Hysterical Tucker Carlson essay about touring with Ron Paul

This article is hysterical — a great read…
Pimp My Ride

On the road with Ron Paul’s merry band of misfits and his hooker fan club.

Tucker Carlson,  The New Republic  

Published: Friday, December 21, 2007

The first thing I learned from driving around Nevada with Ron Paul for a couple of days: People really hate the Federal Reserve. This became clear midway through a speech Paul was giving to a group of Republicans at a community center in Pahrump, a dusty town about 60 miles west of Las Vegas. Pahrump is known for its legal brothels (Heidi Fleiss lives there), but most of the people in the audience looked more like ranchers than swingers. They stood five deep at the back of the room and listened politely as the candidate spoke.

Until Paul got to the part about the Fed. “We need a much better monetary system,” he said, a system based on “sound money, money that’s backed by something.” Paul, who is small and delicate and has a high voice, spoke in a near monotone, making no effort to excite the audience. They cheered anyway. Then he said this: “The Constitution gives no authority for a central bank.” The crowd went wild, or as wild as a group of sober Republicans can on a Monday night. They hooted and yelled and stomped their feet. Paul stopped speaking for a moment, his words drowned out. Then he continued on about monetary policy.

Wow, I thought. The constitutionality of a central bank is not an issue you see on many lists of voter concerns. (How many pollsters would think to ask about it? How many voters would understand the question?) Yet a room full of non-economists had just responded feverishly when Paul brought it up. Hoping for some context, I went outside and found a Paul staffer. He didn’t sound surprised when I told him about the speech. “It’s our biggest applause line,” he said.

Our biggest applause line? There are two ways to interpret a fact like that: Either the Ron Paul movement is more sophisticated than most journalists understand, or a lot of Paul supporters are eccentric bordering on bonkers.  

One thing you can say for certain: The crowds at Ron Paul rallies aren’t coming to be entertained. Stylistically, a Paul speech is about as colorful as a tax return. He is the only politician I’ve ever seen who doesn’t draw energy from the audience; his tone is as flat at the conclusion as it was at the beginning. There are no jokes. There’s no warm-up, no shout-out to local luminaries in the room, no inspiring vignettes about ordinary Americans doing their best in the face of this or that bad thing. In fact, there are virtually none of the usual political clichés in a Paul speech. Children may be our future, but Ron Paul isn’t admitting it in public.

Paul is no demagogue, and probably couldn’t be if he tried. He’s too libertarian. He can’t stand to tell other people what to do, even people who’ve shown up looking for instructions. On board the campaign’s tiny chartered jet one night (the plane was so small my legs were intertwined with the candidate’s for the entire flight), Paul and his staff engaged in an unintentionally hilarious exchange about the cabin lights. The staff wanted to know whether Paul preferred the lights on or off. Not wanting to be bossy, Paul wouldn’t say. Ultimately, the staff had to guess. It was a long three minutes.

Being at the center of attention clearly bothers Paul. “I like to be unnoticed,” he says, a claim not typically made by presidential candidates. “That’s my personality. I see all the excitement and sometimes I say to myself, ‘Why do they do that?’ I don’t see myself as a big deal.” Ordinarily you’d have to dismiss a line like that out of hand–if he’s so humble, why is he running for president?–but, in Paul’s case, it might be true. In fact, it might be the key to his relative success. His fans don’t read his awkwardness as a social phobia, but as a sign of authenticity. Paul never outshines his message, which is unchanging: Let adults make their own choices; liberty works. For a unified theory of everything, it’s pretty simple. And Paul sincerely believes it.

