The musings of one Andrew Langer - defender of liberty, passionate protector of individual rights, foodie. (Note: Said Musings of Andrew Langer are his own, and the views represented herein are likewise his views, and not the views of any other people, entities, foodstuffs, etc [unless otherwise specifically and explicitly noted].)

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Spouting Off Like An Idiot (Or, Why Some Speech is Protected, While Other Speech Isn't)

Anne Coulter. Not a big fan. Then again, I don't know her personally. And I'm not a big fan of a lot of pundits, on either side. I think Laura Ingraham's got smarts a plenty. Kellyanne Conway really knows what she knows - she's a numbers person, and I have great respect for people who understand and use stats properly (like Ken Mehlman). On the other side there's Michele Mitchell, who wrote a great book, "A New Kind of Party Animal" and now works on Nova (almost wrote NoVA there - a force of habit).

But Coulter's always rubbed me the wrong way.

Anyhow, she opened her mouth last week, and made a really awful joke about poisoning a member of the high court. Not too funny (condemning the home of a Supreme Court member for a hotel - _that's_ clever). I put it in the same category as Pat Robertson's moronic statement about Ariel Sharon a few weeks ago - things that are just about the most moronic thoughts you can have, and really ought to best be kept to one's self.

So, this all went reported on on Andrew Kessler's blog ( - and while I hesitate to mention it, Kessler made a few more statements. I preface my thoughts by saying that I absolutely deplore and condemn the statements made by Coulter and Robertson both (which should be obvious by the paragraph above, but let's just make certain).

I'll get to what Kessler said in a moment, but let's just talk about speech, protection thereof, and the limits to individual rights.

We don't want to limit the rights of individuals to express themselves - in fact, it's just the opposite, we want to encourage as many people as possible to express themselves, especially when it comes to political speech. And essentially, all exercises of individual rights are limited by their implication of the rights of others.

In fact, all just laws are born out of that basic concept: I have a right to protect what's mine, but my right can't interfere with your rights in yourself and your property. Unless you're interfering with my rights.

Speech works the same way - you can say what you want, until that speech impacts on my rights. My rights to be secure in my person, for instance, which is why there are laws against making harassing statements, or making threats. Or why there are laws against slander and libel. Slander and libel cause me harm (though there are exceptions should the person being slandered be a public figure, or the statements so clearly untrue as to be implausible - as in Larry Flynt's satire of Rev. Jerry Falwell).

This is why there are laws against making threatening statements against public officials. See, unlike Mr. Kessler, I'm not going to make pronouncements as to the legality of Anne Coulter's deplorable remarks. They are deplorable and they merit an apology (and, perhaps, some soul searching on the part of Ms. Coulter as to exactly what she is trying to accomplish on this planet).

But I do understand why those laws exist - so that if the next Oswald or Sirhan Sirhan or Squeaky From (Frome?), Chapman, Booth, Guiteau, Hinkley or Unabomber starts making threatening statements against an official, something can be done about it. Moreover, so that those making the threats don't chill the free speech of those being threatened.

I've been on the receiving end of that sort of bullying. It's disconcerting. In my case, it didn't rise to the "Unabomber" level - thought it was somewhat more threatening than Ms. Coulter's remarks. But it certainly made me stop to think about the exercise of my rights.

Now, Mr. Kessler went a bit further than simply discussing Ms. Coulter's remarks. He then tried to paint the left as being free from such actions - and offered up the bet of $100 to the RNC if someone could demonstrate otherwise. He was somewhat specific, though a bit vague, as to the parameters - allow me to quote:

"No matter how angry liberal commentators get at the right, I can't recall one who has even joked about poisoning a public official. James Carville, Al Franken, Maureen Dowd- they all get pretty ticked off at the right. I'm putting my money where my mouth is, Ann. I will donate $100 to the Republican National Committee if you can show me proof that any of these people ever called for, or even joked about, the death of a Republican."

Now, I'm not certain if that $100 applies to just Mssrs Carville, Franken and Dowd - or to liberal commentators more generally. So, I'll cover my bases.

Randi Rhodes, Air America talk show host, May 10, 2004:

"They [the Bush Family] are the Corleones. The Fredo of the family is the president of the United States, so why doesn’t his father take him, or his brother, one of them, take him out for a little, uh, fishing? You know, let him say some Hail Marys, he loves God so much. Yeah, take him out, you know, "Hail Mary, full of grace, God is with thee" -- POW!... Works for Me."

