Study their behaviors. Observe their territorial boundaries. Leave their habitat as you found it. Report any signs of intelligence.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Common Cause Puts Incumbents First

To Aimee Tavares (

You wrote to me about the Common Cause "Voters First" Pledge:

) our coalition will be reaching out to nearly 3 million Americans to tell them about the website, how to find out if their candidates have signed, and engage them in the campaign for Clean Elections—or publicly financed elections. (

I will not sign your "Voters First" Pledge, since it's really just an "Incumbents First" Pledge. I urge all my fellow candidates to tell you the same thing.

"Publicly financed elections" aren't clean, they're dirty. They're dirty because they force taxpayers belonging to minor parties to subsidize the political campaigns of the two incumbent parties. The "corruption" that you claim to oppose is caused entirely members of the two incumbent parties, so it's bizarre for you to believe that defending the incumbent parties from competition will decrease corruption. The Connecticut public financing law that you tout is so biased toward the incumbent parties that it is being challenged in a federal lawsuit by the ACLU, which ordinarily supports public campaign financing.

If you restrict the use of monetary resources for political speech, you merely amplify the power of other resources, e.g. celebrity, incumbency, media ownership/control, ability to organize and bundle the resources of volunteers (e.g. benefit concerts), etc. If you limit how much of my money I can spend on my speech, shouldn't you limit how much of Barbara Streisand's fame she can spend on her speech?

Speech restrictions are profoundly undemocratic, and don't even have the effect their advocates claim to desire. Retiring politicians don't suddenly change their voting patterns when freed from the need to seek campaign financing. The myth is that the politicians adapt their positions to chase the money. The reality is that the money is there because of the government benefits (or potential restrictions) that are up for grabs, and each interest group just pays whichever side is its natural ally on the issue.

The overwhelming majority of political corruption has nothing to do with the "gifts and travel" that you worry about in your Pledge. If corrupt congressmen merely sought personal wealth, then we could let them each take $1M/year from the Treasury and it wouldn't noticeably affect the federal budget. The much more costly corruption is caused by congressmen who buy votes with government payoffs and subsidies and special rules for farmers, seniors, teachers, civil servants, union members, lawyers, doctors, exporters, real estate developers, intellectual property owners, etc.

The Cato Institute explained in this 2004 article exactly why Big Government inexorably will lead to Big Lobbying:

Cato) There is solid empirical evidence that expanding government results in increases in campaign spending. Economist John Lott Jr. found that 87 percent of the rise in federal campaign spending between 1976 and 1994 was attributable to the $1,101 per-capita rise (in real terms) in federal government spending that occurred over that time.

We will only reduce the amount of money flowing within the tributaries of our political system by reducing the incentive for private interests to directly and indirectly support candidates and parties. Therefore, the only plausible solution is to limit the size of government. Anything else merely treats the symptom without addressing the underlying disease of the body politic. Lower government spending will lead to lower levels of campaign contributions. In turn, that will result in lower levels of campaign spending. All other efforts to limit campaign spending will be futile. (Cato

Instead of trying to impose on every candidate a one-size-fits-all muzzle, why not instead impose on every voter a requirement to listen? I'd like to hear just one campaign finance reformer have the courage to blame the people who by the reformer's logic must ultimately be at fault: the voters. If you think voters are wise and competent consumers of political speech, then surely political speech needs no regulation.

If instead you think voters are too selfish, then you should advocate no representation without taxation. We could say that if both last year and in your lifetime you've received more in dollar-denominated government benefits/credits/deductions than you've paid in taxes, then you don't get to vote.

If instead you think voters are too ignorant, then you should test voters before they can vote. We could say you can't vote for me unless you can answer one multiple-choice question about my positions from each of my opponents. The idea would be that you can't vote for X unless you can prove that you've listened to the arguments against X.

I personally am not yet ready to declare that voters are irredeemably selfish or ignorant. I just wish process-oriented reformers would hold a mirror up to the electorate itself, instead of complaining about the things that influence the electorate.

Aimee, if you really believe in a level playing field, where voters hear both sides speaking at the same volume, then there's only one way for you not to be a hypocrite when you have your Voters First press conference on Tuesday. You will allow as much time at your event for opposition to your Pledge as you allow for promotion of it.

So how about it, Aimee? Are you willing to practice what you preach? If so, I'm available to attend your event via voice conference and let your audience hear the other side of this issue. Don't you think that your proposal can win support over the alternative if you have to advocate it under the rules you want candidates to live by? Or is your proposal just a naked power grab, trying to shift power from elected officials to unelected organizations like your own that already have their own big megaphone?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Libertarian Taxation Theory

I would advocate the following hierarchy of taxes, ordered by their increasing undesirability.

