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April 2, 2007 4:45PM

Convoluted and Confused: Yet More Leonhardt‐​Bashing

Are we libertarians so cranky about David Leonhardt's review of Brian Doherty's Radicals for Capitalism because he really hit us where it hurts? No. We're cranky because the review truly is astonishingly clueless. As big government conservative Ross Douthat puts it:

As I said, I hold no particular brief for libertarians, but as evidence that they have a particularly noteworthy "soft spot" for tyranny (compared to whom? the New York Times?), this [i.e., Friedman's hour with Pinochet; Rothbard's electoral flightiness; Rand's HUAC testimony] is thin stuff indeed, and it feels like a lazy book reviewer's attempt to find some bones to pick with a movement he doesn't know all that much about.

Lazy and ignorant, yes. But also convoluted and confused! In his embarrassingly incoherent penultimate paragraph, Leonhardt fires away completely indiscriminately in an attempt to score some kind of hit (why the effort, anyway?) by mentioning obscure anti-Semites actual libertarians have never heard of, airing completely baffling claims about Bush's "free-market approach to rebuilding Iraq," and making representations about Cato's stance on global warming that should get the fact-checker fired (if the Times used one). But David Boaz and Gene Healy have touched on all this below. So let me address this choice bit from Leonhardt:

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April 2, 2007 3:39PM

Sandy Berger, Music Fan?

Someone, most likely an aging baby boomer with sticky fingers, has been lifting CDs from the music library at the Voice of America, which uses them for its radio shows. Looks like an inside job. The library is open only to employees. The M.O. is that the person goes into the stacks and takes the CD but leaves the plastic case.


The thefts were noticed recently when someone tried to check out a Judy Collins disc but found only an empty case. In fact, the entire Collins collection is gone. A check of other collections showed that Peter, Paul & Mary and Bob Dylan recordings were also missing.


Washington Post, April 2

April 2, 2007 2:15PM

The USTR Pulls An All‐​Nighter

With only minutes before a key deadline, the Bush administration formally notified Congress last night that a deal had been reached with South Korea on a free trade agreement. The Office of the United States Trade Representative’s press release (which contains not many details and plenty of the usual mercantalist, all‐​exports‐​all‐​the‐​time rhetoric) can be viewed here.


As expected, rice was not included in the agreement. Korean negotiators had been adamant that rice, an extremely sensitive (i.e., protected) sector in Korea, was not on the table for negotiation and that a deal would be impossible if the United States insisted on pushing for access to the Korean rice market. On that basis, the Americans evidently decided to drop the rice issue.


Rice was never so much a concern, though, as beef. U.S. beef has been denied access to Korea on food safety grounds since late 2003, when BSE was found in beef originating in Canada. Although the issue was not formally part of the FTA negotiations, and thus was not resolved in the agreement itself, it has the potential to scupper it if lawmakers link their approval of the deal to resolution of the beef dispute. Sen. Max Baucus (D‑MT), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has made it clear that his support for the Korean FTA depends on a full re‐​opening of the Korean market to U.S. beef. (The Ranking Member of that Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R.-IA), was somewhat more measured in his comments).


Similarly, Sen Debbie Stabenow (D‑MI) sees that reducing Korean tariffs (albeit over a long phase‐​out period for trucks) on U.S. autos and a “restructuring” of the Korean auto tax structure is not enough: her press release insists that she will “do everything in [her] power to defeat this agreement and ensure that any future fast‐​track authority includes provisions guaranteeing that American businesses and workers can get a fair deal”. Sen. Stabenow does not say what specific measures would assuage her concerns, although one suspects that she is offended at the USTR’s refusal to specify minimum guaranteed sales targets.


In short: yes, the USTR met the deadline of concluding the deal so that it can be considered under fast‐​track authority. But its passage is far from secured.


More broadly, though, the statements of these lawmakers, especially if it is a taste of what is to come, should worry free‐​traders everywhere. While bilateral and regional trade agreements are, at best, only the third most optimal way of liberalising trade, the deal between South Korea and the United States was one of the more worthwhile agreements of this administration. And if Congress is going to base support for agreements on its ability to manage trade in certain sectors, then the trade agenda is in serious trouble.

April 2, 2007 11:39AM

A Reply to Ornstein and Corrado

The fifth anniversary of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (also known as BCRA or McCain-Feingold) has arrived, and two of its defenders, Norman Ornstein and Anthony Corrado, took to the pages of The Washington Post yesterday to counter “a widespread view that BCRA did not work, that campaign reform has been a failure.”

They argue that McCain-Feingold has led to “the spectacular resurgence of political parties.” But the political parties were not in decline prior to 2002. They had been reviving since at least the mid-1990s, in part because of the resources that came from party soft money. Ornstein and Corrado say many people thought BCRA would hurt the parties. But, they say, that did not happen. Evidence? “In the two elections held before BCRA, the national parties raised a total of $2.1 billion, nearly half of it in unregulated ‘soft money’…In the two elections since, the parties raised exactly the same amount, but all in ‘hard money.’"

Notice the trick here. Ornstein and Corrado are comparing party fundraising in 2006 to party fundraising in 2002. They show that under BCRA in 2006 the parties raised as much hard money as they did soft and hard money in 2002. But that’s not what we want to know! We want to know whether the parties raised as much or more money in 2006 under BCRA as they would have in 2006 without BCRA. If they did, BCRA didn’t have much effect on fundraising.

