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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

2008 and Other Political Years

[An edited text of this letter appeared in The Clarion-Ledger of September 28, 2005. It's a commentary on Jerry Mitchell's September 22 piece, "Clinton no match for Barbour, Miss. GOP leader says".]

Jerry Mitchell left out a key element: timing. The presidential race will start in 2007, which is the same year Mississippi will elect its state officials. Gov. Haley Barbour will thus have to choose between seeking re-election and running for president. If he seeks re-election, he will surely be pressed to commit to serving out the full term.

Every now and then, we hear from these great characters from the past, like "longtime Republican leader" Gil Carmichael. That's funny-- I thought Gil was an independent, since that was the label under which he ran in his last campaign (1983 for lieutenant governor), when he was pulverized by Brad Dye. [As a Republican, Carmichael ran against U. S. Sen. Jim Eastland in 1972. Gil was also the Republican nominee for governor against Cliff Finch in 1975 and William Winter in 1979.]

Carmichael supported Gerald Ford over Ronald Reagan for president.

The whole complexion of the presidential race may change by 2008. A dark horse like New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson could emerge as the Democratic nominee.

One thing is quite certain: Rudolph Giuliani won't be the Republican nominee. The ex-New York mayor is pro-gun control, pro-gay rights, and pro-abortion, including partial-birth abortion.

Grassroots Republicans, the ones who vote in primaries and caucuses, are overwhelmingly conservative and pro-life. They aren't going to nominate someone with Giuliani's positions on the social issues.

Columnist Bill Minor's hero, ex-Sen. John Edwards, that great friend of poor people, should be finished building his new mansion by 2008. In the unlikely event that he becomes president, Edwards will have to move into a smaller house.

Mitchell notes that Gov. Ross Barnett received votes at the 1960 Democratic National Convention. That was also the year that Charles Sullivan of Clarksdale, who later served as lieutenant governor, was the presidential nominee of a third party. [Sullivan, one of the best orators in recent Mississippi political history, ran for governor in 1959, 1963, and 1971. His last campaign was for U. S. senator in 1978, the year that Thad Cochran was first elected. Sullivan finished third in the Democratic primary, ahead of ex-Gov. Bill Waller, who had defeated him in 1971. Tragically, Sullivan died in a plane crash in 1979 at age 54.]

The most memorable thing about ex-Gov. Cliff Finch's 1980 campaign for president was that overhead shot of him in a heart-shaped bathtub in Arizona.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Welcome to Lake Nagin (formerly, "New Orleans")

by Paul Greenberg

Jewish World Review Sept. 22, 2005

New Orleans has three big problems just now: flood control, damage control and mayoral control.

Which one is the biggest isn't easy to decide, but every time The Hon. C. Ray Nagin goes off on another tangent, and follows it right over a cliff, he moves into the lead for Problem No. 1.

Not long ago, the mayor was inviting the dispersed New Orleans diaspora back home, or at least a couple of hundred thousand of them. Yep, come on in, the water's fine.

Never mind that just now the devastated city is a plague waiting to happen; it doesn't have a single hospital operating up to standards, and much of New Orleans still doesn't have electricity, drinkable water or 911 service. But here was Hizzoner flinging open the gates — just as another hurricane was entering the Gulf of Mexico.

Another foot of rain or a three-foot flood surge would likely overwhelm the levees again, but that didn't stop the mayor — he was determined to roll out the sopping-wet welcome mat.

The one effective leader on the local scene seems to be Thad Allen, the Coast Guard vice admiral who's been put in charge of relief efforts. He tried to warn Ragin' Nagin —and the people of New Orleans — that now was no time to hurry back.

The admiral's message was clear but his tone tactful. ("Reopening city very ambitious, relief chief says/He asks mayor to be mindful of risks of returning too early" — Page 1, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Sept. 18, 2005)

It was like using etiquette on a bull. Mayor Nagin responded by describing Admiral Allen as "the new crowned federal mayor of New Orleans." He made the admiral sound like Ben Butler, the despised Union general who headed the occupation of New Orleans after the Late Unpleasantness.

Consider the surreal scene: Here the mayor had just returned from Dallas, where he had relocated his own family and enrolled his daughter in school, but he was urging others to move back. This despite the admiral's sensible warning: "We're potentially asking people to re-enter a city where there is no potable water. . . . Our collective counsel is for him to slow down."

And the mayor finally did, not quite admitting that his invitation to repopulate the city had been premature even while he had to order a second evacuation. Those poor folks who took the mayor seriously the first time had to turn around and leave a second time.

When the admiral referred to "collective counsel," he was speaking for everybody from the president of the United States to Louisiana's own Homeland Security office. To quote its spokesman, "We'd rather people not go back to New Orleans." Not yet, anyway.

But if Mr. Nagin hadn't relented, how could the authorities have kept them out when their mayor was urging them to return — despite all the counsels of common sense and sanitary engineering?

What will Ragin' Nagin say next? His outburst in the immediate wake of Katrina's devastation, while people were still drowning and others were imprisoned in that hellish Superdome, was more than understandable. It was needed. And useful. His cry for help seemed to wake up the country and even its sluggish president.

Those horrific images from stricken New Orleans were something out of Dante's Inferno, only with water instead of fire. The mayor had every reason to yell. But now he's gone from yelling like a first sergeant to being the only guy in the outfit who never gets the word. He really needs to get a grip.

Before this is over, the president and commander-in-chief may yet have to do what he should have done weeks ago in order to protect the health and welfare of innocent people caught in a hurricane of governmental incompetence: declare martial law.

The governor of Louisiana seems incapable of doing anything so forceful. Her evacuation orders sound more like polite pleas. Every time I've seen her on the tube, the poor woman has that doe-in-the-headlights look, and her evacuation orders seem wholly optional. No wonder people don't listen to her.

Poor New Orleans — stuck between one hurricane and the next, and stuck with a mayor whose reaction to the first went from unprepared to unhinged. The nation is still haunted by those nightmarish images from the Superdome, which the mayor had filled with desperate people. And the general quality of his preparation for the emergency will be forever symbolized by that picture of those rows upon rows of school buses ever so neatly arranged — so the flood waters could come right up to their roofs.

You have to wonder what disaster Mayor Nagin is going to invite to his city next-- cholera?


JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. All the quotations in this column were culled from the Democrat-Gazette.

"My Speech at the Antiwar Rally"

by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

Monday, September 26, 2005

I was invited to speak at a peace march and rally in Birmingham, Alabama, sponsored by the Alabama Peace and Justice Coalition, and gladly accepted the offer to speak against the war in Iraq.

Yes, as you might guess, the program was dominated by leftists who rightly oppose the war but want big government to run the economy. I accepted for the same reason I would accept an engagement to speak against taxes even if sponsored by a right-wing group that also favored the war and militarism.

The opportunity to make a difference in favor of freedom should not be passed up, even if one's associates have a mixed-up ideology. After all, most ideologies these days are mixed up, and have been for the better part of a century.

Those who want free markets domestically typically want central planning and socialism when it comes to war and peace, while those who see the merit of diplomacy and minding one's own business in foreign policy can't reconcile themselves to capitalism as the only economic system that lets people alone to live happy, prosperous lives.

Now, one might think that the old liberal view, the view of Jefferson and his School, might be more widely held: namely that the government ought not lord it over anything. But somehow everyone seems to have a stake in big government, whether to rule the world or expropriate the rich. So what can we do but encourage the good parts of what people believe and discourage the bad parts?

In any case, I was glad to speak before this group, and they were gracious to ask. The challenge was to put together a three-minute speech that summed up the libertarian case against the Iraq War — not easy to do.

