“Common Sense, Common Decency”, is a good article and as a Republican, I agree with you 100%/ The people of the USA have spoken and it is time for the Democrats to get what they earned through the mistrust of the Republican leaders – who I helped put into power the first time…. In the event that does not happen, a Democrat should be selected to fulfill Sen. Johnson’s term. It is the right thing to do and I thank you for telling it like it should be!

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Mailbag 11.13.06

Without naming names and dates (because it would again dredge up that which should have stayed below the political gnat-line in the first place) there have been many good men and women who have withdrawn or been demoralized as a result of the fever pitch of “gotchas” from the press gallery…. Extruded from the pasts of those who dare to run are the expense accounts, the charitable donations, the prescription records, the rumors of marriage counseling, the divorce files and the peccadillos of what’s normally called “everyday” life: Running red lights and failing economics and being a little fuzzy on what really happened at parties that took place 20 years ago. Goes with the territory?

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But if you do happen to visit the site between 11:45 CDT (9:45 PDT; 12:45 EDT) Saturday and 4 a.m. CDT (2 a.m. PST, 5 a.m. EST) Sunday, you won’t find us. Why? The server farm that hosts Spot-on needs to reseed the fields, weed between some cornrows and generally spruce up their joint for the fall.

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Mailbag 8.3.2006

We love reader mail. We really love reader mail where you disagree with us because it makes us all think. Today, a reader takes Scott Olin Schmidt to task over his post last week about “clean money.” Got something to say? Don’t be shy!

I believe Scott Olin Schmidt misunderstands Prop 89, the Clean Money Initiative for public financing of campaigns. Please consider the following points: Prop 89 is patterned after systems in effect in Arizona and Maine which have already survived constitutional scrutiny in several courts. Furthermore the U.S. Supreme Court specifically encourages such systems.

Far from “pushing campaign finance into the shadowing realms of independent expenditures (IE’s),” public financing actually discourages such spending by providing additional matching funds to those targeted by such groups so they can respond. This makes helps level the playing field.

The corporate tax increase that pays for the system is only 0.2% and still leaves that tax rate at or below what it was from 1980-1996. No individual taxpayer dollars are involved and the $5 contributions are simply what participating candidates must collect in their own districts in order to qualify for public financing. This helps eliminate “fringe” candidates.

Self-funded millionaire candidates actually don’t benefit from Prop 89. In fact any such candidate who tries to outspend a publicly funded candidate will simply trigger matching funds for that candidate in the same fashion described above. The number of millionaire candidates actually tends to drop off.

Labor unions don’t receive any windfall benefit either; they are subject to the same limits on contributions to privately funded candidates as corporations ($500 for legislators, $1000 for statewide officers). The idea is to reduce the disproportionate influence of private money regardless of the source so that elections can be contests of ideas instead fundraising wars.

At present the only candidates who can speak to voters are those with access to great private wealth. It is thus the current system which dramatically limits free speech. Under Prop 89 private wealth becomes irrelevant and local voters – not big donors – decide who gets to run and who gets to serve.

Finally, Scott’s contention that money will be taken from one group of Californians (namely corporations) who will then be forced to pay for political speech they disagree with is misleading. What the tax revenues pay for is not any particular candidate’s speech. Like justice, the public financing system is blind and does not discriminate for or against anyone based on what they say. What the revenues pay for, and what ALL citizens get, is a fair and balanced election where all qualified candidates get to have their say, and voters know that whoever wins will be free to represent them, owing no favors to anyone. I submit that such elections are a public good that benefits


Craig Dunkerley,

Southbay Area Coordinator, California Clean Money Campaign

San Jose, CA

Mailbag 7.18.06

Time for some more reader mail. Got something to say? Don’t be shy!

One reader took exception to Nicole Martinelli’s complaints about how long it was taking American Airlines to get back to her about her complaint.

I felt compelled to rebut the recent blog entry concerning the lack of customer service at American Airlines.