Most Republicans, of course, profess to believe it too. But only Paul has introduced a bill to legalize unpasteurized milk. Give yourself five minutes and see if you can think of a more countercultural idea than that. Most people assume that the whole reason we have a government is to make sure the milk gets pasteurized. It takes some stones to argue otherwise, especially if nobody’s paying you to do it. (The raw-milk lobby basically consists of about eight goat-cheese enthusiasts in Manhattan, and possibly the Amish.) Paul is pro-choice on pasteurization entirely for reasons of principle. “I support the right of people to drink whatever they want,” he says. He mocks the idea that “only government can make sure we’re safe, so we need the government to protect us. I don’t think we’d all die of unsafe food if we didn’t have the FDA. Someone else would do it.” If you know Ron Paul primarily from watching the Republican debates, you probably assume he spends most of his time ranting about September 11 and the Iraq invasion. In fact, his real passion is Austrian economics. More even than the war, Paul despises paper currency, which he considers a hoax, “fiat money.” He can become emotional talking about it. Caught in traffic in downtown Vegas on the way to an event, Paul looked out the window at the casinos and mused aloud: “Can you imagine when all those slot machines used real silver dollars? All that silver … ” His words trailed off, as in a pleasant daydream.

Paul trusts coins, and he has bought them all his life, first as a childhood collector, then as an investor. During the 1980s, as he ran unsuccessfully for the Senate and the White House, he became involved in a coin business, Ron Paul Coins. Numismatics, he says, is a labor of love. “You only make five or ten dollars a coin. You’ve got to sell a lot of coins to get rich. I was just promoting something I believe in.” It’s a rare person who admits something like this. Everybody knows the gold standard is for cranks. It’s complicated, unwieldy, and basically incompatible with the modern world. Worse, it’s boring. Paul doesn’t care. “It’s been over one hundred years since that issue has been talked about in a presidential election,” he told me with apparent pride.

Over dinner at the coffee shop in the Saddle West Hotel, Casino, and RV Resort, Paul and his staff talked about little else. There were eight or nine of us at the table, with the 72-year-old obstetrician-congressman at the head in a gray suit, working over a chicken platter and discussing hard money. It had the feel of a familiar conversation, a dialogue that doesn’t really end but that never diminishes in intensity. At one point, Paul’s assistant checked his BlackBerry for the latest gold and silver prices and read them aloud to the table.

For Paul, the original sin in monetary policy took place in 1933, when FDR uncoupled the currency from gold. This removed limits from federal spending, allowing Congress an endless supply of money it could print at will, while leaving citizens vulnerable to the inflation that inevitably resulted. But, worst of all from Paul’s point of view, it was compulsory. Private currencies are forbidden, so Americans had no choice but to participate. The whole system is a mandatory Ponzi scheme, built on faith in the government. Except that, now that the bottom has dropped out of the dollar, it’s clear there’s no reason to have faith in the government or its money.

That’s Paul’s essential argument. His solution: allow competing currencies.

If individuals want to circulate gold or silver coins (or scrip backed by metal reserves), let them. Give citizens the chance to decide which money they trust.

The owners of NORFED, an Indiana coin company, gave it a shot. The company minted and sold thousands of silver Ron Paul dollars, complete with the candidate’s face in profile, before federal agents showed up in November and confiscated their entire remaining inventory. In its affidavit for a search warrant, the FBI accused NORFED of trying to “undermine the United States government’s financial systems by the issuance of a non-governmental competing currency for the purpose of repealing the Federal Reserve and Internal Revenue Code.” That may be a crime, but it’s also pretty close to Ron Paul’s stump speech.  

It’s hard to think of a presidential candidate who’s ever drawn a coalition as broad as Ron Paul’s. At any Paul event, you’re likely to run into self-described anarcho-capitalists, 9/11-deniers, antiwar lefties, objectivists, paleocons, hemp activists, and geeky high school kids, along with tax resisters, conspiracy nuts, and acolytes of Murray Rothbard. And those are just the ones it’s possible to categorize. It’s hard to say what they all have in common, except that every one is an ideological minority–or, as one of them put it to me, “open-minded people.” To these supporters, Paul is a folk hero, the one person in national politics who doesn’t judge them, who understands what it’s like to be considered a freak by straight society.

Which is odd, because, in person, Paul doesn’t seem like a freak. He seems like someone’s grandfather. I first met up with Paul after a rally at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He apparently hadn’t known I was coming but accepted my arrival with Zen-like calm, welcoming me into the seat next to him in the minivan and offering me baked goods from a plate on his lap. We were both finishing our brownies when he mentioned they’d been baked by a supporter. I stopped chewing. Where I work, this is a major taboo (Rule One: Never eat food sent by viewers), and my concern must have shown. Paul grinned. “Maybe they’re spiked with marijuana,” he said.

