Free Markets, Free People

Michael Wade

Obama Media

While it comes at no real surprise given how they behaved during the presidential campaign, the MSM has finally decided to go all in with its support for the President. Next Wednesday night, June 24, ABC News will host a program about health care reform from inside the White House, but only one side will be presented — i.e. Obama’s. The Chief of Staff for the RNC is not happy about this decision and sent the following letter to David Westin, the President of ABC News:

Dear Mr. Westin:

As the national debate on health care reform intensifies, I am deeply concerned and disappointed with ABC’s astonishing decision to exclude opposing voices on this critical issue on June 24, 2009. Next Wednesday, ABC News will air a primetime health care reform “town hall” at the White House with President Barack Obama. In addition, according to an ABC News report, GOOD MORNING AMERICA, WORLD NEWS, NIGHTLINE and ABC’s web news “will all feature special programming on the president’s health care agenda.” This does not include the promotion, over the next 9 days, the president’s health care agenda will receive on ABC News programming.

Today, the Republican National Committee requested an opportunity to add our Party’s views to those of the President’s to ensure that all sides of the health care reform debate are presented. Our request was rejected. I believe that the President should have the ability to speak directly to the America people. However, I find it outrageous that ABC would prohibit our Party’s opposing thoughts and ideas from this national debate, which affects millions of ABC viewers.

In the absence of opposition, I am concerned this event will become a glorified infomercial to promote the Democrat agenda. If that is the case, this primetime infomercial should be paid for out of the DNC coffers. President Obama does not hold a monopoly on health care reform ideas or on free airtime. The President has stated time and time again that he wants a bipartisan debate. Therefore, the Republican Party should be included in this primetime event, or the DNC should pay for your airtime.

Respectfully,
Ken McKay
Republican National Committee
Chief of Staff

This comes on the heels of a Politico report about how Obama has been “wooing” the New York Times (as if it needed wooing), and further evidences a disturbing level of acquiescence to the White House. It’s one thing to have a broadcast from inside the White House, although it does strike an appearance of impropriety, but its another thing altogether to so blatantly snub an opposing views when the production is supposed to be one of news reporting. Presenting the view of those in power without question or examination, and refusing to allow any other voice, is pretty much the textbook definition of propaganda.

Since there is sure to be an uproar over this in the blogosphere, however, I’m wondering whether ABC News will back down and either allow some token opposition voice, bring on a known opponent of the President’s plan to raise some issues, or allow some questions of the President from actual reporters (Jake Tapper does still work for ABC News, doesn’t he?). Either way, its awfully pathetic that the MSM can’t seem to figure out how to get it right the first place. They are so blinded by their fascination with all things Obama, apparently, that any semblance of actual news reporting has gone out the window, and is being replaced with unabashed cheerleading for The One.

UPDATE: Oops! I didn’t realize that Bruce was writing on the same topic until after I posted. See his take below as well.

Podcast for 14 Jun 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss hate speech, Iran and North Korea.

There is no direct link to the podcast this week, since a number of technical difficulties intervened (thanks for kicking me off the phone twice, Verizon!).  So, if you want to hear this one, you’ll need to get it from our Podcast page at BTR.  There will be no RSS link this week, either.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

Ditching The Star-Spangled Banner

Michael Kinsley annoyed some people this week by suggesting that we replace our national anthem with some other, more singable tune. This subject comes up at least once per year, usually around either the Super Bowl or the World Series, when some new butchering of the song prompts the discussion. Personally, while I don’t agree with Kinsley’s reasoning, I favor the change.

Growing up a Philadelphia Flyers fan, I’ve always had a special affinity for “God Bless America” and often wondered why that tune wouldn’t be a better choice. And anyone who has ever heard Ray Charles sing “America the Beautiful” can be forgiven for thinking that this is our country’s anthem. Both are far representative of the nation than a song about one battle in Baltimore’s harbor.

So, I’m curious. Where do you all stand on the Star-Spangled Banner? Would you rather a different song, and if so, which one?

Which song should be our national anthem?
Keep the “Star-Spangled Banner” you unpatriotic simps!
“God Bless America” (even if Michael likes it too)
“America the Beautiful,” athough what’s so great about ocean foam?
“This Land is Your Land” comrades!
“O, Canada”
“Stars and Stripes Forever”
“My Country ‘Tis of Thee”
“Dixie”
“Convoy!”
Other
  
pollcode.com free polls

Miranda and War

An interesting discussion broke out in the comment section of the Miranda post, which I’m hoping will continue. The primary issue (and I’m simplifying here) centers around just how detainees caught on a battlefield should be handled if they don’t fit the established parameters of soldiers under the Geneva Conventions. Although there appears to be agreement that reading detainees Miranda rights is a step (or three) too far, there is also wide agreement that we should be skeptical about allowing our government so much latitude as to hold anyone indefinitely. I think closing the gap on those parameters is the challenge to be met, but I don’t think it is possible to do so without understanding how war differs from law enforcement.

