proponents claim that young participants will learn responsibility and a sense of duty. I would argue that the young will learn that they are mere vassals of the government, which holds preemptive claim over their very lives, rather than free citizens with unalienable rights and lives with intrinsic worth.

Perhaps President-elect Obama (and Senator McCain, who will no doubt vote for any Democrat national service proposal in Congress) should reread the 13th Amendment which states, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." (Emphasis added.) It contains no provision exempting the federal government from it's prohibition.

In my own day, our high school had already implemented an annual "Community Service Day" in which students did various odd jobs around the three small, rural towns that comprised our district. (And it didn't even require goading from the federal government to do so.) Like compulsory service supporters contend, I DID learn valuable life-lessons from this. In fact, I learned two: 1)Spending hours trying to rake tiny bits of gravel up a steep, grassy incline with a widely-spaced leaf rake is a pointless, Sisyphus-like task. 2)People in positions of authority aren't necessarily smart.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ron Paul Gets It

In this interview on CNN, Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) raises many of the same points about the downfall of the GOP that I raised in my post "Cinders and Ashes!"

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Cinders and Ashes!

One of the benefits of having a two-year-old son is that I now know that, when something traumatic happens, Thomas the Tank Engine usually exclaims, "Cinders and ashes!" I'll bet there were more than a few folks at the Republican National Committee using similar, albeit less family friendly, utterances the morning after election day. But Thomas' tagline is a fitting description of the state of the GOP following the election.

If the election of '06 was a shot fired across the GOP's bow, the '08 election was right in their wheelhouse. Neo-conservative (big-government authoritarian) Republican John McCain got stomped by Democrat Barack Obama electorally, 163 to 364. The popular vote was slightly less one-sided, with Obama getting 53% and McCain getting 46%. The Democrats picked up 6 seats in the U.S. Senate and picked up 17 seats in the U.S. House. At the end of it all, the Senate had 57 Democrat seats (only 3 seats short of a filibuster-proof majority) to 40 Republican seats. The House now has 252 Dems and 173 Republicans.

As a one-time stalwart Republican, when I surveyed the wreckage of the GOP, I felt like an immigrant to the U.S. seeing his war-torn former country on CNN, bombed and flattened. I felt sad for my friends who didn't make it out, but glad that I left when I did.

I didn't shed too many tears though, because the GOP brought this shellacking on themselves. Many people like myself fought in the trenches to put the GOP in power in the 1990's. We sent them to DC with a simple mandate: "Cut government." That included cutting taxes, spending, regulation and intrusiveness. The Republican-controlled federal government did the exact opposite of those things. (I know they cut taxes somewhat. But they didn't even make those cuts permanent and they increased spending and debt so much that essentially they just delayed paying those taxes rather than eliminating them.)

In essence, once the Republicans were firmly in power, they governed like Democrats. Advocates of smaller, less intrusive federal government suddenly found themselves out in the cold. But, as the last two election cycles showed, the American people will choose real Democrats over wannabe-Democrats every time. The neo-conservative plan to out-Democrat the Democrats resulted in an electoral train wreck.

Supporters of smaller government now have four options:
  1. We can help the GOP rebuild their party, and try to get it to focus on limited government fundamentals. This is essentially what Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty is about.
  2. We can join the Democrats and take whatever reforms we can get.
  3. We can become detached from the political process, hunker down and hope that the big-government Panzers roll past without crushing us.
  4. We can try to build the Libertarian Party or Constitution Party into a major party able to challenge the Demublicans for control.

I've thrown in with the merry band of Libertarians, so it's probably obvious that I support the last option. Paleo-conservatives, libertarians, and constitutionalists gave the Republican Party a fair chance to advance limited government principles. The GOP betrayed that trust. May it rest in peace.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Reformation: Then and Now

As I attended my niece's confirmation into the Lutheran Church (yes, they had confirmation in October) the minister spoke about the Protestant Reformation, which celebrates its anniversary this month. It was a good history review, as my own confirmation classes were many moons ago.

In the middle ages the Catholic Church had grown bloated and corrupt. (This is not an indictment of my many friends and family who are members of the modern Catholic Church, just a review.) In 1517 a German monk named Martin Luther challenged the church's systemic corruption by posting his "95 Theses." Chief among the grievances listed was the church's sale of indulgences, the forgiveness of sin based upon monetary payments to the church.

Luther's protest sparked a backlash against the Church that spread across Northern Europe. Many religious reformers followed in Luther's footsteps: such as Zwingli in Switzerland and Calvin in France (before he partnered with Hobbes). The message of these men was aided immensely by a new invention, the movable type printing press.

The printing press was invented in Europe (the Asians invented it first) by Johannes Gutenberg around 1450. Just as significant as the mass production aspects was the fact that Gutenberg began printing the Bible in German. Prior to this the Bible was only available in Latin, which could be read only by the well-educated minority of priests and scholars. No longer did the people have to rely on the learned few to interpret the word of God. The people could now do it themselves.

Fast forward 500 years and we can see similarities with the tremors of change that the "Information Age" (or the "Third Wave" of human progress as Alvin Toffler calls it) is promising to bring to the entrenched power structure. In their book "The Sovereign Individual" authors James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg posit the theory that, just as the printing press was the wrecking ball to the all-powerful medieval church, the internet promises to be a wrecking ball to the big government nation-state (also bloated and corrupt).

In addition to allowing the rapid transfer of money between nations, keeping it one step ahead of the tax collector, the internet allows the people unfiltered access to all kinds of information (and plenty of crap too, as readers of this blog are no doubt aware). Just as early Protestants could suddenly read the Bible in their own language, we no longer require any "learned few" to interpret our news and information for us.

I remember when the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill was being debated, many people declared it to be an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment right to political speech. I recall a letter in the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette stating that the bill should be passed, because it was up to the Supreme Court, not the people or even Congress, to decide what is and what is not constitutional. Imagine: only nine philosopher kings (or queens) in black robes being allowed to interpret the framework for a government supposedly of the people, by the people, and for the people. Probably not an uncommon belief these days.