Ms. Martinelli, please take into consideration the sheer amount of refund transactions that a business the size of American Airlines encounters daily. And then multiply that by 365. The act of authorizing refunds without research invites fraud. Although I, and hopefully you, would never knowingly enter into a fraudulent transaction, there are many people that will. If the integrity of every refund request could be guaranteed, I am certain that American Airlines would issue them promptly. Until that day will arrives, we simply must wait. – Corey Smith, Euless, Texas

Matthew Holt (and everyone else’s) complaints about ESPN‘s Wold Cup coverage triggered this comment from Wayne Van Zomeren in Ypsilanti, Mich. whose not pleased with how the network covers the Tour De France bike race. Soccer isn’t the only sport the channel doesn’t seem to understand.

I’m ticked that ESPN gives more coverage to the hot-dog eating contest than to the Tour De France. It is my personal opinion that the bike guys are the best athletes in the world. The push themselves to the extreme riding a bike at 25 miles per hour for about 150 miles and then do it again the next day. Riding the bike in that crow is difficult. I’ve heard the ESPN guys last years saying all they do is ride a bike! A baseball picture pitches a game and needs 4 or 5 days off. Football players need a week only basketball players come close to what the tour demand physically. Even soccer players take time off after running for 90 minutes. I’d love to see any of the ESPN guys keep up with the riders for 10 minutes. Give the tour a few minutes instead of running the same stories over and over. They [ESPN] seem to know football, roundball and some tennis and maybe a little NASCAR but that’s it. I dare any of them to watch OLN for 2 hours and then say “any one can ride a bike”. They love a perfect game and to talk baseball strategy but seem unable to understand the strategy of the tour. Don’t say no one is interested learn how to develop an audience.

Mailbag 5.10.2006

This week’s Readers’ Spotlight is from Kirk Ayers who has a few comments for our own Deborah Klosky. Deb’s response follows.

Hi, Deborah,

..or should I say, Hola! I read your blog with interest and mostly agree, but I also had some other thoughts which may have already occurred to you.

I guess I don’t really care why Coke, Pepsi and their other unindicted co-conspirators are taking their highly sugared products out, just that they are. I’m not too quick to point fingers at the schools for making a deal with the proverbial devils, though. School system’s desperation for adequate funding for educational programs (let alone “luxury” programs such as art, music and athletics) has driven them to make any number of unpleasant choices and/or compromises, and this particular choice may ultimately be one of the less destructive ones.

I would be curious as to the number of the kids in these schools who don’t drink these same products at home as well. It may have seemed to be a great opportunity to pick up some significant additional funding by providing students beverages that they would prefer anyway. This seems similar to the state’s enthusiastic adoption of various gambling enterprises, from state-run lottery games to legalized Indian gaming, to assist them in balancing state budgets. In either case, public agencies are making decisions that they know will impact those whom they “serve” on a very personal level.

Ultimately, these seems as reflections of a society that increasingly depends on public services while refusing to provide adequate funding for those same services. Or it seems that way to me…

Kirk Ayers, Los Vegas, Nev.



You make an interesting point comparing schools’ money from soda sales to state earnings on gambling. If a government with policies aimed at reducing individual “no-no’s” is called a “nanny state,” what do you call the opposite, a government that encourages good old-fashioned vices to make a buck off of them? The “indifferent orphanage” state? The “drunk babysitter asleep on the couch” state?

And whatever anyone’s take on how much nannying is needed, there’s one group that by definition requires some caretaking: kids. (Yeah, yeah, cue up the soaring theme music.) The problem of course arises in defining what’s proper caretaking. There are lots of different views on whether things like, say, sex education, or the pledge of allegiance, or oh, I don’t know, reality, should be taught in schools.

Of course there’s really only one right answer to what’s proper for education: whatever I say goes. OK, OK, I haven’t been elected lord high burgermeister meisterburger, yet. And, as you point out, schools need money right now. Certainly there are worse things than a can of soda. I know we really don’t want school principals to have to figure them out.

Mailbag 5.4.06

Editor’s Note: Last week’s discussion about Progressive libertarians sparked some more comments and notes. You can read the previous conversations between Ken Farber and Spot-on editor Chris Nolan here and here.