Clausewitz defined war as “continuation of policy with other means.” The crux of his definition is that “war” is simply a tactic used to further political goals. War is not waged as end in itself, but as a means towards other ends which, for whatever reason, could not be accomplished through non-violent tactics. There are always exceptions, of course, but certainly a rational state will not expend blood and treasure when the same goals can be accomplished without. Even an irrational state, with irrational goals, will not waste such resources if it understands that it does not have to.

The other tools in the box for continuing policy include diplomacy and capitulation. Once those are deemed exhausted or unacceptable (as the case may be) then the tool of war is likely to appear. In other words, if agreement cannot be reached between erstwhile enemies, and surrender by one side or the other is not acceptable, then actual battle will be necessary to decide whose policy will be continued. At that point all manner of understanding between the parties is dead and only victory or a credible threat thereof will allow the discarded tools to once again be used in the construction of policy.

In the absence of war, there is general agreement as to how competing parties will conduct themselves in the pursuit of their policies. Citizens may vote, senators may argue, special interests may agitate, and whole nations may barter. The agreements may deal with how citizens deal with one another, how governments deal with their citizens, or how violations of the agreements are handled (i.e. law enforcement). In the modern world those general agreements are reduced to treaties, constitutions, rules, regulations and the like, all of which may be considered law. The policies themselves may also be enacted into law, but without some understanding as to the mechanisms for peacefully deciding which policy will be followed, then war is the only tool available. A rule of law, which is only useful where there is broad agreement on it, obviates the need to use war to advance policy. All of the foregoing are the hallmarks of a civil society that depends on pursuing policies through peaceful tactics. To turn Clauswitz’s definition around, law is the continuation of war by other means.

To be sure, transgressors of law will be dealt with at times in violent ways, but there is at least a tacit agreement to the law’s authority to do so where the violator is operating from within the society and generally partaking of its benefits. If enough transgressors get together then the agreements have broken down, and civil war or revolution may occur. Therefore, war can be understood as the tactic that is used when the law has ceased to be of use. More simply, war is the absence of law.

Given the above, which is nothing more than a condensed version of my personal views on the subject, it is difficult for me to understand how legal concepts can be introduced into war. Opposing factions may agree with one another to fight under particular rules of engagement, or to treat enemy prisoners a certain way, but when those rules are broken there is no legitimate authority to enforce them. The Geneva Conventions represent a more elaborate attempt to impose limits on warfare, but even those were never intended to apply to non-signatories except in very limited circumstances (pre-Hamdan anyway). More importantly, it seems obviously ludicrous to apply laws outside such limited agreement to any of the parties involved in battle, because there would be no battle if such laws were being adhered to in the first place.

So while any number of parties may agree amongst themselves to fight under self-imposed rules, that does not give any of them authority to impose those rules on others. Furthermore, except where explicitly agreed to otherwise, such rules would not govern war between a party to such an agreement and a non-party. To look at it another way, if Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield agree to fight under certain sanctioned rules, that does not mean that either fighter must adhere to the same rules if attacked by a third party on the way home from the match.

Accordingly, in a world of asymmetrical warfare, the basic principle that “war is the absence of law” seems to apply. In this context, the very idea of approaching war with terrorists in foreign countries under a rubric of law intended to govern domestic life appears absurdly out of place. Treating detainees captured on the battlefield to the luxury of legal niceties intended to protect the very citizens those terrorists seek to harm defies all logic. And pretending that reading any of them Miranda rights will do anything more than hamper our ability to defeat these cretins is an exercise in serious delusion. In short, law is a manifestation of the agreements underlying a peaceful community, and war is the means of protecting those agreements from those who seek to subvert them.

When considering just where the line should be drawn then, between reading enemies their “rights” and allowing the government to detain them indefinitely, I think it’s useful to understand that we are not really talking about a “rule of law.” Instead, we are talking about how best to utilize the tactic of war in furthering our policy of not allowing crazed radicals to murder our citizens. While I find great merit in placing the government (i.e. our instrument of war) on a firm leash, I don’t think it is at all useful to conflate the means by which we protect ourselves from an overbearing government with the means by which the government protects us from enemies bent on our destruction.

