Monthly Archives: March 2012

Remy: Health Care Mandates vs Pizza Toppings

I have argued that one of the reasons health insurance is so expensive, whether under ObamaCare or under the system we have now, is that some coverages are mandated whether the health care consumer wants/needs it or not. In the video below, Remy makes the same point but way more cleverly and humorously than I ever could comparing health care mandates to pizza toppings.

Wait, pizza toppings? You just have to watch.


Quote Of The Day

Is there a more worthless phrase on the political landscape than “judicial activism”?

And a court that gave us Bush v. Gore and Citizens United will prove conclusively that it sees no limits on its power, no need to defer to those elected to make our laws. A Supreme Court that is supposed to give us justice will instead deliver ideology.

Really? EJ Dionne thinks that a legislature should be able to do whatever it wants, even if it violates the Constitution (as the Florida elections board did in Bush v. Gore and the US Congress did in Citizens United)? So he wants to throw out the entire doctrine of judicial review that’s existed since the days of English Common Law & Marbury v. Madison?

No, I don’t think that’s it. I don’t think he supports the Congress doing things that are unconstitutional. He’s just attacking the Court for striking down policies he likes. Just as conservatives do when the Court strikes down policies they like.

Claims of “judicial activism” are just criticisms of a Court doing something you disapprove of. But claims that the Court should defer to the legislature are misplaced — the Court is a check on the power of the legislature, as it should be. It’s there to rein in the legislature when they try to do something beyond the bounds of their Constitutional authority. That’s not judicial activism, that’s their job.

Justice for Martin, Zimmerman is More Important than Anyone’s Damned Political Agenda

Rumor, conjecture, race, debate over the appropriateness of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” (SYG), and the debate over concealed carry among other discussions in the media and social media have taken on lives of their own in fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin. Protests have sprung up around the country demanding “justice” for the “murder”* of Martin allegedly committed by George Zimmerman who claims that he fired the fatal shot(s) in self defense. Others wonder why this story, because of the racial aspects, receive so much national media attention while cases involving white victims with black suspects do not, implying a politically correct double standard.** To inflame the debate even more, leading presidential candidates have weighed in thus (perhaps) turning this case, not only into a black vs. white issue, but also red vs. blue (or Right vs. Left if you prefer).

These all may be relevant issues for another debate, but should not determine the level of “justice” that will hopefully be determined in a court of law rather than the court of public opinion. Unfortunately, it seems that most people have taken sides without knowing all of the relevant facts of the case. Personally, I haven’t “taken sides” because there is plenty of conflicting accounts of what happened that fateful night and I don’t trust everything that is being reported***.

The real question in the case is, did George Zimmerman truly act in self defense and stand his ground as he claimed? This depends entirely on what actually happened; the factual details in this case (known and unknown) is all that really matter. Neal Boortz wrote perhaps the most balanced piece I have read so far on this case. Here he outlines three possible scenarios of the night in question.

As for the SYG law and the Trayvon Martin case, I haven’t seen anyone else bring this up, but both Trayvon and Zimmerman had the SYG law on their side under the three possible operating scenarios here:

1. George Zimmerman. If Zimmerman was attacked by Trayvon, as he claims, he had the legal authority to use deadly force to repel the attack. BUT .. and this is a big but here .. if he was pursuing Trayvon, as he said he was, the SYG law would not protect him from prosecution. Zimmerman wasn’t standing his ground. He was in pursuit. I see no reason for repeal of SYG here because the law will not stand as a defense for what Zimmerman did. By the way …. I heard Juan Williams on Fox News Channel say – not once, but several times — that George Zimmerman had been told by the police to stop his pursuit of Trayvon. First of all, there is no evidence that the 911 dispatcher Zimmerman was talking to was was a police officer. Secondly, the dispatcher didn’t say “Don’t do that.” The dispatcher said “You don’t need to be doing that.” Telling someone that they don’t need to be doing something is quite different from telling someone NOT to do something. Williams should understand this.

2. Trayvon Martin: How would the SYG law stand to protect Trayvon? If Trayvon had noticed he was being followed, and if he elected to flee his pursuer he would have every right to do so. He would also have every right to turn and to confront his pursuer. That would be “standing your ground.” So the rumored testimony of this eyewitness who said he saw Zimmerman on the ground with Trayvon pummeling him does not necessarily implicate Trayvon. If he was standing his ground he was acting within the law.

3. Now here’s where it could get complicated. What if Zimmerman had ceased his pursuit of Trayvon and retreated to his car. What if Trayvon then pursued Zimmerman to his car and attacked him. Trayvon would then lose his protection under SYG, just as Zimmerman did when he initiated a pursuit. But if Zimmerman than became the pursued instead of the pursuer, does he then have the SYG law to rely on? That’s an interesting question, and one that I think would have to be put in front of a jury.

Obviously, the number of scenarios of what might have really happened cannot be limited to these three but I think these can serve as a useful starting point for a productive debate.

Can we all agree that if Zimmerman pursued (which by nearly all counts and by the 911 call seems to be the case at least initially) and confronted Martin, Zimmerman was not acting in self defense?

Can we also agree that IF Zimmerman was following Martin and gave reason for Martin to believe Zimmerman was meaning him harm that Martin also had every right to stand his ground and use lethal force if he believed it necessary to defend himself? Would those of you who wholeheartedly believe that Zimmerman was acting in self defense when he fired the shot(s) be defending Martin had HE shot and killed Zimmerman because Martin was in fear for his life?

The third scenario is the most difficult quandary of all but could a reasonable person conclude that maybe they were both in the wrong? Could Zimmerman’s wrongful pursuit be “canceled out” by Martin’s pursuit and attack if Zimmerman was returning to his vehicle? In the event that they both contributed to Martin’s death, what would be the appropriate verdict? In my lay opinion, convicting Zimmerman of murder would be inappropriate here; a good case could be made that he could be guilty of manslaughter though.

With all the conflicting reports in the media, it seems to me that this is hardly a cut and dry case of murder or standing one’s ground. People on all sides of this issue should resist making this about every civil rights sin ever committed by members of various races. This case is about two individuals, George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. Not Al Sharpton, nor the New Black Panthers, nor bigoted white people racially profiling.

For those of you who are marching for “justice” for Martin, is this truly what you want or do you want revenge? Are you willing to accept the possibility that after a jury (be it grand jury or a jury deciding if Zimmerman is guilty of murder or a lesser charge) hears the evidence that they might determine that there isn’t enough evidence to prove Martin guilty of murder? Like it or not, in our system the accused is supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty. This means that sometimes people actually do get away with murder. If the state fails to prove Zimmerman is guilty, don’t blame the jury, blame the state for failing to prove his guilt.