I was aware that I was a token non-leftist speaking to a largely leftist audience.

Among the slogans of the day was that we should spend less on the war and more on social needs. Libertarians can agree in some way: give everyone back their money and let each individual spend on his or her social needs!

There are two potential failings in such a venue: kowtowing to the audience or, the opposite error, ungraciously rubbing their noses in their inconsistencies. It strikes me that the only way to proceed here is simply to tell what's true as best as one is able, and to heck with rhetorical strategy.

The speech seemed well received. A minister from an AME church came up to me and said "you express my views exactly!" I had my doubts, but that's great if true. Similarly, there was a young kid wearing a shirt that said: "War is the symptom; capitalism is the disease." He was cheering very loudly, so who knows? Maybe I made him think.

What follows is my text. If you read it yourself, you will see that I went longer than three minutes. I might have just reduced it all to: "down with the warfare-welfare state, and up with peace and free trade."


War and Morality

By what ethical standard should we judge the state? One tradition, which we might call anti-liberal, asserts that there are special laws of morality that apply to the state alone. Another tradition, the liberal tradition, says that states must abide by the moral standards that apply to everyone in all times and all places.

The first view is the ancient one. It permitted and expected states to pillage and kill. The right and wrong of statecraft was dictated by the sword. The idea of universal moral laws and universal human rights did not find favor among the Caesars and Pharaohs, any more than this idea appealed to later dictators.

Yet the liberal tradition gradually abolished the idea of caste and special legal privilege. It asserted, more generally, that no group possesses a special license to lord it over others.

St. Augustine might have been the first to observe that the moral status of Alexander the Great's conquests was more egregious than the pirate's depredations. The pirate molests the sea, but the emperor molests the world.

The view that states can do wrong is the most powerful theory of politics in the history of the world. It led to the birth of the dream of universal freedom. Slavery, imperialism, colonialism, militarism, and authoritarianism all came to exist under a moral cloud.

At the same time, freedom and individualism unleashed human energies and, in the setting of free economies, created a prosperity beyond any ever known. This made possible the vast expansion of the world's population, and human flourishing as never seen before.

Given this history, and the central role that the American Revolution had in furthering the liberal idea, we must ask the question: what does the US government not understand about the evil of imperialism, the immorality of enslaving a foreign people, the malice of colonialism, and the intolerable brutality of authoritarianism?

In fact, the theory of the modern American regime is a throwback to the ancient view, that the US operates under special rules.

The US believes it can starve foreign countries such as Iraq by imposing killer sanctions that a high US official said were worth the lives of hundreds of thousands of children.

The US believes that it can use its weapons of mass destruction to threaten any country in the world on the very suspicion that it might be trying to defend itself. The US can then phony up intelligence, overthrow a leader, and install a regime of its choosing. Not to worry: its magical military Midas touch will transform that country into a paragon of democratic freedom — just as soon as all political opposition is silenced or destroyed.

In short, the US government believes that it operates under a different moral standard, not only from the moral standard that regular people apply to their own affairs, but even different from the moral standard that the US applies to other states.

And who pays the price for this moral hypocrisy? The victims of war.

Of all forms of collectivist central planning, war is the most egregious. It is generated by the coercive force of taxation and monetary depreciation. Its means are economic regimentation and the violation of the freedom to associate and trade. Its ends are destruction and killing — crime on a mass scale.

War leaves in its wake orphans, widows, parents without children, sickness, hatred, and spiritual and psychological trauma. It gives power to dictators on all sides. It is based on a lie that mass death can ever accord with justice. It attempts to silence those who tell the truth.

Indeed, war is a kind of totalitarianism. It is a policy without limit. It demands from us all that we have to give: our money, our children, our minds, even our souls. Too often people give it all. Too often, Americans give it all.

George Bush was brazen enough to make the doctrine explicit. If you are not for him, he says, you are for the terrorists.

He said it because the state fears the advocates of peace. It fears the truth, and those who tell the truth. It fears those who dare to judge the state by normal standards of morality.

The state fears you. Why? Because you hold the opinions that you do, and refuse to surrender your mind, your talents, your soul. By joining the resistance, you help thwart their plans. You help establish the basis for peace in the future. You help preserve and develop civilization, for the human family can only thrive in a setting of peace.

So I say to you: Keep making the sacrifice. Believe in peace. Proclaim peace. Stand up to the state. Be a dissident. Tell what is true. And do not fear the emperor-pirates. They, after all, fear you. For you help tilt the balance of history against their barbarism, and in favor of peace and freedom.


Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., is president of the Mises Institute and editor of Lewrockwell.com. Rockwell@mises.org. Comment on this piece at http://blog.mises.org/blog/archives

The State and the Flood

by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

Friday, September 02, 2005

"No one can escape the influence of a prevailing ideology," wrote Ludwig von Mises, and Gulf Coast residents know precisely what it means to be trapped — ostensibly by a flood but actually by statist policies and ideological commitments that put the government in charge of crisis management and public infrastructure. For what we are seeing in New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast region is the most egregious example of government failure in the United States since September 11, 2001.

Mother Nature can be cruel, but even at her worst, she is no match for government. It was the glorified public sector, the one we are always told is protecting us, that is responsible for this. And though our public servants and a sycophantic media will do their darn best to present this calamity as an act of nature, it was not and is not. Katrina came and went with far less damage than anyone expected. It was the failure of the public infrastructure and the response to it that brought down civilization.

The levees that failed and caused New Orleans to be flooded, bringing a humanitarian crisis not seen in our country in modern times, were owned and maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers. The original levees surrounding this city below sea level were erected in 1718, and have been variously expanded since.

But who knew that a direct hit by a hurricane would cause them to break? Many people, it turns out. Ivor van Heerden of Louisiana State University, reports Newsday, "who has developed flooding models for New Orleans, was among those issuing dire predictions as Katrina approached, warnings that turned out to be grimly accurate. He predicted that floodwaters would overcome the levee system, fill the low-lying areas of the city and then remain trapped there well after the storm passed — creating a giant, stagnant pool contaminated with debris, sewage and other hazardous materials."

Newsday goes on: "Van Heerden and other experts put some of the blame on the Mississippi River levees themselves, because they channel silt directly into the Gulf of Mexico that otherwise would stabilize land along the riverside and slow the sinking of the coastline."

He is hardly some lone nut. National Geographic ran a large article on the topic last year that begins with a war-of-the-worlds scenario and reads precisely like this week's news from New Orleans. It is the Army Corps of Engineers that has been responsible for the dwindling of the coastline that has required the levees to be constantly reinforced with higher walls. But one problem: no one bothered to do this since 1965. That's only the beginning of the problems created by the Corps' levee management, the history of which was documented by Mark Thornton following the last flood in 1999.

Only the public sector can preside over a situation this precarious and display utter and complete inertia. What do these people have to lose? They are not real owners. There are no profits or losses at stake. They do not have to answer to risk-obsessed insurance companies who insist on premiums matching even the most remote contingencies. So long as it seems to work, they are glad to go about their business in the soporific style famous to all public sectors everywhere.

And failure of one structure has highlighted the failures of other structures. The levees could not be repaired in a timely manner because roads and bridges built and maintained by government could not withstand the pressure from the flood. They broke down.

And again, it is critical to keep in mind that none of this was caused by Hurricane Katrina as such. It was the levee break that led to the calamity. As the New York Times points out: "it was not the water from the sky but the water that broke through the city's protective barriers that had changed everything for the worse.... When the levees gave way in some critical spots, streets that were essentially dry in the hours immediately after the hurricane passed were several feet deep in water on Tuesday morning."