I encourage everyone to read the Constitution for themselves and make up your own minds about what it means. Don't rely upon the interpretation of people who want to control you. (That goes for everything else too, not just the Constitution.)

Here are a few links:
[These links will now also be located in the "Important Documents" section at the right of the page.]

And you thought this post was going to be about my niece's confirmation!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Global Warming

Lorne Gunter had a good article today about global warming at the National Post website. The article is titled "Thirty years of warmer temperatures go poof." It contains several of the latest studies that are casting doubt on the whole theory of man made global warming. Among them:

"[I]n September, American Craig Loehle, a scientist who conducts computer modelling on global climate change, confirmed his earlier findings that the so-called Medieval Warm Period (MWP) of about 1,000 years ago did in fact exist and was even warmer than 20th-century temperatures.

"Prior to the past decade of climate hysteria and Kyoto hype, the MWP was a given in the scientific community. Several hundred studies of tree rings, lake and ocean floor sediment, ice cores and early written records of weather -- even harvest totals and censuses --confirmed that the period from 800 AD to 1300 AD was unusually warm, particularly in Northern Europe.

"But in order to prove the climate scaremongers' claim that 20th-century warming had been dangerous and unprecedented -- a result of human, not natural factors -- the MWP had to be made to disappear. So studies such as Michael Mann's "hockey stick," in which there is no MWP and global temperatures rise gradually until they jump up in the industrial age, have been adopted by the UN as proof that recent climate change necessitates a reordering of human economies and societies.

"Dr. Loehle's work helps end this deception."

I'm no scientist, so I won't say for certain whether or not man made global warming is a serious threat. But given that just about every "fix" for it involves a heavy dose of socialism, loss of individual liberty and abandonment of the capitalist system that led to some of the greatest standards of living in human history, we better be darned sure about it before we start down that road.

Read Gunter's full article here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

NRA Endorses McCain- Part II

[For a more complete analysis of the NRA's endorsement of presidential candidate John McCain, read the original post- Strange Bedfellows: NRA Endorses Its Enemy, directly below this post.]

Here's McCain speaking about the NRA. This is the guy that the NRA endorsed?

Here's a commercial McCain did for "Americans For Gun Safety"(AGS) seeking to close a non-existent "gun show loophole" using bogus statistics. AGS was founded by Andrew McKelvey, a former member of the board of directors of Handgun Control Inc. and the primary founder of the Million Mom March (against gun rights). AGS received funding from anti-gun nuts George Soros and Teresa Heinz Kerry via the Tides Center.

Here's a fact check for the senator: A 1997 study by the National Institute of Justice said only 2% of criminal guns came from gun shows. Hardly an epidemic. Of these few crime guns procured at gun shows, many were purchased by "straw buyers" who could pass a criminal background check (a practice that is already illegal), so additional background checks would do no good. All gun sales at gun shows are governed by the SAME legal requirements as they are anywhere else. There is no "loophole" specific to gun shows.

Gun owners should disregard the NRA sellout and support Bob Barr, who serves on the NRA's board of directors and has an excellent Second Amendment record. (Bob's NRA rating: A+, McCain's NRA rating: C+, McCain's Gun Owners of America rating: F-)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Strange Bedfellows: NRA Endorses Its Enemy

It’s official: the National Rifle Association (NRA) has endorsed Senator John McCain for President. That’s somewhat surprising considering that the NRA once labeled McCain as “one of the premier flag carriers for the enemies of the Second Amendment” [right to keep and bear arms], which the NRA supposedly defends. So, how did McCain gain the NRA’s ire, then, ultimately its endorsement?

How McCain got a bad name with gun owners is easy. He co-sponsored the McCain-Lieberman Gun Show Bill to close the supposed “gun show loophole.” While the bill didn’t technically outlaw gun shows, it did open gun show organizers up to so much potential legal trouble as to not make it worth the risk. It was a backdoor ban on gun shows. Thankfully this bill failed.

Later, the McCain-Feingold Act specifically sought to muzzle groups like the NRA from criticizing anti-gun candidates. NRA Executive V.P. Wayne LaPierre called it "the most significant change in the First Amendment since the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which tried to make it a crime to criticize a member of Congress." The NRA was literally first in line at the courthouse doors to file a lawsuit to stop McCain’s law after President Bush signed it. (The lawsuit failed and McCain-Feingold is still the law of the land.)

McCain did commercials for the moderate sounding, yet anti-Second Amendment, group Americans for Gun Safety. McCain voted in favor of both of Bill Clinton’s Supreme Court nominees who voted against the Second Amendment in DC vs Heller. These are just some of McCain’s transgressions against gun owners. For a complete reading check out “John McCain: Conservative or Gun-Grabber?”

Why did the NRA endorse candidate McCain? Because his challenger, Barack Obama, is worse. (For a complete rundown of Obama’s anti-gun record, click here.) But why they would endorse someone who is a proven enemy of the Second Amendment rather than just not endorsing either candidate (as they've done several times before) is puzzling. This is just the most recent example of the NRA placing political expediency above principle.

NRA Board Member Russ Howard resigned because the NRA kept giving A grades to anti-gun legislators in his home state of California.

The NRA brags about the recent victory for gun owners in the Supreme Court case of DC vs. Heller, but the group played a negligible role in the win and, fearing a lose, tried to squash the case. Robert A. Levy, the lawyer who helped create and personally financed the case that reaffirmed the Second Amendment as an individual right, said “The N.R.A.’s interference in this process set us back and almost killed the case. It was a very acrimonious relationship.”

In 2007 NRA actively supported the “NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007’’ which was dubbed “the Veteran’s Disarmament Act” by pro-gun critics. Written by Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), arguably the most anti-gun member of Congress, the bill mandated that states turn over all types of personal information about their citizens, potentially including medical records, to the federal government to use in it’s “National Instant Criminal Background Check System” (NICS) for approving gun buyers. Wholly unnecessary, the bill could prevent veterans who have ever sought professional help for post traumatic stress disorder or depression from ever owning guns, even if they present no threat to themselves or others. (How's that for a disincentive to get the help that some may need?) In addition to hurting gun owners, this bill is a nightmare for advocates of personal privacy rights and state rights.

