Author Archives: Brad Warbiany

Ebola: A Consequence Of Austerity?

Kevin Drum, today, on how “slashing” funding for the NIH has resulted in us not having an Ebola vaccine:

What’s more, even without a vaccine we’d probably be better prepared to react to the Ebola outbreak if we hadn’t spent the past decade steadily slashing funding for public health emergencies. The chart on the right, from Scientific American, tells the story.

There are consequences for budget cuts. Right now we’re living through one of them.

Hey, my fellow Libertarians… We won! We trimmed government to the point where it could be strangled in a bathtub. Taxes are low. Regulation is minimal. Government spending is back at pre-WWI levels. We did it, and now we’re going to have to live without the nanny that we slaughtered. [sadface]

Oh, wait. No, that didn’t happen.

Government has grown by 59% in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1999. It’s grown from 17.6% of GDP to over 21% in the same time.

Clearly, we’re not at a loss for a vaccine because government wasn’t spending money. And whether you’re on the Left, the Right, or even a Libertarian, one can make quite a strong argument that research into cures or treatments for epidemic-level diseases may be a “public good”. It is quite true that shareholders for pharmaceutical companies find a lot more value in helping middle-aged men get erections than staving off the next extinction-level-event*. This sort of pure healthcare research is exactly the sort of thing that the market doesn’t do well, and has such widespread benefit to society overall to be worth it.

So. If we can agree that government’s spending a lot more money in inflation-adjusted dollars, and we can agree that both sides of the aisle view this sort of research as a true public good, worthy of public investment, why is its budget getting slashed?

Simple: science spending doesn’t buy votes.

The truth is that the government has plenty of money. They spend plenty of money. Even beyond this, a lack of money has never been a barrier to them spending money, whether they have to borrow it, or print it, or have the fed print it so they can borrow it from themselves. If something is important to politicians, they’ll find a way to funnel money to it.

In fact, the problem is similar to that of many government programs. They’ll find money for sexy new things like rail line extensions, but suddenly are broke when it comes to maintaining the lines they already have. Oh, and the lack of maintenance mentioned in that story cost more lives than Ebola has in the US.

Apparently the war in Iraq was worth $1T. The stimulus was worth $787B. Obamacare (Apr ’14 CBO estimates) will cost $1.383T over the 2015-2024 period.

Compare that to the NIH, which costs ~$30B/year.

It’s not a question of spending. It’s a question of priorities. Incremental scientific advancements to third-world diseases are important, and worthy of funding. But very few politicians will get credit for voting for that funding, so they let the NIH wither on the vine while they spend money on “important” things. That is the libertarian critique: the NIH could have been fully funded if the government wasn’t distracted–as they always are–by anything shiny.

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Changing of the Guard

To me, it’s a bit crazy that I’m one month from my 10-year blogiversary. It’s been a just under 9 years since Eric started The Liberty Papers, and merely May 2006 that he handed the reins over to me.

A lot has happened in the 8 years since. For some time, The Liberty Papers was riding high. The run-up to the 2008 election was big here, as was the initial fight between SoCon and Libertarian control of the Tea Party.

Unfortunately, things since have slowly waned. There are a lot of reasons for that, and I can’t speak for any other authors here at the site, but my own life has intervened and made blogging much more difficult. My career has progressed and my family has grown, my political stance has grown ever-more apathetic, and between these forces, I’ve allowed The Liberty Papers to fall off the map.

I want The Liberty Papers to be relevant again. And I know I don’t have the bandwidth to make it so. So I’m happy to report that I’m turning over the reins to someone who can devote his time, Kevin Boyd. Kevin has been an author here since the founding of the site, and is poised to return this site to its former glory — if not to exceed it. I’m excited to see it!

As for me, I’m not exactly going anywhere. Like most bloggers, I still do have ideas percolating in my grey matter that I need to get out. I hope that with the revitalization of The Liberty Papers, I’ll have a renewed audience for whatever madness I manage to emit. Writers can’t not write, so I’m looking forward to stepping into the background while still doing my part to make The Liberty Papers successful.

For our collection of active writers, and for those readers who have stuck with us in their RSS feeds while posting has fallen off, I thank you. I’ve been proud of what The Liberty Papers has been over the last ~9 years, and can only imagine where it can go from here.