Indeed, at 4pm on Monday, August 29, all seemed calm, and reports of possible calamity seemed overwrought. Two hours later the reports began to appear about the levee. A period of some twelve hours lapsed between when the hurricane passed through and when the water came rushing into the city. There is some dispute about precisely when the levees broke. Some say that they were broken long before anyone discovered it, which is another outrage. There was no warning system. There is no question that plenty of time was available between their breakage and the flooding to enable people to make other arrangements — and perhaps for the levees to be repaired. People were relieved that the rain subsided and the effects of Katrina were far less egregious than anyone expected.

That's when the disaster struck. The municipal government itself relocated to Baton Rouge even as the city pumps failed as well. Meanwhile, the Army Corp of Engineers apparently had no viable plan even to make repairs. They couldn't bring in the massive barges and cranes needed because the bridges were down and broken, or couldn't be opened without electricity. For public relations purposes, they dumped tons of sand into one breach even as another levee was breaking. But even that PR move failed since most helicopters were being used to move people from spot to spot — another classic case of miscalculation. Many bloggers had the sense that the public sector essentially walked away.

But the police and their guns and nightsticks were out in full force, not arresting criminals but pushing around the innocent and giving mostly bad instructions. The 10,000 people who had been corralled into the Superdome were essentially under house arrest from the police who were keeping them there, preventing them even from getting fresh air. A day later the water and food were running out, people were dying, and the sanitary conditions becoming disastrous. Finally someone had the idea of shipping all these people Soviet-like to Houston to live in the Astrodome, as if they are not people with volition but cattle.

After evacuations, the looting began and created a despicable sight of criminal gangs stealing everything in sight as the police looked on (when they weren't joining in). Now, this scene offers its own lessons. Why doesn't looting and rampant criminality occur every day? The police are always there and so are the hoodlums and the criminals. What was missing that made the looting rampage possible was the bourgeoisie, that had either left by choice or had been kicked out. It is they who keep the peace. And had any stayed around to protect their property, we don't even have to speculate what the police would have done: Arrest them!

Now, in the coming weeks, as it becomes ever more obvious that the real problem was not the hurricane but the failure of the infrastructure to work properly, the political left is going to have a heyday ( here too ). They will point out that Bush cut spending for the Army Corp of Engineers, that money allocated to reinforcing the levees and fixing the pumps had been cut to pay for other things, that we are reaping what we sow from failing to support the public sector.

The ever-stupid right will come to the defense of Bush and the Iraq War that has completely absorbed this regime's attention, pointing out that Bush is actually a big and compassionate spender who cares about infrastructure, while demanding that people recognize his greatness, along with all the other pieties that have become staples of modern "conservatism."

But this is a superficial critique (and defense) that doesn't get to the root of the problem with public services. NASA spends and spends and still can't seem to make a reliable space shuttle. The public schools absorb many times more — thousands times more — in resources than private schools and still can't perform well. The federal government spends trillions over years to "protect" the country and can't fend off a handful of malcontents with an agenda. So too, Congress can allocate a trillion dollars to fix every levee, fully preventing the last catastrophe, but not the next one.

The problem here is public ownership itself. It has encouraged people to adopt a negligent attitude toward even such obvious risks. Private developers and owners, in contrast, demand to know every possible scenario as a way to protect their property. But public owners have no real stake in the outcome and lack the economic capacity to calibrate resource allocation to risk assessment. In other words, the government manages without responsibility or competence.

Can levees and pumps and disaster management really be privatized? Not only can they be; they must be if we want to avoid ever more apocalypses of this sort. William Buckley used to poke fun at libertarians and their plans for privatizing garbage collection, but this disaster shows that much more than this ought to be in private hands. It is not a trivial issue; our survival may depend on it.

It is critically important that the management of the whole of the nation's infrastructure be turned over to private management and ownership. Only in private hands can there be a possibility of a match between expenditure and performance, between risk and responsibility, between the job that needs to be done and the means to accomplish it.

The list of public sector failures hardly stops there. The outrageous insistence that no one be permitted to "gouge" only creates shortages in critically important goods and services when they are needed the most. It is at times of extreme need that prices most need to be free to change so that consumers and producers can have an idea of what is needed and what is in demand. Absent those signals, people do not know what to conserve and what to produce.

Bush was on national television declaring that the feds would have zero tolerance toward gouging, which is another way of saying zero tolerance toward markets. If New Orleans stands any chance of coming back, it will only be because private enterprise does the rebuilding, one commercial venture at a time. Bush's kind of talk guarantees a future of mire and muck, the remote possibility of prosperity and peace sacrificed on the altar of interventionism.

Moreover, every American ought to be alarmed at the quickness of officials to declare martial law, invade people's rights, deny people the freedom of movement, and otherwise trample on all values that this country is supposed to hold dear. A crisis does not negate the existence of human rights. It is not a license for tyranny. It is not a signal that government can do anything it wants.

This crisis ought to underscore a point made on these pages again and again. Being a government official gives you no special insight into how to best manage a crisis. Indeed the public sector, with all its guns and mandates and arrogance, cannot and will not protect us from life's contingencies. It used to be said that infrastructure was too important to be left to the uncertainties of markets. But if it's certainty that we are after, there is a new certainty that has emerged in American life: in a crisis, the government will make matters worse and worse until it wrecks your life and all that makes it worth living.


Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., is president of the Mises Institute and editor of LewRockwell.com. rockwell@mises.org. Comment at blog.mises.org/blog/archives/

Monday, September 26, 2005

Grover Cleveland: the Last Great Democratic President

Is it permissible?
by Walter E. Williams

September 21, 2005

Last week, President Bush promised the nation that the federal government will pay for most of the costs of repairing hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, adding, "There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans, and this great city will rise again." There's no question that New Orleans and her sister Gulf Coast cities have been struck with a major disaster, but should our constitution become a part of the disaster? You say, "What do you mean, Williams?" Let's look at it.

In February 1887, President Grover Cleveland, upon vetoing a bill appropriating money to aid drought-stricken farmers in Texas, said, "I find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and the duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit."

President Cleveland added, "The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood." [Note: The amount raised privately to help those Texas farmers was more than ten times the appropriation that Cleveland had vetoed! --SR]

President Cleveland vetoed hundreds of congressional spending measures during his two-term presidency, often saying, "I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution." But Cleveland wasn't the only president who failed to see charity as a function of the federal government. In 1854, after vetoing a popular appropriation to assist the mentally ill, President Franklin Pierce said, "I cannot find any authority in the Constitution for public charity." To approve such spending, argued Pierce, "would be contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Constitution and subversive to the whole theory upon which the Union of these States is founded."

In 1796, Rep. William Giles of Virginia condemned a relief measure for fire victims, saying that Congress didn't have a right to "attend to what generosity and humanity require, but to what the Constitution and their duty require." A couple of years earlier, James Madison, the father of our constitution, irate over a $15,000 congressional appropriation to assist some French refugees, said, "I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents."

Here's my question: Were the nation's founders, and some of their successors, callous and indifferent to human tragedy? Or, were they stupid and couldn't find the passages in the Constitution that authorized spending "on the objects of benevolence"?

Some people might say, "Aha! They forgot about the Constitution's general welfare clause!" Here's what James Madison said: "With respect to the two words 'general welfare,' I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators."

Thomas Jefferson explained, "Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated." In 1828, South Carolina Sen. William Drayton said, "If Congress can determine what constitutes the general welfare and can appropriate money for its advancement, where is the limitation to carrying into execution whatever can be effected by money?"

Don't get me wrong about this. I'm not being too critical of President Bush or any other politician. There's such a broad ignorance or contempt for constitutional principles among the American people that any politician who bore true faith and allegiance to the Constitution would commit political suicide.