If so, it would have been his first experience with illegal drugs. Though Paul argues passionately for liberalizing marijuana laws and is beloved by potheads (Timothy Leary once held a fund-raiser for him), he has never smoked pot himself. He sounded shocked when I asked him. “I have never seen anyone smoke marijuana,” he said. “I don’t think I’d be open to using it.” For some people, libertarianism is the philosophical justification for a zany personal life. Paul, by contrast, describes his hobbies as gardening (roses and organic tomatoes) and “riding my bicycle.” He has never had a cigarette. He doesn’t swear. He limits his drinking to an occasional glass of wine and goes to church regularly. He has been married to the same woman for 50 years. Three of their five children are physicians.Ron Paul is deeply square, and every bit as deeply committed to your right not to be. “I don’t gamble, but I’m the gambler’s best friend,” he says, boasting of his support for online casinos. He is a Second Amendment absolutist who doesn’t own a gun. “I’ve only fired one a couple of times in my life. I’ve never gotten around to killing anything.” It’s an impressively, charmingly principled world view, though sometimes you’ve got to wonder how much Paul has in common with many of the people who support him.  

Before we left the speech in Pahrump and headed across the state, I’d called a friend of mine in Carson City named Dennis Hof. Dennis owns the Moonlite BunnyRanch, probably the most famous legal brothel in the country and the setting for an HBO series called “Cathouse.” Dennis isn’t very political, but he’s smart, and I suspected he might lean libertarian. I told him Ron Paul was speaking the next morning in Reno. He said he’d drive down to see it.

I wasn’t planning on showing up at Paul’s press conference with a bordello owner and two hookers, but unexpected things happen on the road.

I’d arrived with the campaign at the Best Western Airport Plaza Hotel in Reno at two in the morning the night before, and, at some point while I was sleeping, the power in the hotel went out, disabling my alarm. By the time I woke up, Paul and his staff had left. So I called Dennis for a ride. He was there in ten minutes, in an enormous stretch limo with a BunnyRanch logo on the side. He’d brought two of his girls, Brooke and Air Force Amy, as well as his driver, a middle-aged man in a cowboy hat and Western wear. It was a conspicuous group.

Probably because they didn’t fully understand who I was coming with, the Paul people waved the limo through a roadblock outside the auditorium and brought us in through the loading dock. A Paul aide informed us that press conferences are for press only. That’s us, said the girls, and we walked right in.

The other, actual journalists looked confused. Dennis is built like a linebacker and was dressed entirely in black. Brooke and Air Force Amy looked like hookers because they are. All three slapped on Ron Paul stickers (“we could use these as pasties,” Air Force Amy said, giggling) and sat near the front. Pretty soon, Paul showed up and did his 15 minutes on liberty and Austrian economics. If he noticed there were prostitutes present, he didn’t show it.

The first time I heard Paul talk about monetary policy, I’d felt like a hostage, the only person in the room who didn’t buy into the program. Then, slowly, like so many hostages, I started to open my mind and listen. By the time we got to Reno, unfamiliar thoughts were beginning to occur: Why shouldn’t we worry about the soundness of the currency? What exactly is the dollar backed by anyway? And, if the gold standard is crazy, is it really any crazier than hedge funds? I’d become Patty Hearst, ready to take up arms for the cause, or at least call my accountant and tell him to buy Krugerrands. I looked over at Dennis and the girls. They looked like they might be having the same thoughts.

Once the press conference ended, Paul left to do interviews with local TV reporters. Dennis and the girls stood at the podium and had their pictures taken under the Ron Paul sign. Air Force Amy hammed it up. What I really want more than anything, she told me, is to get my picture taken with Dr. Paul. She meant it.