Hobby Lobby

Now, before you all lose your collective shit, I want to remind everyone of one critical fact:

The Supreme Court doesn’t exist to make the morally right decision.

I’m going to repeat that, blockquote it, and bold the damn thing because it’s that important.

The Supreme Court doesn’t exist to make the morally right decision.

Now, I know that this may come as a shock to most of America. But then, Americans have never exactly had a good grasp of civics. In fact, some of the worst law comes from the Supreme Court trying to work a moral decision into the law. When you already know the outcome you want, and you start looking for any legal justification you can muster for that outcome, you’re bound to stretch in the wrong places.

No, the Supreme Court exists to make the legally right decision. And no matter your view on Obamacare, the mandate, religious liberty, and contraception, I think the Court in this case made an entirely justifiable decision that is consistent with the law.

Let’s break it down.

  1. Congress has declared in the ACA a compelling government interest in ensuring that women have insurance coverage for contraception.
  2. They have created a national health insurance mandate forcing employers (of a certain size, etc etc) to cover the cost of said contraception.
  3. In 1993, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires that laws which violate someone’s religious beliefs must pass two conditions:
    • The law must be furthering a compelling government interest.
    • The law must be the least intrusive method of accomplishing its goal.
  4. Congress has created an exemption to the contraception mandate. If the mandate violates the religious beliefs of certain types of organizations, they have passed the burden of cost to the insurance provider or to the government itself.

So what’s the takeaway? Nothing in Hobby Lobby decision will stop women from having access to birth control. In fact, the way the system is set up, they will still have insurance coverage for free birth control!

Congress’ exemption ensures that insurance will cover these costs, even for women working for Hobby Lobby. This cost will not come out of the worker’s pocket. In fact, the very alternative accommodation that Congress created was pretty much the only reason that the Supreme Court didn’t force Hobby Lobby to pay for the insurance (from Lyle Denniston’s analysis @ SCOTUSblog):

Is that enough of an accommodation of the owners’ religious objection? The two key opinions on Monday seemed, literally speaking, to say it was.

Justice Alito wrote: ”An approach of this type . . . does not impinge on the [companies’ or owners’] belief that providing insurance coverage for the contraceptives at issue here violates their religion, and it serves [the government’s] stated interests equally well.” (The government’s interest here is to assure that women have access to the birth-control services.)

Alito’s opinion for the Court went on, saying that the dissenters’ on Monday had identified “no reason why this accommodation would fail to protect the asserted needs of women as effectively as the contraceptive mandate, and there is none.”

Justice Kennedy, in his separate concurring opinion, made the same point. And, in fact, he was more emphatic. Taking note of the “existing accommodation the government has designed, identified, and used for circumstances closely parallel to those presented here,” Kennedy said flatly that “RFRA [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] requires the government to use this less restrictive means.”

It is rather difficult to read those comments by those two Justices as anything other than a declaration that religiously oriented owners of closely held companies must be satisfied with letting the “middle man” take on, in their place, the obligation to provide the birth-control coverage. That, the comments seem to say, is good enough.

If there was no alternative accommodation in the law to cover the cost of insurance for contraceptives, the correct legal result would have been to force Hobby Lobby to pay for it. After all, I don’t think any justice disputed the idea that an insurance mandate for contraceptive coverage was NOT furthering a compelling government interest. The only question was whether the compelling government interest was satisfied in the least intrusive means consistent with the RFRA. The Court found that it was.

Now, back to the lede. Many of you out there think that it’s absurd that a corporation would be exempted from providing basic health insurance because God says contraception is abortion. And many of the rest of you think that it’s unconscionable that someone be forced to pay for something that goes against their most closely held religious beliefs; in essence funding murder. And the libertarians out there worry that if the government can make you pay for something that violates one of your First Amendment rights, there’s nothing they can’t make you pay for. These are all moral questions. These are not legal questions. The Supreme Court didn’t even try to answer these questions.

The Supreme Court found a legally consistent way to accommodate the compelling government interest declared in the ACA and the least restrictive means test demanded by the RFRA. And at the end of the day, lest I repeat it one more time, the net result is that Hobby Lobby employees will still have insurance coverage for all the free contraceptives they care to use.