Miranda Warnings In The Battlefield?

This simply can’t be right, can it? That the Obama administration secretly directed the military to Mirandize combatants and terrorists when captured? Surely this is just crazy talk:

… the Obama Justice Department has quietly ordered FBI agents to read Miranda rights to high value detainees captured and held at U.S. detention facilities in Afghanistan, according a senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. “The administration has decided to change the focus to law enforcement. Here’s the problem. You have foreign fighters who are targeting US troops today – foreign fighters who go to another country to kill Americans. We capture them…and they’re reading them their rights – Mirandizing these foreign fighters,” says Representative Mike Rogers, who recently met with military, intelligence and law enforcement officials on a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan.

Rogers, a former FBI special agent and U.S. Army officer, says the Obama administration has not briefed Congress on the new policy. “I was a little surprised to find it taking place when I showed up because we hadn’t been briefed on it, I didn’t know about it. We’re still trying to get to the bottom of it, but it is clearly a part of this new global justice initiative.”

Ever since the Boumediene decision I’ve been warning that we’re turning legitimate military actions into law enforcement nightmares. No matter how badly we may want to achieve a world where transparency and the rule of law are the basis for all government action, the fact of the matter is that there are plenty of people out there who want to see the US destroyed regardless of the cost to themselves or their families. If we start dealing with these people as if they were common criminals, then we erode the very fabric that binds us as a nation. No longer does the word “jurisdiction” mean anything. Instead, we hand our enemies the keys to the castle.

Consider the following:

A lawyer who has worked on detainee issues for the U.S. government offers this rationale for the Obama administration’s approach. “If the US is mirandizing certain suspects in Afghanistan, they’re likely doing it to ensure that the treatment of the suspect and the collection of information is done in a manner that will ensure the suspect can be prosecuted in a US court at some point in the future.”

But Republicans on Capitol Hill are not happy. “When they mirandize a suspect, the first thing they do is warn them that they have the ‘right to remain silent,’” says Representative Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. “It would seem the last thing we want is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or any other al-Qaeda terrorist to remain silent. Our focus should be on preventing the next attack, not giving radical jihadists a new tactic to resist interrogation–lawyering up.”

According to Mike Rogers, that is precisely what some human rights organizations are advising detainees to do. “The International Red Cross, when they go into these detention facilities, has now started telling people – ‘Take the option. You want a lawyer.’”

Rogers adds: “The problem is you take that guy at three in the morning off of a compound right outside of Kabul where he’s building bomb materials to kill US soldiers, and read him his rights by four, and the Red Cross is saying take the lawyer – you have now created quite a confusion amongst the FBI, the CIA and the United States military. And confusion is the last thing you want in a combat zone.”

Prosecution of any war, regardless of what your betters may think, is absolutely impossible in a law enforcement setting. Imagine having to “arrest” enemy soldiers instead of shooting them on sight. Or worse, think about the complications involved when a soldier shoots anyone, as compared to when a policeman is involved in a shooting. How would it work to take custody or extract intelligence from any enemy soldier if our soldiers have to apply mercurial Supreme Court precedent to each situation before risking their lives? Any cop will tell you that it’s hard enough keeping up with the norms as laid down by the high court (and interpreted by the administrators) in order to simply arrest common criminals. The idea that soldiers in the field of battle have the time or ability to “arrest” terrorists and the like, in places where English is not likely to be a common language (N.B. does that mean the military will be required to provide interpreters before apprehending anyone?) is simply ludicrous.

War is not pretty, and anyone who pretends to make it so is simply a fool. Ugly, unmentionable, outrageous and despicable things happen in war, as they do in any struggle for life. Creating an imaginary world in which there are breaks for tea and the enemy plays by the same (or any) rules is how the British lost North America. Subjecting ourselves to the vagaries or our enemy’s backwardness, by ignoring their complete denial of our moral superiority, will only serve to hasten our defeat.

For the foregoing reasons, I have to assume that Stephen Hayes is on the wrong end of some very bad information. As much as I may disagree with the Obama administration on a great many things, I have a hard time believing that they could be this naive and unconcerned about the future of our country that they would grant unprecedented gratuity to those who most wish us ill. The policies are most certainly wrong, but they can’t possibly be this misguided.

Prepare To Be Smeared

Stephen Tyrone Johns lost his life today at the hands of a deranged man who terrorized the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC:

A Holocaust Museum guard died after being shot Wednesday in the crowded attraction and a gunman was seriously wounded in return fire, authorities said. The incident left panic-stricken visitors dashing for exits, witnesses said.

“Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns died heroically in the line of duty today,” a late-afternoon museum statement said. “There are no words to express our grief and shock over these events.

“He served on the museum’s security staff for six years. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Officer Johns’ family.”

If you are of the type to be deemed “right wing” by anyone who considers themselves not to be right-wing, then after saying a prayer for Mr. Johns and his family prepare yourself for the onslaught of comparisons that will be made between you and Mr. James Wenneker von Brunn:

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier believes the suspect was acting alone when he entered the museum just before 1 p.m., raised his rifle and began shooting. The suspect started shooting before going through metal detectors, Lanier says.

Von Brunn is said to be affiliated with white supremacist web sites.

Federal law enforcement sources tell WTOP Von Brunn is a convicted felon. He had been convicted of bringing weapons into the Federal Reserve and served time in a federal penitentiary.

A Web site apparently linked to Von Brunn contains Anti-Semitic and racist writings and promotes a book written by Von Brunn. The biography section of the Web site says Von Brunn was born in 1920, was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserves and a captain of a patrol torpedo boat during World War II and received four battle stars.

After a career in New York City as a copywriter and art director, Von Brunn now lives on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where he is an artist, according to the Web site.

Because Mr. von Brunn was associated with anti-semitic and neo-nazi hate groups he will automatically be deemed “right wing” just like you. Nevermind that he also seems to have supported other, not-so-right-wing causes as well, or that just today a famous anti-semitic buddy of the President’s resurfaced with a timely quote. As someone labeled “right wing” you will now be forced to carry the von Brunn albatross around your neck.

Moreover, Gaia help you if you squawked about being lumped in with such extremist nutjobs when that DHS report came out, because that only proves their point that you, too, are a right-wing hater who approves of all such vicious murders. And no, there is nothing ironic about the fact that the non-right-wingers are now doing the same thing to you that the DHS report did because you complained about the DHS report doing it. Nothing wrong with that at all, nosiree.

So be prepared, because the caterwauling is coming. Indeed, as Legal Insurrection notes, it didn’t take very long at all for this meme to start up:

Although the shooting is only hours old, numerous blogs already are attempting to tie the act of violence to conservatives and criticism of the Obama administration’s overly broad definition of those who are “extremists.” Posts such as “this looks like the latest episode in what is looking like the spate of right-wing violence we’ve been predicting” or “the right wing has lost whatever restraint it had” or “perhaps it’ll be time to revisit all that criticism of the DHS report” are highly irresponsible attempts to take political advantage of this apparently lone-wolf tragedy.

Ed Morrissey takes on the DHS angle:

Yet again, we have a despicable attack based on hatred and political extremism, the third such attack in two weeks to result in fatalities. Doubtless many people will try to find ways to score political points, like the e-mailer who waited a whole 20 minutes to blame conservatives for dismissing the DHS report on right-wing extremism for this tragedy. To that, I’d respond that our criticism was that the DHS report didn’t focus on known, specific threats, instead making generalized threats about abortion opponents and other vague and broad generalizations about conservative issues. In fact, it never mentioned Holocaust denial at all, nor did it mention anti-semitism at all, either; those terms don’t appear at all in the report. [ed. – my emphasis] And despite being well-known as a threat since the 1980s, the DHS never bothered to identify von Brunn or his organization as a specific threat in the report — which, again, was the heart of our criticism.

To be fair, I have come across one sane “non-right-winger” who seems to understand that a nut is a nut (internal links omitted):

The suspect, James Von Brunn, appears to be a neo-Nazi/white supremacist. This is not an extension of the Republican Party’s, or religious rights’, ideology. There is no question that Tiller’s suspected murderer, Roeder, had direct connections to rightwing propaganda — I drew those connections in this post.

Von Brunn is different. This kook is a neo-Nazi conspiracy theoriest with no connection to the mainstream right. As evidence, here’s his Internet paper trail: an archive of his website “holywesternempire.org”. (The reference to the Germanic Holy Roman Empire during the Middle Ages should be obvious.) Explore his website if you want (I’m not wasting my time), but keep two questions in mind: Do you see links to mainstream rightwing sites? And did any mainstream rightwing websites pay attention to him. Perhaps I need to do more research before answering these questions, but after a cursory look at Von Brunn’s website — as well as trolling rightwing blogs for ages — I think the answers to these questions are no and no.

Tensions are running high and it’s easy to try making a connection between the GOP and people like Von Brunn, but that connection just isn’t logical. Neo-Nazis stand apart from the rest. Let’s not confuse the two.