For those of you who are certain that Zimmerman was in the right, I pose the same above question to you. Additionally, are you willing to modify your views if the facts turn out to be opposite of your initial thoughts on the case?

It’s high time for everyone to take a deep breath and let the process work and let the chips fall where they may. Justice is more important than your damned political agenda.

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Walking Dead Economics

My wife and kids got me hooked on a series some of you may have heard of called The Walking Dead (and like the rest of the Walking Dead fans out there, I have to wait until October for the next season to begin as the characters have been left in quite a precarious situation) For those who haven’t heard of this series, basically Atlanta, GA (and as far as we know, the rest of the world) has been taken over by zombies (called “walkers” by most people who inhabit this world). While the series does have many of the elements of the zombie genre, the story and the characters in the story are quite a bit more complex.The story isn’t so much about the walkers as it is about the characters who not only have to survive this zombie apocalypse, but also manage to survive the other survivors and live with very limited resources.

One thing that becomes very clear at the beginning of this series is that many of the societal rules quickly go out the window when under constant threat of flesh eating walkers. Paper money is of no practical use (other than to start a fire perhaps). Debit cards and credit cards are even less valuable as there is no way to access your worthless money.

One other thing I noticed is that gold isn’t even a commodity that is of much use in this world.

It so happens that I have been reading Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover as my wife and I are trying to apply his system to get our financial house in order (I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to get out of debt). In the book I ran across the following passage in which Ramsey explains why he does not believe gold is a good investment, even as a hedge against a total economic collapse:

It is important to remember that gold is not used when economies fail. History shows that when an economy completely collapses, the first thing that appears is a black-market barter system in which people trade items for other items or services. In a primitive culture, items of utility often become the medium of exchange, and the same is temporarily true in a failed economy. A skill, a pair of blue jeans, or a tank of gas becomes very valuable, but not gold coins or nuggets. Usually a new government rises from the ashes, and new paper money or coinage is established. Gold will, at best, play a minor role, and the gold investor will be left with the sick feeling that real estate, canned soup, or knowledge would have been a better hedge against a failing economy. – The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey (Thomas Nelson, 2003, 2007) p. 55.

I don’t know that I fully agree with Ramsey here though I’m by no means an expert on the history of gold or monetary policy. It seems to me that as a new civilization emerges from economic collapse, gold (and other commodities) would play a much greater role before people would accept any new fiat money. He seems to have a legitimate point, however; with regard to a collapsing or fully collapsed economy.

This is certainly the case in The Walking Dead. The resources most necessary to survive in this world are water, food, shelter, firearms, ammunition, medicine, fuel, spare parts, etc. Without these items, you aren’t going to survive for very long. Under these circumstances, who would trade a shotgun and ammunition for a bar of gold? I sure wouldn’t. I might trade a shotgun, assuming I already have enough firearms to hold the flesh eaters at bay, for some food and water. Better yet, I might offer to provide security for a few nights in exchange for food, water, and a temporary place to stay. This arrangement would continue as long as both parties agree.

In the course of the series, these are the kinds of arrangements that are worked out. Security is a major concern because, despite apparent efforts by the federal government to impose martial law, the government failed* and the law of the jungle is now in full effect. Many resources such as firearms, water, auto parts, food, fuel, etc. are scavenged from those who were either killed or simply abandoned their property (finders’ keepers).

Earlier in this season, the main characters find themselves at a dead end on the interstate as thousands of abandoned cars litter the road. Though on one hand this is very bad news, on the other, it’s an opportunity to scavenge whatever resources were left behind. At another point, a couple of the survivors make their way into an abandoned small town where they hit the jackpot in finding an abandoned pharmacy with a decent supply of prescription drugs. At the very end of this last season, the camera pans out to a prison near where the remaining surviving characters are camped out. What, if anything, can these refugees benefit from the prison? (I’m very interested to see where the story goes from here with the prison).

“What about silver bullets, do they have any value?” you ask. Silver bullets are needed to kill ware wolves, not walkers. Ware wolves? Seriously, ware wolves? Now that would be ridiculous.

*Or did it? Perhaps all the “important” people have been relocated to a secret and secure location while the citizens are left to fend for themselves.

Signs of Intelligent Life in the Colorado Senate

Several members of the Colorado Senate introduced a bill yesterday that would reduce drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor, favoring drug treatment programs over incarceration in state prisons.

Lynn Bartels reporting for The Denver Post writes:

Senate Bill 2012-163 deals with drug offenders who primarily are users and addicts rather than dealers, and enhances their access to treatment.

“We have so many people throughout this country who are the casualties of a failed war on drugs,” said Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder. “And in one sense, when you get a felony, not only do you get a criminal penalty, but what you have is a sentence to life without employment.”
During a news conference at the Capitol, Levy presented the bill with Sens. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, and Pat Steadman, D-Denver, and Rep. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield.

[…]

“Let’s be clear. This is not legalization. This is not decriminalization,” Mitchell said. “This is simply a smarter approach to fighting the evils of drug abuse in our society.”

While this bill doesn’t go as far as I would like, this is certainly a step in the right direction. I’m not a big fan of forced drug treatment programs but it’s a far better alternative than a felony conviction that never goes away. In addition to this proposed legislation, Coloradans will have an opportunity to legalize marijuana (with the same regulations as alcohol) in November. If both of these become Colorado law, this would be a pretty significant blow to the war on (some) drugs and the prison industrial complex IMO.

Will either of these reforms pass? It’s hard for me to say but I’m a little skeptical. Still, the fact that these sorts of reforms are being proposed outside of libertarian debate societies by people who can actually change the criminal code is quite exciting and quite encouraging.

Happiness Is A Choice

I’m not an old or wise man. I’m assuredly not qualified to dole out advice — particularly to people I’ve never met. I was raised in a family where one didn’t readily admit the existence of ones feelings much less talk about them. For everything I’ve learned, I’m still filled with more dysfunctions than I can count. But in my limited 33 years on this planet, I feel like I’ve learned more than my fair share about human emotion, and more than a few times through the painful prism of experience. So the post I’m writing is something that’s been germinating in the nether reaches of my brain for several years, and something that I’m only writing in the hopes that some people out there — a few in particular — might find something useful in my experience that they can apply to their own existence.