©2005 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

New Orleans, the Tragedy

by Thomas Lifson

September 1st, 2005

As Hurricane Katrina headed toward New Orleans, sticklers for the actual meaning of words told us that it would be wrong to label the impending disaster a tragedy. That term, with its origins in drama, refers to horrible consequences produced out of the flaws in human nature. A hurricane is a force of nature, and cannot by definition be “tragic� no matter how horrible the outcome.

The drama unfolding in New Orleans, however, is now officially a tragedy. Katrina wrought destruction, but the consequences most horrifying us today are the result of human folly.

For at least a decade, critics have warned that the levee system protecting New Orleans needed serious upgrading. Dire predictions of the complete destruction of the city by either a hurricane or by a historic Mississippi River flood have circulated for many years, but were insufficient to move authorities to expensive action. Holland, after a tragedy killing thousands in the 1950s, reinforced its dykes with more than the thumbs of young boys. New Orleans ignored the lessons.

The looting and apparent near-anarchy in the flooded streets have nothing to do with Mother Nature, and everything to do with human nature, unconstrained by the thin veneer of civilization.

The incomplete evacuation of citizens and warehousing in the Superdome struck me at the time as a poor choice. Why were there not sound trucks cruising the streets warning those detached from the media to run for their lives? Why weren’t there places designated where folks heading out of town could fill up their cars with refugees lacking transportation? Why wasn’t every bus, truck, and railroad freight car pressed into service to haul people away?

Blogger Ultima Thule captured my own impression of the political authorities in Louisiana when she wrote

Louisiana Governor Blanco unfortunately resembles her name -- Blanco -- she looks like a deer caught in the headlines -- oops -- I was going to type headlights -- but that was an apt slip of the fingers.

Nobody wants to kick New Orleans and Louisiana when they are so devastated. But we will be deluding ourselves and laying the foundations for future suffering, if we don’t examine the human failures which have turned a natural disaster into a tragedy.

Few if any cities have contributed more to American culture than New Orleans. Jazz, our distinctive national contribution to music, has its origins in New Orleans. So too in the realm of cuisine, New Orleans is virtually without peer. Many years ago, a wealthy and cultivated Japanese entrepreneur observed to me that New Orleans was the only city in America he had found in which rich and poor people alike understood food. He mentioned Provence in France and Tuscany in Italy as comparisons. You could walk into unimpressive restaurants in less prosperous neighborhoods in New Orleans, patronized by ordinary citizens, not free-spending tourists, and expect a meal made from fresh ingredients, flavored with interesting herbs and spices, and served to patrons who would accept no less.

But the many virtues of New Orleans are offset in part by serious flaws. The flowering of the human spirit in the realm of cultural creativity is counterbalanced by a tradition of corruption, public incompetence, and moral decay. It is no secret that New Orleans and the Great State of Louisiana have a sorry track record when it comes to political corruption. And corruption tolerated in one sphere tends to metastasize and infect other aspects of life. They don’t call it “The Big Easy� because it is simple to start a business, and easy to run one there.

Many years ago, an oilman in Houston pointed out to me that there was no inherent reason Houston should have emerged as the world capital of the petroleum business. New Orleans was already a major city with centuries of history, proximity to oil deposits, and huge transportation advantages when the Houston Ship Channel was dredged, making the then-small city of Houston into a major port. The discovery of the Humble oil field certainly helped Houston rise as an oil center, but the industry could just as easily have centered itself in New Orleans.

When I pressed my oilman informant for the reason Houston prevailed, he gave me a look of pity for my naiveté, and said, “Corruption.� Anyone making a fortune in New Orleans based on access to any kind of public resources would find himself coping with all sorts of hands extended for palm-greasing. Permits, taxes, fees, and outright bribes would be a never-ending nightmare. Houston, in contrast, was interested in growth, jobs, prosperity, and extending a welcoming hand to newcomers. New Orleans might be a great place to spend a pleasant weekend, but Houston is the place to build a business.

Today, metropolitan Houston houses roughly 4 times the population of pre-Katrina metropolitan New Orleans, despite the considerable advantage New Orleans has of capturing the shipping traffic of the Mississippi basin.

It is far from a coincidence that Houston is now absorbing refugees from New Orleans, and preparing to enroll the children of New Orleans in its own school system. Houston is a city built on the can-do spirit (space exploration, oil, medicine are shining examples of the human will to knowledge and improvement, and all have been immeasurably advanced by Houstonians). Houston officials have capably planned for their own possible severe hurricanes, and that disaster planning is now selflessly put at the disposal of their neighbors to the east.

Let us all do everything we can to ameliorate the horrendous suffering of people all over the Gulf Coast, not just in New Orleans. But we must not fail to learn necessary lessons. Hurricanes are predictable and inevitable. Their consequences can be minimized by honest and capable political leadership. It appears that New Orleans could have done much better. We would honor the suffering and deaths by insisting that any rebuilding be premised on a solid moral and political foundation.

Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker

Friday, September 23, 2005

Post-Katrina Liberalism

by George Will

September 13, 2005

WASHINGTON -- It took exactly one month -- until the president's prime-time news conference of Oct. 11, 2001 -- to refute the notion that 9/11 ``changed everything.'' When a reporter said ``you haven't called for any sacrifices from the American people,'' he replied, ``Well, you know, I think the American people are sacrificing now. I think they're waiting in airport lines longer than they've ever had before.'' And that was before the sacrificing became really hellacious with the requirement that passengers remove their shoes at security checkpoints.

The idea that Katrina would change the only thing that matters -- thinking -- perished even more quickly, at about the time Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, a suitable symbol of congressional narcissism, dramatized the severity of the tragedy by taking a television interviewer on a helicopter flight over ... her destroyed beach house. ``Washington rolled the dice and Louisiana lost,'' she said in a speech on the Senate floor that moved some senators to tears. You can no more embarrass a senator than you can a sofa, so the tears were not accompanied by blushing about having just passed a transportation bill whose 6,371 pork projects cost $24 billion, about 10 times more than the price of the levee New Orleans needed. Louisiana's congressional delegation larded the bill with $540,580,200 worth of earmarks, one-fifth the price of a capable levee.

America's always fast-flowing river of race-obsessing has overflowed its banks, and last Sunday on ``This Week'' Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois' freshman Democrat, applied to the expression of old banalities a fluency that would be beguiling were it without content. Unfortunately, it included the requisite lament about the president's inadequate ``empathy" and an amazing criticism of the government's ``historic indifference'' and its ``passive indifference'' that ``is as bad as active malice.'' The senator, 44, is just 30 months older than the ``war on poverty'' that President Johnson declared in January 1964. Since then the indifference that is as bad as active malice has been expressed in more than $6.6 trillion of antipoverty spending, strictly defined.

The senator is called a ``new kind of Democrat,'' which often means one with new ways of ignoring evidence discordant with old liberal orthodoxies about using cash -- much of it spent through liberalism's ``caring professions'' -- to cope with cultural collapse. He might, however, care to note three not-at-all recondite rules for avoiding poverty: graduate from high school, don't have a baby until you are married, don't marry while you are a teenager. Among people who obey those rules, poverty is minimal.

In 1960, John Kennedy of Choate, Harvard and Palm Beach campaigned in West Virginia's primary and American liberalism experienced one of its regularly recurring rediscoveries of poor people, an epiphany abetted three years later by Michael Harrington's book ``The Other America'' receiving a 50-page review where liberals would notice it, amidst The New Yorker magazine's advertisements for luxury goods. Between such rediscoveries, the poor are work for liberalism's constituencies among the ``caregiving'' professions.

