6.21.2007

Iowans for Tax Relief: Ron Paul not "Credible"

According to a press release from Iowans for Tax Relief, they invited all "credible Democrat and Republican Presidential candidates" to speak at the candidate forum on June 30, 2007. However, the Free Liberal confirms that Ron Paul was not invited.

Iowans for Tax Relief will not allow Dr. Paul to participate in a debate they are co-organizing with the Iowa Christian Alliance. This seems strange, given that Paul placed second in a straw poll conducted at the NTU conference this weekend. Anti-taxers are generally pro-Paul.


Strange indeed. Tom Woods from LewRockwell.com called Edward Failor, an officer of Iowans for Tax Relief, to confirm the story.
I said I was calling about the exclusion of Ron Paul from his candidates’ forum, particularly in light of Paul’s extraordinary record on taxes.

"Is there a question in there you want me to answer?" came the annoyed reply.

"Well, yes. Are you excluding Ron Paul, and if so, why?"

Failor explained that the event had been scheduled months ago, and that at that time they had made a decision about who the most "credible" candidates would be.

I didn’t quite understand his answer, though it was apparently more than he’d bothered to provide the Paul campaign. "You thought Tommy Thompson was a more credible candidate than Ron Paul?" I asked. (Can you imagine people gleefully sharing YouTube clips of Thompson with their friends, or holding up "Tommy Thompson Revolution" signs?)

Failor refused to answer that or any other question I posed to him, and closed with, "That is the only statement I am willing to make."


Yesterday, Jan Mickelson of WHO News Radio 1040 in Des Moines interviewed Ken Snyder from the Ron Paul campaign about the exclusion. Later in the program, Ed Failor called in and tried to explain himself. The host was unconvinced, calling Failor's explanation "pretty lame." Listen to the mp3 of the interview (a little more than 1 hour in) to hear Failor sputter.

6.13.2007

Results Oriented Thinking in the War on Terror

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr works himself into knots in two convoluted posts about the al-Marri case (4th Circuit rules that Qatari student living in the U.S. can't be held indefinitely as an "enemy combatant"). Prof. Kerr trots out a hypothetical familiar to anyone who has studied Criminal Procedure generally and the 4th Amendment exclusionary rule in particular.

To see why I think the results of Al-Marri are so puzzling, consider the following hypothetical. An Al-Qaeda cell of five individuals, all citizens of Qatar, enter the United States on student visas. The cell members' plans are to detonate a "dirty bomb" in New York City, and they rent a hotel room in Jersey City, New Jersey (just across the river) to build the dirty bomb. One of the hotel employees thinks the group is suspicious, and he calls up the local police and tells an officer that there is a group of Arab men in the hotel staying in one room and acting very secretively.

The officer visits the hotel when the men are out one day and he requests that the hotel employee show him the room. The employee agrees; he opens the door with his key and shows the officer inside. They immediately see the bomb-making materials along with several photographs of Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 attacks taped to the walls. The officer contacts the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. An hour later, the FBI has obtained a search warrant for the room and arrest warrants for the five men.

The men are arrested and charged criminally. A search of the hotel room discovers all the bomb-making materials. The room search also uncovers videotapes the men made celebrating their pending attack; the men each spent a few minutes on tape describing what attacks they will execute and hoping and praying that the streets of New York will "run red with Jewish and imperialist blood."

But there's a major problem with the criminal case: The evidence against the cell members was obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Under Stoner v. California, the men have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the hotel room and the hotel clerk lacks authority to consent to a law enforcement search. As a result, the evidence against the five men was obtained in violation of their Fourth Amendment rights. The evidence -- including the videotapes in which they each celebrated the attacks and confessed to their plans -- must be suppressed.


Later, after a long comment thread full of mostly skeptical comments (pretty natural, since we've all seen this hypo before in law school), Prof. Kerr made another post to explain "the continuum between war and crime." In it, he creates a list of scenarios and asks readers to think about whether they should be handled under the "war" rules or the "crime" rules.

The problem with Prof. Kerr's premise is that he has in one of the most common poker leaks amongst amateur players: results-oriented thinking. This leak is at play every time some player tells you about how he folded 77 to a big preflop raise, but then the flop came 773 (which would have given him the four 7s for the nuts). The only way he can justify playing a medium hand like 77 in the face of a big raise is to talk about what happened after the flop; it doesn't make sense to play it if you don't know what cards are going to come next.