This post was brought to the surface by a couple of events. First, an acquaintance of mine revealed that he’s suffering from depression. The tone of the reveal suggested almost that diagnosing his own depression was itself a revelation — he could finally explain that maybe his life wasn’t causing depression, but rather his depression would be his response to anything that happened in life. It was time to treat the depression, rather than the supposed “causes” thereof. Second, in the span of about 5 weeks, both of my remaining grandmothers passed away. Now, both were already in their mid-nineties, so their passings were neither unexpected nor particularly [in the grand scheme of death] tragic. So, rather than the passing itself, it was my own response to it that suggested I might want to finally write this post.

Like my acquaintance, I’ve dealt with depression in my life. Sadly, I think that statement is likely true of anyone that grew up a nerd in teenage America. My story isn’t one of physical bullying — being bigger than most of the other kids, that wasn’t as common an option as it might have been for other kids. Nor was it, like many kids, due to actual shortcomings — I was smart, moderately athletic, lacked glasses, etc. Rather, it was borne of the father of most bullying — poor self-confidence and an inability to properly understand how to deal with the social rules of childhood. I didn’t learn it until later, but kids are cruel, and they’ll pick at weakness and demean others in a screwy attempt to make themselves feel worth. And I didn’t understand until much later that adults will do the exact same crap.

So I dealt with depression in the way most teenagers do: listening to Nine Inch Nails and Rammstein, thoughts of suicide, and being full of such rage that it ate away at my very soul. I vacillating between the fear that something was seriously wrong with me and the certain knowledge that everyone else was horrible and depraved. It was a miserable existence.

But I was lucky.

During those teenage years, I was involved in martial arts. Now, before my fellow nerds get too excited, I should point out that this story doesn’t end with me mercilessly pummeling a tormentor, on behalf of myself or others. But it involved two very important things: teaching and public demonstration. The school at which I studied had a policy that at brown belt, students were expected to be assistant instructors in classes for the lower ranks. At black belt, one was expected to be capable of mostly leading a class. And as much as it might be meaningless to most people to be referred to as “Mr. Warbiany” at the age of 16 by ones temporal elders, at the time and place I was at in my life, that little show of respect helped me build a bit of self-worth. The demonstration team was a group that went out to public events to put on martial arts demonstrations, and I was lucky enough to play a prominent role. As a very large individual, I played a good “fall guy” — everyone likes to see the big guy lose. But again, it helped me develop a sense of self-worth that I might not have otherwise had. Those experiences gave me a level of confidence in public speaking opportunities that helps me in my career to this day.

The second formative experience that changed my understanding of the world occurred in college. I chose to join a fraternity, and a house full of 50 college males is not exactly a bastion of sympathy and concern for others’ feelings. I fell back into a state of low confidence, and the more cruel of the brothers there [as I mentioned, these personality traits don’t always disappear with age] were more than willing to engage in the same sort of bullying behavior that schoolkids will engage in. My first year or so living in the house was torture. But at some point in there I learned to accept the normal slights and criticism inherent in fraternity life, roll with it with a smile on my face, and occasionally dish it right back rather than sulking in offense. And I learned a critical fact: the people who had previously been busting my chops stopped, because they knew I couldn’t handle it before and now I could. And the people who hadn’t busted my chops started, because they realized that I could take it in stride and wouldn’t be offended. The cruel ones had nothing to feed on, and the non-cruel ones realized that I could start having fun. But the biggest thing I learned from that experience was this:

We can define our selves not by what happens to us, but by how we respond to it.

At that point, a lot changed. A life spent in opposition to most of normal society lends itself to introspection. A newfound understanding of mastery over ones own mental state gives one the tools to apply that introspection. I’ve used the intervening years to better understand myself, my happiness, and how I can work to improve both. And it led to realization #2:

Happiness is a choice.

I realize I have a lot in life to be happy about. The advantage of growing up a nerd is that it often leads to careers that the “normals” aren’t interested in. For me, I went down the engineering path, and my particular career path makes use of the public speaking and presentation skills I picked up. I managed to meet a wonderful woman who — although she doesn’t understand me as a nerd — is social enough to ensure our children are far more socially well-adjusted than I ever was. The conscious decision to respond positively to situations I face both personally and professionally not only makes me happier, but people around me respond to it as well.

But there’s a lot in life that’s difficult as well. As I revealed not long ago, one of my sons was diagnosed with autism back in October. And as I’m not one to “talk about my feelings”, it’s gone into the well inside where such things fester. Likewise with the passing of my grandmother 5 weeks ago. I had to tell my boss and coworkers, of course, since I needed to fly to Chicago to attend the funeral. With all my dysfunctions, I found myself unable to accept peoples’ condolences, not wanting anyone to worry about me and pointing out that she was 93, had Parkinson’s, and was deteriorating, so it was expected. I’ve never understood why I must deflect someone’s polite concern in such a way. Then, to lose my other grandmother 5 weeks later, and not even be able to fly back to attend the funeral (due to cost, my own nasty cold, etc) to say goodbye and spend time letting it set in with my family. And while I am always appreciative of my job, it’s a particularly defeating kind of stress to be working closely with a customer testing and qualifying a new product, and then to find out 3 weeks before release that the product has been cancelled. Even worse when the replacement then gets delayed by 5 months. Watching your hard work be made irrelevant by forces outside your control will really take the wind out of your sails.

But as I said, how we define ourselves is not in what happens around us, but how we respond to it. I’m not much of a Kenny Chesney fan, but one song of late has somewhat seemed to fit the mood:

The first half of the song is about responding to the negative. The second half is about recognizing and enjoying the positive. Both are equally important.

Life throws curves at all of us. We deal with them. Some rely on God — I can’t as I don’t believe. Some people choose to wallow in the negative. I don’t have time for that. Only I can control my happiness, I’m not going to let it be defined by what life throws at me.

When my son was diagnosed with autism, I said that while it certainly isn’t something we wanted to hear, the very diagnosis gives us a roadmap. We know he’s going to develop differently than neurotypical children, but we can anticipate the troubles he’ll face and prepare him for them. Many parents have to deal with issues that they can’t diagnose or define. When my grandmother passed away, I looked on the bright side — it resulted in the first time that I’d be in the same room with all of my siblings at once in over 3 years. It was my first opportunity to meet two of my newly-born nieces, one who was 14 months old at the time. And while it was sad to see my grandmother go, I know that she’d been in terrible pain for a long time, and the fact that she was freed from that pain was itself a blessing. As a nonbeliever I don’t think she had some “better place” to go, but I can be consoled in the fact that she’d managed to spend 93 years on this rock; many of us won’t be so lucky. Some of what I learned simply from hearing others speak of her younger days reminded me of her not as a feebled old woman with Parkinson’s but as a young and vibrant woman with a zest for life. When my other grandmother passed, it was terrible to know that I couldn’t make it back to Chicago for a funeral, but I was lucky enough that I’d been able to see her and spend several hours with her at the previous funeral. While I couldn’t mourn her with my family, I at least got to see her before she went. Setbacks at work are no fun for anyone, but they happen. I can focus on the positive lessons learned through those setbacks — there are always lessons to be learned. I can focus on how those lessons will help us improve practices and products going forward.