Seems pretty cut and dried to me. This is much ado about nothing.

UPDATE: Now that I’ve actually read the ruling, I see an error in the above. The HHS accommodation for employers who have religious objection to these methods of contraception TODAY only applies to religious non-profits. It doesn’t apply today to for-profits. The argument of the court is that applying the accommodation to for-profit employers is a less-restrictive means to achieve the compelling government interest than the mandate, and for that reason the mandate violates RFRA. I would expect the HHS to quickly expand their accommodation in response to this ruling.

Democracy != Consensus

As I’ve mentioned on several occasions, I work in the mainstream corporate world. One of the key aspects of any corporate environment is that in any decision, there are multiple stakeholders who are affected and may be responsible for implementing a decision, so there is a lot riding decision-making process.

As a result, and as it’s a large multinational company, significant resources are spent on training for both individual contributors and managers on all sorts of workplace topics. Decision-making, dealing with change, conflict management, and very simple things like “making meetings work” are all things that individuals and managers strive to improve.

And two concepts come up consistently when it comes to decision-making:

  1. Consensus.
  2. Buy-in.

Now, perhaps these sound to those of you outside the corporate world like throwaway terms, but if you’ve seen what happens when you don’t have them, you’d agree that these are absolutely key to keeping a well-running organization alive. Trying to implement a decision if you don’t have buy-in is a recipe for failure. It requires top-down authoritarian leadership, leads to resentment and infighting, and will turn a workplace dysfunctional over time. In a competitive market, these things will kill a business.

However, one of the key aspects to all of these training classes is that consensus is not borne of democracy. Voting on something might make a decision, but it by itself does not get you to consensus or to buy-in.

I’ll use an example. Let’s say someone’s birthday is coming up, and everyone (we’ll assume 11 people) is going to go out to lunch together. The question is where:

  • 4 of the people really want Mexican food and hate Korean BBQ.
  • 4 of the people really want Korean BBQ and hate Mexican food.
  • The three remaining people are lukewarm to both and don’t really care.

In a democratic choice, the decision will be whether to go to Mexican or Korean BBQ, and the decision will hinge specifically on the people who care the least. No matter what decision is reached, 4 people will be angry and will feel like they’re being ram-rodded into something they don’t want to do. It’s the tyranny of the majority, and it’s a completely dysfunctional way to make decisions.

Can you imagine that those 4 will be a bit surly at lunch? And when the bill comes due, who do you think might be the most likely to just be a “dollar or two short” or will scour the bill for their share saying “well I just had water, so we should each pay our share rather than splitting it equally.” People who do that are annoying enough as it is; bringing people who are angry to be there in the first place will only exacerbate the problem.

What’s a better way to do it? To discuss, to make sure everyone’s concerns are voiced, and to arrive at a decision that’s mutually agreeable. Often that might not be Mexican food OR Korean BBQ. It might be the hip new Peruvian joint that people have been dying to try. It might be Chili’s . But you work to find a solution that everyone can feel comfortable with, or you will have a crappy lunch despite the fact that some people “won”. That doesn’t mean consensus is easy. In fact, it’s far from it. But it’s absolutely key to keeping an organization–or a country–running smoothly.

Now ask yourself — how is our political system set up to work? Via democracy or via consensus?

Obama in Brussels

Transcript:

A particular set of ideals began to emerge, the belief that through conscience and free will, each of us has the right to live as we choose, the belief that power is derived from the consent of the governed and that laws and institutions should be established to protect that understanding.

And those ideas eventually inspired a band of colonialists across an ocean, and they wrote them into the founding documents that still guide America today, including the simple truth that all men, and women, are created equal.

But those ideals have also been tested, here in Europe and around the world. Those ideals have often been threatened by an older, more traditional view of power. This alternative vision argues that ordinary men and women are too small-minded to govern their own affairs, that order and progress can only come when individuals surrender their rights to an all-powerful sovereign.

Wait, I’m confused. Is he talking about Russia or the Democratic Party?

