Saturday, 16 November 2002

Libertarians cost Republicans filibuster-proof Senate margin

At least, that's what John J. Miller claims in today's New York Times. John, who doesn't seem to be a libertarian in either sense, thinks that's bad for libertarians, mainly because we won't get the Bush tax cut permanently (me, I'd prefer a cleaned up tax code to yet another layer of gobbledygook; between all the capital gains rates and normal income rates, we're now up to about a dozen real tax brackets). Glenn Reynolds makes the reasonable point that libertarians are sensibly reacting to Republicans' policies that they disagree with, even if they are "closer" to being Republican.

I don't necessarily disagree with the "Libertarians are closer to Republicans" thesis; a former Libertarian presidential candidate, Ron Paul, is now a Republican House member from Texas, and Republicans' national rhetoric is somewhat more "libertarian" than Democrats'. At a more practical level, it's harder to advance a socially-conservative agenda in Washington than a fiscally-liberal one, so voting Republican is probably less of a risk to freedom than voting for Democrats — particularly since most Dems run for the hills when it comes to actually sticking up for fundamental freedoms or ending the War on Drugs, lest they appear "too liberal." Then again, a fellow libertarian (and political scientist to boot) tends to vote Democratic (but that's only because he thinks South Carolina's Republicans are fascists).

It seems to me that Democrats and Republicans have two realistic choices to deal with their third party problems: they can either try to get stricter ballot-access laws (which could be hard — the most stringent are being thrown out by the courts fairly regularly, even with the bogus "state interest in promoting a two-party system" argument that seems to pop up from time to time; my recollection is that our Founding Fathers would think our system already has two parties too many), or they can promote some sort of ballot reform like approval voting or Condorcet vote counting that would preserve their duopoly in the short-to-medium term but still let voters blow off steam by voting Green or Libertarian.

On the other hand, such reform could conceivably lead to the full-scale disintegration of the Democrats into various client-group parties (probably a rump comprised of union voters plus a few racial-interest parties concentrated in gerrymandered districts, with the rest defecting to the Greens) and the loss of the socially-agnostic wing of the Republicans to the Libertarians.

More likely it would end up in a situation where Republicans and Democrats would have the bulk of the seats but third parties would be coalition power-brokers; the big question is whether there would be permanent parliamentary-style coalitions in Congress or a more ad-hoc arrangement with no "majority" like we know it today, just floating coalitions assembled by the White House to get its preferred legislation passed.

Won't you take me to Funkytown(?!?)

Yes, according to the Memphis Regional Chamber, the City on the Bluffs is not only Cosmopolitan, Comfortable, Vibrant, and Convenient; it's also Funky.

I'm more reminded of the old Northwest Airlines joke: Northwest has three hubs: Motown, Snow Town, and No-Town. But then again, I'm a cynic.

Flags (Georgia and Mississippi)

Virginia Postrel also writes about the Georgia elections and what they may have had to do with the flag change there; she links to an article in Metropolis magazine talking about how the flags' design could have been an issue in their success or failure.

At least in Mississippi, that didn't make a difference. A former colleague, D'Andra Orey, took a look at the issue and found racial attitudes were the prime factor on how people viewed the flag issue. The fact that the proposed banner was butt-ugly and had no historical significance to the state was beside the point. (The Metropolis piece also talks about this to some extent.)

The reality is that the Mississippi Legislature — particularly the white Democrats who run the place, despite the fact that the Republicans and black Democrats could easily make a power-play if they felt like it — made a shrewd political calculation: they punted on the issue to save their jobs (a reasonable thing to do; realignment hasn't reached the state legislature here yet, but voting for a new flag was one sure-fire way to make sure it did), and they counted on having the popular mandate to not change the flag to insulate them from any backlash from the NAACP and other groups pressuring for change. The only possible downside for the legislature's white Democrats, who really didn't want a new flag anyway, was that if Mississippi's black population had decided to turn out disproportionately in the election, they could have gotten the new flag. In the end, only 30% of the electorate showed up, and the "old" flag won in a number of majority-black counties. Realignment was forestalled, the NAACP went away, and nobody in the state really seemed to care all that much.

Of course, virtually nobody in the state cared much about what anyone outside of the state thought either, which is probably why Mississippi is viewed as little more than a collection of backwater hicks and a source of occasional "local color" for Robert Altman films.

Firefly's "Ariel"

Another great episode, although my current fave is still "Shindig" from two weeks ago (though that's probably just my Kaylee thang talking). The weekly discussion is underway at TiVoCommunity. The past few weeks have filled in some backstory, although we still have the reworked pilot and a couple of other episodes to look forward to next month (an early Christmas present).

Now hopefully Fox will have the sense to renew it, and put Andy Richter on year-round while they're at it.

"Hybrid" I-69 route annoys all sides

The EPA's new "hybrid" route proposal apparently is unpopular with both Evansville officials and environmentalists. In other words, it's the very definition of a compromise. (Most of the sniffing seems to be from people on both sides who feel "left out of the loop." I feel their pain.)

I'm personally not all that sold on a route that meanders drunkenly through Southwest Indiana, but I'm sure something reasonably direct can be worked out that avoids the Patoka National Wildlife Refuge, which seems to be EPA's biggest concern.

Regular I-69 updates are at; this site is just for meaningless blather. :-)

The Transportation Security Agency

Virginia Postrel comments on the relative efficiency and competence of the TSA.

At some level, it's too early to judge them (the initial "startup effect" makes everything seem competent the first six months or so; go to a McDonald's or Best Buy the month it opens then come back a year later, and compare the difference), but I agree they did seem a bit more together than the old-style crews when I flew to Savannah last weekend. They also had big signs telling everyone what to do ("take your laptop out of your bag, put your coat on the conveyor, don't brandish weapons and/or start shouting in Arabic"), which helped the process somewhat. And, so long as these people can be fired on the spot if they can't figure out the difference between silly putty and Semtex, I'm cautiously optimistic.

But I'm still not flying again anytime soon, so nyah!