Happiness is a choice. It’s a choice that resides inside you. You can’t control the world around you. Sometimes it’s going to treat you well, and sometimes it’s going to deal you a shit sandwich. If you respond negatively to the world, I honestly believe that you’re going to have trouble even enjoying your success. Dwelling on failure makes you difficult to be around and creates the self-fulfilling prophecy for failure. If you respond positively, setbacks become minor. You set yourself up to maximize profit from the positive events you encounter, and you start to focus turning crisis into opportunity rather than a pity party.

Happiness is a choice. Own your choice.

Book Review — The Cult Of The Presidency, Gene Healy

America has a love affair with the Presidency. Unfortunately, that love affair is a codependent, abusive relationship, and one in a very long string of the same. It wasn’t always this way. But to fix the problem, as with most abusive relationships, we need to fix ourselves first — ask what it is we want from a President and whether there’s ANYONE in the field, ANY year, who can provide it.

Thankfully, Gene Healy, based on his book of a few years ago, Cult Of The Presidency, can tell us why we keep picking megalomaniacs. And for a limited time, Cato is providing this therapy for free (in electronic/eBook form)!

In Cult Of The Presidency Healy provides a detailed and informative review of the [lack of] power wielded by the office of the President in the first century or so of our Republic. He then details some of the many expansions of power the office has seized, starting in the Progressive Era and moving forward through the decades and personalities to Bush’s administration, focusing on the enormous change in warmaking powers, domestic spying, and national “Father Figure” on the matters of domestic policy that the executive branch has become. Finally, he discusses many of the changes in Congress and the electoral/campaigning process that have occurred over the last century, moving from a party-elite driven process to the current national primary structure, which has changed the office and the type of person who would seek it. Finally, he offers some limited hope for a future where Americans, through nothing more than a lack of respect and trust in the office and its inhabitants, might eventually walk the nation back from what he hopes is the high water mark of executive power. But he freely admits that hope might just be wishful thinking on his part.

All in all, this was an excellent read. For as much as I try to be informed about history and civics, there was a LOT in here that was new material for me. For example, I hadn’t realized that the politicking process was so different prior to, say, the 1950’s than it is today. I had always assumed that the current system of state Presidential primary votes to nominate a candidate had been the standard for most of our history — it turns out it’s a very recent phenomenon. Much like Restoring The Lost Constitution did for me with the history of Constitutional law, the book took a topic about which many libertarians have bits and chunks of information, and much more clearly and methodically explained the changes both over time and with the specific Presidents involved.

I don’t often have anywhere near enough time to read. This is a book that I am *extremely glad* I finally got around to reading. It’s a book that I’d gladly recommend at Amazon’s Kindle price of $8.49, but with Cato giving it away for free right now, I’d suggest jumping at it immediately.

Quote of the Day: Obscene Edition

The sweater vested theocrat Rick Santorum has struck again, this time promising to “vigorously” enforce obscenity laws. Tom Knighton at United Liberty thinks that there are higher priorities facing the next president than lax enforcement of pornography statutes writing:

Take a look around for a moment. We have a nation that is falling apart. The constitution is practically on life support, and Congress is doing it’s best to pull the plug on it. American citizens can be detained indefinitely thanks to the NDAA. There are constant assaults on the internet through laws like SOPA. Now, the Secret Service can declare anywhere it wants as being off limits to free speech, and speaking your mind can constitute a felony. And where does Rick Santorum’s line in the sand fall? Apparently, on yet another action that involves consenting adults.

[…]

He’s talking about preventing me and my wife from watching something that was created by consenting adults, for consenting adults, sold to a willing customer who was also a consenting adult. That’s where this man’s priorities are?

I couldn’t agree more! Santorum’s priorities may be in line with some of the evangelicals in the GOP but I’m quite certain that most voters in the general election have very different priorities. This is yet another example of why if Santorum wins the nomination, Barack Obama will serve a second term as president.

ACTION ALERT: Tell Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley to Allow Thomas Arthur to Prove his Innocence Prior to Execution

Here’s another one of those no brainer cases where the question of guilt or innocence could be determined once and for all in a death penalty case if the state would only allow the condemned the opportunity to have DNA test run at no cost to the state. The Innocence Project makes the following plea to all who are concerned with matters of justice on behalf of Thomas Arthur who is scheduled to be put to death by the state of Alabama:

Thomas Arthur is on Alabama’s death row, convicted of a crime that another man has since confessed to committing. Despite this confession and many other irregularities that have surfaced, the state has set his execution date for March 29, just weeks away.

After the confession, the Alabama Supreme Court stayed Mr. Arthur’s execution and remanded his case to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing. The court ordered limited DNA testing of the wig that all parties agree was worn by the perpetrator. Although DNA was found on the wig, the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences lacks the technology to develop a profile. Thomas Arthur and his attorneys want to re-test the wig, using more advanced DNA technology. But the state of Alabama won’t allow it, even though the defense is willing to pay for the testing!

It is unacceptable that the state of Alabama is prepared to put a potentially innocent man to death rather than let him conduct a simple test that could prove his innocence. Write Governor Robert Bentley and urge him to allow Thomas Arthur’s legal team to conduct the DNA testing that could spare his life.

To petition Gov. Bentley with a prewritten message, follow this link. It will only take a couple of minutes if that.

When the state can kill one of its citizens, it’s important that the state turns over every rock first. In the case of Thomas Arthur, there is a rock and I don’t think asking the governor to turn it over is too much to ask.

The REAL grass roots of American politics: A report from the first ever Idaho Republican Caucus

Since 1920, the 43rd state has had either a convention, or a presidential primary to select the the Republican party presidential candidate (the Democratic party allowed each county to decide whether to have a caucus or a primary, up ’til 2008, and the counties varied between caucuses and primaries. In 2008 they changed the rules and have caucused statewide since).

Idaho has historically had a late season non-binding primary, held in Mid may (and still does for everything other than president), by which time the presidential nominee is almost always decided.