H/T: Reason

Phil Robertson Says Something Offensive—But It’s Not The Thing Everyone’s Focusing On

Uhh, I’m confused. Everyone’s making a huge stink over what Phil Robertson said about gays. But you know what I don’t hear? An exhortation to return sodomy laws, or any comments on gay marriage, or the idea that he chooses to “hate” gays or endorses violence against them.

It’s clear he considers homosexuality to be a sin, but I thought this quote was interesting:

“We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?”

Granted, putting gays and terrorists into the same category is a bit offensive, especially to a drunk like myself!

But fundamentally, everything is couched in the desire to save people from—not to punish them for—their sinfulness.

No… Where Robertson goes *REALLY* off the rails is the quote which oddly nobody seems to be focusing on:

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

That shows an insensitivity and an ignorance that is a lot more disturbing. That remark is the one sweeping centuries of unequal treatment by the state under the rug.

As an atheist, I think Robertson is wrong about gays. But he seems to be wrong for reasons that any Christian should be wrong—if you truly care about your fellow man, you should be trying to save them from their wickedness. The basis of Christianity—original sin—declares that we are all wicked, all in need of saving. I don’t think Robertson would ever claim that his life is so perfect that he doesn’t need saving grace.

But the second statement is much more offensive IMHO. That’s the one that tries to put a pretty face on centuries of racist discrimination, slavery, and Jim Crow. Yes, Phil, maybe blacks weren’t constantly complaining (to you, the white guy) about their mistreatment. Yes, maybe they were seeking solace in God, as those facing tough times have done for millenia. Yes, maybe they tried to focus on the things they could control—their attitude, leading a rich life with family and friends—rather than what they can’t control, i.e. the legal apparatus around them.

But that doesn’t mean we should act like it didn’t happen and it wasn’t there. True godliness would be for Robertson to accept that those bad things happened in the past, to remember that Christianity is not a doctrine of separation and of discrimination, and to exhort society to ensure that such mistreatment of our fellow men should never happen again.

I Want My — I Want My — I Want My DNA

Today the FDA dropped a big m-fing hammer on 23andme, a service that will allow you some insight into your own genome. They offer, along with the ability to get a raw report about the specific genes they track, some level of analysis of your genome. They can use your data to look for specific known genetic markers of inherited conditions, and giving you advance warning that you may be at elevated risk of certain problems. In addition, by trying to build a large database of genetic data, they are vastly accelerating the degree to which future genetic markers can be understood for analysis.

This, according to the FDA, is data used for diagnostic and prevention purposes, and therefore makes 23andme a “Medical Device”. Suffice to say that medical devices must to be FDA approved, according to the law, and 23andme hasn’t completed all the hoops necessary to allow me to spit in a cup and send it to a lab. So they can’t sell their kits any longer.

This puts some people, like my wife and myself, in a bit of a strange position.

As many of you know, our 4yo son is autistic. We’ve been through quite a bit to potentially understand the causes of his autism. Without getting too deep into the matter (there are many possible causes, each with its own camp of die-hard adherent believers, all of whom hate each other*), one of the avenues we’ve been traveling down is testing for various types of biomedical dysregulation. As a result, we’ve found that he has a genetic mutation common in a lot of autistic individuals related to what is called the “methylation pathway”. This is a biologic process related to brain activity and development, so the fact that it’s short-circuited gives some indication of where things can be helped**.

So my wife and I are taking this as a chance to better understand more about our own genetic profiles, and with the added benefit of determining more clearly where my son’s genetic mutations have come from***. So we both did the “spit in a tube” thing last week, and our samples are happily on their way to 23andme.

Now, I’m smart enough to know that genetics is NOT an exact science. That getting a report that there might be elevated risk for X doesn’t mean I have X****. I’m not going to use the information to make rash decisions about my medical care.

But it’s a start. It’s information that I don’t have today. It’s information that may be of immeasurable benefit to me in the near term and down the road, if it reveals something real. And it’s information that the FDA doesn’t trust me to have.