Then, on April 26 2005, Rhodes aired a skit saying, "A spoiled child is telling us our Social Security isn’t safe anymore, so he is going to fix it for us. Well, here’s your answer, you ungrateful whelp: [audio sound of 4 gunshots being fired.] Just try it, you little bastard. [audio of gun being cocked]." The "spoiled child" she was referring to was the President.

And to Kessler's more specific group is Al Franken. Franken, of course, famously (and gleefully) joked (in the form of a prediction) in an interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby would be "executed" for treason. (10/25/2005)

So, several examples of liberal pundits (including Franken) who either joked about the assassination of the President or the death of Republicans.

You want to let Ken Mehlman know your check is coming, or should I?

- Andrew Langer

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Principled Stand by a Principled Business

This was sent to me today by alert Liberty Blog Reader M (from her husband, also initialed M):

BB&T Respects Property Rights,Won’t Fund Eminent Domain Abuse

WEB RELEASE: January 25, 2006
Media Contact: _____

Arlington, Va.—BB&T, the nation’s ninth largest financial holdings company with $109.2 billion in assets, announced today that it “will not lend to commercial developers that plan to build condominiums, shopping malls and other private projects on land taken from private citizens by government entities using eminent domain.”

In a press release issued today by the bank, BB&T Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Allison, said, “The idea that a citizen’s property can be taken by the government solely for private use is extremely misguided, in fact it’s just plain wrong. One of the most basic rights of every citizen is to keep what they own. As an institution dedicated to helping our clients achieve economic success and financial security, we won’t help any entity or company that would undermine that mission and threaten the hard-earned American dream of property ownership.”

“BB&T’s principled stand sets an example that should inspire other lenders and should become the new industry standard,” said Institute for Justice President and General Counsel Chip Mellor. The Institute for Justice litigated the Kelo case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the taking of private property for someone else’s private use in the guise of “economic development.” Mellor said, “You can and should accomplish economic development through private negotiation, not the use of government force through eminent domain. As far as we’re concerned, BB&T now stands for Best Bank in Town.”

The U.S. Congress is now considering bipartisan legislation that would federally de-fund eminent domain for private use. Although the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation that would block any federal funds going to private development projects on land taken through eminent domain, the Senate has yet to vote on companion legislation. Last week, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), however, commented on an eminent domain case that was argued before the Ohio Supreme Court. The case involves Carl and Joy Gamble, homeowners from Norwood, Ohio, who could lose their home through eminent domain for a privately owned mall and high-end apartments. Frist wrote in an op-ed published by the Cincinnati Enquirer, “I have some pretty clear thoughts about the [Norwood] case: The Gambles should keep their home and the developer should either build around it or cancel the development plans altogether. . . . Quite simply, no family should ever risk losing its home because a government wants to help a private developer.”

Scott Bullock, an IJ senior attorney who argued the Kelo case, said, “Eminent domain abuse is wrong and unconstitutional. BB&T has stepped up and recognized its corporate responsibility to not be a part of this shameful abuse of individual rights.”

Dana Berliner, an IJ senior attorney who argued the Gambles’ case before the Ohio Supreme Court, said, “Throughout the country, banks have been silent partners in the unholy alliance between local governments and private developers. Banks finance developers and cities that use eminent domain to take someone’s home or business and turn the land into new stores, condos, and office space. Others will hopefully follow BB&T’s courageous example.”

Congrats to BB&T. A very sound decision.

- Andrew Langer

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The USA Today Piece...

Published in today's edition of USA Today:

Small firms deserve relief

By Andrew M. Langer

A lot of environmental regulations have a direct impact on what's released into the environment. The benefits of the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) are a lot more tangential. It's a paperwork regulation — an exercise in environmental accounting and one that, for small businesses especially, is confusing, complex and incredibly time-consuming.

What's worse, it treats the smallest of small businesses the same as it does large companies — small businesses that cannot hire the regulatory expertise needed to easily navigate the maze of TRI's requirements.

This is why the TRI program needs to be reformed: to accommodate the well-recognized disparities that exist between large and small companies.

The reforms proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency go a long way toward doing that while maintaining the core integrity of TRI. Under the proposed reforms, 99.9% of all release data being reported will still be reported, even if thresholds are raised. The reforms provide real and meaningful relief to small businesses.

TRI is supposed to report materials released into the environment. Thousands of businesses around the country release little or nothing but are nevertheless required to jump through the same hoops as if they're businesses that release, literally, tons of chemicals. This is public policy at its silliest: These businesses are emitting nothing, yet they are still required to file paperwork.
These businesses deserve some relief, and that is precisely what these reforms offer.