Despite the reasonableness above, the insanity is already gathering a good deal of speed. By tomorrow night I expect there to be major news reports about the life of von Brunn, how he was connected to neo-nazi groups, how he hated Obama, as well as deep probing questions about how we stop the rising tide of right-wing hate. I would also venture to guess that there will be speculation about whether Dr. Tiller’s murder, von Brunn and that guy from Pittsburgh knew each other, or whether they were in any way affiliated. Their guilt would be further extended to anyone who possibly uttered a conservative idea that sounds vaguely like one expressed by one of the nutjobs, especially if it has a general anti-government flair. In fact, don’t be surprised if Tea Parties are somehow made to blame for all of it.

All because two mentally challenged individuals killed two people. I guess the old Michael Moore-ish pooh-poohing of the fight against terrorism because there is so little chance of your actually dying from it has gone out the window. Of course, if the “non-right-wingers” getting on their collective high horse now had shown even an inkling of the same interest in fighting terrorism as they are exhibiting in their zeal to combat right-wing extremism, then the chances of being killed by a terrorist might be too small to measure.

Nevertheless, extremists have killed and you will be blamed. Consider yourself warned.

UPDATE: As of June 11, 2009 at 12:30 AM ET, Memeorandum has the Rev. Wright story as the lead post to the entire discussion of the Holocaust Museum murder. Hmmmmmm …

* Correction: Originally, the post identified the victim by the last name of Jones. It has been corrected to show the victim’s last name as Johns.

Podcast for 07 Jun 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the Obama “Muslim” speech, and the socialization of the economy.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

Socialism In America

Perhaps the time has come to be perfectly frank. We Americans live in a socialist country. In point of fact, we have for quite some time, even though private property has a long, continuing and still revered position in our society. To be sure, we aren’t an entirely socialist country, but instead a mixed one that teeters between the two extremes of collectivism and freedom (i.e. socialism and capitalism). In the past century or so, however, the scale tipped noticeably toward the socialism side, and we are now at the point where capitalism is not the dominant force. Of course, there are many who will disagree with my assessment.

Conor Clarke, for example, offers the following to dispel notions that we have become a socialist country:

Government vs. Private Ownership

Government vs. Private Ownership

Conor explains:

Have you heard that the United States is headed toward socialism? Jonah Goldberg says it is. Alabama Senator Richard Shelby says it is. Phyllis Schlafly says it is. Richard Viguerie says it is. The Republican National Committee says it is. We must be getting pretty close.

[…]

The hot-pink portion of this pie chart is the percentage of listed American business assets that have recently been nationalized by the American government (ie, General Motors). Obama’s version of socialism is so sneaky you can hardly see it!

(And there is some reason to think this actually overstates the portion of the corporate landscape that’s been nationalized, but more on that at the end of the post.*)

While the chart above would appear at first glance to be pretty dispositive of the issue (if the federal government owns so little, can we really be socialist?), it actually begs a huge question. If the segment of the economy effectively nationalized in the past several months is so vanishingly small, why is it necessary for taxpayers to fund trillions of dollars to save it? We’ll come back to that.

Next, Jon Henke observes:

NOTE: The fact is, American has always had a mixed economy, as do all modern, developed economies. The question is not one of category – capitalism or socialism? – but of degree.

[…]

Obama is not socialist. But he is more comfortable with centralizing economic power. As that centralization proceeds, the focus of public interest will shift from “how do we fix the immediate economic problems?” to “how do we fix the problems we created when we tried to fix that temporary problem?” That is when the pendulum can swing back towards decentralization and individual empowerment.

Jon takes a more organic view of the subject. That is, he posits the governing structure of the US as subject to the tolerance of the polity for centralized control of the economy. In his view, just because Obama “is more comfortable with centralizing economic power” that does not mean that we have become a socialist nation. Instead, we are merely experiencing a swing of the political pendulum towards socialism that will inevitably swing back towards the capitalism node. Left unsaid is how often that pendulum has swung away from socialism in the past 100+ years. More importantly, Jon’s assertions beg their own question — i.e. how “comfortable” must a politician and/or the populace be with centralized power before we can safely label it socialism?