“Trust” is the term there. The FDA doesn’t trust us mere citizens. It doesn’t believe we’re capable of making decisions that affect our very lives. The 23andme genetic information isn’t perfect, but they believe that if we can’t get perfect information, we’re better off with no information. This information, of course, is getting better. One of the possible advantages of a widening circle of people partaking in 23andme research is that they can improve their ability to analyze a sample, looking for correlations years from now based on the sample I just gave. Part of the reason I wanted to do this was based upon expected future benefit in addition to learning about the aspects of my genetic that already relate to known markers.

So, our saliva is on the way. With the FDA’s recent proclamation, does that mean that 23andme will complete the testing on our samples? Or will the brakes be put on before they’re allowed to run the test? Will this action end up killing the company, so that even if I *do* get my results today there will never be any future research to make the findings more valuable to me?

So thanks a lot, FDA. You’re making me wonder if I’ll ever get the information I absolutely want and paid for. You’re making the future value of that investment lower, by putting into question the future of 23andme and the amount of data they have access to to analyze. And by doing so, you’re probably putting the brakes on the speed at which future genetic breakthroughs will manifest by artificially culling the data set. Nobody will know how many people will die in the future as a result of slower progress in the growing field of genetic research, but they won’t thank you, nor will I, for protecting me from this information today.

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As Painful As Possible, For As Many As Possible

I haven’t blogged about the shutdown, because, well, I haven’t blogged much about anything. Mea culpa.

I haven’t had time because I’m, quite frankly, not personally or professionally affected. Warren Meyer of Coyote Blog, however, is very personally AND professionally affected. Warren operates private concession operations that handle all on-site activities at parks, with a good portion of his business based upon federal parks.

These parks use no federal employees. They don’t require any federal dollars to operate. In fact, they pay rent to the federal government as part of the terms of their lease. So of all things, you’d think that the Feds would want them to remain open. In fact, in all previous shutdowns (including 1995 & 1996), they have remained open.

Not this time. They’ve been ordered to close.

I can’t do justice to all the coverage that already exists for this. While I assume many of my readers are also daily readers at Coyote Blog (and Popehat), I can’t be sure.

All of Warren’s post on this topic can be found here. Check them out, please. You will not be disappointed.

As it pertains to the shutdown, I have little patience for the Republicans here. The Republicans are playing a gambit they can’t win. The Dems are NOT going to defund or delay Obamacare. This is stupid on strategic and tactical levels. You can’t win and you’re going to damage your brand in the process. WTF are you thinking?!

But what I see from the Obama administration is wrong on many more levels. It seems that the administration’s tactic here is to screw as many people as possible, to make this as painful as possible, and then hope the blame rests only on the Republicans for what the administration has done. There is no reason to close these privately-operated parks. There’s no reason to throw people out of their homes because they rest on federal land. There’s no reason to close open-air memorials that don’t require human workers to operate. While I’m not sympathetic to Republican partisans, I have to say that naming the barriers that closed the World War II memorial “Barrycades” is quite smart.

I’m still filled with nothing but disgust for everyone in Washington. Both sides are angling for a “win”. I want to see both sides lose, dammit!

Unfortunately, I know that in Nov. 2014, lawmakers from both parties will probably enjoy >90% re-election rates. And people wonder why I say that democracy doesn’t work?

A Simple Question About Motive

The Feds just arrested the owner of Silk Road, a black market web drug marketplace, and seized the domain name.

Now, there are obviously a lot of reasons why they’d want to catch this guy. But I was struck by the headline at the above linked article:

Feds arrest the alleged founder of Bitcoin’s largest drug market

It makes you wonder…

Is this about drugs, or is this about fighting Bitcoin?

Quote Of The Day

Ken @ Popehat, in a very good post related to general nanny-state-ism and the potential legalization/decriminalization of prostitution:

I think that if you are going to tell someone what they can or can’t do for their own good, you ought to hear what they have to say about it, and look them in the eye when you tell them.

It’s part of a wider point about seeing the individual, not just the abstraction, when you start talking about public policy. Some people have the courage of their convictions to look someone in the face — possibly someone they love or care about — and tell them “if you do X, you deserve to go to jail”. But most don’t. Most can’t get to know someone and then still threaten them with a jail sentence for a victimless crime. It’s a lot easier to make an abstract decision in a voting booth about abstract “groups” of people, and it’s something that we all need to guard against. Public policy decisions affect very real people in very concrete ways; they are not merely abstract principles.