Here’s the latest mail. First Sue Harris from Lake Forest, CA has some comments about the “good intentions” aspect that Nolan says is a part of the Progressive libertarian movement:

As a previously bleeding heart liberal, now a firm traditionalist, the past forty years or so have shown me that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Good intentions are great, but not when the execution of good intentions go awry. America spends more dollars today to assuage old human problems and yet these old problems don’t change, and for 95% of humans nothing has changed at all for thousands of years.

But what really scares me is when people with good intentions believe they should work to change society to fit their “good intentions”. First we must examine any good intention within the framework of human frailties, greed, ignorance and hate. Human society’s dilemma is: whose” intentions will hold sway. Today, again, we have become aware of factions within humanity who feel so strongly that we must adhere to their belief system, whether Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu or secular that we are all in peril.

Yes, people should be accorded decent living conditions but how do we define decent around the world. My definition of “decent” is mightily different than the current Islamofacists would allow. The question seems to me to be: how do we get rid of evil in all its manifestations in order to achieve anything good?

And Keith Mitchell in Indianapolis, IN., has a few thoughts about the tone political conversations can take. His remarks are in line with the thinking of other Progressive libertarians:

I do find that the somewhat condescending tone of these pieces gets in the way of trying to win over peoples “hearts and minds.” Here are two recent
pieces which dive into this subject, here and here. If you are trying to win peoples support of your ideas, bashing them, or the people they’ve allied themselves with (for political expediency) isn’t wise thing. We could do with a lot less mud slinging, and a good deal more discussion about what we have in common, and what separates us.

What is needed in these times is a political party (the organism which gets people elected) that can get past the name calling and old ideas, and get to
actually governing the country. Unfortunately, as soon as a person is elected, they are more or less beholden to the party to keep them there. Each party has its special interests, whether it is corporate leaders or union leaders, those interests are now getting in the way of actual governance.

So, what are we left with? I consider myself a classic liberal, and those values are what I seek to conserve and protect. Now, if you want labels, I am a fiscally conservative, small-government, social libertarian. Neo-libertarianism comes closest to describing my political philosophy but isn’t anywhere near complete.

I would bet (heavily) that we could personally come to agreement on many issues. But, if we were to go strictly by the labels we put on ourselves, or each other, and the stereotypes that go along with them, we would not find agreement on much.

Mailbag 4.25.06

Editor’s Note: Ken Farber and Chris Nolan have been discussing Progressive libertarians and her use of the term.

Hi Chris,

Thanks for your expanded description of Progressive libertarians and your invitation to the Spotlight. This should be fun.

My interest in your concept stems from my interest in libertarian thought and my hope for its influence on public policy. You seem to be describing something of interest to me: a type of libertarian, maybe even a class, that could, someday, somehow, have an impact on public policy.
But I’m looking for more than an expanded description. Like most self-described libertarians (and that’s a big group, not always in agreement), my politics are (I like to think) derived from values. What I’m looking for in your description of Progressive libertarians is a clear definition of their values and the relative importance of each.

To understand the values of Progressive libertarians, I look to the examples you give – women’s suffrage, zoning and health codes, the 8-hour work day and the end of child labor. The first and the last would be supported by most libertarians today. Zoning and health codes and the eight hour day, however, are clear violations of property rights (in the first two instances) and the right of contract (in the last). I don’t think anyone who supports these policies should consider themselves a libertarian. They wouldn’t support many of the premises or positions that other libertarians do and probably wouldn’t get half the jokes.

By describing the early Progressives with, “good-hearted, well-intentioned and wanted nothing less than a total remaking of their society to create a more livable world”, you do them, from a libertarian perspective, an unwarranted series of favors. Like our current president, Hofstadter was apparently seen “into their heart(s)”, and likes what he sees. I don’t. Their intentions were, plainly, to remake society, according to their evangelical Christian-based morality. A skeptical view would be that those seeking political power during the Progressive era saw an opportunity to exploit public awareness of the Third Great Awakening. The natural path for this was to translate Christian values into public policy. As a beer-brewing atheist, my issues with these policies are obvious. As a libertarian, I disagree with their fundamental premise – that God tells us how to live a moral life.