I considered trying to explain to her that I was not actually affiliated with Ron Paul, merely writing about him for a political magazine back in Washington. But I didn’t. Instead, I led all three of them into the back room where Paul was doing his interviews.Paul was talking on camera and never saw us. But his staff was on high alert. They looked more uncomfortable than I have ever seen a campaign staff look. Air Force Amy didn’t appear to notice. Dressed in red, her Dolly Parton hairdo and 36DDs at full attention, she sidled up to Lew Moore, Paul’s campaign manager, and made her pitch. “Hi,” she said. “I’m Air Force Amy, and I’d like a picture with Ron Paul.” I knew right away it wasn’t going to happen. “I’ve got a concern, I’ve got to be honest,” Moore said, tense but trying to be nice. “If that picture surfaces, it could be very damaging to him politically.” Dennis stepped in to take up Air Force Amy’s cause, but Moore wasn’t budging. “The mainstream in the early primary states is not moving in that direction,” he said.

I really thought Air Force Amy was going to cry. She looked crushed. Like a child of alcoholic parents, she immediately started to rationalize away the pain. “It wasn’t Ron’s decision,” she told Moore. “It was yours. So I can’t take it personally.” But it was obvious that she did. It was awful. There wasn’t much left to say, so Dennis and the girls and I left and went downtown to a casino for pancakes. There were no hard feelings. They wore their Ron Paul stickers all through breakfast. If I’d had one, I would have worn it too.

Tucker Carlson is an anchor on MSNBC.



The Checklist

The Checklist

This article from The New Yorker about medical procedures at Intensive Care Units will have you shocked that something so simple as a checklist would 1) be so under-utilized in hospitals, and 2) make such an enormous difference in the quality of care.  The Checklist in PDF format.

Obama: From Promise to Power

I haven’t been posting much lately because I’ve been listening to a biography of Barak Obama on my iPod that I downloaded from Audible.com.  The author, a journalist from the Chicago Tribune, finds himself in the unexpected and most qualified position to write a biography, he being the journalist following Obama’s career for the longest time: 3 years.  This doesn’t mean he’s a great writer; nearly every other paragraph begins with “Indeed, . . .”, and it is difficult for the author to hide just how smitten he is with his subject, yet it is an excellent listen, regardless.  And who am I to criticize his writing, being no author myself?

I wouldn’t bet my money that Obama will be president . . . nor am I convinced that he should be.  I admit, though: I find myself emotionally very enamored with him as a concept.  Imagine a smart, visionary, kinda-black, kinda-white, kinda-muslim, kinda-christian, kinda-conservative, kinda-liberal, kinda-young, kinda-old, kinda-American, kinda-International”an”, incredibly charismatic man to lead the United States.  He could manifest a generational transformation of the country which could have enormous impact at home and throughout the rest of the world.  Obama’s candidacy represents an American dream many of us have had for a long time, and never before has it been so close, so needed, and so possible.  The man’s so perfect for the job.  The only skeleton in his closet?  He smokes.  And apparently the wife only agreed to let him run for President if he quit.

That said, I have little faith a Democrat will be elected this next round.  Never “mis”underestimate the Republicans.  I’ll be relieved if, in January 2009, we have our first clearly and undisputably-elected presidential choice sworn in since 1997 (since Clinton was sworn in for his second term our elections have been tense and disputed).  The rich are so fat, the corporate so empowered and unchained, and the people so busy “increasing American productivity” by working many jobs and going into debt, that the US is ripe for a coup cloaked in the drama of national security and terror.  Will Bush-Cheney really relinquish power?  I’ll be relieved when it happens, and I have faith that it will, but will not be surprised if it doesn’t.  Just in case, I’m safe in Stockholm.  🙂

Buy Obama’s book here.

Andrew Sullivan’s essay “Goodbye to All That” about Barak Obama’s presidential candidacy…

Goodbye to All That
by Andrew Sullivan
The Atlantic Monthly

December 2007

The Swedish press is even writing about Andrew Sullivan’s article about Barak Obama, which I’ve attached here as a PDF file. There don’t seem to be any copies of the article anywhere on the Web, unless you have access to The Atlantic’s web site, so I’m posting it here to see if the FBI shows up at my Stockholm apartment. Sullivan’s article is an excellent read, and should be read by EVERYONE in IOWA. Sullivan finds the words to explain why some of us, myself included, feel so strongly about the potential for an Obama presidency to, as Sullivan writes, build a “bridge to the 21st century that” (ironically) “Bill Clinton told us about.” Read it HERE in PDF.

