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Archive for August, 2008

Not a great speech like some of his earlier ones but pretty good nevertheless. He did what he had to do.

Personally, I disliked quite a bit of the content, especially the economic populism at the beginning. But then, the speech was not aimed at me. I suspect that the democratic base and those who agree with Obama’s fundamentally collectivist worldview (‘moral obligation’, ‘mutual responsibility’, ‘service’) will adore it.

I will be surprised if he won over too many independents with today’s performance. But then, he doesn’t need to. This speech was designed to make all those Hillary-backers and temperamental left-liberals fall in line. Add his current level of support with the entire Democratic base uniting behind him and you are looking at a landslide victory.

Both in style and content, the speech got better as the night went on. The crowd went periodically crazy. Overall, an A-.

[EDIT 1]: Here’s Andrew Sullivan’s gushing reaction. I agree with him about the “unabashedly, unashamedly liberal” part. That is why libertarians will be mildly disappointed with this speech while those who agree with his worldview will lap it up. But yes, I will say this much, I will very very surprised if Obama loses this election after this.

[EDIT 2]: The part of the speech I liked best (emphasis mine):

Now, many of these plans will cost money, which is why I’ve laid out how I’ll pay for every dime – by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don’t help America grow. But I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less – because we cannot meet twenty-first century challenges with a twentieth century bureaucracy.

And Democrats, we must also admit that fulfilling America’s promise will require more than just money. It will require a renewed sense of responsibility from each of us to recover what John F. Kennedy called our “intellectual and moral strength.” Yes, government must lead on energy independence, but each of us must do our part to make our homes and businesses more efficient. Yes, we must provide more ladders to success for young men who fall into lives of crime and despair. But we must also admit that programs alone can’t replace parents; that government can’t turn off the television and make a child do her homework; that fathers must take more responsibility for providing the love and guidance their children need.

Also, this line was great:

But the record’s clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush ninety percent of the time. Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than ninety percent of the time? I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to take a ten percent chance on change.

It was also good to hear him advocate for nuclear energy and talk of privacy as an important issue. Sadly, both of these were met with silence from the partisan crowd.

Unfortunately, as I said, there were too many jarring notes in the rest of the speech for a minarchist like me. For those interested, here’s a transcript.

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An unusual tactic to stop make men from peeing on the floor:

Authorities at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam have etched the image of a black housefly into each urinal. It seems that men usually do not pay much attention to where they aim, which can create a bit of a mess. But if you give them a target, they can’t help but try to hit it. Similar designs have been implemented in urinals around the world, including mini soccer goals, bulls-eyes, and urine video games (seriously). Do they work? Since the bugs were etched into the airport urinals, spillage has decreased by 80 percent.

This fits into the Sunstein philosophy of nudges and ‘libertarian paternalism’ that I have posted on several times in the past.

Incidentally Sunstein, a law professor is a friend and advisor of Barack Obama. I would love it if Obama — assuming he becomes president — appoints him to the Supreme Court. Sunstein is no libertarian; however his brand of ‘libertarian paternalism’ is definitely better (and more pro-freedom) than that of any of the mainstream leftist candidates the Dems are likely to propose.

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From the still-under-construction Republican platform for this election:

On stem-cell research — The 2008 Republican Platform calls for a ban on all embryonic stem-cell research, public or private.

On gambling — Millions of Americans suffer from problem or pathological gambling that can destroy families. We support legislation prohibiting gambling over the Internet or in student athletics by student athletes who are participating in competitive sports.

And it goes on…

Obama’s politics are not exactly pro-freedom either (see [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7]) but news like the above reminds me that on November 4 voters will have to make a choice — and from the libertarian perspective, McCain is the worse choice.

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Jim Lindgren has an excellent article over at Volokh on the dangers of Barack Obama’s proposals on community service for middle and high schoolers.

On the surface there is nothing wrong with the proposal. Voluntary community service can be an enriching experience both for the child and the community. The trouble starts when the government steps in. The inevitable effect is the substitution of individual volunteerism by a huge bureaucratic machine that subsists on tax money. Like many bad proposals, the detrimental effects show up slowly, but when they do, they are hard to remove.

Eventually, these kind of proposals convert non-governmental organizations that flourish on private philanthropy into inefficient arms of the government. Furthermore, as this article points out, those who lead these social-services groups tend to become advocates for government-funded solutions to social problems. The result is more social problems, not less.

Volunteerism is a wonderful thing but to be truly voluntary and useful, it needs to be more than an arms length away from government control.

I suspect there are ways the government can make a positive difference to the issue by encouraging high schoolers to do public service at private voluntary organizations (possibly by offering certain incentives) without actually stepping in directly. However, I fear that the plan Obama has in mind is more sweeping than that and (hence) more likely to do bad than good.

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The last time Obama had to give a speech to save his life, he delivered a tour-de-force. You could see it coming a mile away.

The trouble with Obama is that he is such a damn good orator that the expectations for tomorrow will be sky-high. Yet, he will need to surpass those expectations if he has to create a buzz, and will have to do it through content rather than soaring rhetoric because the latter is only going to reinforce the notion that he is an empty suit only good at words.

The last few weeks have seen the polls tighten to essentially a tie. Tomorrow is Obama’s call to shine. Well, he has done it before. Obama can be verbose and nuanced — too nuanced — in impromptu conversations and debates. However, he is the acknowledged master of the “big speech”. His greatest speeches — the 2002 one against the war, the 2004 speech at the convention, the race speech earlier this year, all came at big moments. So I’ll be tuning in tomorrow and expecting him to deliver.

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“Once upon a time, there was a man who was convinced that he possessed a Great Idea.  Indeed, as the man thought upon the Great Idea more and more, he realized that it was not just a great idea, but the most wonderful idea ever. The Great Idea would unravel the mysteries of the universe, supersede the authority of the corrupt and error-ridden Establishment, confer nigh-magical powers upon its wielders, feed the hungry, heal the sick, make the whole world a better place, etc. etc. etc.

The man was Francis Bacon, his Great Idea was the scientific method, and he was the only crackpot in all history to claim that level of benefit to humanity and turn out to be completely right.”

Eliezer Yudkowsky

(Hat Tip: Sudeep Kamath)

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Earlier, I praised the emotional aspect of Hillary’s last night speech and it’s effect on Barack Obama’s electoral prospects.

As for the actual political content though, my thoughts are closer to Matt Welch’s, whose excellent take on it I highly recommend.

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