Radley Balko’s Book, Released Today

Just a quickie here, folks… Radley Balko’s book, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, was released today.

It’s no secret that we here at TLP have enormous respect for the work Radley has done over the years chronicling the militarization of police and evisceration of our most cherished rights with it. It’s no surprise that when every podunk police force in the country has their own SWAT team, that those SWAT teams will be a solution in search of a problem — a problem conveniently available in the form of victimless crimes like drugs, gambling, and prostitution. Any tool is ripe for overuse and misuse, but all too often, when the SWAT team is called in, people die.

This book is one of the few that I’m actually going to buy in hardcover — I love my Kindle, and almost everything I buy is for that, but I want to have this book to easily lend after I read it.

(Note: Link above is taken from Reason’s site, so if you click through and buy it from Amazon via that link, a portion of the proceeds go to Reason Magazine.)

Quote Of The Day

From the always-quotable Popehat, on the charges facing Snowden:

Note that the second and third charges both require the feds to prove that Snowden’s release of information to the press was harmful to the United States. This puts our government in the position of attempting to prove that it is harmful to release accurate information about how it is spying on us, and how it is misleading us about spying on us.

Espionage charges usually describe someone with classified information leaking that information to powers hostile to the United States government.

We, the people, are those hostile powers.

Fusionism And The “Coalition Government”

Doug today had a very good post on the concept of Libertarian/Conservative Fusionism.

Suffice to say that I agree with him on the basic points, but had another take that is just too much to put into comments.

It seems that the Conservative groups understand that they’re not a majority on their own, but that they’re greater in number than libertarians. It also seems that Liberals understand the same things. And both groups see that they have SOME policy positions in common with libertarians, although as Doug aptly points out, often we arrive at similar policies based upon completely different first principles. So both groups believe that by getting the support of libertarians, they achieve a majority and can enact their policy goals. And they think that for libertarians, getting *some* of our goals is better than none of our goals, so we should come along for the ride.

At heart, the idea of “fusionism” vs “surrender” is key. And it’s one that Doug brought up, and as I said, I’m in agreement there. Either Conservatives or Liberals see a libertarian fusionism as a way to grow THEIR power, not as a way to grow OUR power. Both groups are not libertarian and don’t want libertarian ideas to grow. So in each case, they want our numbers but not our ideas — they want surrender.

As libertarians, though, we understand that our numbers make us large enough to be a key swing voting block if we acted in unison (granted, it’s tough to get libertarians to do ANYTHING in unison). The key is that we want that voting block power to actually result in policy changes that reflect libertarian policy. The major parties want fusionism on election day and for us to then shut up every other day.

Fusionism in the United States is untenable as a method for advancing libertarianism. We should reject it.

Now, that’s a bold statement. But the simple fact is that fusionism in a first-past-the-post direct representation voting system allows major parties to forget about the “fusion” part of fusionism as soon as the election is won. There is no incentive for them to continue placating libertarians once they’ve gained power. Which is why, of course, you only see the “out of power” party talking about fusionism, as we saw in the initial “liberaltarianism” talks back in the Bush days, and why we see Conservatives reaching out to us now.

The problem is the voting system. And we will NEVER have a viable libertarian movement in this country with the system we have in place. The only way for this large voting block to ever have power is in a multi-party proportional representation system, where “coalition governments” must form to get anything done.

In those political systems, the main parties usually cannot get a parliamentary majority on their own. Thus, in order to get anything done, they often must negotiate and compromise with a smaller party in order to move legislation forward. That smaller party then has an ongoing “veto power” over the actions of the legislature that persists long after election day. If the major party moves too far away, the coalition falls apart and the major party can’t get anything done.

America is the perfect place for a libertarian minority party which would have REAL power in a multi-party proportional representation system. The nation still retains much of the “rugged individualism” mindset that conquered the frontier, even if it continues to wane over time. Libertarians are thus a very sizable minority voting block, but our “winner takes all” system ensures that a 15% party will absolutely never get meaningful representation in our House or Senate. Swap that system to proportional representation, and libertarians will find their way into our legislature, and be able to do something to rein in the beast that we’ve created.