An even greater reform is EPA's proposal to move to some sort of "alternate year" reporting. Reporting every other year will cut the paperwork burden for small businesses in half, while still allowing for researchers and the public to have access to pertinent information.

These businesses' operations change little from year to year. They simply cannot, as critics suggest, change their practices drastically every other year in order to avoid an accurate picture of what they are releasing.

It leaves us all with the question: Is the community best served when those required to report, report nothing? The answer is no, especially when the costs associated with the program are so high.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Another Media Alert....

Just got word - a counterpoint op-ed on the Toxics Release Inventory that I have written will be printed in USAToday... tomorrow.

More to come. In the meanwhile, I don't remember if I've posted some links to other media hits I've had in the last few weeks...

- Andrew Langer


Hello all. This is to let you know that I'm doing a live interview this afternoon on a show called "Small Business Trends", hosted by Anita Campbell. I'll be talking about eminent domain. The show starts at 1pm eastern time (10am pacific), and can be heard live on the internet at The archives can also be found on the internet at:

An announcement of the show can be found here:

The other guest, Nancy Kurdziel, is currently facing the private-to-private eminent domain problem firsthand in East Lansing, MI. Her website is: . She is an excellent and passionate defender of private property rights.

Apparently, you can call in - so feel free!

- Andrew Langer

Friday, January 06, 2006

Roasting and Toasting a Good Friend and a True American

Sometimes life just tosses you a golden apple of an opportunity - you know, something you just can't resist. For three years I worked for a guy named Fred Smith, the founder and President of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. This guy:

Fred's brilliant. There's no denying it - he's a super, super smart guy. But like a lot of really smart guys, he's got all sorts of quirks, the kind tailor-made for story telling.

So Fred turned 65, and his wife, Fran, decided to throw him a roast. And I got to be the roastmaster. I love roasts. I don't know why - I think it's my heritage. My culture finds it funny to poke fun at the foibles of others (I'm reading "Born to Kvetch" right now.) - shadenfreude at all that. You know the saying, "I fall off a cliff, tragedy. You fall off the cliff, comedy.

Yes, I've watched all the Comedy Central roasts, both the "Friars" versions, and the generic ones they have now. I'm hoping that their uncensored versions are going to come out on DVD. In fact, it's because of the Roast of Hugh Hefner that the film "The Aristocrats" was made (Gilbert Gottfried "outed" the joke at Hef's roast when one of his own jokes bombed horribly.)

It takes a certain sense of humor to both do, and get, a roast. They're not testimonials. They're not supposed to be touchy feely. Witness the horrible MTV roast of Carson Daly (to quote Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, "so friggin' boring!). The only people who understood the concept were Jimmy Kimmel, his best friend, Adam Carolla, and his girlfriend, Sarah Silverman (all accomplished roasters). Everyone else gave these milquetoasty testimonials.

Anyhow, Fred's a ripe target to be roasted. He's a true American, to be sure, but someone you just can't help but having fun with. So, in the spirit of the roast, I offer my comments:


We’re glad you’re here Fred, and mostly on time, too. We had a pool going to see if you were going to be late to your own roast.

What can be said about Fred Smith that hasn't been angrily muttered under the breath of a thousand people trying to conversation with him?

Fred Smith is to public policy what Anna Nicole Smith is to public policy. Only Anna Nicole was able to bilk a 90-year-old out of his fortune.

Fred stated his career at the EPA, and his legacy can be seen each and every day: a focused mission, a limited reach, clear and easy-to-understand regulations

CEI celebrated it’s 20th anniversary last year. They gave away cans of soup. I don’t have a joke there.

CEI - 20 years on the long road to the middle.
CEI - a think tank so unrespected Jack Abramoff didn't funnel vast sums of money to it.

Washington’s feistiest think tank – not most respected, not most scholarly. In essence, CEI’s the “pippi longstocking” of Washington think tanks.

Then again, I've never had to travel with Fred, but I hear it's like traveling with a hyperactive nine year old.

Fred Smith likes to say that sometimes he gets mistaken for the CEO of Fed Ex. Don’t worry, Fred. Nobody would ever mistake you for the chief executive of a hugely successful company.

Fred’s sometimes been referred to as the “merry elf of libertarianism”. I don't want to say that Fred's short. But you paint him blue, and he's going to bear a striking resemblance to Papa Smurf.

