Author Archives: Quincy

Democrats’ love of dependency on display

One of the most galling moments for hard-left Democrats in the last two decades was Bill Clinton embracing welfare reform. Gone were the days that welfare acted as a black hole that sucked people in and kept them there. The spirit of the law was changed from one of dependence to one of independence, removing from the law books a set of incentives that created a permanent underclass.

To most Americans, this was a victory and a reinforcement of the principles of self-determination upon which this nation was founded. To the far left, this was a stinging rebuke of their core beliefs. Now that they’re in power, they seek reinstate dependency as a core value of the federal government. The rhetoric has been clear for months. They want dependency on the state for health care, jobs, mortgages, and banking. They want each of us to have no choice but to live an life inexorably entangled with bureaucrats.

Now, the stimulus package sees the first implementations of those desires. Mickey Kaus points to a line item intented to increase the number of welfare recipients:

A State meets the requirement of this clause for a quarter if the average monthly assistance caseload of the State for the quarter exceeds the average monthly assistance caseload of the State for the corresponding quarter in the emergency fund base year of the State.

States are rewarded for keeping their welfare numbers up. Get people off welfare and back to work? Lose the grant. Get more people on welfare? Get a bigger grant.

On the health care front, Democrats are acting like dope dealers, pushing the first hit of Medicaid on people who’ve lost jobs:

Under “stimulus,” Medicaid is now on offer not to just poor Americans, but Americans who have lost their jobs. And not just Americans who have lost their jobs, but their spouses and their children. And not Americans who recently lost their jobs, but those who lost jobs, say, early last year. And not just Americans who already lost their jobs, but those who will lose their jobs up to 2011. The federal government is graciously footing the whole bill. The legislation also forbids states to apply income tests in most cases.

House Democrat Henry Waxman was so thrilled by this blowout, it was left to Republicans to remind him that the very banking millionaires he dragged to the Hill last year for a grilling would now qualify for government aid. His response? A GOP proposal to limit subsidies to Americans with incomes under $1 million was accepted during markup, but had disappeared by final passage. In this new health-care nirvana, even the rich are welcome. CBO estimates? An additional 1.2 million on the federal Medicaid dime in 2009.

Even the tax “cuts” reek of dependency. Instead of implementing tax rate cuts, the Democrats are proposing one-time refundable tax credits. These are transfer payments granted by the beneficence of the current congress and administration. True tax cuts allow people to keep the money they’ve earned. These payments allow the government to give money to those they think deserve it.

This fundamental mindset, that people should depended on government for wealth and health, is incompatible with a free society. The patriotic thing for all Americans to do is to oppose this mindset and all actions that flow from it, including the stimulus bill.

Moving nowhere fast in Oregon

Coyote Blog has an excellent post up about a moving business at the whim of Oregon law:

Cato has a video of some folks in Oregon who started a moving business, only to find that sate law effectively requires them to get permission of current moving companies before they can operate (apparently, someone in Oregon is enamored of medieval guild systems).

How the law works is that when a new mover submits his application for a business license, existing movers can file an objection (which apparently is pro forma). The new company must then justify to the state why another moving company is justified by the marketplace. Of course, absolutely no guidance is given how such a thing might be proven.

Head on over and check out not only the Cato video, but Warren’s own stories about similar regulatory idiocy.

Eliot Spitzer on Transformation and Stimulation

Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer gives us a look at the kind of stimulation he would give the economy in Slate:

The incoming Obama administration and Congress are planning a huge fiscal stimulus package. They hope that such a stimulus will catalyze an economic turnaround and be a cornerstone of a “New New Deal.”

[…]

Here is where the New Deal analogies are instructive. The New Deal probably didn’t pull us out of the Depression; World War II did that. What the New Deal did was redefine the social contract—perhaps just as important an outcome. The ultimate significance of the Obama package may be not its short-term demand-side impact but rather its capacity to transform our economy and, in turn, some of the fundamental underpinnings of our society. This introduces the second major problem: The “off the shelf” infrastructure projects that can be funded immediately and provide immediate demand-side stimulus are almost by definition not the transformative investments we really need. Paving roads, repairing bridges that need refurbishing, and accelerating existing projects are all good and necessary, but not transformative. These projects by and large are building or patching the same economy with the same flaws that got us where we are. Our concern should be that as we look for the next great infrastructure project to transform our economy, we might rebuild the Erie Canal and find ourselves a century behind technologically.