In addition to the above, another line of argument is sure to be made (if it hasn’t been already) that we cannot possibly be a socialist country because private property has not been outlawed and the people as a whole do not own and control the means of production. Truly, this is the argument that Conor attempts to support with his graph (not that Conor necessarily agrees with that argument, just that he is holding up evidence that would tend to suggest socialism is not at hand). Essentially, although socialism comes in many forms, a primary ingredient is that the state (on behalf of the people) have dominance over the means of production instead of private concerns. The most extreme form, of course, is where all private property is abolished and the state decides what will be produced, by who, when and how much. Much milder versions such as social democracy exist today that, while they allow private property and much more freedom than, say, Stalinist North Korea, maintain a firm grip over the economy as a whole. Is there any doubt that Germany is a socialist country for example? The question then is, where does America fit when it this spectrum of socialist possibilities, if it fits at all?

At bottom, the problem with these sorts of arguments is almost always definitional. If I start arguing that communism never works and use the Soviet Union as an example, someone is sure to pipe up “that wasn’t real communism” followed by a neat explanation how Lenin and Stalin perverted what the true communists wanted in order to seize power for their own means. In order to avoid that annoyance, let’s at least agree on the dictionary definition of socialism:

An economic system in which the production and distribution of goods are [owned and] controlled substantially by the government rather than by private enterprise, and in which cooperation rather than competition guides economic activity. There are many varieties of socialism. Some socialists tolerate capitalism, as long as the government maintains the dominant influence over the economy; others insist on an abolition of private enterprise. All communists are socialists, but not all socialists are communists.

The definition above comes from the The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition, and I think sums up the idea nicely. The one thing missing is the word “ownership” which, I expect, someone will insist upon, so I’ve inserted the words “owned and” into the definition. As luck would have it, this is the very concept that I think is missed by almost everyone who discusses whether or not we are a socialist country.

Specifically, what is the difference between ownership and control? Looking again to the dictionary, here is a good legal definition of “ownership”:

“one’s exclusive right of possessing, enjoying, and disposing of a thing.” 72 So. 891. The term has been given a wide range of meanings, but is often said to comprehend both the concept of possession and, further, that of title and thus to be broader than either. See 139 N.W. 101. See fee simple.

The primary concept behind ownership is that of exclusivity, such that if I own real property, for example, I can by right exclude all others. Without the ability to exclude, my “ownership” is something less than complete and the use, enjoyment and alienation (a fancy word for selling, trading or giving away) of property is limited.

To illustrate the idea, consider that you own a piece of real property (Blackacre) which is rich with gold and silver mines, oil, and an abundance of flora and fauna. In short, it is a little slice of heaven and it is all yours. Or at least it would be if were not for the fact that the flora are mostly designated as protected, the fauna are all listed as endangered, and the mineral deposits are tightly regulated, all to the extent that you cannot make any real use of your land except to look at it from a neighbor’s yard in humble admiration for its splendor. Not only are you prevented from drilling or mining on your property, you cannot even build a house or structure of any kind because that might disturb the protected species. The rules and regulations governing Blackacre are so ominous, that you can’t even sell it without first offering it to the government for a price it will set in its own arbitrary discretion. Furthermore, just on the other side of Blackacre is the Pacific Ocean fronted by a lovely beach, to which the law declares access must be allowed for the public, and there is nothing you can do to prevent them from traipsing across your wonderland. In short, you may own Blackacre in title, but you have very little, if any, control.

Of course, at least here in America, the laws and regulations aren’t quite that strict. And the vast majority of people would agree to at least some controls over private property to prevent the owners from harming other property or people (e.g. pollution, building setbacks to prevent fire, etc.)[ed. – let’s ignore Coasean bargaining for now, shall we?]. At some point, however, those restrictions on the owner’s use become so burdensome as to effectively deprive the owner of any real control. The same can be said for the ownership of capital, which can be anything from money to a large factory for building tractors. When the government sets up enough rules and regulations affecting the use and enjoyment of that capital, the fact that ownership is nominally in private hands does not somehow render that government as something other than socialist.

Now, getting back to our definition of socialism, which is more important, “ownership” or “control”? To my mind, this isn’t even a close call. Without control, ownership is next to meaningless. Therefore, if the state has the ability to control the means of production (a.k.a. capital), whether directly through ownership, or indirectly through law and regulation, I contend that such state should be deemed socialist.

Think of a scale that measures the owner’s rights in her own property and how, with each new government missive, that ownership indication drops a little more. Where the state’s intervention becomes intolerable will be different for each person, but from a definitional standpoint, that intervention represents socialism. When the scale registers a significant enough intervention into the owner’s rights, socialism becomes the prevalent factor in the control of property, and private, capitalist “ownership” is either dulled or altogether neutered. Again, without the ability to control that capital, ownership is a meaningless concept that should be left out of the conversation.