In 2001 NRA pushed for and got “Project Safe Neighborhoods,” a national initiative supposedly aimed at reducing gun violence. As the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute explains it, “Project Safe Neighborhoods is the public-policy embodiment of the National Rifle Association sound bite ‘we don’t need any new gun control laws; we need to enforce the gun laws on the books.’ The program funds more than 800 new prosecutors (around 200 federal, 600 state level) who will do nothing but pursue gun-law violations full time.” It essentially makes every petty street crime involving a firearm into a federal crime, Tenth Amendment be damned. It is a program of zero-tolerance enforcement of the very gun laws that NRA often argues are unconstitutional and ineffective. Otherwise law-abiding gun owners who get caught in this web for regulatory infractions or accidental violations are acceptable “collateral damages” to the NRA.

The website NRAwol has volumes of examples of the NRA selling out the Second Amendment and America’s gun owners in the name of political expediency dating back to the National Firearms Act of 1934. [A link to this site will now be located in the "National Links" Section to the right.]

Despite all this, I’m not going to cancel my life-membership in the NRA. (I already paid for it after all.) They still do some good too. Their work with match shooting and firearms training is second to none. Politically I believe that they may still fight against the most egregious gun bans. I will just have to bear in mind that their endorsement of candidates and some legislation is meaningless. For all things political I will pay attention to what Gun Owners of America has to say, and continue to roll my eyes when the NRA sends me its usual panhandling fundraiser letters every other week.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Ron Paul & Senator Coburn On Economic "Bailout"

I would be remiss in my duties if I didn't write about the massive economic "bailout" that just passed through Congress. However, when I heard Senator Tom Coburn's (R-OK) speech I knew that he had put it more elequantly than I could. Rather than try to reinvent the wheel, here is Senator Coburn's speech:

Here is U.S. Representative Ron Paul's (R-TX) comments in the House:

October 3, 2008

"Madame Speaker, only in Washington could a bill demonstrably worse than its predecessor be brought back for another vote and actually expect to gain votes. That this bailout was initially defeated was a welcome surprise, but the power-brokers in Washington and on Wall Street could not allow that defeat to be permanent. It was most unfortunate that this monstrosity of a bill, loaded up with even more pork, was able to pass.

"The Federal Reserve has already injected hundreds of billions of dollars into US and world credit markets. The adjusted monetary base is up sharply, bank reserves have exploded, and the national debt is up almost half a trillion dollars over the past two weeks. Yet, we are still told that after all this intervention, all this inflation, that we still need an additional $700 billion bailout, otherwise the credit markets will seize and the economy will collapse. This is the same excuse that preceded previous bailouts, and undoubtedly we will hear it again in the future after this bailout fails.

"One of the most dangerous effects of this bailout is the incredibly elevated risk of moral hazard in the future. The worst performing financial services firms, even those who have been taken over by the government or have filed for bankruptcy, will find all of their poor decision-making rewarded. What incentive do Wall Street firms or any other large concerns have to make sound financial decisions, now that they see the federal government bailing out private companies to the tune of trillions of dollars? As Congress did with the legislation authorizing the Fannie and Freddie bailout, it proposes a solution that exacerbates and encourages the problematic behavior that led to this crisis in the first place.

"With deposit insurance increasing to $250,000 and banks able to set their reserves to zero, we will undoubtedly see future increases in unsound lending. No one in our society seems to understand that wealth is not created by government fiat, is not created by banks, and is not created through the manipulation of interest rates and provision of easy credit. A debt-based society cannot prosper and is doomed to fail, as debts must either be defaulted on or repaid, neither resolution of which presents this country with a pleasant view of the future. True wealth can only come about through savings, the deferral of present consumption in order to provide for a higher level of future consumption. Instead, our government through its own behavior and through its policies encourages us to live beyond our means, reducing existing capital and mortgaging our future to pay for present consumption.

"The money for this bailout does not just materialize out of thin air. The entire burden will be borne by the taxpayers, not now, because that is politically unacceptable, but in the future. This bailout will be paid for through the issuance of debt which we can only hope will be purchased by foreign creditors. The interest payments on that debt, which already take up a sizeable portion of federal expenditures, will rise, and our children and grandchildren will be burdened with increased taxes in order to pay that increased debt.

"As usual, Congress has show itself to be reactive rather than proactive. For years, many people have been warning about the housing bubble and the inevitable bust. Congress ignored the impending storm, and responded to this crisis with a poorly thought-out piece of legislation that will only further harm the economy. We ought to be ashamed."

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Memory Walk 2008 A Success

The 2008 Alzheimer's Association East Central Iowa Chapter Cedar Rapids Regional Memory Walk was a success! Held Saturday September 20th at Harding Middle School and Noelridge Park in Cedar Rapids, the Memory Walk campaign raised over $235,000. That is the chapter's most successful Memory Walk yet.

If you missed out on the walk, but would still like to help a worthy cause, you can donate online to the various Iowa chapters:

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Only Bob Barr Will CUT Federal Spending

As I write this, the U.S. Treasury lists the total public debt at $9.8 trillion. The amount held by the public (which means money the government owes to any entity outside the United States Government, such as individuals, corporations, state or local governments, or foreign governments) is $5.7 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office projects that number to increase to $7.9 trillion by the year 2018. These projections cannot predict every future war, natural disaster or economic "bailout" that could add further to the debt.

In short, the federal government is chin-deep in debt and sinking. What is needed now is bold action, forward-thinking leadership and tough decisions. Thankfully, both of the "big box" party candidates, Obama and McCain, are promising "change."

How do these two crafty politicos plan on getting the government out of this quicksand bed of debt? By increasing spending of course! A recent analysis of the spending proposals of the presidential candidates by the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) showed that McCain's proposals would boost federal spending by $92 billion per year. That IS a lot, but it's a paltry sum compared to Obama's planned $293 billion increase in annual spending.