To wrap up with a constructive suggestion: what you are actually describing may be more a “free market Progressive”, rather than a Progressive libertarian. This new label shows that the fundamental values are those of the subject (Progressive) – defining and pursuing public policies that support the social safety net and expanding government’s role in making everyone’s lives “better”, while keeping an eye open for market-like mechanisms for doing so. As it stands, “Progressive libertarian” might pique some interest in libertarian circles, but that interest will soon turn into backlash (unlike this polite missive). In short, I would address the group that is most likely to endorse your concept – go talk to the Bobos.

Thanks again,


Hi again, Ken,

I agree, I could probably call this group “free market Progressives” as I could “Progressive libertarians” but I am trying to capture the zeal, enthusiasm and – yes, good-naturedness – of this group’s desire to change the world.

As for the Libertarian aspects – this is a case of self-identification. I noticed a long time ago here in Silicon Valley that many folks described their politics as “Libertarian” all the while giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democrats!” So they’re not really Libertarians – I agree with you about that – but they’re also not Democrats. And really they don’t want to be Republicans. They’ve settled on the term “Libertarian” as a convenience.

One of the problems with trying to get your arms around a political movement is that you’re sort of predicting the future. We do know there’s a large group of people out there who are unmoved by any political party, who thrive on change and who have no use for the political system as it currently works. They think of themselves as independent entrepreneurs or work in businesses where they can think of themselves as entrepreneurs. They are often very wealthy but have not come not from wealth but, rather from the nation’s nicer suburbs, it’s good public schools, its best private institutions. In this respect, they are the direct heirs of the Protestant elite that made the original Progressive movement possible and yes, the values they embrace are very much in keeping with that ethic. So we have a mix of two philosophies that in our past seem at odds with each other but moving forward, I think – as your note and comments indicate – will come to be commingled in a way that’s going to change U.S. politics.

Mailbag 4.24.06

Editor’s Note:We get mail and now that we have the Spotlight here on the front page, we can share it with you in an easy-to-read format. Got something to say? Then make like Ken Farber – who gets his own Spotlight today – and send us a note! We’ll respond and we’ll print it.

Hi Chris,

Your writing on Progressive libertarians reads as though it is describing an emergent political class. You mention a number of characteristics of libertarians, but I haven’t been able to see where the “progressive” part comes in. Since the two terms are often portrayed as representing conflicting values, I would appreciate any clarification you can make of what progressive libertarians believe that is different from what classic libertarians and progressives believe.

Ken Farber

Silver Spring, Maryland


You’re right, I am trying to describe an emergent political class when I write about Progressive libertarians. Lots of folks see a contradiction between the two movements so your note gives me a good chance to explain myself.

I’m not using “progressive” in the usual, modern sense where it has come – much to my annoyance – to be a euphemism for “liberal.” Rather, I’m talking about the late 19th and early 20th century Progressive movement.

Progressives, as historian Richard Hofstatder has pointed out, were good-hearted, well-intentioned and wanted nothing less than a total remaking of their society to create a more livable world. In the process they created what Democrats call Liberal values. They are responsible for, among other things, women’s suffrage, zoning and health codes, the 8-hour work day and the end of child labor. All of which were deemed necessary for the U.S. to move away from being an agrarian economy – which it was mostly until after the Civil War – to being an urban, manufacturing economy.

We’re now in the midst of another transition. And we have a group of people – mostly in the tech business and related fields – who want to remake our society to make more in keeping with how they believe things should operate. This movement is made up of people who call themselves “progressive” – they are pro-choice, they are not racists, they are in favor of gay marriage and almost all are registered Democrats – but only Liberal to a point, usually the point where they have to fund social programs or answer tricky questions about affirmative action or the earned income tax credit.

Progressive libertarians’ reform urges (better schools, weaker unions, government-supported stem cell research, free trade) are somewhat narrowly focused and almost all – the best example of this is California’s Prop 71 the stem cell research measure – have some sort of monetary pay-back for the folks who support the ‘good’ work. It’s a contradiction for Liberals, of course, but for the Progressive libertarian, it’s an efficient way of getting things done.