Accordingly, when Conor suggests that we are not a socialist nation because the government only owns an almost immeasurable portion of the corporate assets of this country, I suggest that he use a new measurement. Specifically, one that measures the amount of control that “owners” have over their property/capital/etc. That graph would look significantly different in my estimation.

Furthermore, when Jon states that Obama is not a socialist, he’s just comfortable with centralizing economic power, I ask that he consider what ways centralizing power (i.e. control over the means of production) is not socialist, and that he provide a few examples for clarification. Also, if the pendulum is going to swing back towards more decentralization (i.e. less control over capital), how far back would it have to go before most people could be reasonably certain that we are not, in fact, a socialist nation? How far back does he think it would have to go, or is his contention that the pendulum simply hasn’t swung into socialist territory? In considering those questions, I’d ask that the concept of control, rather than titular ownership, be the dominant factor in deciding where the state stands vis-à-vis socialism.

As I see it, we’ve been living with socialism in this country for a very long time. The only difference has been one of degree and magnitude. Its pervasiveness has ebbed and flowed over the decades, but American’s tolerance for it has grown substantially, even if many of us don’t like to call the governance we desire “socialism.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly what it is, and it’s only going to become more prevalent and intrusive. After all, why would anyone who is comfortable with centralizing economic power stop it? They’ll just call it something else and move on with asserting they’re control until one day you’ll be gazing longingly at Blackacre from the public beach, because that’s the only place where you can legally see it.

Dealergate and Statistics

Yet another statistical analysis of the Chrysler dealership closings has been conducted, although this one appears to be both much more thorough (albeit preliminary) and concentrated on the correct data (my emphasis):

To start with, we pulled raw donor data from The Center for Responsive Politics / OpenSecrets.org for the 2008 election cycle and extracted ~865 megabytes of 2008 individual contribution (“IC”) cycle table entries.

[…]

… this particular output is the widest available dataset on contributions. We matched this data against two Chrysler dealer lists:

First, Docket #797 “Document #3″ “Schedule of Designated Domestic Dealer Agreements and Cure Costs Related Thereto” (a list of dealers expected to survive).

Second, the famous “Exhibit A” document of dealers to be closed.

[…]

We ran binary logistic regressions across the variables. The results are interesting but the most dramatic was saved dealers v. donations by candidate and/or party.

The results of the analysis suggest that donors to Hillary Clinton in the recent presidential race received some preferential treatment. That does not mean that anyone has proven anything, nor that the statistical analysis makes any sort of unassailable case. It merely raises a concern that, given the probabilities, Clinton donors appear to have survived the dealership closings surprisingly well.

This puzzled us. Why would there be an significant noticeable (we have rightly been called out for using significant here) and highly positive correlation between dealer survival and Clinton donors? Granted, that P-Value (0.125) isn’t enough to reject the null hypothesis at 95% confidence intervals (our null hypothesis being that the effect is due to random chance), but a 12.5% chance of a Type I error in rejecting a null hypothesis (false rejection of a true hypothesis) is at least eyebrow raising. Most statistians would not call this a “find” as 95% confidence intervals are the gold standard for this sort of work. Nevertheless, it seems clear that something is going on here. Specifically, the somewhat low probability that the Clinton data showing higher survivability of Clinton donors could result just from pure chance. But why not better significance with any of the other variables? Why this stand out?

Then we got to thinking. Steven Rattner, the Car Czar, is married to Maureen White, one-time national finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee. What does Maureen do now? From her website:

Maureen White is currently Chairman of the Board of Overseers of The International Rescue Committee (IRC), a member of the North American Advisory Board for the London School of Economics, and a National Finance Chair of the Hillary Clinton for President Campaign. (emphasis ours)

That website looks dated, but you get the idea.

Again, we want to point out that our findings are preliminary and subject to change. But whatever the result, the Administration has made themselves very vulnerable by taking charge of the dealership closing decisions.

I’m still not sure if there’s anything to the allegations, but there seems to be more than enough anomalies to warrant some questions being asked of the Obama administration. It should be noted that the theory regarding potential shenanigans has morphed from Obama creating a Republican hit list with the closings, to Obama benefiting Democrat donors by allowing their dealerships to survive (and thrive), to Obama’s “Car Czar” rewarding donors to his wife’s favorite political candidate (Hillary Clinton). When the theory moves that much, often it’s a sign that one is fishing for a villain. And despite the evidence amassed in this case showing that an unusual number of Democrat donors are set to prosper from the closing decisions, that may be the case here.