Of the candidates researched by the NTU, only Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr would actually CUT federal spending. A Barr presidency would cut annual spending by about $201 billion. The biggest savings would come from restructuring the mission of the military from imperial maintenance duties to actual national defense, closing many foreign bases while maintaining a strong military. The next largest savings would be from eliminating the federal Dept. of Education, putting education back in the hands of the states, localities and the people (as the Constitution stipulates).

"Both the McCain and Obama campaigns have tried to keep pace with the political issues of the day -- largely by responding with proposals for new programs and regulations that could reach deeper and deeper into taxpayers' pockets," NTU Foundation policy analyst Demian Brady said. "On the other side of the spectrum, Bob Barr's Libertarian philosophy is strongly reflected in a platform that is built upon cutting programs and slashing spending."

If you believe that during this fiscal crisis the federal government should be tightening its belt, rather than bellying up to the table for seconds, you need to vote for Bob Barr for president. When the spending increases of the two big box candidates necessitate tax increases down the road, hold on to your wallet! To avoid getting your pocket picked later, get your wallet out now and donate to Barr's campaign to close the book on the era of big government.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Putting Lipstick on the Common Man

There are a lot of things I like about Sarah Palin. She’s pro-Second Amendment. Deservedly or not, she’s got a reputation for fighting wasteful government spending and corruption. Deservedly or not, she’s got a reputation as a tax-cutter. She’s pro-life. (By the way, I think the hypocrisy of the left is on full display on that issue. The liberals, who mindlessly “celebrate diversity” and pride themselves on being the defenders of the weak and downtrodden, stammer in stunned disbelief that Palin knowingly birthed a Down syndrome child who would be “different,” rather than killing him in the womb. O. compassionate liberals!) I like Palin‘s stance on many, but not all, issues.

Besides mere policy preferences, there seems to be other, elemental reasons why Palin is causing many disaffected voters, myself included, to take a second look at the GOP. Since she has a well-armed husband, I’ll stick with the political ones.

Steven F. Hayward hypothesizes in The Weekly Standard that the alternate elation and revulsion to Palin’s nomination is part of a larger civic debate going back to the very founding of the republic. “Lurking just below the surface of the second-guessing about Sarah Palin's fitness to be president,” he writes, “is the serious question of whether we still believe in the American people's capacity for self-government, what we mean when we affirm that all American citizens are equal, and whether we tacitly believe there are distinct classes of citizens and that American government at the highest levels is an elite occupation.” Essentially, the debate is: Should ours be a government “of the people, for the people, by the people,” or should it be an oligarchy ruled by an elite minority? Libertarians like myself obviously prefer the former.

This debate was on full display when the idea was floated to crown General Washington king after the revolution. The framers of the Constitution struck a balance between the two opposing viewpoints by giving us the “people‘s house” (the House of Representatives) and the Senate, supposedly populated by sage old gentlemen. The debate is still alive today. Sometimes it is ridiculously obvious, such as when the panting press refers to the Kennedys as “America’s Royal Family,” but usually it’s couched in rhetoric about “experience” or “qualification.” It is behind the visceral dislike of Sarah Palin, as well as the visceral fondness for her.

The three other principals in this race- Obama, Biden and McCain- have not experienced the same questioning of whether or not they’re “qualified” to be president as has Palin. (Although, with only two years in the Senate, Obama has had his “experience” questioned somewhat.) That’s probably because the three men rose through “proper” channels to attain their societal rank. Although our ideas about our ruling elite are somewhat more egalitarian than the royal houses of Europe, there are still rules and velvet ropes controlling entry into that class.

Barack Obama attained his stature in the ruling class through a common avenue: Ivy League education. Obama attended Harvard Law School and Columbia University. In Ivy League schools, students are not only instilled with a sense of elitism, they are given the social networking to back it up. A self-described underperforming student, Obama’s vice president nominee Joe Biden didn’t go to an Ivy League school but Syracuse University College of Law, still none too shabby.

Family tradition charted a much tougher route into elite circles for John McCain, via the U.S. military. Although the military is mostly comprised of working-class heroes, McCain served in the Navy not as a common sailor but as a third generation Naval officer with an admiral daddy and a legacy ticket into the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. (This is not to denigrate McCain’s military service. Even when you’re a legacy, wartime service is no walk in the park, as McCain’s four and a half years of torment at the hands of the enemy demonstrates.)

Despite their varied paths into the ruling class, all three men ended up in the ultimate repository of the cultural elite, the U.S. Senate. Only the Presidency itself is more coveted by the elitists, which explains why so many Senators chase that office like ravenous dogs every four years.

Sarah Palin’s resume stands in stark contrast with the princely pedigrees of the three “distinguished gentlemen” of the Senate. The daughter of a teacher and a secretary, Palin received her college education in small, financially manageable bites at places like North Idaho College and the University of Idaho, far from the ivory towers of the Ivy League. She has never been married to a U.S. President (unlike certain other lady members of the ruling elite) but is married to an oilfield roughneck and commercial fisherman. Being rolled-up sleeves jobs like small town mayor, Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commissioner, and Governor of Alaska, the political positions she’s held were important but are not highly regarded by the national elite.

Although I like Palin, there is no v.p. pick in the world who could make this libertarian vote for the authoritarian McCain. But I do find myself drawn to the idea of Sarah Palin, because the “common man” in this election is the woman.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Be Prepared. Be Armed.

After a year replete with blizzards, tornados, and epic floods, we Iowans now realize that disasters don’t just happen to those people on the coasts that we see on TV with their fancy earthquakes and hurricanes. So Iowans should sit up and take notice that September is “National Preparedness Month.”

The U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security’s (DHS) “Ready Campaign” recommends four things to prepare for disaster: 1.Get a Kit, 2.Make a Plan, 3.Be Informed, 4.Get Involved.

Since you can read the details at the National Preparedness Month 2008 website, I won’t rehash what each of these entails. (The “Be Ready Iowa!” website has a pretty similar list you can check out too. This is in the “Iowa Links” section to the right.) I will spend some time on one vital survival tool that usually doesn’t make the government’s list: a modern firearm.

I won’t try to sell you on owning a gun if you don’t want one. I fully support your right to NOT own a gun. However, I’m convinced now more than ever that a firearm is an important part of an American’s readiness kit.