So Spitzer thinks the economy needs to be transformed into something better. Does he propose that we forge ahead in an environment that allows the free market and the awesome intelligence of millions of American citizens to find the way forward? No. He proposes that government picks winners and losers in the new economy. Here is perhaps the most idiotic example:

Second, the most significant hurdle to beginning the shift to nongasoline-based cars is the lack of an infrastructure to distribute the alternative energy, whether it is electricity—plug-in hybrids—or natural gas or even hydrogen. Once that infrastructure is there, it is said, consumers will be able to opt for the new technology. If that is so, let us build that infrastructure now: Transform existing gas stations so they can serve as distribution points for natural gas or hydrogen, build plug-in charging centers at parking lots, and design units for at-home garages. These would, indeed, be transformative investments.

Where should the debunkulating begin? First, gas stations are private property. It’s rather hard to transform private property in a government program without being thuggish about it.

Second, massive deployments of immature technology hamper genuine progress. Building out a massive electric car infrastructure based on current battery technology would be an environmental and economic disaster. Today’s batteries are not only inefficient, they are harmful to the environment to produce and dispose of. They also are not suitable as a replacement to gasoline as an energy storage medium for cars because of weight, charging time, and energy leakage over time.

Ultracapacitors, on the other hand, are suitable for automotive use. EEStor has just patented a capacitor that provides the same performance as a Tesla roadster battery while weighing one-third as much and having a charging time of seconds when enough power is available. They also require a different charging system for the full benefit of the technology to be realized.

Instead of enabling a greener, high-tech future, Spitzer’s transformative plan would put it farther out of reach. This consequence is not peculiar to Eliot Spitzer planning the economy, of course. It comes with all forms of centralized economic planning. No human is intelligent enough to make efficient economic decisions for large groups of people. The amount of information and understanding needed to pick technologies that will most efficiently meet the needs of people who will use them is staggering. Not only must all the technologies be thoroughly understood, but so do the needs of the people who will be using them.

The free market solves this problem by changing the scope of the decision. Instead of trying to figure out the needs of millions and picking one technology, a free market offers several technologies and allows buyers to consider only their own needs. While not everyone buying technology thoroughly understands what they’re buying, they do know what they want out of it. Sometimes this leads to a clear winner, while other times it leads to a continued selection of technologies. Eventually, dissatisfaction with the choices allows a new idea to take hold.

This process is vital to the continued health of the economy, yet interfering with it is exactly how Spitzer, Obama, and the left want to stimulate the economy. Thanks, Mr. Spitzer, but what you’re offering is stimulation we don’t need.

It’s not a privacy threat today…

Oregon is trying to devise a system to tax all those shifty, tax-evading environmentalists they have up there:

Oregon is among a growing number of states exploring ways to tax drivers based on the number of miles they drive instead of how much gas they use, even going so far as to install GPS monitoring devices in 300 vehicles. The idea first emerged nearly 10 years ago as Oregon lawmakers worried that fuel-efficient cars such as gas-electric hybrids could pose a threat to road upkeep, which is paid for largely with gasoline taxes.

“I’m glad we’re taking a look at it before the potholes get so big that we can’t even get out of them,” said Leroy Younglove, a Portland driver who participated in a recent pilot program.

Any reader of this site will see the words “GPS monitoring device” and immediately worry about privacy from prying government eyes. Don’t worry, Oregon’s got it all figured out for you:

Another concern is that such devices could threaten privacy. Whitty said he and his task force have assured people that the program does not track detailed movement and that driving history is not stored and cannot be accessed by law enforcement agencies.

“I think most people will come to realize there is really no tracking issue and will continue to buy new cars,” Whitty said, noting that many cell phones now come equipped with GPS, which has not deterred customers.

I’d love to believe that the devices present no tracking issue. Really, I would. Too bad it’s simply not true:

Though the GPS devices did not track the cars’ locations in great detail, they could determine when a driver had left certain zones, such as the state of Oregon. They also kept track of the time the driving was done, so a premium could be charged for rush-hour mileage.

If the devices can determine whether a vehicle has left the state and how many miles were driven in rush-hour traffic, there is a tracking issue.