Prof. Kerr's hypothetical is useless, because it assumes we know everything about this "al-Qaeda cell" when we're making the decision about how to play the game. In the real world, we don't know everything about every suspect and we can't decide how to play the game based on assumptions about what's going to happen in advance. That's never the case in reality.

In the real world, you have to decide how you want to play the game without knowing what everyone else is holding or what's going to come out on the flop. You can play poker playing every hand in the hope that you'll draw lucky. It's stupid, but you'll only lose your money (probably to people like me).

We can't play the game of law enforcement that way, though, since we'll end up losing something much more important than money. We'll end up losing our civil liberties.

6.07.2007

Kenyan Economics Expert: "Stop the Foreign Aid!"

Spiegel International has an interview with Kenyan economics expert James Shikwati about foreign aid. They seem shocked that his main plea is for foreign governments to stop sending aid.

SPIEGEL:Mr. Shikwati, the G8 summit at Gleneagles is about to beef up the development aid for Africa...

Shikwati: ... for God's sake, please just stop.

SPIEGEL: Stop? The industrialized nations of the West want to eliminate hunger and poverty.

Shikwati: Such intentions have been damaging our continent for the past 40 years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor.


Foreign aid money is an inefficient transfer of tax dollars from the middle class in developed countries to the corrupt governments of developing countries and seldom (if ever) results in an improvement to the underlying problem in the developing country. In fact, in the case of food aid, it leads to even more famines.

SPIEGEL: Even in a country like Kenya, people are starving to death each year. Someone has got to help them.

Shikwati: But it has to be the Kenyans themselves who help these people. When there's a drought in a region of Kenya, our corrupt politicians reflexively cry out for more help. This call then reaches the United Nations World Food Program -- which is a massive agency of apparatchiks who are in the absurd situation of, on the one hand, being dedicated to the fight against hunger while, on the other hand, being faced with unemployment were hunger actually eliminated. It's only natural that they willingly accept the plea for more help. And it's not uncommon that they demand a little more money than the respective African government originally requested. They then forward that request to their headquarters, and before long, several thousands tons of corn are shipped to Africa ...

SPIEGEL: ... corn that predominantly comes from highly-subsidized European and American farmers ...

Shikwati: ... and at some point, this corn ends up in the harbor of Mombasa. A portion of the corn often goes directly into the hands of unsrupulous politicians who then pass it on to their own tribe to boost their next election campaign. Another portion of the shipment ends up on the black market where the corn is dumped at extremely low prices. Local farmers may as well put down their hoes right away; no one can compete with the UN's World Food Program. And because the farmers go under in the face of this pressure, Kenya would have no reserves to draw on if there actually were a famine next year. It's a simple but fatal cycle.


Like with domestic welfare, a hand up is what's needed, not a hand out. NGOs like KickStart and their MoneyMaker irrigation pumps provide actual poor people with the tools they need to get out of poverty. Traditional foreign aid is just money being sent from bureaucrats to other bureaucrats who stash it away in offshore accounts.

6.04.2007

What is Atheism?

There's a common misunderstanding when talking about atheism that has reared its ugly head in the stoic philosophy forum I participate in. This post seeks to identify the problem and work toward greater understanding between those who believe and those who do not.

When an atheist describes his/her beliefs, he/she will typically use the phrase, "I do not believe in God."

When a theist argues with an atheist, he/she will typically use the phrase, "That atheist believes that there is no God."

The second statement is not an accurate translation of the first. Theism, in its many varieties, is a positive belief that there is a god or gods. Atheism is properly understood as a lack of this belief, not a positive belief in the non-existence of god.

As Dawkins notes in his book, The God Delusion, Christians are atheist with regard to Zeus, Vishnu, Tiamat, et al. The atheist just goes one god further.

The caricature of an atheist as someone who is sure that god does not exist makes it easy for the theist to beat up the straw man argument that both sides are equally unprovable. "I can't prove God exists, but you can't prove God doesn't exist." Then the theist will say that both positions are a matter of faith. The fallacy is that the theist is claiming that a deity exists without any evidence. A rational person suspends belief in the absence of evidence. I can't prove that leprechauns or the Flying Spaghetti Monster don't exist, but that doesn't make belief in them any less irrational.