User fees are of course the ideal form of financing any product or service. However, governments should generally avoid them, because if the optimal amount of a product or service can be financed by voluntary transactions, then the government should probably not be involved in providing that product or service in the first place. (This is called the Yellow Pages Test.) The government should only produce/regulate those goods and services that free markets either 1) overconsume, 2) underproduce, or 3) cannot produce efficiently. These three categories are well-defined in modern economics, and are called 1) natural resources, 2) public goods, and 3) natural monopolies. (For definitions and examples, see here.) The only general exception to the no-government-user-fees rule should be natural monopolies, because (unlike public goods and natural resources) their "excludability" makes it easy to charge by usage.

Taxes on negative externalities (e.g. pollution) are a critical function of government. One of the best ways to tax a negative externality like pollution is to hold regular auctions for limited-duration emissions credits. An indispensable paper on this idea is here.

Resource usage fees are the best way for government to prevent overconsumption of natural resources -- i.e., goods like fisheries, aquifers, spectrum, and orbits, for which consumption is rivalrous but not excludable. Again, an excellent way to set these fees is by periodic auctions.

Land-value taxes are considered by economics Nobel laureate Milton Friedman to be the least onerous kind of tax. They are the central differentiating idea of geolibertarianism. Our own Santa Clara University economics professor Fred Foldvary (a former LP congressional candidate) is one of the world's leading advocates of geolibertarianism.

A libertarian polity would probably not need any form of taxation beyond LVT, so the discussion below is relevant mainly for transitional tax policy on the way to Libertopia.

Consumption taxes have several nice properties compared to alternatives below. 1) They don't inhibit investment, which (along with technological advances) is the engine of increased living standards. 2) They are self-limiting, in that if the consumption tax rate gets too high, then consumers can just decrease consumption or take their transactions to the black market. 3) They allow for a bit of libertarian paternalism, which (despite libertarian dogma against "sin taxes") can perhaps be justified on the basis of bounded rationality. 4) They are hard to make progressive, but easy (through rebates) to make non-regressive.

Production taxes (e.g. a value-added tax) are very similar in effect to consumption taxes, and differ primarily in how they are administered.

Income taxes are dangerous because they are hard to evade and are very tempting to make progressive. Their primary relative virtue is that they are a transaction tax and not a wealth tax, so that a 99% income tax doesn't do as much redistribution as a 99% wealth tax.

Property taxes are onerous not only for their potential to redistribute wealth (as opposed to just income), but also because they create hardships for people (like retired homeowners) whose wealth is very illiquid. (Reverse mortgages do not yet have low enough transaction costs to address this issue.) Any advantages that property taxes might have in terms of Tiebout sorting are shared by Land Value Taxes, and so are not an argument for traditional property taxes.

Estate taxes are the closest thing America has seen to outright confiscatory communalism.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Fact-Checking The 9/11 "Truth" Movement

2006-08-21 Debate On The 9/11 "Truth" Movement

Brian Holtz vs. Carol Brouillet, Dennis "galen" Mitrzyk, and Robert Forte

The Next Step is hosted on Palo Alto community TV by Daniel Kottke (first Apple employee)

On Thursday Aug 17 my Green opponent Carol Brouillet invited me to be a "skeptic" on an Aug 21 Palo Alto community access TV show about the 9/11 "Truth Movement". I agreed, and my concerns over a possible ambush were greatly eased by email exchanges in the intervening days in which Carol's co-panelists tipped their hand about how weak their case is. On the show I said my role would be "to ask questions, and try to get as specific as possible claims from them so that I can go fact-check them later". I've produced a nearly-complete transcript of the show here, in which I systematically analyze and rebut their most interesting claims. The table below summarizes my fact-checking. Their final score was: 10 falsehoods, 3 distortions, 1 misleading statement, 2 inaccurate statements, and 2 unsubstantiated statements. (I also diagnose one exaggeration on my part, caused by rounding off fatalities in the atomic bombings of Japan to the nearest 100,000.)

In 59 minutes of discussion, I simply could not get any of the Truthers to reveal to me their Truth about why bin Laden and al Qaeda have ten times implied or admitted responsibility for 9/11 (and have not denied it since being hosted by the Taliban in 2001). Dennis can't decide whether al Qaeda is controlled or are "patsies", and Carol just throws up her hands and says "who knows?".
When the Truthers carefully avoid trying to explain the actions of the only living people who are universally agreed to be 9/11 conspirators, it clearly indicates that the Truthers are more interested in advancing the political agenda they had on 9/10 than in understanding the truth of 9/11.