How serious is this tracking issue? » Read more

You should want what I want

…or “The Basic Fallacy of all Leftist Economics”

The political left throughout the world loves to proclaim its eternal devotion to diversity. They like diverse schools, diverse workplaces, diverse TV shows, diverse music, and on and on. It turns out, though, that this love of diversity is only skin deep. That is, the skin of the faces of the people they see as diverse. When it comes to economic choices, the left invariably believes that choices can and should be made by the intelligent elite for the good of everyone.

How could a group so concerned with diversity believe that the intelligent elite should make economic decisions for millions of people with diverse wants and needs? It’s a good question. » Read more

A Libertarian-Friendly Economic Stimulus Plan?

Based on Brad’s recent post about the stimulus plan and the comments to it, I’ve come up with a plan that puts money in the hands where it can do some good, ours, while allowing the politicians in Washington to claim they’ve done something.

Here are my starting assumptions:

1) The plan must be revenue neutral or else it would die in Congress.
2) The plan must align with the Federal Reserve’s goal of increasing liquidity in the economy to gain its support.
3) The plan must get money in the hands of the people, where it belongs.
4) The quickest way to get money into the economy is to stop withholding it from paychecks.

Based on this, the solution seems simple. Implement a tax holiday period funded by newly-printed dollars from the Federal Reserve. Americans see an immediate boost in the amount of money available to them while federal spending is not negatively (or positively) impacted.

Here are some numbers generated in response to Louis Gohmert’s tax holiday plan:

According to American Solutions, a conservative think tank founded by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Americans pay $101.6 billion per month in personal income tax and $65.6 billion per month in FICA tax.

A three month tax holiday would inject approximately $501.6 billion into the economy far faster and more efficiently than Obama’s job program can or the Bush stimulus checks did. By balancing the uncollected tax with newly printed dollars, the Federal Government can fast-track money into circulation without having to enlist the aid of banks, who are understandably cautious about lending.

Now, because this idea seems too good to be true, I’ll ask you, the readers, to blow some holes in it. Go!

» Read more

The Need for Deflation

In a follow-up on Tarran’s excellent Primer on Money, I’d like to take the opportunity to bring the lessons to bear on our current financial situation.

Tarran correctly points out what has happened with the US Government and its ability to control the money supply:

Today, the United States government has engaged in massive amounts of spending. They are not getting this money through taxation. Rather they are borrowing it, and a good portion of what is being borrowed is money created by the Federal Reserve.

As Milton Friedman pointed out, inflation is always a monetary phenomenon. Here’s my quick and dirty example of inflation:

Imagine if you were in a poker game with four other people. You each put $50 in. That means there’s $250 on the table. Now, you’re playing with chips instead of cash. The banker makes sure each of you get the equivalent of $50 in chips. So far, so good, right?

After a while, the guy sitting to your left starts losing chips on some bad bets. He’s not wiped out yet, but he’s not doing great either. You start watching him more carefully as he continues to lose money. Suddenly, through the buzz you’ve got going after four beers, you realize that he should have run out of money two hands ago. He’s been adding chips to the game! Worse, they look identical to the chips used by the banker.

You call the guy on it, and the rest of you decide it’s time to cash out. There’s a problem, though, because now there are more chips than there is real money. In other words, your chip supply has been inflated beyond whatever value was backing it. So, to cash out of the game, you would have to adjust the value of the chips so that all the chips added together equals $250, now making each chip worth less than it was before.

In this example, by introducing more chips into the game, our cheat was able to steal a little bit of money from each of the other players in the game to continue his play after the point he should’ve been bust. His deliberate inflation of the chip supply was theft.

Now, take this example and apply it to what happens when the US Government demands freshly-printed money from the Federal Reserve for spending. All the other dollars in circulation lose a little value upon the creation of that new money. In other words, the US Government has gotten the Federal Reserve to steal a little bit of buying power from your wallet, bank accounts, and investments by forcing them to print new money. That’s theft!

It’s theft in reality, but because of the party committing the theft, we have a special name for it: a tax. So, in the case of the US Government, inflation is taxation.

But, that’s not all that’s been going on. » Read more

Bush ignores Congress…

…again. When Congress couldn’t come to terms on a bailout for the big three stooges, President Bush had to make sure it got done:

President George W. Bush’s decision to provide up to $17.4 billion in short-term loans should help General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC avoid a short-term cash crisis, but it will force them to dramatically change how they operate – or face bankruptcy.