For 2012, the Idaho Republican party was tired of being irrelevant to the election, and sought some way of moving their participation to earlier in the process. Unfortunately, moving a primary has some negative consequences. Because the early primary states like to protect their position as favored by the presidential candidates, each of the parties has rules that penalize states (by reducing the number of delegates they control) if they make their primaries earlier than they were in the previous election.

For 2012 however, the GOP changed their rules, so that if a state held a binding caucus, on or before April 6th, but not before March 6th (super Tuesday), and changed from a past the post winner take all system to some type of apportionment; they would not be penalized.

There was a very big, and very nasty fight within the party about this plan; with most of rural Idaho, particularly north and north central Idaho opposing it, and the major metropolitan areas Boise, Twin Falls, Idaho Falls, and Pocatello, supporting it.

A Sidebar: For those of you reading this not familiar with the politics or demographics of Idaho, and who primarily think of Idaho as a farm state… potatoes and all… a little background would probably be useful.

Idaho is a pretty BIG state geographically (14th largest at 83.6 thousand square miles), but with one of the smallest populations (11th smallest at 1.6 million), and thus the 7th least dense in population (19.1 per square mile, about 1/5th the national average).

Another important point: although Idaho is only the 14th largest state, because of its very odd shape (big and rectangular-ish at the bottom, long and narrow up top, kinda triangular in the middle) at 480 miles top to bottom, and 560 miles on the long diagonal; only Alaska, California, and Texas are longer north to south, and only those plus Montana and Nevada are longer (only by 60 miles for the latter two) on the long diagonal.

Combine that big state geography, and small state population, with our… unique… landscape, and things are a little weird here.

Let me describe to you what I mean by unique geography.

Idaho isn’t the big flat farm state that most people imagine in their mind, thinking of Idaho potatoes. Idaho is smack in the middle of the Rocky mountains, and is in fact the most mountainous of the lower 48 states by land area classified as “mountains” (Colorado is slightly larger and has a higher mean elevation, but is half mountains, half plains); as well as having the third most land area in National forest service land (20.5 million acres, only 300k acres behind California, and 1.5 million behind Alaska; and thus the highest percentage of land area); and at over 60% the third highest (behind Nevada and Utah) in percentage of land controlled by the federal government (which includes NFS and BLM lands).

There are six population centers in Idaho, and about 75% of the population lives within their catchment areas: Boise (620,000 metro population. 40% of the states population lives within 50 miles of Boise), Twin Falls (99,000), Pocatello (90,000), Idaho falls (130,000), Moscow/Lewiston (87,000), and Coeur D’Alene/Sandpoint (179,000, but only because that counts the entire population of the two counties. The actual “micropolitan” population is more like 100,000 between the cities and large towns within an hours drive); and they are mostly separated by pretty substantial stretches of mountains. Just to top things off, the northern half of the state (north of the Salmon river) is in the pacific time zone, while the southern part of the state is in the Mountain time zone.

The geographic separation is such, that the quickest way to get to Boise from Sandpoint, where we live, is to drive over 100 miles out of our way through Washington and Oregon. It’s only 320 miles in a straight line, but the shortest route by road is an 8 to 9 hour, 420 mile drive on mountain roads (many of which are impassible much of the time in winter), or a 500 mile 8 to 9 hour tri-state drive by interstate.

Those of us in north Idaho have basically no relation to Boise or Pocatello at all; except in that they dominate statewide politics because of their population. We’re far closer connected to eastern Washington (Spokane, Pullman), or to western Montana… or even to Seattle.

From my house, it’s a hell of a lot easier (and faster. It’s 350 miles and about 5-6 hours) to get to Seattle than it is to get to Boise. Hell, we’re only 220 miles from Calgary. Though it’s a 7 hour 350 mile trip by road; it’s still closer to us than Boise.

Check out the topo map below to see what I’m talking about:

You can see, there isn’t very much at all in between the Boise area, and the Lewiston area, except BIG mountains; and a few towns along U.S. 95, and around the lakes and big rivers.

U.S. 95 is one of the old original U.S. highways by the way; and one of the very few left that hasn’t been replaced by interstates. It runs through almost the entire state of Idaho north to South, from the Canadian border, down to southern Oregon at Ontario near Boise; into northern Nevada near Winnemucca and over to Fernley near Reno; from Reno down to Vegas, from Vegas down to Blythe California, then over into Arizona near quartzite; turning south again down into Yuma, and then into Mexico at San Luis Rio Colorado, on the Colorado river. I have driven the entire length of it (unfortunately not all at once, but in pieces), and from top to bottom, it is some of the prettiest, and most geographically varied, road you’ll ever drive.

Because of this geography, and the population differences, Idaho is effectively two VERY VERY different states; north and north central Idaho in the pacific time zone, and southern and eastern Idaho in the mountain time zone (with the dividing line at a little town in the middle of the bitterroot mountains called Riggins).

Both are very conservative overall, but the southern part of the state are very heavily Mormon, and very religious and socially conservative; while the northern part of the state is more catholic and protestant (but not really hardcore baptist, pentecostal, hardcore evangelical etc…), and much more libertarian.

The big problem, as far as north/north central Idaho goes, is that although it represents about 40% of the land area, out of a population of almost 1.6 million, the north only has about 320,000 or about 20%; and that 320,000 is very thinly spread across 10 pretty large counties, vs. the 1.25 million (or about 80%) across 34 generally smaller counties in the southeast and southwest.

Thus, the northern half of the state is generally marginalized as a political constituency, with Boise or Pocatello generally both setting the statewide agenda, and having things decided their way.

Of course, this situation probably sounds pretty familiar to Arizonans, Nevadans, Michiganders, Minnesotans, Floridians, and New Hampsherites (all have a very big north south split); Washingtonians, Oregonians, Coloradans, and Montanans (all have a very big east west split); and of course Texans and Californians (which both have a three or four way split depending on how you count it).

Predictably, Boise won; and Idaho became a caucus state, at least for presidential purposes. Idaho also, for the first time, became… at least somewhat… relevant to the selection of a presidential candidate. So much so that in the weeks before Super Tuesday, Idaho had visits from all the major candidates.

And believe me, there was plenty of interest and participation in this process; both by the people, and from the campaigns.

Our candidate visits included Ron Paul up here in Sandpoint, just this past Monday. On Sunday, the organizers of the event emailed me saying that I shouldn’t worry about parking or seating, there should be plenty. Unfortunately, the event was so packed, by the time I got there I wasn’t able to get in. They expected 400 or 500 people, and the hall at the county fairgrounds filled to capacity (at 1300).