During Hurricane Katrina we saw massive destruction that stripped the modern argument, that you can just call 9-1-1 in an emergency, of all credibility. When the phones don’t work and the police themselves are looting, who do you call and how?

During the 1992 Los Angeles riots the California National Guard arrived on the scene without any ammunition and missing their riot gear. When the local cops and state militia can’t impose order, who do you call? Local Korean shopkeepers were more prepared and defended their businesses with semi-automatic rifles until the Marines showed up to quell the riots.

Even in less extreme circumstances, Americans use firearms in self-defense over 1 million times each year. (Some research puts that number at 2.5 million times per year.) Usually the defender doesn’t even have to fire a shot before the attacker runs off to look for easier prey. A gun is a useful defensive tool.

I’ve been a lifelong shooter, but I don’t consider myself an expert. I’m someone who wants a functional weapon for protection and recreation, but who doesn’t have the time or money to make a religion out of it. I write the following pointers for people who are considering buying a defensive arm. It should not be considered technical nor legal advice, nor anything else that will get me sued. If at all possible, take a gun safety class and certainly check to make sure you are complying with all state, local and federal laws and regulations. Chat with shooters in your area.

Guns that shoot .22 rimfire ammo are good for target practice but are generally too underpowered for defensive purposes. Get the largest caliber that you can comfortably handle. Stick with common calibers so that ammunition will be relatively plentiful and cheap. If you live in close quarters with others, consider buying frangible ammo by MagSafe or Glaser. It breaks apart on impact rather than punching through the wall into your kids room or the neighbor’s sitting room. (Definitely not the way to get invited to the next apartment block-party.) Frangible ammo is costly so practice with cheap “ball” ammo and save the frangible stuff for defense.

The kind of gun you choose will depend on what you're trying to defend.

Level One-Defending Yourself: Being lightweight and concealable, the handgun is the ideal weapon for defending your person. Here in Iowa you’ll need a special permit to buy one and another special permit if you intend to carry your pistol in public. Both are available from your county sheriff.

Semi-automatic pistols are the most popular, but are generally more complicated than revolvers. Glock (brand) pistols have a reputation of ease of use and reliability, but they are costly. The .45 caliber M1911 has proven reliable enough to still be popular almost 100 years after it was invented. Avoid the very cheap “no-name” autos. Common calibers for auto pistols are: .380 ACP, 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP.

Revolvers are rugged and reliable. There’s darned little that can go wrong with them. The down-side: They usually only hold six shots. Common calibers are: .38 Special, .357 Magnum (revolvers chambered for this can also shoot .38 Special Ammo), .44 Magnum and .45 Colt.

Level Two- Defending Your Home: Your pistol will make a fine home defense weapon, but since size and concealability won’t matter on your own property, you might want more gun. A shotgun or small-caliber carbine rifle would make a good home defense weapon. No special permit is required to buy long guns in Iowa, but the retailer will run a criminal background check on you at the point of purchase.

Shotguns fire a number of small metal balls rather than a single bullet. Contrary to popular belief, you still have to aim. “00 Buckshot” is the most powerful ammo but in close-quarters you may want 6 or 7-½ birdshot to avoid over-penetration. A pump-action shotgun should be reliable enough. Common calibers are: .410, 20-guage, and 12-guage.

There are numerous pistol-caliber carbines out there that work well if you need just a little extra “reach,” such as on a farm. The old M1 Carbine is also readily available. Again, consider frangible ammo if you have neighbors very close. Common calibers are the same as for auto-pistols and .30 carbine.

Level Three- Defending Freedom: If you live in open country or for the real doomsday scenarios involving extended anarchy, invading armies or the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, you’ll need a rifle. You might want one anyway, because they’re fun to shoot. If you don’t already have a bolt-action or lever-action that you’re comfortable with, get a reliable semi-automatic.

A .223 caliber rifle should be your bare-minimum for defense. Common semi-automatic weapons in this caliber include the AR-15 (from many manufacturers, by many names), Ruger Mini-14, and the Kel-Tec SU-16 to name just a few. There are also many semi-autos chambered for the 7.62 X 39mm Russian round. These include the AK-47, SKS, and Ruger Mini-30.

If you can handle the extra kick, the .308 Winchester round gives better range and take-down power than the two previous calibers. The most common semi-autos in this caliber are the Springfield M1A, AR-10 clones from several manufacturers, FAL clones, H&K 91 and the Israeli Galil (also available in .223).

You may want to configure your rifle as a “scout rifle.” With a small, low-powered telescopic sight mounted far ahead on the weapon, it becomes much easier to quickly acquire and engage targets at normal combat distances. [Shameless plug: To inexpensively configure your weapon read “Poor Man’s Scout Rifle” by my brother Bob Cashner, who, unlike me, is an expert.]

Besides the three mentioned above, two more common rifle calibers are the .30-30, which is common in lever-action rifles, and the .30-06, which is fired through the semi-auto M1 Garand rifle as well as many bolt-actions.

There you have it, firearms for any scenario. If you get one, learn to shoot, maintain and store it safely. (For gun safety classes try here and here.) Remember that your gun will do you no good if you don’t have any ammo or if its rusted shut. Whatever weapon you can afford is better than no weapon at all.

In honor of National Preparedness Month: Be prepared. Be armed.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Walking Against Alzheimer's Disease In Iowa

About 5 million Americans currently suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive and fatal brain disease that most often affects people over 65, including my mom. Alzheimer’s disease attacks the brain, causing loss of memory and the ability to perform day-to-day tasks. It is currently the sixth-leading cause of death in this country. As the baby-boomers age, the number of people with Alzheimer’s is sure to rise to epidemic proportions. There is no cure… yet.

That’s where the Alzheimer’s Association comes in. The Association bills itself as “the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer care, support and research.” Their goal is to eliminate Alzheimer’s through research while also providing care and support for all affected individuals and families. Their primary fundraising activity is their yearly “Memory Walk.”