No one should be surprised by this. The question is whether or not Obama will be inspired by this to continue the imperial presidency “for the good of the economy”. Your thoughts?

It’s the dollar, stupid

So, GWB and San Fran Nancy have been sniping at each other over the nation’s economic malaise. Who’s to blame? He says inaction by a Democratic congress is to blame, while she says his administration’s incompetence is to blame. Well, as entertaining as this tussle is, they’re both wrong.

Fabius Maximus has a good post about rising commodity prices, in which he reminds me about this truism from Milton Friedman:

Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.

Combine this thought with the following observation from Larry Kudlow:

Whether it’s energy, wheat, grain, corn, or whatever, since these raw materials are priced in dollars on global markets, a strong greenback will reduce commodity prices. And that, in turn, will lower both consumer and producer inflation. This would help corporate profits and would boost the purchasing power of wages.

In other words, a strong dollar would relieve gas prices and boost the economy. But so far as I know, the president never mentioned the dollar. And I don’t think any of the media people asked him about it.

The media has this recession exactly backwards. Every day, I hear the talking heads say that oil prices and food prices are driving inflation. They’re being driven by inflation, meaning they’re being driven by the likes of Bush, Pelosi, and every other big-government politician on Capitol Hill (a.k.a., the porkers).

The federal government has the absolute power to stop this recession. Do they have the discipline or will to do so?

The FBI Hyperlink Honeypot, and what you can do to stay safe

This post is intended to help internet users who make legitimate, non-criminal use of the internet avoid being caught by the FBI’s hyperlink honeypot. While there are methods that can be used to cover deliberate criminal activity on the internet, I will not post them here.

Declan McCullagh brings scary news of the latest tactics from the FBI (via Instapundit, via Classical Values):

The FBI has recently adopted a novel investigative technique: posting hyperlinks that purport to be illegal videos of minors having sex, and then raiding the homes of anyone willing to click on them.

Undercover FBI agents used this hyperlink-enticement technique, which directed Internet users to a clandestine government server, to stage armed raids of homes in Pennsylvania, New York, and Nevada last year. The supposed video files actually were gibberish and contained no illegal images.

This is serious stuff, and not for the reasons you may think. The FBI is operating from the assumption that one IP address equals one household. It’s also operating from the assumption that all HTTP requests are user initiated. Both are wrong.

First, with NAT routing and WiFi, one IP address could be several houses, or even a sizeable chunk of an apartment building. The way most homes are set up with broadband and wireless is pretty simple and extremely open to abuse. The broadband connection comes in the home and has a single IP address. The device closest to the connection is a modem, which acts as a bridge between the home network and the broadband provider. The device after that is a wireless router, which takes traffic from all devices that connect to it and channels it to the modem.

This means that, to anyone on the other side of the modem, like web sites, your ISP, or the FBI, all the traffic looks like it’s coming from a single source. Since someone has to pay for that broadband connection, all the traffic is automatically assumed to come from that person. So, as a user, it’s in your best interest to be in control of all the traffic going over your internet connection, which leads us to…

TIP #1: Lock down your wireless network with WPA

In a utopian world, free love and free WiFi might seem like wonderful things. With creeps running around and the FBI trailing after them, not so much. Since people are actually getting jailed for clicking on hyperlinks based on their IP address, it’s time to get serious about making sure only the people you want get on your network.

WPA stands for Wireless Protected Access, and it is the only secure way to prevent access to your wireless network. WPA works using a pre-shared key (PSK) of up to 63 characters to encrypt network traffic. This means that any device must have the key before any traffic can be sent or received on the wireless network.

(Don’t confuse this with WEP, which is so-called Wired Equivalent Protection. WEP has been thoroughly broken and can be cracked in less than 5 minutes.)

If you need a good, strong password, I highly recommend visiting GRC’s Perfect Passwords page. This page provides extremely secure pseudo-random passwords that make password attacks almost impossible.

If the FBI can’t tell what behind an IP address accessed a given URL, they probably can’t tell whether the user initiated the access or whether the machine did automatically. In addition to making sure that there aren’t machines on your network doing things out of your control, you have to make sure there aren’t things on your machine doing things outside your control. This brings us three more tips…

TIP #2: Scan your system for viruses and malware

Any software on your system can request any web address at any time. Well-behaved programs only do so at the user’s command. Malware, however, doesn’t. Most malware running today exists to use compromised machines as a platform to run the creator’s software on a mammoth scale, usually to generate spam. (You didn’t think there were actual people typing up those ads for Vi4g00, did ya?)