Liberalism's post-Katrina fearlessness in discovering the obvious -- if an inner city is inundated, the victims will be disproportionately minorities -- stopped short of indelicately noting how many of the victims were women with children but not husbands. Released during the post-Katrina debacle, scant attention was paid to the National Center for Health Statistics' pertinent report that in 2003, 34.6 percent of all American births were to unmarried women. The percentage among African-American women was 68.2.

Given that most African-Americans are middle class and almost half live outside central cities, and that 76 percent of all births to Louisiana African-Americans were to unmarried women, it is a safe surmise that more than 80 percent of African-American births in inner-city New Orleans -- as in some other inner cities -- were to women without husbands. That translates into a large and constantly renewed cohort of lightly parented adolescent males, and that translates into chaos, in neighborhoods and schools, come rain or come shine.

This will become of intense interest to the ``czar'' or ``czarina'' -- this republic has a fascinating reflex for cloaking improvised offices with the dignity, such as it was, of defunct Russian royalty -- who is charged with ``overseeing'' the ``rebuilding'' of New Orleans. He or she can exchange notes with our ``nation-builders'' in Iraq, now learning conservatism's core truths about the limits to government's abilities to know and control things. Or he or she can glance at Ground Zero in Manhattan where, four years later, the ``rebuilding'' of a few square blocks is not going well.

©2005 Washington Post Writers Group

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Repeal the Seventeenth Amendment

by Thomas J. DiLorenzo

Every once in a blue moon someone in Congress (usually Congressman Ron Paul of Texas) proposes a law or resolution that would actually improve the prospects for human liberty and prosperity. It’s rare, but not nonexistent. One such case is Senate Joint Resolution 35, introduced into the U.S. Senate on April 28, 2004, which was recently brought to my attention by Laurence Vance.

S.J. Res. 35 reads: "Resolved . . . . The seventeenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed." That’s Section 1. Section 2 reads that "The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the legislature thereof, for six years . . ."

This was the original design of the founding fathers; U.S. senators were not directly elected by the voting public until 1914. Thus, S.J. Res. 35 proposes a return to founding principles and is therefore a most revolutionary idea. A good overview of the history of the Seventeenth Amendment is Ralph A. Rossum’s book, Federalism, the Supreme Court, and the Seventeenth Amendment. Rossum correctly points out that the system of federalism or "divided sovereignty" that the founding fathers created with the Constitution was never intended to be enforced by the Supreme Court alone. Congress, the president, and most importantly, the citizens of the states, were also to have an equal say on constitutional matters.

The citizens of the states were to be represented by their state legislatures. As Roger Sherman wrote in a letter to John Adams: "The senators, being . . . dependent on [state legislatures] for reelection, will be vigilant in supporting their rights against infringement by the legislative or executive of the United States."

Rossum also quotes Hamilton as saying that the election of senators by state legislatures would be an "absolute safeguard" against federal tyranny. George Mason believed that the appointment of senators by state legislatures would give the citizens of the states "some means of defending themselves against encroachments of the National Government."

Fisher Ames thought of U.S. senators as "ambassadors of the states," whereas Madison, in Federalist #62, wrote that "The appointment of senators by state legislatures gives to state governments such an agency in the formation of the federal government, as must secure the authority of the former." Moreover, said Madison, the mere "enumeration of [federal] powers" in the Constitution would never be sufficient to restrain the tyrannical proclivities of the central state, and were mere "parchment barriers" to tyranny. Structural arrangements, such as the appointment of senators by state legislatures, were necessary.

State legislatures did not hesitate to instruct U.S. senators on how to vote. In fact, the very first instruction that was given to them was to meet in public! The Virginia and Kentucky Resolves of 1798 (see William Watkins, Reclaiming the American Revolution) were the work of state legislatures that instructed their senators to oppose the Sedition Act, which essentially made it illegal to criticize the federal government.

State legislatures were instrumental in Andrew Jackson’s famous battle with the Bank of the United States (BUS), which ended with the Bank being de-funded and replaced by the Independent Treasury System and the era of "free banking" (1842–1862). State legislatures throughout the U.S. instructed their senators to oppose the BUS in the senate. Senator Pelog Sprague of Maine was forced to resign in 1835 after ignoring his legislature’s instructions to vote against the Bank. The U.S. Senate voted to censure President Andrew Jackson for opposing the BUS, but the states responded by forcing seven other senators to resign for taking part in that vote. (It seems that it’s not only twenty-first century Republicans who run for office by calling Washington, D.C. a cesspool, and then thinking of it as more like a hot tub once they get there).

The founding fathers understood that it would never be in the Supreme Court’s self-interest to protect states’ rights. Rossum quotes the anti-federalist writer "Brutus" on this point:

It would never be in the self-interest of the Court to strike down federal laws trenching on the inviolable and residuary sovereignty of the states, because every extension of power of the general legislature, as well as of the judicial powers, will increase the powers of the courts.

"Brutus’ also pointed out that with increased powers of the courts would likely come increased compensation for federal judges.

The adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913 (along with the income tax and the Fed) was a result of the deification of "democracy" that began with the Union victory in the War to Prevent Southern Independence. The war was fought, said Lincoln at Gettysburg, so that "government of the people, by the people, for the people" should not perish from the earth. This of course was absurd nonsense, but Lincoln’s silver-tongued rhetoric was apparently persuasive enough to those residing north of the Mason-Dixon line.

The direct election of senators was said to be more democratic, and therefore would reduce, if not end, corruption. There was a good bit of corruption involved in the election of senators, but the source of the corruption was: democracy!

As Rossum recounts, in 1866 a new federal law was passed that mandated for the first time how the states were to appoint senators. First, a voice vote would be taken in each house. If there was no overwhelming choice, then a concurrent vote would be taken. This process revealed information about voting preferences to minority cliques within the legislatures, who then knew who they had to support or oppose. The end result was frequent gridlocks (71 from 1885 to 1912 alone). The deadlocks were inevitably ended by bribery. Thus "democracy, in the form of the 1866 law, led to the bribery, so that the natural "cure" for the problem was: More democracy!

The Seventeenth Amendment was one of the last nails to be pounded into the coffin of federalism in America. The citizens of the states, through their state legislators, could no longer place any roadblocks whatsoever in the way of federal power. The Sixteenth Amendment, which enacted the income tax in the same year, implicitly assumed that the federal government lays claim to all income, and that citizens would be allowed to keep whatever their rulers in Washington, D.C. decided they could keep by setting the tax rates. From that point on, the states were only mere appendages or franchises of the central government.

The federal government finally became a pure monopoly and citizen sovereignty became a dead letter. Further arming itself with the powers of legal counterfeiting (the Fed) in the same year, the federal government could ignore the wishes of great majority of the citizens with reckless and disastrous abandon, as it did with its entry into World War I just a few years later.

If Americans ever again become interested in living in a free society, one of their first orders of business should be the repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment.

May 17, 2005


Thomas J. DiLorenzo [TDilo@aol.com] is the author of The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, (Three Rivers Press/Random House). His latest book is How Capitalism Saved America: The Untold Story of Our Country’s History, from the Pilgrims to the Present (Crown Forum/Random House, August 2004).

Copyright © 2005 LewRockwell.com

Thomas DiLorenzo Archives at LRC

Thomas DiLorenzo Archives at Mises.org

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Nationalized Health Care Will Cut Costs? It Just Ain't So!