Also the telephone banks were operating in force (I got two calls in the last two weeks from the Ron Paul folks, both actual human beings; and over a dozen from Romney and Santorums campaign, all robocalls).

And finally, last night, the Idaho GOP held their first ever presidential caucus.

It was a resounding success… so much so that it almost ended up a total disaster.

Based on Democratic caucus participation (in 2008, their most attended caucus ever, only 20,000 Idaho Democrats caucused), and participation in caucuses in other states, the state central committee planned for between and 3% and 6% of total registered voters to attend the caucuses; expecting as little as 1% in some counties, and as much as 10% at most in others.

This year there were about 750,000 total registered voters in Idaho (a bit less than 50% of the population); and while something between 55% and 60% of registered voters vote Republican in general elections, Idaho has been an open primary state up till now, and in any given year only around 10% of voters are actually registered Republicans (this year, based on previous participation, Idaho has “official” party affiliation recorded for “Democratic”, “Republican”, “Libertarian”, “Constitution” and “Unaffiliated”. The large majority of Idaho voters are registered “unaffiliated”).

I spoke to several Idaho state Republican party staff members, and given the low Democratic caucus turnout, and that in most caucus states the turnouts are 3% or less (even Iowa on a good year gets 6%) they expected something like 10,000 people state wide, and 20,000 at the very outside, would attend this years Republican caucuses (remember, the most Democrats to ever caucus in Idaho was 20,000 in 2008).

Not only that, but just about all the “smart folks” were predicting a low turnout due to “lack of energy” and “lack of enthusiasm” etc… etc…

They were wrong.

VERY wrong.

Nearly 10,000 people showed up to caucus in just one county alone (in Ada county, population 300,000, which contains Boise, more than 10,000 people went through the doors at caucus locations, and 9,050 cast first round ballots).

All told, about 45,000 people statewide cast a final round ballot, in whatever round their county went to. If the numbers in other counties are at all similar to those in Bonner county (the only county I have direct numbers for), at least 60,000 and maybe as many as 80,000 people actually showed up at caucus sites.

And of course, that doesn’t include the people who showed up, saw how busy it was, and left; or the people who, never having attended a caucus before, were confused about the process and gave up earlier.

In Sandpoint, there were so many people wanting to caucus, that many people simply left; either angry or frustrated at the long lines and waiting in the cold (it was 36 degrees and full dark before we got through the doors).

I spoke with several staff members at Sandpoint High school (our local caucus site), and Priest River Jr. High school (the caucus site in Priest River), and with several county Republican committee members and volunteers; who told me that hundreds of people didn’t understand the process, and had showed up at the caucus sites during the day, wondering about how to vote. After finding out they had to come back at 6pm and stay for several hours, most of these people left (often angrily) saying they wouldn’t come back.

I arrived at our caucus site, our local high school, at about 5:30pm; 30 minutes before the designated “door opening” time and 90 minutes before the caucus was supposed to begin at 7pm. When I arrived, the 438 space main parking lot was already full, with the remaining 200 spaces in the side lots filling up rapidly.

By 6pm, the parking lot was completely full, and the line to get into the caucus site was wrapped halfway around the school. I, having arrived at 5:30, didn’t get in to the registration table until 6:45pm (in the end, they continued processing people through until around 8pm).

Bonner county, where my family and I live, has a population of just about 40,000, with 22,794 registered voters as of 9am yesterday morning; however, over 80% of all the registered voters in our county are unaffiliated (though the county generally votes over 60% republican). Prior to yesterdays caucuses (Idaho allows same day registration and affiliation), the total number of registered Republicans in Bonner county was just 1,662.

The county party committee, following the central committees guidance, were told to prepare for something like 600 to 1200 people to show up for the whole county; and had intended to use the 300 seat high school auditorium for the caucus site in Sandpoint (half the registered voters in the county live within 10 miles of Sandpoint).

That auditorium was filled in the first ten or fifteen minutes.

By the time my wife and I got through sign-in and ID check at 6:45, we had already filled up the cafeteria; and were well over 500 strong. In fact, by the time we hit 700, we hit the fire code maximum for the auditorium, AND the cafeteria and the overflow room.

Finally, at around 7pm (when the first round of voting was supposed to start), they pulled the bleachers out in the school gym. By the time they finished letting people in, there were over 1100 of us in the building (including a lot of kids, there with their parents; which my wife and I found heartening).

Because of the huge turnout, there obviously weren’t enough staff volunteers. The staff ended up asking for some additional help from the attendees, and the high school kids who wanted additional community service (which was gladly given); and everything was delayed by over an hour.

There were four caucus sites for the county. By the time we started the first round of balloting it was after 8pm; and 856 of us cast a first round ballot in that building alone. All said and done, there were 1411 first round ballots cast for Bonner county; when less than 12 hours before, there were only 1662 total registered Republicans.

Before I continue I should note the rules and process for the Idaho Republican caucuses, as conducted last night.

There were five candidates that qualified to be listed for the caucuses: Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Buddy Roemer.

Voting would proceed county wide, in rounds, eliminating lower performing candidates in each round, until a “50% plus one vote” winner could be declared for each county (NOT for each caucus site). In the first round, any candidate that failed to achieve 15% support would be eliminated. In any subsequent round the lowest performing candidate would be eliminated.

Also, I should be clear that the county Republican party commissioners and volunteers conducted themselves in as professional and courteous a manner as they could given the difficulties; and they conducted the primary in an entirely open and transparent way. I would like to particularly thank our county commissioner (and party chair) Cornel Rasor and county party treasurer Alan Banks, for working so hard to make things work given the difficult circumstances; and for being so open and encouraging to people who wanted to witness, film, photograph, record, and report on the process (at one point Cornel said “Please, everyone, tweet this, post it on facebook, blog about it… we want everyone to see that we’re conducting the most open caucus in the country).

23 of Idahos 44 counties had a 50%+1 vote winner in the first round (including most of the top ten population counties). Every county that finished in the first round went for Romney except one; Latah county, which voted for Ron Paul. Most of those counties went for Romney by 60% or more, with two (Madison county and Bear Lake county), hitting 90% for Romney (notably both counties are almost entirely Mormon, as were most of the counties that went for Mitt more than 60%).

One should note, Latah county, with a population of just 35,000, and less than 2000 registered Republicans prior to their caucus, had 982 votes cast yesterday. 52% voted for Ron Paul, and only 20% voted for Romney.

… and that rather nicely illustrates the political divide between north and north central Idaho, and southern Idaho.