A piece of malware could very well access a honeypot link and get you, the user, into trouble. So, install that anti-virus software and run it, often.

For those who don’t want to load down their (Windows) systems with bloated software like Norton or McAfee, I personally recommend Avast‘s free anti-virus. It’s lightweight and does a good job of catching crud.

Also, no matter what anti-virus you use, be sure and keep your software up to date. Anti-virus software works best when it has the latest virus definitions.

TIP #3: Turn off the preview pane in your e-mail program.

This one’s an inconvenience, but it’s important. If your e-mail program is rendering e-mail without your specific instruction, it’s accessing addresses without your specific instruction.

Every time an e-mail has an image or other embedded content, your e-mail program has to fetch it from the internet. If the FBI were using a JPEG image as the honey pot, all it would take your e-mail program rendering an HTML e-mail with the image in it to make it look like an attempted access.

Once the preview pane is turned off, it’s still your responsibility to delete suspicious messages without opening them. (Hey, sometimes it’s tough to do. Personally, I’m always open to a little chuckle from the latest generic drug scams and variations on the always classic Nigerian money scam. Now, I’m going to behave myself.)

TIP #4: Turn off link prefetching

If you use Mozilla Firefox, iCab, or Google Web Accelerator, your computer is accessing links without your knowledge. This feature is called link prefetching. In a perfect world, this would be a good thing for the user. Not so when a person can be arrested for being associated with the IP that accessed a link.

Here are the directions for turning off link prefetching in Firefox. Google Web Accelerator should be completely uninstalled to prevent prefetching.

These are just the things I can come up with for preventing accidental ensnarement in this despicable FBI trap. I’d appreciate any more tips and tricks for preventing you might have.

Also, for those with a larger interest in security, I highly recommend Security Now! with Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte. It’s a weekly podcast that deals solely with security, and the archives are a wealth of information.

(If you have a few minutes, please come by and check out the new blog at http://pith-n-vinegar.blogspot.com/)

Thank you, Mr. Governor

An open letter to Gov. Schwarzenegger:

Mr. Governor,

I thank you for making my life harder. By allowing a minimum wage increase, you are ensuring that my money, as well as the money of every other Californian, will buy me less. Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about much, since I’m not in the unenviable position of deciding between food, rent, and medicine. There are many in California who are in that position. You’ve just made their lives harder as well. You’ve made their food more expensive. You’ve made their medicine more expensive.

You are probably wondering how you’ve done this, aren’t you? Well, by capriciously deciding that the labor of minimum wage earners should be worth more, you’re sending ripples throughout the entire economy. You’ve forced business to pay more for the same thing. Who will bear the cost of this? Business, you say? Where is business going to get the money to pay for this? You don’t know, do you? You think that they’re just going to make less profit? As we all know from listening to the media, every business has plenty of extra profits to just spread around. Well Governor, I thought you’d be a little smarter than the second-rate socialists masquerading as our State Senators and Representitives. Apparently, you’re not.

Or, maybe you are smarter than they, and you do know that the citizens of California will end up paying for this, but you think that appeasing the left is worth the price. Either way, please open your eyes. You say you will stand up for the working people of California. Then do so. Stand up for us by not making us pay the price for feel good measures like minimum wage increases. Don’t make them pay more for food, medicine, gasoline, and everything else. You see, we are the ones who will pay this new minimum wage. Not businesses. We, the working Californians, are the reason most of the businesses here exist. They serve us because we pay them to. Now we will be paying more for their services. Can we look forward to another ten cents a gallon, another dollar per movie ticket, another quarter per loaf of bread because of this abomination? Absolutely.

The economy, as much as it can be viewed as a single entity, is a vast matrix of transactions based on worth. If you distort some of those decisions through the force of law, the people making other decisions will make them differently in reaction. The supermarket owner who has to pay employees $1.25 per hour more will raise the prices of his products to adjust, or he might fire an employee. Either way, the effects of this decision will ripple through the matrix and the whole will find a balance acceptable to those making the decisions. The force of law is not enough to overpower the judgement of millions of people acting in their own interests; it will never be.