The Foundation for Economic Education — www.fee.org

Nationalized Health Care Will Cut Costs? It Just Ain’t So!
Published in The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty - January 2004
by Gene Callahan and Robert Murphy

A group called Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) is promoting a government insurance plan to cover all Americans. In an August 13, 2003, Los Angeles Times report, the group claimed that their “single payer� plan would eliminate $200 billion a year in “administrative, marketing and other private-industry expenses.� This would save enough “to provide health care to the 41 million Americans who now lack coverage.�

Why then, we wonder, wouldn’t similar plans be in order for other consumer goods? Why shouldn’t Americans have a nationalized, single-payer plan for, say, food? If we could save $200 billion a year in health care, couldn’t we save billions in “private-industry expenses� for victuals? After all, if we visit the PNHP’s website ( www.pnhp.org/facts/key_features_of_singlepayer.php ), we learn that “[p]rofit seeking inevitably distorts care and diverts resources from patients to investors.� This argument should be just as applicable to other industries, for example: “profit seeking inevitably distorts feeding and diverts resources from diners to investors.� The logical conclusion of the idea is to nationalize the entire economy, saving trillions! We all know how well such ideas worked out in the Soviet Union, Mongolia, Albania, and North Korea.

As with most fallacious arguments in economics, the physicians’ concern with one particular magnitude—total health-care expenditures—ignores the true criterion of success: the health of Americans. If researchers discovered a very expensive drug that would guarantee an active, 150-year life, it is possible that total health-care expenditures would increase. But such an outcome would hardly be a sign of disaster.

The reasonable person might still conclude that lowering health-care “costs� is an important goal. But we must be careful: one can reduce the satisfaction derived from health care faster than the costs. For instance, the government might reduce expenses by severely restricting consumer choice. By cracking down on “frivolous� product variety, it might indeed be cheaper to provide the basics. But such reasoning fails to appreciate the function of advertising and other measures taken to differentiate products. Whether it’s health care or computers, the professionals in an industry need the freedom to experiment with new products and techniques, to see which best satisfy consumers. Of course, this freedom goes hand in hand with certain expenditures on “redundant� systems and “counterproductive� advertising, but the only way to encourage innovation is to allow the pioneers to benefit from their discoveries.

In any case, we are confident that we would never see the cost savings these doctors predict. Do they think the Pentagon’s single-payer system has kept down the costs of military hardware? The Times notes, “The system envisioned . . . would be built on the foundation of the current Medicare program.� But the costs of Medicare at the turn of the millennium were running about 700 percent above original estimates.

Plans that lower prices of a good will logically prompt consumers to demand more of it. Those of us who have been caught between insurance plans know that certain “indispensable� visits to the doctor or dentist can often wait until our coverage is restored and somebody else has to pay for them. But the PNHP attempts to deny basic economics: “Co-payments and deductibles are . . . unnecessary for cost containment,� its website states.

PNHP also denies its plan would restrict the freedom of consumers: “Compare [our plan] to today’s system, where doctors routinely have to ask an insurance company permission to perform procedures, prescribe certain medications, or run . . . tests.�

This, of course, is nonsense: a doctor does not have to ask an insurance company for “permission� to deliver any treatment he recommends. He may have to ask an insurance company if it will pay for it. The insurance company could decline, but that in no way prevents the doctor from delivering the treatment.

Do the PNHP doctors really think that all potential treatments will be allowed under their socialized plan? That’s impossible: scarcity cannot be repealed by legislative whim; even in health care, tradeoffs are inevitable. Whether they realize it or not, under the physicians’ plan doctors will have to ask a government official for permission to perform procedures, prescribe medications, or run tests. And under the PNHP plan, it will be a criminal offense to pay for the treatment oneself if coverage is denied. How is that supposed to help patients?

Canadian Waiting Lists

The Times cites an associate professor of medicine at Harvard University, Dr. David Himmelstein, who “conceded that Canada’s single-payer system has waiting lists for some medical services.� He makes it seem as if these are minor matters, only for inconsequential services. But waiting times have been increasing—growing from an average of nine to an average of 16 weeks during the 1990s alone1—and people have died while awaiting vital procedures.2

Himmelstein goes on to assert, “A single-payer system also would address the mounting billing and paperwork frustrations experienced by physicians.� We wonder if he can name any other activity where increased government involvement has reduced paperwork?

It is true that under current arrangements, the health-care situation of those who are not insured at work but who do not qualify for Medicare or Medicaid is quite difficult. Those with less wealth have more difficulty acquiring any good or service than those with more. But their particularly dire circumstances with regard to health care are almost entirely due to previous government interventions. The government-backed AMA severely restricts the supply of physicians and thus drives up the cost of doctors’ services. The special tax status granted to employers’ expenses for insurance further increases prices, as do Medicare and Medicaid subsidies.

Our preferred solution is a true free market in health care, one where anyone is permitted to provide any service he wishes, with consumers free to evaluate providers. But, indoctrinated with the notion that it is only government licensing that protects us from quacks, many Americans consider it absurd to argue that everyone should be legally allowed to practice medicine.

However, consumers are fairly adept at assessing suppliers of other products. A butcher who regularly makes his customers ill with food poisoning will soon go bankrupt. Similarly, in a free market an incompetent doctor will soon lose his patients. Undoubtedly, private certification and rating organizations would abound.

Curiously, interventionists believe consumers are (a) too ignorant to identify bad doctors on a free market, but (b) capable of voting for good politicians to improve health care. As PNHP declares, “The public has an absolute right to democratically set overall health policies and priorities.� (Emphasis added.) Wouldn’t it be easier to pick a good doctor?

—Gene Callahan
Author, Economics for Real People
—Robert Murphy
Department of Economics, Hillsdale College

1. Sally C. Pipes, “Lessons from the North: Bus Travelers Bring the Reality of Rationed Health Care and Price-Controlled Drugs over the Border,� Pacific Research Institute Briefing, October 2002, pp. 2–3.

2. Pacific Research Institute, “False Promise of Single-Payer Health-Care: A Close Look Inside the ‘California Health Security Act,’� http://www.pacificresearch.org/pub/sab/health/single_ payer/sphealth.htm

Should Mississippi Change Its Primary Voting System?

This essay was originally written on February 19, 2001 and was previously updated on September 14, 2002 and August 25, 2004.

All of us Mississippians want the best for our state. I'm glad that we live in a place where people of good will are free to exchange ideas on matters of public interest.

This article is the product of years of observation, study, and thought. There are several reasons why I have chosen to publish it at this time.

First, the U. S. Supreme Court recently issued several rulings on this subject.

Next, I want to shed some light on a topic that tends to be confusing and complicated.

And last, I want to put this essay into the public domain at a point when this is not a burning issue.

Introduction. We elect our state and county officials at the same time, and this is usually when many of our citizens clamor for an "open primary." Generally speaking, this means letting voters cross party lines from office to office, starting with the first round of voting.

Beginning in the 1960s, this referred specifically to the system now used by Louisiana; in 1999, Nick Walters, Republican nominee for secretary of state, proposed a system which he also called an "open primary."

Most of the good people who favor this idea don't seem to be too concerned about the details of it. But anyone who really digs into it will find that the devil is truly in the details.

One of the statements often made by backers of an "open primary" is, "We vote for the man, not the party." This seems to imply that everyone else is a down-the-line voter for one party.

For the record, I am an independent-minded Republican who has voted for Democrats for many local offices and some state offices. I have also voted for third-party and independent candidates. So, as an individual citizen, I do not believe in strict party loyalty.

However, I do believe that a party official, or anyone who runs for office under a party label is honor-bound to support all of his party's candidates. After all, members of the General Motors board of directors don't drive Ford cars.

History. One of the basic functions of a political party is nominating candidates for elective office. Early on, this was done by caucuses, and later it was also done by conventions.