In the first round, Bonner county cast 1411 votes, including 558 for Ron Paul (39.55%), 291 for Romney (20.77%), 290 for Rick Santorum (20.43%) 173 for Newt Gingrich (12.26%) and 4 for Buddy Roemer. This meant Newt and Roemer would be eliminated after the first round.

Six of the remaining 21 counties went through two rounds of voting, including Boundary county just to our north (they are the county bordering Canada) who went for Ron Paul at 54% (Romney at 18%, Santorum at 28%… they really don’t like the government very much in Boundary county). The other five counties that finished in two rounds also went for Mitt Romney.

In the second round, even though we didn’t cast our ballots ’til around 9:30pm, our polling place only lost 28 voters, and Bonner county as a whole only lost 138 voters, dropping from 1411 to 1293; 564 for Ron Paul, 277 for Mitt Romney, and surprisingly, 452 for Rick Santorum, causing Romney to be eliminated.

Unfortunately, a lot of folks were pretty sure the caucus would only go two rounds; and left immediately after casting their ballots, not waiting around for the vote count.

The one real black mark on last night caucus, at least in Bonner county; wasn’t from the party, it was from the left… Unfortunately, many of us recognized a number people we know to be hardcore Democrats, far left liberals, or otherwise very anti-republican (and definitely NOT libertarians or Ron Paul supporters), in the caucus crowd last night. I have spoken to people who were at the other three caucus sites in the county, as well as some people in other counties; who have told me the same thing.

There are not a lot of Santorum supporters up here; and there ARE a large number of Romney supporters (it’s still at least 20% mormon up here, plus the pragmatists who think that Romney is the only one who can actually beat Obama).

A number of the folks who were there, are pretty sure that those people we recognized as leftists made up a lot of the Gingrich and Santorum voters in the Bonner county caucus last night.

When Gingrich was eliminated in the first round, as everyone knew he would be; we all expected the Gingrich vote to MOSTLY split between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. When basically ALL the Gingrich vote went for Santorum, eliminating Romney and forcing us into a third round… Let’s just say that everyone was more than a little surprised…

… Actually extreme shock and more than a little disgust might be a better description.

Like 15 other counties, the caucuses in Bonner county last night went to three rounds, but the difference between the second and third round was much greater than between the first and second. Bonner county only lost 138 voters between the first and second round. Between the second and third round we lost 341. Notably, that included a lot of the folks who we recognized as leftists; and almost none of the Ron Paul supporters.

When we finally cast our third round ballots, well around 10pm (the count came back around 10:30), 555 Bonner county republicans cast their ballot for Ron Paul, and 487 cast their ballot for Rick Santorum; Paul winning the county at 53.28%.

I don’t think there is any question, given the numbers I’ve seen and talking with people in the other polling places and other counties; that some democrat/leftists manipulation was going on in Idaho last night, trying to undermine Romney and Paul by artificially boosting support for Santorum.

Overall, Ron Paul won six counties and 18% of the vote, Rick Santorum won seven counties and 18% of the vote, and Mitt Romney won thirty-one counties and 62 percent of the vote.

Officially, Santorum received 29 more votes state wide than Ron Paul, so he came in second; though as I said, I believe that result was the result of deliberate manipulation. Romney should have received even more votes than he did, as should Ron Paul, and Paul should have been in a very clear second place.

Although Idaho’s Republican caucus for 2012 was technically an apportioned caucus, not a winner take all; the rules that the Idaho Republican committee decided on, were that the counties would be winner take all, and if more than one candidate won more than 50% of the counties delegates, than that candidate would have all the states delegates committed to them.

Since Mitt won 31 counties, he got all 32 of Idahos delegates. Given the results overall for Super Tuesday; although Romney is not a mathematical certainty for the nomination, he is almost certainly the nominee.

Of course… he’s BEEN “almost certainly the nominee” since shortly after November 4th 2008; when the RNC decided that was who they were going to line up behind for fundraising and groundwork for the next four years to beat Obama….

but that’s another rant for another day.

From a personal standpoint, other than the manipulation issue, and the party VASTLY underestimating the level of interest, passion, and participation of the people of Idaho… I found my first caucus experience to be very interesting and personally far more rewarding and engaging than a primary. There were certainly a lot of folks who were irritated by the process, or who feel that a caucus is simply improper or an inferior way to vote for a candidate; but I can certainly see the advantages of it.

As to which I think is better?

Neither.

I believe that the primary/convention system used in this country is essentially a sideshow for the benefit of the media, the fundraising arms of the party, and the fundraising efforts of the candidates themselves. It is a detriment to political discourse and serves to perpetuate an inherently corrupt process of candidate selection by party insiders and political money brokers.

…but, as I said above, that’s a rant for another day.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Jon Stewart as a Voice of Sanity on Iran

The war drums for war with Iran on behalf of Israel are getting louder by the day. I wouldn’t have ever imagined that after experiencing the failure to find WMD in Iraq following the invasion along with the tremendous sacrifices of blood and treasure we would be having an almost identical conversation concerning Iran years later. I thought that as a country we learned the hard lessons about the folly of preemptive war.

Apparently, I was wrong.

The prospects of a nuclear Iran has been an issue I’ve been intending on writing about. What does it mean for the security of the world if Iran gets the bomb? Is war with Iran even avoidable given all the heated rhetoric on all sides?

Now enter a voice of reason: comedian Jon Stewart. One thing that Stewart points out in the first clip is that this is an election year, not only for the U.S. but also Israel and Iran! Could it be that the rhetoric is so over the top because politicians in all three countries want to talk tough to curry favor with voters?

In the second clip, Stewart plays even more rhetoric from the 2012 campaign. The leading G.O.P. candidates would have us believe that President Obama has said and done nothing whatsoever to help Israel stop Iran from getting the bomb. As Stewart demonstrates here, Obama’s rhetoric doesn’t differ that much from the G.O.P. field (sans Ron Paul, of course). President Obama’s rhetoric is much more hawkish than I am comfortable with to be sure.

While Stewart’s comic relief on this issue is very much needed, hopefully he gets his very serious message across.

We’re Here! We’re Gluttons! Get Used To It!

Over at Megan McArdle’s place, she’s on a leave of absence for some as-yet-unnamed project. In her stead, Katherine Mangu-Ward picks up one of Megan’s common refrains about Americans and obesity:

Fat people know they’re fat. They know why they’re fat. And they know that being fat kinda sucks.

This may seem obvious, but think about how many anti-obesity initiatives — federal, state, and local–are aimed at promoting the message that being obese or overweight has terrible consequences and/or warning grazers and gorgers off specific food choices.