Please, Governor, let your own judgement and your observation of reality be your guide. Rise above petty partisan games, and don’t repeat the same mistakes of your lamentable predicessor. If you can’t, we will all be worse off.

~A Concerned Californian~

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Where multiculturalism fails drastically…

New LLP member Lone Pony pointed me towards this article, Victor Davis Hanson on the War on Terror on National Review Online, which included the following:

…the bogus notion of multiculturalism has blinded us to a simple truth: we in the West can live according to our own values and should not allow those radicals who embrace or condone polygamy, gender apartheid, religious intolerance, political autocracy, homosexual persecution, honor killings, female circumcision, and a host of other unmentionables to threaten our citizens within our own countries.

There is a very simple truth here, and one that very few in America have the awareness or bravery to embrace: Any ideology and its adherents that do not respect the core values of life, liberty, and property deserve no respect and no sympathy from civilized people. No, this does not embrace tolerance and acceptance of all things. It embraces tolerance of what is tolerable and acceptance of what is acceptable with the realization that there are many things that are neither.

Radical Islam is not tolerable, since it seeks to oppress everyone on the face of the planet. All forms of socialism are not tolerable, since they do not respect the property, and often do not respect the lives and liberty, of those who live under them. When you look at the incredible harms brought to this world by the phenomena listed above, everything from 3,000 dead on September 11, 2001 to the rampant unemployment accross socialist Europe, the dictatorial regimes in Cuba and Venezuela, the honor killings murders committed by men in the Muslim world seeking to protect the family image, it is truly terrifying.

Multiculturalism insists that the values that led to these things are equal to the values of life, liberty, and property. This is the prime failing of that philosophy. Life, liberty, and property are not just mere values of the west, they are quite demonstrably the values that are key to human flourishing. History has proven, time and again, that when people have more freedom, they have more room to flourish. Likewise, history has proven, time and again, that when people have to fear for their lives and their property, they don’t have the foundation upon which to flourish.

When we look back at the Soviet Union, which, with all its natural resources, should have been much more prosperous than the US, we see instead a country that was destitute. People had to wait hours in line for bread, even though there was enough farmland in the USSR to create a surplus in grain. But, the people, fearing the state and having nothing of their own, had no reason to work the farmland efficiently. It was no different in factories and shops all over the Soviet Union. People did what they had to do to survive.

Sadly, when the USSR fell, Russia’s new government still did not embrace the institutions necessary to the defense of life, liberty, and property, most importantly the fair rule of law. Instead, the Russians went from a state ruled by communists to a state ruled by opportunists. Many continued to suffer. Now, they are slowly heading back down the road to communism.

When we look forward to the Cartoon Wars of today, we see many Muslims calling for an incredible double standard where they have the right to deprive people of life and non-Muslims may not even offend them. Anyone who believes in or is calling for this double standard is an evil person and deserves nothing from the civilized world. We must not be sensitive to their feelings, since that is bending to evil. We must denounce them publicly and often. We must realize that any people who would turn to violence over a set of cartoons are not civilized and should not be treated as such.

No, this is not a multiculturalist or politically correct viewpoint, but in this case those viewpoints are the wrong ones. They tolerate the intolerable. They, through a vacuum of criticism, tacitly condone the behavior of those rioting. While the vast majority of civilized people sees the evil of the Muslim reaction to a set of cartoons, radical Muslims looking at our news media see none of it, and are further emboldened. When they hear the mealy-mouthed reaction of the US government, which talks about sensitivity to Islam, they are emboldened. Multiculturalism has prevented the civilized world from speaking in a clear, united voice on the cartoon riots, and so they continue. It has been a drastic failure.

Cross-posted at News, the Universe, and Everything.

“the freedom of speech, or of the press”

That phrase comes from the First Amendment. Here, for context, is the entirety of the Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

On the whole, the amendment deals with the freedom of conscience, which, along with life and property, is one of the most fundamental rights inherent to being human. What is freedom of conscience? According to Wikipedia, it is:

the freedom of an individual to hold a viewpoint, or thought, regardless of anyone else’s view.

That, however, is only the beginning of it. For freedom of conscience to be meaningful, people must be able to live as their conscience demands. The First Amendment deals with several aspects of it, including freedom of belief, freedom of expression, and the freedom to push for change in government. All of these freedoms center around the individual, because conscience is a solely individual phenomenon. Makes sense so far, right?