In the early 1900s, states began requiring parties to use primary elections. The concept was to give all party members the opportunity to participate directly in choosing their party's candidates. (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines "primary election" as "[a] preliminary election in which voters directly nominate for office the candidates of their own party" [italics added].)

Project Vote Smart says a primary election is "an election prior to the general election in which voters select the candidates who will run on each party's ticket. Primaries are also used to choose convention delegates and party leaders... ."

Mississippi started using the party primary statewide in 1903. Today, only a few states still use nominating conventions; these states use conventions in some circumstances and primaries in others.

Through most of the 20th century, "Republican" was a cuss word in most of the South, including Mississippi. All serious candidates ran in the Democratic primary-- whether they were loyal Democrats or not-- because that was where Mississippi elections were decided.

The oft-repeated phrase was, "The Democratic nomination is tantamount to election."

Of course, no one was actually elected until the November general election. But since the Democratic nominee for each office was the only (or the only serious) candidate on the November ballot, everyone knew in August who the winners would be.

Very few people even bothered to vote in these Soviet-style general elections (November 1959 governor's election: 57,671 total votes).

So our state had a long history of deciding its elections through a two-step process-- the Democratic primary and the Democratic runoff.

Then, in 1963, Rubel Phillips broke the mold by running for governor as a Republican. The Democratic nominee, Paul Johnson Jr., now faced a third campaign, and he expressed resentment that Phillips only had to campaign in the fall. (Johnson's billboards showed an elephant, belly-up, with the slogan, "Bury GOP Scalawags for Another 100 Years!")

As a reaction to the '63 campaign, the idea of a so-called "open primary" was introduced. This would abolish the party primary and force all candidates to run in the same election. And it would return our elections to the two-step process that the candidates and voters had been accustomed to.

Apparently, it was assumed that there would never be more than one Republican running for the same office.

This "open primary" has been passed a total of five times by the Mississippi legislature.

In 1966, Governor Johnson surprised many when he vetoed it.

In 1971, a three-judge federal panel headed by circuit Judge Charles Clark blocked implementation of the "open primary" (Evers v. State Board of Election Commissioners 327 F.Supp. 640).

In 1975, Governor Bill Waller vetoed it.

In 1976 and 1979, the "open primary" was rejected by the U. S. Department of Justice under the Voting Rights Act. On at least one of these occasions, the reason given was Mississippi's history of black independent candidates. (Except for our statewide constitutional offices, it is possible to win a general election, outright, with less than 50 percent of the vote. The "open primary," in contrast, requires more than 50 percent.)

In the 1971-72 Louisiana governor's race, the Democrat Edwin Edwards had a complaint similar to that of our Governor Johnson in 1963: While Edwards had to endure three campaigns, his Republican opponent only had token primary opposition.

Governor Edwards copied Mississippi's "open primary" concept and got it through his legislature. In 1975, the Justice Department approved it for Louisiana's state and local elections. In 1978, the state began also using it for congressional elections.

NOTE: In November 2004, California and Washington state had initiatives on the general election ballot for a system similar to Louisiana's. California voters defeated it, while the Washington measure got some 60 percent of the vote. For more on these elections, click here.

Party Runoff Primary (often called the "second primary"). Mississippi was first to adopt this device, which makes our elections more complex. Just 10 states now have runoff primaries-- Kentucky, Oklahoma, and eight of the 11 former Confederate states (Tennessee does not have runoffs; Florida eliminated runoffs in 2002; and Virginia abolished them circa 1970). NOTE: 8/04/2007-- Louisiana is restoring party primaries for its congressional elections, starting in 2008. Those congressional primaries will include runoffs if needed.

Of course, if we had not had runoff primaries, Mississippi's political history would be quite different-- as the primary leader has frequently lost the runoff.

The big majority of the states use a two-step process-- primary day and general election day. On primary day, each party holds a primary to nominate its candidates. There is no runoff, and there have been instances of candidates winning party primaries with less than 20 percent of the vote. (Tennessee: Al Gore won the 1976 Democratic primary for the U. S. House with 35.7 percent. Gore had a cakewalk in the general election, as there was no Republican running. 1994: Bill Frist won the Republican primary for U. S. senator with 44.4 percent.)

Blanket Primary (California, Washington, and Alaska). All candidates of all parties are listed on the same ballot. Thus the primary voter may cross party lines from office to office. There is no runoff, and the top vote-getter from each party advances to the general election, where any independent candidates are also on the ballot.

California first used its blanket primary in 1998, after enacting it through a ballot initiative (this, in my opinion, is a good example of why the Founding Fathers were so distrustful of direct democracy).

This primary system is similar to letting Methodists and agnostics pick the pastor of the Baptist church.

On June 26, 2000, the U. S. Supreme Court struck down California's state-mandated blanket primary.

The vote was 7-2, with two of the most liberal justices, John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, favoring the blanket primary. The majority opinion, on the other hand, was written by one of the most conservative justices, Antonin Scalia. The ruling was based on the First Amendment freedom of association. A political party has the right to have its candidates-- its standard-bearers-- chosen by its own members.

As I read Justice Scalia's opinion, several statements jumped out at me. "Representative democracy... is unimaginable without the ability of citizens to band together in promoting among the [voters] candidates who espouse their political views."

The blanket primary's "... avowed purpose--is to reduce the scope of choice, by assuring a range of candidates who are all more 'centrist.'"

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, "The true purpose of this law... is to force a political party to accept a candidate it may not want and, by so doing, to change the party's doctrinal position on major issues."

This decision also nullifies Nick Walters's proposal, which was a blanket primary with a runoff. This runoff feature would create even more pitfalls.

Justice Scalia's complete opinion is available here.

Click here for Justice Kennedy's concurring opinion.

Click here for Justice Stevens's dissent.

A summary of the ruling is here.

NOTE: On September 15, 2003, the Ninth U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Washington state's 68-year-old blanket primary. On February 23, 2004, the U. S. Supreme Court refused to hear the state's appeal (Reed v. Washington State Democratic Party).

UPDATE-- 8/04/2007: Alaska's Democrats now list all of their candidates on the same primary ballot with the minor parties. That state's Republicans, however, have their own separate primary ballot.

Current Mississippi System (now 22 states, including Washington state). The parties hold separate primaries, and each voter selects the one in which he wishes to participate.

None of these states except Iowa have voter registration by party.

You may be wondering what this system is called. Are you sitting down? Have you taken your blood-pressure medication?


It's sort of ironic, isn't it? Mississippians have been calling for an "open primary" all these years, and it turns out that we've had one all along. (If your copy of this essay includes cartoons, these cartoons are referring to the current Mississippi system.)

The open primaries that we heard so much about during the 2000 presidential primaries were similar to Mississippi's current system.

The Michigan Republican primary got a lot of publicity. Normally, the voter picks one primary or the other. But the state's Democrats were not holding a primary, so all voters were free to participate in the Republican primary. Despite losing (66% to 29%) among Republican voters, Senator John McCain won the Republican primary on the strength of Democratic and independent votes. (This was determined through exit polls, whereby voters in key precincts are interviewed as they leave the polling places.) Governor John Engler, a supporter of Governor George W. Bush, commented that McCain had "rented Democrats." (NOTE: In that 2000 Michigan Republican primary, 48 percent of the voters were Republicans, 35 percent were independents, and 17 percent were Democrats.)

Suits Against Open Primary Laws. These challenges have been largely based on the U. S. Supreme Court's reasoning in the blanket primary case, California Democratic Party v. Jones. In December 2007, in a suit-- Miller v. Cunningham-- brought by a local unit of the Virginia Republican Party, the 4th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that there is a circumstance in which a state cannot require an open primary (this case was originally called Miller v. Brown). The deadline has passed with no appeal being filed to the U. S. Supreme Court.