Two new papers from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo economist Michael L. Marlow take on this weird gap between the problem government anti-obesity efforts seem to be trying to solve and problems that actually exist. Obesity is an expensive, sticky problem, no doubt about that. But Americans themselves aren’t deluded on that point. The fat=bad message has been sent and received, thank you very much. Yet government interventions like menu labeling requirements, public awareness campaigns about the dangers of sugary soda, zoning regulations to limit the prevalence of fast food restaurants, programs to eliminate “food deserts” and bring supermarkets to poor neighborhoods are multiplying. They fail, writes Marlow in a Mercatus Center working paper out this month, because they are little more than taxpayer-funded sermons to the chubby, chubby choir.

One of Megan’s constant points is that for most people, weight is almost destined by genetics to stay within a certain range. Try to stay outside that range very long, and you have to rely on near-superhuman willpower. And it’s an argument that probably holds a certain amount of weight in an evolutionary biology world. If food is constantly scarce, there’s really no genetic basis to select for overeating or not, as everyone is forced by scarcity and constant activity to remain slim. But in the abundance of modern America, that external scarcity doesn’t exist. Calories are cheap and plentiful, to the point that obesity is a major problem for America’s poor — not something you see in most countries.

I’ve had to fight this battle personally for the last decade, as my weight has risen and fallen. Now, I’m unlucky in the sense that I think my “natural” weight puts me in the overweight category of BMI, but perhaps lucky in the fact that even when I’ve been in the obese category, I don’t look gargantuan. At 6’5″, my body can hide a lot of weight.

Since high school, my weight has fluctuated anywhere from 210 to 275 pounds. I don’t put much stock in BMI, because the best shape I’ve been in my life — exiting high school after 7 years of regular martial arts training — I was 225 lbs. That’s a BMI of 26.7, squarely “overweight”… And I was nothing of the sort. I dropped through college as I shed muscle mass to about 210 leaving college (still at the BMI number of 25), and then got a job where I made enough money to afford a lot more food & beer. Since then, I’ve been up to 260+, down to 230, up to 275, and now down to 240 (and dropping).

How have I reached those weights? Well, it’s not because I didn’t know what I was ingesting. It’s because I didn’t care. I know some people (like my sister-in-law) for whom food isn’t really a driver of life. I don’t understand those people. I love food. I really love beer. And when I say food & beer, I’m not talking about mixed field green salads and Michelob Ultra… I’m talking about deep dish pizza and double IPA. I want to eat, and I want to eat a lot. My name is Brad, and I am a glutton.

Right now, I’m trying to take that weight off. And I’m doing so by the simplest method — counting calories. A few weeks back, I had out-of-town coworkers over for pizza & beer, and overindulged a bit. The next day, when getting into a political debate with one of my coworkers over the drug war, he mentioned that overeating was like an addiction, and how it must carry so much guilt along with it. I interrupted — the previous day I had basically skipped breakfast & lunch to prepare for the evening, and that pizza & beer (& wings & garlic knots… MMMMM!!!!) evening was 3400 calories, one meal being itself 1200 over my new daily allotment. And I had to tell him that there was no guilt involved. I can eat that much and feel normal, not guilty. In fact, it’s the calorie restriction that feels unnatural — every day I’m hungry and dreaming of food. It’s not a fun way to live!

I know I’ve been at unhealthy weights. When I’ve been at the upper end of the range, I haven’t needed government to tell me that I was trending towards unhealthy & disgusting; I have a wife. Government hasn’t done much to make me thinner, either. While I appreciate the fact that so many restaurants here in CA now have to post calorie counts on menus, it’s not like this information was hard to find before. And the calorie counts wouldn’t make any difference to my behavior _unless I already wanted to lose weight_. It’s purely convenience. My brother-in-law is roughly the size I was when I was at my heaviest, and has no desire to change right now — the fact that California mandates restaurants post this information doesn’t change his behavior at all (as it doesn’t change most peoples’ behavior).

Why are so many Americans fat? Because we like to eat — and we can afford to do so. Willpower is hard — we haven’t needed it for most of human history, when food was scarce. And food is delicious. I like salad, but few things are as satisfying as an italian beef sandwich and some nice salty french fries. On the “Right”, we often suggest that everything would be great about socialism except for the fact that it runs absolutely contrary to human nature. As a result, every government that’s tried socialism has failed in spectacular fashion. Well, everything’s great about dieting except that it runs absolutely contrary to human nature. Is it any wonder that government attempts to make us thin have failed?

Quote Of The Day

From Don Boudreaux. He’s addressing the Cato/Koch lawsuit*, but more specifically addressing the question of ideas-based ideological battles vs. the more common political election-based battles:

At the end of the day in any society, political office holders largely reflect the culture and climate of ideas that prevail in that society. The overwhelming effects of culture and the climate of opinion on actual, day-to-day policies over the long run are unseen. This unseen influence of culture and ideas is, I believe, as the underwater bulk of the iceberg is to the seen tip that looms above the water’s surface.

The seen tip of electoral politics and its current personalities are real; by all means deal with them as best as you can. But don’t ignore the larger, more hulking, ultimately far-more significant and determinative unseen bulk of ideas, prejudices, values, historical narratives, and other cultural elements that lie beneath the surface of electoral politics. Chop off today’s seen tip, and watch some other part of that ‘idea-berg’ rotate upward into view. Unless the ideas, broadly defined, that make up a nation’s political reality are changed, affecting the outcome of today’s election will do vanishingly little to change political reality over the long haul. The new part of the idea-berg that emerges above the surface to replace the lopped-off part will be just as anti-liberty as its predecessor.

This is why I don’t get too involved in the horse race. Sure, there might be a marginal difference in government policy if we replace Obama with Romney, Santorum, or Gingrich. But none of it is really going to move the needle. For as much as Santorum might be an extremist on SoCon issues, every one of the “mainstream” Republicans are likely to govern a lot more “centrist” than firebrand. Romney is a big-business moderate, Santorum is a pro-union “compassionate conservative”, and Gingrich wants big government, but wants it to be run in a lean Six Sigma efficient manner. And for a much of a hardcore socialist the Right has believed Obama was going to be, he’s largely deferred to let Congress craft the proposals put in place over his term, not played FDR power games.

Is there an answer that can change the iceberg? Maybe, but it’s a long game. Ron Paul is working on moving the needle, but he can’t get elected until the needle moves a lot farther than it has today. If the movement he’s started can continue to find new champions after the 2012 election, we might see meaningful change. But none of it will make any difference in November of this year.

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