However this all turns out, one thing is certain: by involving itself so deeply in the fate of Chrysler (and GM), the Obama administration invited scrutiny concerning its decision-making processes. Furthermore, in being so opaque about how the government is picking winners and losers (not to mention that it is making these decisions at all), the Obama administration has left itself open to attacks of favoritism. That has nothing to do with Obama or partisanship in particular, but with the fact that unaccountable power rightfully raises fears and suspicions of favoritism. If Chrysler had been left to fend for itself in bankruptcy, none of these questions would have been raised.

The government arrogated to itself tremendous amounts of power over what would normally be private business decisions. In the process, the Obama administration blatantly used its power and influence to reward a favored constituent group (the UAW). Now that statistical evidence suggests more favoritism may have been in play, it’s a little late to cry “conspiracy theory.” Instead, the Obama administration should start opening the books and answering questions.

“Dealergate”: Things To Keep In Mind

Whether or not the decisions to close certain Chrysler dealerships was political motivated is still an open question, and based mostly on anecdotal evidence as well as an incomplete analysis data. Regardless, the evidence available thusfar, when viewed in light of the Obama administration’s previously demonstrated willingness to meddle for partisan gain (UAW anyone?), suggests that in the very least more investigation is warranted.

As the investigation unfolds (the yeoman’s work of which is being done by Doug Ross and Joey Smith), there are couple of things to keep in mind. Although many people have referred to the closing list of dealerships as a “hit list” it makes much more sense to concentrate on the dealerships remaining open and regarding it as a potential “friends Obama supports” list. By way of example, the evidence unearthed by Joey Smith regarding the RLJ-McLarty-Landers enterprise reveals that big time Democrat donors and partisans are reaping enormous benefits from the Chrysler plan in the form of all its competition being wiped out. So who owns this luckiest of dealerships?:

In my analysis of the Chrysler dealers that will remain open, I came across one dealer group that stood out to me.
The company is called RLJ-McLarty-Landers, and it operates six Chrysler dealerships throughout the South. All six dealerships are safe from closing.

[…]

The interesting part is who the three main owners of the company are. The owners are Steve Landers (long-time car dealer, 4th-generation dealer), Thomas “Mack” McLarty (former Chief of Staff for President Clinton), and Robert Johnson (founder of Black Entertainment Television and co-owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats). Landers has given money to Republicans in the past, but McLarty campaigned for Obama in 2008, and Johnson has given countless amounts of money to Democrats over the years.

Smith has found a similar fortune for Lithia Motors, whose CEO Sidney Deboer is a Democratic donor (although he’s also given to Republicans) and has come out publicly in favor of the Obama administration.

Of course, all of this is still anecdotal, but the planned closings look awfully fishy when the list of canceled dealerships is so totally dominated by Republican donors, and the list of survivors features prominent Democrat supporters.

Regardless of the above, Nate Silver has provided the excuse for Obama supporters to safely ignore this story by declaring the percentage of Republican car dealers to be so high in comparison to Democrats, that there should be little to no surprise when the closing list is so chock full of GOP partisans:

There is just one problem with this theory. Nobody has bothered to look up data for the control group: the list of dealerships which aren’t being closed. It turns out that all car dealers are, in fact, overwhelmingly more likely to donate to Republicans than to Democrats — not just those who are having their doors closed.

[…]

Overall, 88 percent of the contributions from car dealers went to Republican candidates and just 12 percent to Democratic candidates. By comparison, the list of dealers on Doug Ross’s list (which I haven’t vetted, but I assume is fine) gave 92 percent of their money to Republicans — not really a significant difference.

There’s no conspiracy here, folks — just some bad math.

Despite what Silver asserts (i.e. that the control group of non-closing dealerships should be examined), he does no such thing. Instead, he researches the Huffington Post’s Fundrace database for donations from car dealers to arrive at his decision that such occupation gives to the GOP at the tune of 8-1. However, Open Secrets arrives at a much different conclusion, especially over the long term, in which dealers only gave to the GOP at approximately a 3.5-1 clip. At those numbers, one would expect to find somewhere around a quarter of the closings to affect Democrat donors, instead of the 2.36% found thus far:

In fact, I have thus far found only a single Obama donor ($200 from Jeffrey Hunter of Waco, Texas) on the closing list.

Another review of all 789 closing dealerships, by WND, found $450,000 donated to GOP presidential candidates; $7,970 to Sen. Hillary Clinton; $2,200 to John Edwards and $450 to Barack Obama.

Of course, it’s important to remember that statistics do not prove the existence of anything, just its likelihood of existing. Nevertheless, the details uncovered so far suggest that partisanship may have indeed played a role in deciding which franchises remained open.