The new wireless Kindle e-reader device from Amazon will do for books what the iPod did for music . . .

Taking a lesson from the iPod playbook, Amazon has launched its own electronic device for book reading called the Kindle.

On the surface, this seems like an insignificant development (we’ve seen these gadgets before and they’ve all been flops), but the details and genius of Kindle’s overall “book-like” concept and design using a screen technology called e-Ink, the seamless wireless integration, and the ease with which books can be downloaded, blogs read, global newspaper subscriptions read, and Wikipedia browsed (my favorite feature – a portable Wikipedia!), combine to make the Kindle a major revolution in book production and distribution.

MP3 players had been out long before the iPod, but the iPod succeeded because it built the iTunes service and launched iTunes simultaneously with the iPod, making it easy for users to purchase music and content for their iPods. Consequently, Apple controls some massive portion of the downloaded music market (90%? – someone help me out here with the correct number).

With the Kindle and the Kindle eBook service, which already has 90,000 eBooks ready for purchase in their exclusive .AZW file format, will mean that the future of digital books will likely be controlled by Amazon, a seemingly inevitable outcome; what consequences await publishers are yet to be determined.

The genius of the Kindle’s wireless network is that it works anywhere that Sprint has mobile service, yet the user doesn’t need to buy any wireless connectivity: Amazon in partnership with Sprint provides the service for free to the user, covering their costs with the revenues from sales of eBooks.

Price? $400. Will our iPods download music over a wireless network eventually, bypassing the desktop computer altogether, as the Kindle is doing with books, newspapers, blogs, and Wikipedia?

Here is video of Charlie Rose interviewing Jeff Bezos about the launch of the Kindle on November 19, 2007.

Here is a radio podcast of OnPoint discussing the implications of the Kindle on book reading and the publishing industry.

If I voted with my mind and my heart, I’d have to vote for Obama…

The Political Scene
The Relaunch
Can Barack Obama catch Hillary Clinton?
by Ryan Lizza November 26, 2007

How could my favorite candidate for president end up with a name that sounds like Osama (Obama), a middle name, Hussein, shared with Saddam, and a charisma, intelligence, rationalness, and integrity that historically in our society ends up tragically in assassination (RFK, MLK, JFK, etc.)? We can hope otherwise. I always guess that I’m voting for Hillary because I assume when general election comes around that she will be the choice. But I’m never sure WHY I’m voting for Hillary. This article gives an insight into the person I’d rather vote for, but I won’t be in the states for the primaries anyway to vote for him. The author of this article, Ryan Lizza, is a great writer, too.

Will foreign governments be buying American companies?

The Financial Page
Sovereign Wealth World
by James Surowiecki

Another excellent essay from Surowiecki (link above). Living in Sweden, it is always fascinating to me that the “Kingdom of Sweden” owns some 250 for-profit companies, including Absolut Vodka, one of the top 10 spirits brands in the world in sales; it is remarkably efficiently run, and while the government is speculating on selling it to convert it to cash and ease the government into owning fewer assets, the truth is that despite Absolut being a government-owned company, it has defied the free market cynics and performed phenomenally — perhaps better than it might have were it publicly traded or privately held. When I asked the Chairman whether he would recommend selling the company now as the government intends to, were it not now owned by the government, he speculated that it would be unwise to sell. Basically, the company performs so well and generates so much cash flow that it has no strategic reason to sell, and it is possible that the highest bidder out there will not be paying what the company is really worth. Ironic, or simply a vindication for the free market cynics, that Absolut will likely be sold for political, rather than sound business reasons, at a price less than it might have been worth were it not owned by the government? A red herring of mine, as this article is about the implications of foreign governments buying private or publicly traded American companies . . .