During the Memory Walk, supporters in over 600 communities participate in a 2-3 mile walk in exchange for donations to the Association. Participants may register online. Here’s a list of Memory Walk dates and locations here in Iowa:

Ames, IA 10/11/2008 Brookside Park
Bellevue, IA 9/27/2008 Cole Park
Burlington, IA 10/11/2008 Crapo Park
Carroll, IA 9/6/2008 Swan Lake State Park
Cedar Rapids, IA 9/20/2008 Harding Middle School/Noelridge Park (4801 Golf St. NE)
Clinton, IA 9/20/2008 Riverside Park
Coralville, IA 9/20/2008 Wickham Elementary School (601 Oakdale Blvd)
Council Bluffs, IA 9/13/2008 Mid-America Center
Creston, IA 9/13/2008 McKinley Park
Des Moines, IA 9/27/2008 Des Moines Water Works Park
Dubuque, IA 9/20/2008 Louis Murphy Park
Fort Dodge, IA 10/4/2008 Friendship Haven
Harlan, IA 9/6/2008 Pioneer Walking Park
Lamoni, IA 9/13/2008 Central Park
Manchester, IA 9/14/2008 Beckman Complex
Marshalltown, IA 9/20/2008 Cultural Center at the Y
Mason City, IA 10/25/2008 Southbridge Mall
Muscatine, IA 10/25/2008 Pearl City Station
Sioux City, IA 6/28/2008 Anderson Dance Pavilion
Spencer, IA 9/21/2008 East Leach Park
Waterloo, IA 9/20/2008 George Wyth State Park - Lodge & Josh Higgans Shelter (2659 Wyth Rd.)
West Union, IA 9/20/2008 North Fayette High School

I will be participating in the Cedar Rapids Memory Walk. If any of the millions of screaming fans of this blog want to sponsor me, just CLICK HERE. I hope many of you will join me in helping to defeat Alzheimer’s Disease.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Laboring For Truth

The Iowa Policy Project (IPP) has just released it’s annual “The State of Working Iowa” report and things don’t look good. The report warns: “Stagnation in Iowa jobs and a continued decline in job quality have combined with high gasoline and food prices, flooding and housing pressures to present daunting challenges for Iowa’s working families on Labor Day 2008.” Colin Gordon, senior research consultant for IPP and co-author of the report said, “The numbers and some of the circumstances are new — but our basic Labor Day story remains: Iowans on balance are becoming less economically secure and having a tougher time getting by.”

Things needn’t be so bleak for working class Iowans, Gordon assures, “To get a new story line for Labor Days to come, our policy makers must grasp these realities and address them.” Policy makers apparently should “address these realities” by implementing IPP’s included recommendations. This assurance is not comforting considering IPP’s past policy recommendations that have been implemented and apparently are ineffective.

Last year the Democrat-controlled Iowa legislature and governor raised Iowa’s minimum wage to a rate higher than the current federal minimum wage and higher than most of Iowa’s neighbors. At that time IPP executive director David Osterberg crowed, “It’s nice to be ahead of the curve for a change. […] This will be good for low-income families, and will be good for Iowa businesses that depend on local purchases. It is a bright spot in an economy that is offering few such signs for low-income folks.”

“More income in the hands of lower-income families means they will have more to spend with local businesses. This is good for the Iowa economy,” Osterberg said in 2007. “A pizza shop owner should understand that better-paid pizza delivery people can more easily afford pizzas for themselves.” Given the glumness of the new report, apparently the pizza scenario prophesized by Osterberg must have broken down somewhere. Perhaps, since the pizza shop owner had to raise his prices to reflect the reality of his increased payroll expense, the pizza delivery guy couldn’t buy any more pizzas than he could before the minimum wage was raised. (There were plenty of factors driving prices up in 2008, but the minimum wage hike was definitely one of them.)

It’s not surprising that the minimum wage hike was not the promised panacea, given the mountains of research showing that minimum wage requirements don’t reduce poverty. For instance a 2002 study by David Neumark, professor of economics at Michigan State University, and William Wascher, a researcher with the Federal Reserve, found “no compelling evidence supporting the view that minimum wages help in the fight against poverty. Rather, because not only the wage gains but also the disemployment effects of minimum wage increases are concentrated among low-income families, the various tradeoffs created by minimum wage increases more closely resemble income redistribution among low-income families than income redistribution from high- to low-income families.”

Since increasing government regulation and fiats didn’t seem to help, the 2008 IPP report recommends increasing government regulation and fiats. The minimum wage should be indexed for inflation, the report suggests, since it is already too low after less than a year at it’s current rate. IPP also recommends increased nanny-state meddling in childcare and healthcare. In short, more of the same.

If we truly want “a new story line for Labor Days to come,” we must close IPP’s report and turn to a recent policy study by Public Interest Institute, a non-partisan, market-oriented public policy research organization located at Iowa Wesleyan College. The title of the study explains it’s own findings, “No Income Tax: The Key to Economic Growth.”

Iowa taxes money when it is earned, through the state income tax. With the state sales tax it taxes the money again when it is spent. If you bought real property with that money, you are taxed again yearly to keep it, via property taxes. Essentially, Iowa taxes you coming, going and staying. No wonder the Tax Foundation ranks Iowa near the bottom of the heap on tax issues. Eliminating the income tax would help change that.

The Public Interest Institute study concludes, “States with low or no income tax are more attractive to individuals looking for a place to live and for businesses looking for a place to locate. Studies show that states with no income tax have higher rates of economic growth, have greater domestic in-migration, and are rated higher in the qualities that businesses look for when considering location.

“Iowa has an income tax, while our neighbor to the northwest — South Dakota — does not. South Dakota ranks better than Iowa in growth in total and per capita personal income, growth in state population, and growth in employment. South Dakota also has greater growth in the number of housing units, more hospital beds per capita, and lower rates of crime.”

The IPP and Public Interest Institute reports offer opposing roadmaps to a happier, more affluent and productive workforce in Iowa: the proven failure of government by fiat or the general success of free markets. Let’s hope Iowa makes the right choice.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Should the Drinking Age Be Re-Examined?

On August 19th the Associated Press reported that University of Iowa President Sally Mason announced that “she won't support an initiative to study lowering the drinking age.” This plan, called the Amethyst Initiative, already has the support of 129 chancellors and presidents of universities and colleges from across the country, who hope to stem binge drinking by young adults.

