In Which Republicans Continue To Impress Me

Rand Paul is filibustering the annual Defense Authorization Act to try to get a vote on his amendment to “give American citizens being held by the military rights to a fair trial.” Last year’s NDAA encoded “indefinite detention,” or the authority of the government to hold an American citizen indefinitely with no right to trial or oversight by the courts. Terrorist suspect or no, it’s (in my eyes) a clear violation of the Constitution and a dangerous authority to give a government that is always subject to the “oops cost.”

Paul just wants to explicitly state a common-sense protection for citizens. Harry Reid doesn’t even want to let the Senate vote on it. I’m not familiar enough with Congressional procedures to know how long Paul can hold it up or how likely he is to even get a vote on his amendment, much less get it passed, but man he sure makes me glad he’s in the Senate sometimes. It’s amazing what even one Senator can do to hold back the forces that would trample liberty.

Department of Everything

But Paul’s not the only Republican Congressman impressing me lately, and his influence seems to be spreading. A month after his charge that “not every dollar spent on the military is sacred,” Senator Coburn has released a new “Department of Everything” report that identifies “non-defense defense spending” in the bloated military budget. Some of the most ridiculous highlights:

  • “the Navy recently funded research examining what the behavior of fish can teach us about democracy while also developing an app to alert iPhone users when the best time is to take a coffee break”
  • “the Navy and the Air Force funded a study that concluded people in New York use different jargon on Twitter than those living in California”
  • “A researcher who plagiarized a grant proposal and progress report received funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the same exact project.”
  • “a strategy planning workshop on the 100 YearStarship project last year included an interesting discussion involving the Klingons”
  • “The Foreign Comparative Testing (FCT) program has spent more than $1.5 million to develop… beef jerky so good it will shock and awe your taste buds”
  • A UCLA professor who “felt badass” when he put on some body armor was inspired to nab a $400,000 grant to study people’s perceptions of men holding weapons.
  • $450,000 for a study concluding that babies respond more to more interactive robots
  • An obsolete school program for a small percentage of military families that costs thousands more dollars per student than a public school less than a mile away
  • Lots of duplicated research funding for non-defense pork-barrel projects that are hidden in the defense budget

Coburn claims to identify over $60 billion of ten years’ worth of pure waste in the defense budget regarding duplicated programs, excessive overhead, and programs and research completely unrelated to national defense – and that’s without even beginning to argue about whether or not all of our actual defense spending is truly necessary or whether some of these non-defense programs should be funded at all by the rest of the government.

It’s a small start, but it looks like continued progress coming from a party whose leaders still tend to say it’d be “devastating” to accept slower growth in the fast-growing defense budget. Hopefully Paul and now Coburn will continue to gain momentum.

Copyright Reform

It’s not just the Senate Republicans who are sounding better these days. Techdirt highlights how a Republican Study Committee in the House of Representatives “released an amazing document debunking various myths about copyright law and suggesting key reforms.”┬áThe document recognizes that the extreme extensions of copyright law have dismantled the Constitution’s original purpose for copyrights while granting “a guaranteed, government instituted, government subsidized content-monopoly.” They even use the economic term “rent-seeking”!

This is an encouraging development from a party whose Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Lamar Smith was championing the dangerous SOPA less than a year ago. The party that claims to support small-government is actually challenging their own hypocritical doctrine regarding the copyright mess!

So we have Paul’s efforts to protect the citizen’s right to a trial, Coburn’s effort to cut waste in the military budget, and now this House Committee’s effort to reform copyrights. All three of these initiatives are simultaneously 1) pro-libertarian, 2) pro-small-government, and 3) popular with liberals. If the Republican party is looking for a way to stay relevant by championing common-sense Constitutional limits on governments and special interests that are popular across the political spectrum, this is possibly the best way to go about doing it! We don’t even have the newly elected constitutional libertarians in Congress yet!

Of course, it remains to be seen whether or not any of these efforts will lead to concrete results. Now if someone would just challenge the ethanol lobby…

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