However, that’s never going to happen. Americans are too wed to the idea of being able to put a face and a name to “My Congressman” even if the guy from their district is ideologically lukewarm to everything they believe. I don’t believe we’ll ever see proportional representation absent a complete breakdown of the political process — and let’s face it, if that day comes we’ll all be worried about FAR more than how Congress is elected. We’ll be worried about riots in the streets.

So let’s just call the whole thing off. Fusionism isn’t just dead; it was stillborn. It’s never going to work. Libertarians should focus on other methods to advance our ideas, because all we’ll get from the major parties in fusionism is betrayal.

Quote of the Day

And yet another Ayn Rand quote (from Atlas Shrugged):

For centuries, the battle of morality was fought between those who claimed that your life belongs to God and those who claimed that it belongs to your neighbors – between those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of ghosts in heaven and those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of incompetents on earth. And no one came to say that your life belongs to you and that the good is to live it.

Pretty much sums up the difference between Conservatives, Liberals, and Libertarians, huh?

Quote Of The Day

Warren from Coyote Blog, on Atlas Shrugged Part II:

The one failure of both movies is that, perhaps in my own unique interpretation of Atlas Shrugged, I have always viewed the world at large, and its pain and downfall, as the real protagonist of the book. We won’t get into the well-discussed flatness of Rand’s characters, but what she does really well — in fact the whole point of the book to me — is tracing socialism to its logical ends. For me, the climactic moment of the book is Jeff Allen’s story of the fate of 20th Century Motors.

I had never thought of it this way. I agree that she had some issues with character development, as so many of her characters seemed to be cardboard cutouts of political positions, and lacked any real humanity or depth. I always said I liked the philosophy of the book, but didn’t think much of Rand as a novelist.

That’s still true, but this is a new way to look at it. She really did do a very good job of world-building in the book. Even so many of her plot articles must have seemed far-fetched back in the 1950’s, yet seem like there’d be no shock to hear them announced tomorrow. And her thesis is clear:

Look around you: what you have done to society, you have done it first within your soul; one is the image of the other. This dismal wreckage, which is now your world, is the physical form of the treason you committed to your values, to your friends, to your defenders, to your future, to your country, to yourself.

The message is simple. The world we have is the world we’ve wrought, by our failure to live according to consistent humanitarian* ideals. And viewed in that sense, her key objective is to show the world, and that her characters are only there to explain the ideals which have brought it to destruction.

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Libertarianism And Privacy In The Data Age

The world is changing. It’s happening rapidly. And it’s freaking people out.

Libertarians are concerned that constant surveillance, like that which helped identify the Boston bombers, is an infringement on our privacy. This can be true whether the cameras are public or private, as it’s not hard to justify a subpoena for a company’s tape after a terrorist attack. Couple this with facial recognition software, and eventually tracking people in a public place will be a matter of computing power, not of investigative work. Automotive “black boxes” and licence plate readers (on regular streets and toll roads) offer tremendous opportunities for vehicle tracking, notwithstanding my colleague Doug Mataconis’ concerns about the data we’ll be giving up if we move to driverless cars. It cuts both ways, too, as the government is quickly forced to deal with the oversight of 300 million people with video cameras in their pocket at all times.

And none of this even begins to scratch the surface of the personal tracking device nearly all of us carry — the smartphone. Even when we’re not deliberately “checking in” to a place on Google+ or Facebook, we’re in contact with cell towers, WiFi access points, while our phone can track our location down to a few meters via GPS.

The premise for a dystopian novel writes itself, my friends, and we’re all lining up like lemmings at the edge of the cliff. The question amongst many paranoid libertarians is simple: how do we roll it back?

As a technology fellow myself with a basic understanding of economics, I’m sorry to report that the question is obsolete.

Technology marches forward with little concern for how we want to use it. Data storage capacity (my field) continues to explode, although barely keeping up with the amount of data people want to store. Computing power is still tracking Moore’s law, and now even low-end, low power [and low-cost] processors abound in devices that would have been analog a decade ago (or didn’t exist). And as efficiency, size, and battery technology improves, these technologies become ever-more portable and thus ever-more prevalent.

You’re not sticking this genie back in the bottle. It simply won’t happen. And you know what? I’m here to tell you that perhaps that’s not a bad thing!