According to the Amethyst Initiative’s website the group “supports informed and unimpeded debate on the 21 year-old drinking age. Amethyst Initiative presidents and chancellors call upon elected officials to weigh all the consequences of current alcohol policies and to invite new ideas on how best to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol use.”

One of the “current alcohol policies” referred to is the 1984 “National Minimum Drinking Age Act” which withholds 10% of federal highway funds from any state that sets its drinking age lower than 21. This flies in the face of 10th Amendment federalism, the idea that jobs not specifically assigned to the U.S. government by the Constitution belong to the individual states and to the people themselves. Regardless of what the drinking age should be, it’s really not the federal government’s call. [Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr addresses this very issue in his August 22 press release, which I read after I finished writing this post.]

It should be noted that signatories of the Amethyst Initiative don’t necessarily support lowering the drinking age, just “informed and unimpeded debate” about it. That makes President Mason’s refusal to sign even more puzzling. What head of a research university dedicated to the pursuit of intellectual truth could be opposed to THAT?

According to the AP article, President Mason says that she wouldn’t support the initiative because 19- and 20-year-olds can enter Iowa City bars and many underage patrons are drinking alcohol and getting drunk. What head of an institution with the previously mentioned attributes would use anecdotal evidence like that to justify unquestioning acceptance of an arbitrary (and arguably unconstitutional) national law. Even if her evidence wasn’t anecdotal, I can’t follow her logic that noncompliance with the current law is proof positive of its effectiveness and necessity. Of course I’m not as well educated as she is.

With or without President Mason, there seems to be growing interest in revisiting the drinking age debate. This is probably partially fueled by the ongoing war in Iraq. Most people see the inherent unfairness of sending legal-adults away to fight in dangerous foreign lands but denying them the ability to enjoy a cold beer if they make it home alive.

This has led several states to discuss allowing young adults serving in the military to drink before they turn 21. Another novel idea that’s been proposed would allow 18 year-olds to apply for a state-issued “drinking permit.” Any infraction by the permit holder would result in the permit immediately being revoked, leaving the young adult high and dry until he or she becomes 21. That would seem to be a good compromise between those who support lowering the drinking age and those who don’t. I know that if I’d have had a “license to drink” when I was 18, I would have jumped through all kinds of hoops to keep it.

Would it work? I don’t know. The point is, new and inventive ideas like these will never even be explored so long as the federal government tries to maintain its chokehold on the innovation of our nation’s 50 laboratories of democracy, the states. As long as leaders like President Mason unthinkingly support the status quo, the federal government has little incentive to release its death grip.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Iowans Should Support Bob Barr For President

With their respective candidates for president the Democrats and Republicans have given the American electorate a clear and meaningful choice to make: Vanilla or French vanilla? But before you flip a coin and enter the voting booth, you should know that there IS a third choice. Former U.S. Representative Bob Barr is running for president for the Libertarian Party.

Bob Barr was born in Iowa City in 1948 and spent much of his youth in places like Malaysia, Panama, and pre-revolution Iran where his father took civil engineering jobs. He earned a degree in International Affairs from George Washington University in 1972 and a law degree from Georgetown University in 1977.

From 1970 to 1978 Barr worked for the Central Intelligence Agency. He was a U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986 to 1990. He then served as president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation which supports “the principles of limited government and individual freedom.” Barr has worked with groups as seemingly divergent as the American Conservative Union and the ACLU.

In 1994 Barr was elected to the U.S. House of Representative for Georgia’s 7th District during the “Republican Revolution.” He served on the Judicial Committee, Committee on Financial Services, Committee on Veteran’s Affairs and as Vice-Chairman of the Government Reform Committee. He led the charge to impeach Bill Clinton for committing perjury and later became a vocal critic of President Bush’s erosion of due process protections, showing that Bob Barr doesn’t like Executive excesses regardless of party.

In 2006 Barr officially joined the Libertarian Party. In May of 2008 he became the Libertarian Presidential Nominee. This may be a banner year for Bob Barr and the Libertarian Party as there seems to be growing frustration with the present mess created by the two ruling parties.

The young people now arriving on the political scene (who grew up with their choice of hundreds of TV channels, soda pop, etc…) are particularly dismayed with the lack of choice that the two-party duopoly offers them. They are also disgusted that they are already being saddled with the yoke of a crushing public debt that they didn’t create. Bob Barr offers them at least one more choice and he wants to cut government spending before Congress can completely destroy their future.

Goldwater/Reagan/Ron Paul Republicans who believe in smaller, Constitutional government are also frustrated with their current choices. While in charge of the federal government’s purse strings the GOP increased non-defense and non-security spending by so much that they made the Democrats look like penny-pinchers (which is no small feat). The Republican presidential candidate John McCain voted against the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and supports a “cap-and-trade” (tax) on American industry. At a time when the overtaxed and overregulated U.S. economy is barely keeping its head above water, cap-and-trade would be like throwing it an anchor.

Bob Barr not only supports cutting taxes, he wants to completely overhaul the tax system and abolish the 16th Amendment (which authorizes the income tax). He would drastically cut federal spending and work for freer markets, not more regulations.

Many Democrats are disgusted with their party as well. Their candidates talk a good game about civil liberties and ending the war in Iraq while they’re at fundraisers and rallies, but don’t actually do anything about it when they get back to DC and even collaborate with the Bush administration on things like domestic spying.

Bob Barr would remove our troops from Iraq. While maintaining a strong military, he would reorient it toward its original mission: Defend America. And Barr’s fight against the increasingly Orwellian surveillance-state has earned him a reputation as one of the nation’s leading advocates of privacy rights.

Gun owners also face an odious choice with the two major parties. Despite his rhetoric, Barack Obama is clearly an anti-gun zealot. Unfortunately, John McCain isn’t much better.