It's ironic that the Truth Movement is just as guilty as the Bushies in seizing on the 9/11 tragedy to promote their prior political agenda. What's comical is that the Truth Movementarians would be far more effective in promoting their political agenda if they merely claimed that Bush knowingly allowed 9/11 instead of planned it. That would be a far harder theory to refute, but would serve their cause equally well. However, their pathology is so systematic that they find it hard to resist claiming Bush planned every bad thing that any human does anywhere. (Some conspiracists even claim that Bush caused the 2004 tsunami.)

On Aug 30
I challenged Brouillet with 10 Questions about 9/11. I wanted to see if she is as good at answering questions on the candidates' stage as she is at shouting them from the audience -- as she did in in a 2004 debate between me and the incumbent congresswoman in our race. As of Sept 6 she has not said whether she will answer my questions before the election. (I will immediately update the front page of my campaign site if she does.) She did, however, answer an 11th question and admitted that she "doesn't have time" to read criticisms of the "Truth" movement. Carol, if you really are more interested in 9/11 Truth than you are in your 9/10 Movement, you'll answer the questions posed by your fellow candidate.

To Dennis Mitrzyk: You said on the show that I "can't argue the laws of physics" and so I argue al Qaeda instead. I say that you couldn't argue al Qaeda on the show and so you threw up a physics smokescreen instead. In my annotated transcript I've now rebutted the claims you made based on physical science. If you would like to respond to my rebuttals, I'll link to them here and then demolish those too.

To Robert Forte: You made the least factual mistakes, and seem the most intellectually honest, of the three cover-up-conspiracy panelists, but you seem to care more about a 9/11 Inquisition than about 9/11 Truth. Dennis and Carol at least offer (multiple inconsistent) theories about al Qaeda -- they mainly and ludicrously claim it's owned and operated by the CIA. But your theory is that you don't need a theory. That's not being interested in 9/11 "Truth". That's being interested in 9/11 Ignorance.