As it happens, total party soft money fundraising doubled from mid-term election to mid-term election from 1992 onward. In 2006, the parties would have raised an additional $500 million in party soft money if BCRA had not passed. To be sure, some of the soft money that would have been raised turned up as hard money contributions to the parties in 2006 or as contributions to 527 groups. Even taking those into account, I suspect the parties would have raised  at least tens of millions of dollars more in 2006 if BCRA had not banned soft money fundraising. So it is not accurate to say that “our parties are richer.”  

According to Ornstein and Corrado, BCRA also made the parties “stronger at the grassroots,” citing party building and get-out-the-vote efforts. Yet in 2004 it was 527 groups (whose funding is not covered by BCRA) who supported the organizations that got out the Democratic vote in battleground states. By law, the 527 efforts could not be coordinated with the parties. As a result, the multi-million dollar contributions by George Soros and others did nothing to build up the Democratic party. In fact, many observers think the disjunction between the 527 get-out-the-vote effort and the Democratic party organization hampered Sen. Kerry’s presidential bid. As for party building, Howard Dean, the current head of the Democratic party, wanted to build up his party in 2006 even in states where Democrats had done poorly in the past. Dean’s party building effort came up short for lack of money. Had the Democrats been able to raise soft money, they would have had enough to both fight the 2006 election and build up their party across the board.

Ornstein and Corrado credit BCRA for a purported rise in small donors to the parties. By cutting off soft money, they imply, BCRA forced the parties to find small donors. They ignore two other factors. The Internet cut the cost of finding contributions and of making contributions. Meanwhile, the Iraq war and rising party competition mobilized donors and voters who otherwise might have stayed on the sidelines.

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April 2, 2007 11:26AM

April Fool’s Dud

Over the weekend, I put an April Fool’s Day post up on Tech Liberation Front, indicating a security breach in the NAPHSIS EVVE system. It was almost instantaneously debunked by a commenter. Thank you so much, blogosphere .… The post was intended to illustrate some issues with identification‐​based security and the REAL ID Act.


The National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems has developed and implemented the Electronic Verification of Vital Events system to allow immediate confirmation of the information on a birth certificate presented by an applicant to a government office anywhere in the nation irrespective of the place or date of issuance.


That sounds neat, but it is being incorporated into the REAL ID national ID system apparently without regard to the security issues involved. If we are going to use driver’s licenses for security purposes, each link in the chain of issuance is then a potential vulnerability.


What if the NAPHSIS EVVE system and others like it were compromised and made to confirm the issuance of birth certificates that didn’t actually exist? We could have untold numbers of licenses issued based on fraud. The system we have now, which provides a modicum of security, could collapse as fraudulently acquired driver’s licenses proliferate.


Two weeks ago, at the meeting of the Department of Homeland Security’s Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee, I asked Stewart Baker, Assistant Secretary for Policy at DHS, what counter‐​measures might be employed by attackers on the REAL ID national ID system. He said, “We have done some thinking about that …” I’m not sure our confidence should be inspired.


Every weakness in the system should be explored carefully. I summarized some of them in Appendix A of my testimony at the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last week.

April 2, 2007 10:12AM

Reviewing That Review

As David Boaz amply documents below, there are many irritating features to David Leonhardt’s NYT book review of Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism. One that particularly stood out for me, however, was Leonhardt’s insinuation that libertarianism is partially to blame for the unfolding disaster in Iraq. In a paragraph intended to catalogue libertarianism’s current political difficulties, Leonhardt writes that Bush’s “free‐​market approach to rebuilding Iraq has proven disastrous.” Now, if there is a properly “free‐​market” approach to bombing, invading, and occupying countries that don’t threaten us, I’m unaware of it. 


Perhaps Leonhardt is referring to Paul Bremer’s 2003 refusal to reopen state‐​run factories. But the line suggests a broader attempt to hang the biggest foreign policy disaster in 30 years around libertarians’ necks. Nice try. The Iraq mess is the product of an ideological joint venture between neoconservatives and liberal hawks. Libertarians, in the main, opposed it. The American Prospect’s Matt Yglesias – who’s no libertarian – understands this far better than Leonhardt. As Yglesias put it a while back

the notion that anything even remotely resembling libertarianism could underwrite an effort to conscript huge quantities of resources from the American public and deploy them in an attempt to wholly remake the social and political order in a foreign country is too absurd to merit a rebuttal. This is an argument properly directed at egalitarian liberals, and we have reason to be asked to produce some specific arguments about why the dim prospects for succeeding at this were ex ante knowable (such arguments can, I think, be fairly easily produced) and/​or why, given the opportunity costs, nation‐​building in Iraq was not a wise place to deploy the resources in question (this argument, I think, can be produced very easily). As long as the conversation is supposed to be proceeding on the shared basis of libertarianism, however, one hardly needs to say anything. It’s coercion, it’s planning, it’s every non‐​libertarian thing under the sun.

And as long as we’re passing out blame for the Iraq War, don’t forget that Leonhardt’s employer, the Grey Lady herself, deserves a large chunk.