On April 11, 2008, Idaho Republican Party v. Ysursa was filed in U. S. district court. This suit challenges the Gem State's open primary law.

On May 28, 2008, the 5th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans reversed the district court, which had held Mississippi's open primary law to be unconstitutional. The 5th circuit dismissed the suit on procedural grounds (Mississippi Democratic Party v. Barbour, 07-60667). Good commentary on this case is at Yall Politics.

The other systems still available are the closed primary, the Louisiana system, and the modified Louisiana system.

Closed Primary (now 27 states, including California). All of these states have voter registration by party.

In a true closed primary: Only members of a particular party may vote in that party's primary, and independents may vote only in the general election. However, each party has the power to invite independents to vote in its primary (unless state law forbids it, each party also has the power to invite members of opposing parties to vote in its primary).

In my view, this system is the next best to Mississippi's current system-- because it maintains party primaries.

NOTE: The processes used by two states in this category deserve mention. In Utah, the Democrats invite all voters-- even registered Republicans-- to vote in their primaries. In Alaska, as noted above, the Democrats and the minor parties list all of their candidates on a single primary ballot. In both states, the Republicans have their own separate primary.

Louisiana System (the Creature from the Bayou). I should probably call it the "Creature from the Big Muddy," since our neighbors borrowed it from us. All candidates, including independents, run in the same election; if no one gets a majority (50-plus percent), the top two, regardless of party, meet in a runoff.

Actually, this is not a "primary" at all. Rather, it is a general election with a runoff.

This is like our elections for state and county judges and county election commissioners. It's also like the special elections that we hold to fill vacancies in offices (please note that we don't call any of these elections "primaries").

This system takes away the parties' ability to officially nominate candidates. A party may support a candidate, of course-- but that doesn't stop other candidates of the same party from running.

It's possible, to be sure, for the two runoff candidates to be from the same party. Suppose two teams from the same conference played each other in the Super Bowl. What if the two World Series teams were both from the same league?

In Louisiana, there is often a runoff, which means the final choice is between two candidates. In Mississippi's November 2003 governor's election, in contrast, we had five candidates. There is potentially an even greater choice here, as Mississippi has eight qualified parties: Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, Constitution, Green, Reform, Natural Law, and America First. And there is no limit on the number of independents who can run.

How has this system worked in Louisiana?

1987 governor's race: The top two vote-getters were both Democrats, Congressman Buddy Roemer and Governor Edwin Edwards. Edwards, knowing that he would lose a runoff, then dropped out. Under Louisiana law, Roemer became governor after getting just 33 percent of the vote.

The 1991 governor's race was an even bigger free-for-all than usual. Gov. Roemer was running again, having switched to the Republicans in March, 1991.

Also running was the legendary David Duke, ex-Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klowns and self-appointed Savior of the White Race.

Since Duke couldn't get any Louisiana blacks to endorse him, he bused James Meredith in from Mississippi.

Duke had run for president in 1988, first as a Democrat and then as the nominee of the Populist Party.

In 1989, Duke switched to the Republicans, and despite being denounced by the first President Bush, narrowly won a special election for state representative.

In 1990, Duke got 44 percent against U. S. senator Bennett Johnston.

In the 1991 governor's race, President Bush and the national Republicans endorsed Roemer, while the state Republican Party backed Congressman Clyde Holloway. Roemer finished third and Holloway fourth.

The runoff was between ex-Governor Edwards, who had already been tried for bribery, and Duke. A crook versus a sheet-head!

Edwards, a notorious womanizer, remarked that he and Duke were both "wizards under the sheets."

A popular bumpersticker read, "Vote for the Crook: It's Important".

In response to NBC's Tim Russert, the Caucasian Messiah was unable to name Louisiana's top three industries.

President Bush and the Republican Roemer endorsed the Democrat Edwards over the Republican Duke. With the eyes of the nation on them, many Louisianans held their noses and voted for Edwards, who won with 61 percent (having served four terms in the governor's house, Edwards went on to serve one term in the Big House-- and so did Duke. The five words most feared by a Louisiana politician: "Will the defendant please rise").

The Enterprise-Journal of McComb (MS) has correctly observed that this system "... lends itself toward candidates who reside on the political extremes."

1995 governor's race: It seemed certain that two Republicans, state Senator Mike Foster and ex-Governor Roemer, would meet in the runoff. But Roemer faded near the end and finished fourth; the runoff candidates were Foster, a white conservative Republican, and Congressman Cleo Fields, a black liberal Democrat. Foster won in a landslide.

Foster, age 65 and a lifelong Democrat, switched to the Republicans in September and was elected governor a month or so later. Sort of like joining the church one Sunday and then getting elected chairman of the board of deacons the next Sunday.

2002 U. S. Senate race: The national Republicans supported Suzanne Terrell, while Governor Foster backed another Republican. Foster publicly criticized Terrell after she had made the runoff against the incumbent Democrat, Mary Landrieu, who was re-elected (in November 2004, David Vitter became Louisiana's first popularly-elected Republican U. S. senator in history).

NOTE: Louisiana, which alone has used this system for its congressional elections, is the only state that uses it to elect all of its state officials. Starting in 2008, however, the state is restoring party primaries for its congressional elections.

Modified Louisiana System (zero states). Justice Scalia: "... the State determines what qualifications it requires for a candidate to have a place on the [general election] ballot-- which may include nomination by established parties... [T]he top two vote getters (or however many the State prescribes) then move on to the [runoff]."

This passes muster with the First Amendment because "... voters are not choosing a party's nominee."

This allows for several variations on the Louisiana system. State law may require that the parties use conventions, caucuses, and/or some other method(s) to nominate candidates. This would enable each party to unite behind one candidate for each office in the general election, but it still wouldn't guarantee that a party's candidate would make the runoff.

Instead of having the top two finishers advance to the runoff, the law may specify that it be the top three, the top four, etc. Regardless of the number, it could be any combination of Republicans, Democrats, independents, and/or minor-party candidates. (If the state mandated that the parties nominate candidates, each party could have only one candidate on the general election ballot. Thus, it would be impossible for more than one candidate from the same party to reach the runoff.)

The most glaring defect in this system, as I see it, is the absence of party primaries. Even if some other method of nomination were used, far fewer people would be choosing the parties' candidates.

UPDATE-- 8/04/2007: The U. S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in State v. Republican Party of Washington State next October 1. This case involves that state's voter-approved "top two" system, which is similar to the Louisiana system. I predict that Washington will ultimately have some version of the "top two."

Conclusion. Over the years, the "open primary" issue has made great fodder for talk radio, panel discussions on ETV, and letters to the editor. Besides this being a really bad idea, though, its chances of getting adopted for state and congressional elections are practically zero.

We Mississippians should be looking to the day when both major parties have primary contests for every partisan office.

Let's devote our time and energy toward making that a reality.


Click here for an essay from Fair Vote on the Louisiana system and other voting systems.

Click here for my essay on the "top two"/"open primary" and more on the various types of party primaries.

Click here for an Oregon website on a Louisiana-style election system.

Click here for an excellent article on the "top two"/"open primary."

Click here for the column that George Will wrote on the eve of the U. S. Supreme Court's 2000 ruling in the California blanket primary case.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

"I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you!"

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, there have been calls for a "hurricane czar" or a "disaster czar."

What we really need is a new federal Crisis Department. Under this department, there would be a hurricane czar, a tornado czar, an earthquake czar, a flood czar, a drought czar, a forest fire czar, a power blackout czar, a pestilence czar, an obesity czar, a famine czar, a locust czar, a love bug czar ...ad nauseam.