I want us to be able to catch the bad guys. There’s the old adage that “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”, and to an extent that’ actually true. If you don’t want to do the time, don’t do the crime. If someone commits a public bombing, or robs a bank, or kills/maims/rapes someone, I think actually having the tools to track down and catch that person is actually a good thing. It’s not catching criminals that’s the problem here…

…it’s that too many things are crimes.

You see, libertarians can’t roll back the clock on the surveillance/data age. That’s driven by society. But we *can* try to influence something far more important — the scope of what that data is relevant to.

Undoubtedly, we all do things today that are illegal. Usually multiple times before we’ve made it into the office. For some people, those things are as innocuous as not buckling your seat belt, jaywalking, or speeding. However, often those activities are certain things that are much more strongly disfavored by government despite being victimless activities — smoking a little pot, or paying for sex, or playing a little unlicensed poker with friends (or strangers). These are events that normally the government is not aware of, but even if your a target of or an innocent accessory to another investigation, the government can make your life hell if they catch you doing. And with this much data flying around, they can pretty well prove just about anything regarding what you’re doing if they try hard enough. All you need to do is to piss off the wrong petty bureaucrat, and they can work to destroy your life.

The goal is, and always should be, making it harder for the government to harass citizens over victimless crimes. And this can be done whether we have a surveillance state to catch the real criminals or not. The only difference is that when you don’t have a powerful surveillance apparatus (public OR private), fighting for libertarianism doesn’t matter all that much. When you DO have a powerful surveillance apparatus, fighting for libertarianism is absolutely critical.

We live in the surveillance/tracking/data age. That’s not going to change. And the very technologies which enable all the surveillance, tracking, and data collection are the same technologies that are being used daily to make our lives richer, easier, and more convenient. That’s a significant benefit to use personally and to society. It’s up to us to make sure that the unnecessary costs to our freedoms are as minimal as possible.

Congress: Replace 1 Year Of Modest Cuts With 10 Years Of Miniscule Cuts And We’ll Call It Even

This is absurd.

Brad Plumer at WaPo recounts the 4 plans in play to stop the sequester. And it’s astounding. It’s made ever more clear to me that nobody in Washington is serious about cutting spending. Right now we’re 15 days away from the implementation of $85.3B in 2013 spending cuts. Oh, for the record, that’s roughly in the realm of 2 fucking percent of this year’s budget.

First, there are three Democrat plans; the Senate plan, the House plan, and the President’s plan. So what are the Democrats proposing? Small spending cuts and modest tax increases. Exactly what you’d expect. Both plans seem to take spending cuts out of farm subsidies, which tells me one thing: they know farm states are red states and they’re gonna punish them for it.

But what’s notable about those plans? They replace $85.3B of cuts this year with spending and taxation over 10 years. Talk about playing kick the can! In fact, both Congressional Democrat plans really do almost nothing to affect the 2013 deficit. They’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.

Second, we’ve got the Republicans. They know they can’t touch entitlements. They absolutely refuse to take a penny out of defense. So what’s left? Cuts to a whole host of social programs that they know they can’t actually pass, so they get red meat for the base without actually having to cut a single thing.

And the President? Well, if we can’t solve the sequester, he’s not even talking about kicking the can out to next year, he’s talking about kicking it merely a few months:

“If Congress can’t act immediately on a bigger package, if they can’t get a bigger package done by the time the sequester is scheduled to go into effect,” Obama said in the White House briefing room, “then I believe that they should at least pass a smaller package of spending cuts and tax reforms that would delay the economically damaging effects of the sequester for a few more months.”

As I said last fall, maybe the best answer is to just let the sequester happen.

Quote Of The Day

I finally finished reading Hitch-22, and this passage near the very end really caught my eye:

It is not only true that the test of knowledge is an acute and cultivated awareness of how little one knows (as Socrates knew so well), it is true that the unbounded areas and fields of one’s ignorance are now expanding in such a way, and at such a velocity, as to make the contemplation of them almost fantastically beautiful.

Anyone who looks at the world without a sense of wonder, awe, and respect at the complexity of things both natural and man-made might as well be blind.

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