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Politicians and rightish political commentators frequently claim that importing oil from countries which don’t like the USA is bad for American national security. I had never given this claim much thought, and now after thinking about it, I have realized I don’t understand it.

If oil is basically fungible, then as long as they sell it to someone it will affect the USA very minimally. If Saudi Arabia starts refusing to sell oil to the USA, but still sells it to Australia, then whoever was selling to Australia before that can turn around and sell it to us.

Now surely oil isn’t totally fungible, transportation costs are surely somewhat important, so the cost of oil would surely go up a bit. But danger is surely less than the danger people normally imply from importing oil from countries which don’t like the USA.

Now the fact that we import oil at all, from any country, could be a bigger problem. But in this case, importing food and the like is a similar concern and seems basically intractable.

What am I missing?

University of Washington President Mark Emmert is apparently demanding that convicted sex offenders, who are off probation, be evicted from their housing north of the UW (link). Emmert is trying to get Gov. Gregoire to met out extra-judicial punishment against these sex offenders, who the judicial branch has deemed fit to reenter society. If Emmert thinks that the justice system is wrong, he should lobby the legislature for stronger punishments, perhaps even including housing restrictions, for sex offenses, but he is wrong to seek extra-judical coercive punishment. It is a terrible example for the President of the university to send to its students.

It’s election time in Washington State, and apparently local environmental activists are split on whether Proposition-1, which would allocate a lot of money for roads and transit systems, will reduce global warming (link). My primary question is: Why on earth is this sort of thing being referred to voters? Isn’t this the sort of thing we pay our representatives for? Voters in general, myself included, are not in a position to intelligently evaluate this sort of complex proposition.

A huge surplus of propositions, referenda and initiatives seems to be a perennial problem for Washington State. I’m with State Sen. Ken Jacobsen in wanting to get rid of the referendum and initiative process. Unfortunately, I doubt our state will get rid of the process any time soon, because the amendment to the state constitution to eliminate the processes would itself have to be passed by voters, and the emotional arguments against such an amendment are far easier to make than the arguments for one. Arguing that such an amendment would be “a rather draconian effort to insulate politicians from the people” is simpler and more emotionally appealing than arguing that voters are hardly ever in a position to intelligently evaluate complex policy options.

I would be OK with a Ron Paul presidency, but his support of a return to the gold standard is a bit crazy. Here is Ron Paul on the evils of fiat money:

Since printing paper money is nothing short of counterfeiting, the issuer of the international currency must always be the country with the military might to guarantee control over the system. This magnificent scheme seems the perfect system for obtaining perpetual wealth for the country that issues the de facto world currency. The one problem, however, is that such a system destroys the character of the counterfeiting nation’s people – just as was the case when gold was the currency and it was obtained by conquering other nations. And this destroys the incentive to save and produce, while encouraging debt and runaway welfare.

Here is the value of gold in real terms for the last 106 years (source):

Gold is not nearly as stable as people imagine. Now, if it were impossible to have a central bank insulated from politics, the gold standard would be a good alternative, but I think the last 25 years demonstrate that independent central banks are institutionally possible.

Addendum: Megan McArdle eloquently explains why she is against the gold standard. Here’s the core:

The gold standard cannot do what a well-run fiat currency can do, which is tailor the money supply to the economy’s demand for money. The supply of gold grows–or not–depending on how much of the stuff is mined. Demand also fluctuates for non-economic reasons; gold has uses besides being money, like industrial components and jewelry.

I’m not a huge fan of Ron Paul the legislator. Sure he favors smaller government, but he also opposes abortion rights, opposes immigration, opposes managed free-trade (which seems like the only way to advance free trade), and supports a return to the gold standard. If I could choose the next president though, I would choose Ron Paul in a heartbeat.

My support comes down to a few issues. Ron Paul is basically the only candidate I trust to protect federalism and civil liberties and not to further expand executive power. Ron Paul would have less say over the issues I disagree with him on as president than he does as a legislator. As a president, Ron Paul would have a lasting positive impact by nominating good judges and limiting the expansion of executive and federal power.

The Washington Post has an interesting article on the changing composition of the 4th Circuit Court, which fits in well with the argument I made yesterday that appointments should require a super-majority Senate vote. The article implicitly notes that judges are observed to have strong “liberal” or “conservative” biases which correlate strongly with the ideology of the president who appointed them and that those biases have significant impacts on the precedent setting rulings they make. The 4th Circuit Court in particular, which was conservative but is now even split, has played an important role in the legalities involved in the administration’s “war on terror.” The article points out:

the court has played a key role in terrorism cases since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.


a three-judge panel supported Bush’s detention of “enemy combatant” Yaser Esam Hamdi, a U.S. citizen captured with Taliban soldiers in Afghanistan who, at that point, had not seen a lawyer

The article also shows that I am not the only one who thinks centrist appointments are possible:

Liberal groups said Bush can still shape the 4th Circuit, and they called on him to nominate consensus candidates likely to win Senate approval. 

I also call on the president to nominate consensus candidates. In general, however, if appointments are consistently partisan (which they are) we should focus on changing the rules for appointments instead of focusing on convincing individual appointers. As I argued yesterday, changing the required Senate approval for appointments from a simple majority to a large super-majority would go a long way towards encouraging centrist appointments.

I have heard Giuliani called a libertarianish presidential candidate, but I am not convinced:

Citing his years as a federal prosecutor, Mr. Giuliani said the courts often turned down his requests for wiretapping suspects. “I am real comfortable with that almost as a general rule,” he continued. “With the slight exception that a prosecutor and president are different, and there may just be times where a president has to use his own judgment in order to protect the American people and we have to use a little room for that.”

Judicial oversight is not an irrelevant issue.

A bi-partisan group of senators have proposed legislation set up a cap-and-trade system to curb CO2 emissions (link). I’m more or less an anthropogenic global warming agnostic, but if you want to reduce CO2 emissions, this is one of the intelligent ways to do it.

I have yet to read the bill, but, surprisingly, from what I have read, it appears to be better than the Canadian Conservative party proposal (link), which was a mishmash of different mechanisms, though it did include a cap-and-trade scheme.

Congress has subpoenaed the executive branch to get documents related to U.S. attorney firing scandal, and the president has refused to give the documents over, claiming executive privilege (link).

I am not certain how I feel about the president’s claim of executive privilege or even about executive privilege in general, but I am very happy to see fighting words between the executive branch and the legislative branch back in the news. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt), of the Senate Judiciary committee, has harsh words for the executive branch: “This is a further shift by the Bush administration into Nixonian stonewalling and more evidence of their disdain for our system of checks and balances”, and Tony Snow, the whitehouse press secretary, responds with equally harsh language: “[the subpoenas] may explain why this is the least popular Congress in decades, because you do have what appears to be a strategy of destruction rather than cooperation.”

When the different branches of the government fight each other, they help keep any one branch from gaining too much authority. I am happy congress is trying to exert some ‘check’ on the executive branch again.

The Outright Libertarians blog, which I just discovered, points me to an amazingly well produced pro marriage-equality and strikingly libertarian ad campaign put together by MassEquality. The campaign is called “It’s Wrong to Vote on Rights,” and it basically argues for limits on how much democracy should be able to limit individual freedoms. Watch the T.V. ads; they are quite moving.

 UPDATE: Apparently, the ads were for the recent vote on the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. The amendment was voted down in the house, so apparently they were successful!