Fred’s got talent – and I don’t mean the kind of talent you need to piss off donors on all five continents, I mean real talent. Fred’s got the keen sense of a bloodhound – if you’ve got candy, and you’re within fifty feet, Fred will find it. Yet he’s the only man I know who can lose his speech between his seat and the podium.

As you can imagine, Fred’s a fantastic proponent of the promise of technology, the economic forces that drive its advances, and a staunch guardian against those who would stop progress in the name of precaution. This, from a man who somehow managed to get his cell phone to call his brother every time he got a voicemail.

You all know that one of Fred’s big obsessions is effective communications. And it shows with every phone conversation or voicemail that Fred’s starts in the middle, in garbled late night e-mails, and in incomprehensible all-staff pages over CEI’s intercom.

And for a man so deeply rooted in the cutting edge and with a mind to the future, Fred’s got zero interest in popular culture. What do “the Olson Twins”; Kevin Federline, and “The Surreal Life” have in common? Fred’s never heard of any of them.

Fred’s a man who think’s “Black Eyed Peas” are a marvelous side dish, 50 Cent is something that could once buy you an ice cream sandwich, and prefers his Eminem with peanuts.

Anyone who’s ever shared a meal with Fred can attest to the fact that it’s an adventure. What we can’t understand, Fred, is how you’ve had this struggle with weight gain when most of your food lands on your clothes?

In the end, Fred, I want to thank you for being a good sport tonight while we have fun at your expense, and I want to leave you all with this. With all sincerity, I want to talk about Fred’s courage. It takes courage to stand by your principles, in spite of the fact that you know you’re going to piss a lot of people off.

It takes courage to run a think tank in DC, knowing that there are people in positions of influence who refuse to take your call. But what sets Fred apart is that in spite of the animosity that might be felt towards him, he isn’t bothered by it. No, Fred revels in it.

Thank you for being a friend, a teacher, and a conscience in a city that needs consciences.


Thanks to Fran Smith for allowing me the privilege of being Fred's roastmaster. Oh, and special kudos go out to Sam Kazman, someone who really understands the roast concept and absolutely killed last night.

- Andrew Langer

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Why No Morale Tours?

I can’t remember what it was I was listening to, but something caught my ear in the car as I was driving during the holidays. It was yet another story about the situation in Iraq, with the media painting as much doom and gloom as possible and someone from the Defense Department trying desperately to inject some semblance of accuracy and hope by offering a picture of all that we are doing that is good.

Ah, yes – it was the story about former military personnel, bloggers and authors, who have been asked to come overseas and see for themselves the positive changes that are happening.

And then it occurred to me, that, in addition to the skewed perception of casualty and mortality statistics, something else has changed substantially with regards to how the public views, processes, and comes to its conclusions about this nation’s warfaring: little personal stumping.

It used to be that as a way for the military to boost morale on the home front, it would put its best face forward here at home. The crew of the Memphis Belle, for instance, was promised a cushy stint touring the United States once they completed their required bombing assignments over Europe, in a reward for exceptional service rendered. Even as unpopular as Vietnam was, the Department of Defense would ship soliders, sailors, marines and airmen around the country to do public relations.

As the President has attempted to go on the offensive here at home regarding this war, and making headway I might add, this is another tool at his disposal that he ought to use. The Pentagon should step up now and recruit a cadre – better yet, two cadres. The first of articulate and intelligent military members of all ranks, likeable people who can connect with others, who can explain why we are in Iraq, what we are doing, how we are succeeding, on a variety of intellectual levels.

For instance, nobody to my knowledge has yet to simply put in front of a group a map of the Middle East and point out the fact that we have created a line of neutralization… wait, see the map below, and I’ll illustrate….

As you can see from the map, the shaded nations are nations that are either allied with the United States, or have American troops actively stationed there. We now surround both Iran and Syria (and honestly, I have long been much more concerned about Syria than I have been with Iran).

Anyhow, nobody has made that case to the American people.

But someone needs to be able to answer American’s questions, have them understand just who is overseas making sacrifices for them, just what those sacrifices are, and what we are achieving and have already achieved.

The second cadre would be one of Iraqis themselves. People who were oppressed before the US stepped in and removed a brutal Stalinist thug from power, who bask in the warm light of freedom today.

Civic groups are always clamoring for speakers. Jaycees, rotary clubs, local chambers, etc. Ditto high schools.

If the President really wants to take his message to the people, then he ought to do it with the most effective messengers out there: articulate, likeable soldiers and Iraqis. Those who have been there, seen things firsthand, and can tell the compelling stories that need to be told.

- Andrew Langer