The McCain-Feingold Act specifically sought to muzzle groups like the NRA from criticizing anti-gun candidates. NRA’s Wayne LaPierre called it "the most significant change in the First Amendment since the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which tried to make it a crime to criticize a member of Congress." The earlier McCain-Lieberman Gun Show bill supposedly sought to close the imaginary “gun show loophole,” but Second Amendment scholar Dave Kopel pointed out that the bill was “loaded with poison pills which would allow a single appointed official to prevent any gun show, anywhere in the United States from operating."

McCain supported Bill Clinton’s Supreme Court nominees, who both recently voted AGAINST the Second Amendment in the case of DC v. Heller. McCain even did TV commercials for an anti-gun group. These and other actions earned McCain a grade of “F minus” from Gun Owners of America and the NRA’s official journal called him “one of the premier flag carriers for the enemies of the Second Amendment.”

Bob Barr is a committed supporter of the Second Amendment. The Libertarian Party was the only political party to file a legal brief in the Heller case, urging the Supreme Court to strike down the DC gun ban and uphold the Second Amendment. This brief was written by… Bob Barr. Rather than trying to torpedo the NRA, Bob Barr serves on its board of directors. Barr states his position succinctly, “I oppose any law requiring registration of, or restricting the ownership, manufacture, or transfer or sale of firearms or ammunition to law-abiding citizens.”

On these and other issues, you DO have a choice. When offered only vanilla or French vanilla, it’s time for a new ice cream shop. If you’re one of the many people disaffected by the “lesser of two evils” two-party system, please check out the Libertarian Party at and visit Bob Barr at

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Less Smoke, Less Freedom In Iowa

On July 1st a statewide smoking ban went into effect here in Iowa. All so-called "public" places such as bars and restaurants are affected. The state's casinos remain exempt from the ban proving that, even when the government does something as supposedly noble as protecting our health, special favors will go to those with the best political connections. The Iowa Bar Owners Coalition has sued to block the law. Their core argument is that the ban is bad for business.

It may indeed be bad for business, but Libertarians realize that there is another issue at stake. This ban (like most bans) is bad for freedom. It limits the freedom of business owners and patrons alike. Business owners should be free to run their businesses as they like and patrons should be free to light up, so long as it's with the property owner's blessing.

The argument that employees don't enjoy the same choice as patrons on whether or not to enter a smoking establishment is invalid, unless the owner is utilizing slave labor. Employees must weigh the potential health risks of working around smoke against their economic circumstances, but the choice is indeed theirs to make. Life is a constant cost-benefit analysis.

The right to NOT enter smoking facilities was one that my wife and I exercised often when deciding where to dine with our young son. Apparently we aren't the only ones who prefer smoke-free environments. One public poll showed that 70% of Iowans approved of some type of smoking ban. That is a significant share of the market. If more of these consumers had voted with their wallets, rather than seeking the coercive force of government to impose their will on others, then smoke-free bars and restaurants would already abound and a blanket smoking ban would be unnecessary.

Unfortunately, that's not the situation we find ourselves in now. Some Libertarians choose to smoke. Some Libertarians choose not to. But all Libertarians want to live where everyone can breathe free.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Reflections On The Floods of 2008

A winter of near-record snowfalls here in Iowa, gave way to a spring in which we had our biggest tornado since 1976, wiping one town off the map and killing 7 people. Then, in July, Iowa saw its worst flooding since the Genesis deluge. This year's immoderate weather has given me ample reminder of why I hate Iowa. The response of Iowans has reminded me why I love it.

Flood waters on the Cedar River first hit the cities of Waterloo and Cedar Falls, knocking down bridges and flooding downtown areas. It then hit smaller towns like Vinton and Palo, flooding nearly the entire town, and lumbered onward toward the population center of Cedar Rapids.

Not to be outdone by rising flood waters, an Iowa twister suddenly lashed out, tearing through a Boy Scout camp, killing 4 young scouts and sending many more to the hospital.

Flood waters crept up on downtown Cedar Rapids engulfing first the "100 year flood plain," then the "500 year flood plain." Sandbagging the downtown area quickly proved to be futile and it was surrendered to the river. More than 3,900 homes had to be evacuated, creating over 24,000 homeless evacuees. Over 1300 city blocks were submerged under a river crest of 31.8 feet. (Flood stage is 12 feet.)

Damage to Iowa's lifeblood of crops was estimated at $2.7 billion. Property damages in Cedar Rapids alone were estimated at $736 million. Many talking heads on TV compared the Iowa floods to Hurricane Katrina.

There is one big difference between the two disasters though: Unlike New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and their ilk, our local officials didn't stand there wringing their hands, wondering what George Bush was going to do about it. When the flood waters came, local officials, non-profit organizations and private citizens alike all rolled up their sleeves and did what they could.

When Cedar Rapids' last remaining fresh-water pumping station was in danger of being engulfed the city asked for volunteer sandbaggers through the local media. 600 to 1000 volunteers arrived en-mass, so many that most had to be turned away. (Actually they were sent to help evacuate the hospital.) On the news, I saw people being rescued from flood waters in private bassboats and motorized duck blinds. People were so busy helping their neighbors that they plumb forgot to loot.

In my own small town, the municipal water-treatment plant was nearly swamped. City leaders asked for help sandbagging. I took off work early and when I arrived at the fire station at 1 p.m. the work was already done and the numerous volunteers had been sent home.

Many of the small towns affected called out their biggest asset: unpaid, volunteer firefighters, who quickly changed their job description to floodfighters. Local police and county emergency personnel served admirably, as did the Iowa National Guard. Churches and non-profit groups like the Salvation Army sprang into action, setting up shelters for evacuees and feeding the masses.

FEMA was on hand, to be sure, offering whatever assistance it could, and U.S. Coast Guard rescue crews helped survivors. But it was clear that LOCAL officials were running the show. It's called federalism, Mayor Nagin. Look into it.

All in all I'm pretty proud of how my fellow Iowans handled the worst of times. Iowa may not have mountains or oceans, we may not have celebrity or diversity, we may not have Broadway lights or the Vegas Strip, and we may not have the French Quarter, but we've got good folks in these parts. That's good enough.

[Anyone who would like to donate to the continuing recovery can go to Embrace Iowa - 2008 Iowa Disaster Fund.]

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