Forte: These are buildings that were deliberately blown up, a false flag terrorist operation, with a number of precedents in recent American history. False There is no precedent of even one American civilian being killed in a false flag terrorist operation by the U.S. government. See the annotated transcript for discussion of Operations Northwoods.
Brouillet: We have the Patriot Act's mirror in Canada, England, Australia, and they're relabeling all dissent against government or corporate power as "terrorists" False
Her sweeping phrase "all dissent" is clumsily hyperbolic propoganda.
Brouillet: The Rendon Group has been paid $50 to $100 million since 9/11 to sell the war on terrorism to the American people. Inaccurate
The Rendon Group's focus has been on Iraq's liberation, not 9/11 or the war on al Qaeda. The Rolling Stone article's author later had to admit he "never claimed the Rendon Group deliberately disseminated false information".
Brouillet: 90% of the soldiers are convinced that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11 Inaccurate
The Zogby poll said 85%, but it apparently had a serious methodological problem, described below.
Mitrzyk: [The conspirators] had access to those buildings through Marvin Bush, who happened to be on the board of Securacom. He was President and CEO of a Kuwaiti -US joint venture that had responsibility for security at the World Trade Center False
Bush was never President or CEO of Kuwam, and left the Securacom board in 2000. Securacom lost the WTC security contract before 1998.
Mitrzyk: Osama bin Laden issued a letter saying that he was not involved with 9/11 Misleading
No longer needing to protect their Taliban hosts after 2001, bin Laden and al Qaeda have since admitted or implied responsibility for 9/11 at least ten times.
Brouillet: al Qaeda is definitely a creation of our CIA and Saudi Arabia False
Experts and primary sources overwhelmingly disagree with Brouillet's third-hand citation of a leftist radio report citing an apparently-non-existent expert who is quoted only about "Afghan arabs" in the 1980s and not specifically bin Laden or al Qaeda. Al Qaeda was formed in 1988 to expand jihad beyond Afghanistan, contrary to the interests of the CIA and Saudi Arabia.
Mitrzyk: [Osama bin Laden] is the youngest brother of the guy who gave [President Bush] $2 million for his first oil well. False
Mitrzyk is thinking of the $50,000 that Bush air national guard buddy James Bath invested in Arbusto in 1979. Bath at the time was a trustee for Salem bin Laden. Some claim that Bath was merely a front man, but there is no documentation for their speculation about this modest $50K investment.
Brouillet: $100,000 was wired to Mohammed Atta on the orders of the head of Pakistani ISI Unsubstantiated
This widespread claim traces back to two unsourced Indian press reports about an Indian intelligence claim that cell phone records show pro-Taliban Gen. Ahmed to have been in contact with al Qaeda paymaster Omar Saeed. Ahmed was dismissed as Pakistan aligned against the Taliban after 9/11, and there is no evidence that Saeed received (or would need) any orders from Ahmed to continue financing the operation.
Brouillet: The official commission says in their document: who financed the attacks of Sept 11 is of little or no importance False
The Report says the precise mix of sources of al Qaeda's $30M/yr of donations is "ultimately of little practical significance", and it's a blatant distortion to claim the Report is instead saying this about the 9/11 plot's $250K/yr financing, which the Report analyzes in detail.
Mitrzyk: Steven Jones, who's a fully tenured professor of physics at Brigham Young University, has written a peer-review paper that has not been challenged False
The Jones paper has not been published in any pre-existing peer-reviewed journal, but instead in a 9/11 book from "Olive Branch Press". The paper has been extensively challenged, and repudiated by Jones' BYU colleagues.
Mitrzyk: the people that covered this up lied about the construction as they said there was no core to the [WTC towers] building False
The "lie" is in a footnote explaining the layout of the available exits at the beginning of a chapter about evacuation and rescue efforts. The footnote says: "The interior core of the buildings was a hollow steel shaft, in which elevators and stairwells were grouped." This is an absolutely accurate way to characterize the layout of the available exits. WTC's steel core is not ignored by the detailed FEMA and NIST studies of the tower collapses. NIST even cites the delayed collapse of the lower portions of the core as evidence against controlled demolition.
Mitrzyk: This is simple Newtonian physics, people. To turn that concrete into dust needs energy. There was not enough gravitational energy. False
It's flatly false to claim that one can balance the energy budget of the WTC 1 & 2 collapses using just Newtonian kinematics and dynamics. You also need sophisticated models to estimate the use of energy to pulverize concrete and other materials, eject debris, heat debris, deform steel and other materials, damage the WTC substructure and neighboring structures, etc.
Mitrzyk: there was molten steel at the 7th subfloor, they discovered a week after the event Unsubstantiated
Urban legends about "molten steel" in the WTC debris are debunked here.
Brouillet: The Project For A New American Century had already laid out that they needed: a catastrophic and catalyzing event, like a new Pearl Harbor Distortion
PNAC did not say a new Pearl Harbor is "needed" or in any way desired. PNAC said "the prime directive for transformation will be to design and deploy a global missile defense system". It mentioned China more often than it mentioned Iraq. It mentioned ballistic missiles 30 times, and mentioned terrorism only twice. It said ""the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor". It's simply illiterate to say that PNAC white paper had "already laid out" the idea that knife-wielding suicidal pilots were America's paradigmatic new defense problem.
Holtz: [America] incinerated 100,000 innocents in Hiroshima, and then did it again three days later in Nagasaki
Immediate fatalities at each of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were about 70,000, and many tens of thousands of them worked either for the military or in wartime industries.
Mitrzyk: [are] people who have degrees in physics and mechanical engineering and they have written peer-review papers and so these people, they're doing the science on this Distortion
All of the "peer-reviewed" papers on were published in forums created explicitly for "9/11 studies". They include only three PhD authors with a record of publications in engineering or mathematics or physical science. One of the three actually supports the NIST collapse analsysis, and the second's only paper consists only of three pages calculating the speed of the WTC 7 collapse. The rest of these "peer-reviewed" scholars are all either in "soft" disciplines like theology or philosophy, or are not even published academics.
Forte: You [Holtz] strike me as an apologist for the government. You have not voiced any skepticism about the official story. False
At 27 minutes into the show, I said that the so-called "war on terror" is "phony", and disagreed with Bush's story that al Qaeda "hates freedom", and said that I agree with al Qaeda instead of Bush in their competing theories of why 9/11 happened. I also had already told Forte in email that I believe the 9/11 Report turns a blind eye to Bush and Cheney apparently lying about whether the shootdown rules of engagement first originated with Bush.
Holtz: Was he [maimed Iraqi boy in Mitzryk photo] targeted?
Mitzryk: Well, it's hard to say.
Mitzryk should have known that the boy was not targeted. He is Ali Abbas, and the book about him says "in the early hours of March 31 last year, 11 days into the Iraq war, a stray missile hit the hamlet where Ali lived".