» Read more

The Alito hearings were worthless

I am deeply disappointed in the Senate this week after seeing the absolutely horrible confirmation hearings for Samuel Alito. The truly important issues of the day, property rights, privacy, and free speech, fell by the wayside in favor of abortion and executive power. It is no wonder we never got a useful answer from Samuel Alito, since he was never asked a useful question.

The first useful question I would have asked him is what happens when stare decisis comes into conflict with one of the core rights of Americans, namely life, liberty, and property. In Kelo v. New London, the left wing of the Supreme Court decided that municipal tax revenue was a public use, opening the door to rampant violations of the property rights of every American. The truly scary thing about Kelo is that, when viewed in the light of stare decisis, it makes perfect sense. I want to hear anyone who is nominated to the Supreme Court say that the fundamental rights of Americans and the Constitution of the United States come before precedent and settled law. Too bad none of the Senators were principled enough to ask about that.

The next question I would have asked Samuel Alito is what he thought of the privacy right established in Roe v. Wade. My view is that Roe v. Wade sets a very dangerous precedent not because it acknowledges a privacy right, but because it attempts to establish a selective privacy right. The idea that a privacy right only exists in certain circumstances, like sexuality, child-rearing, and reproduction, is contrary to the very concept of rights. From Roe v. Wade:

The Constitution does not explicitly mention any right of privacy. In a line of decisions, however, going back perhaps as far as Union Pacific R. Co. v. Botsford, 141 U.S. 250, 251 (1891), the Court has recognized that a right of personal privacy, or a guarantee of certain areas or zones of privacy, does exist under the Constitution.

This concept is dangerous because the right to privacy, instead of being one’s right to conduct one’s private affairs without undue interference, becomes a way to protect certain activities and regulate others all based on whether or not the activity resides within a zone of privacy or not. Currently, the surgical procedure of abortion resides in a zone of privacy but the surgical procedure of breast enhancement does not. Logically, this does not make sense. Abortion involves a fetus that, given time, will become a separate being, bringing up a whole host of ethical questions. Breast enhancement involves simply a woman’s decision to alter a part of her self, carrying with it none of those ethical questions. If abortion, with its ethical questions, can be considered a private activity, then certainly breast enhancement should be. That would be reflective of a consistent and broad privacy right. That’s what we need instead of the zones of privacy of Roe. Again, too bad none of the Senators were principled enough to ask about that.

The final question I would have asked Samuel Alito is whether Congress had the right to regulate the speech of private citizens about elections. The First Amendment says that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press. It does not contain exceptions for compelling state interests, nor to avoid the appearance of corruption. The left wing of the court, plus Justice O’Connor, upheld, in McConnell v. FEC, the right of Congress to regulate the speech of private citizens based on the compelling state interest of avoiding the appearance of corruption.

These questions, I believe, would have illuminated a great many things about Samuel Alito. Instead of getting to the core of his philosophy, we got to hear a lot about the hot-button issue of today, executive power (which is important), and the worst possible proxy for judicial tendencies, abortion. It’s a sad time for the nation and for the Senate.

Cross posted at News, the Universe, and Everything.

Democracy and Tyranny

If you ask most people to compare democracy and tyranny, they will say that they are polar opposites, since no particular person can gain or abuse power without the consent of the majority. While even this is not true, as proven by Adolf Hitler’s rise to democratically-elected power, it is far from the end of the story. It is never considered whether the majority could oppress a minority, or even whether the majority could oppress itself.

First, let us address the majority oppressing the minority by looking at Social Security. Let me quote from my last article for this site:

With words like this FDR convinced an entire generation to trade away their liberty, and the liberty of their fellow citizens, in return for the promise of a brighter future. Roosevelt convinced a good part of the American population that the government could make better decisions for them than they could themselves. They saw the promise of mighty civic heroes acting to save them from the vagaries of circumstance.

The decision to give up control of one’s life to another, of course, is one every individual is free to make. The problem here is not that people are choosing to do this for themselves, but rather they are choosing to do it through the state, an institution that affects everyone. We all participate in and pay for FDR’s “great defense” program, even though a good number of us would rather not. Because FDR’s program is run through the state, a democracy, our preferences were ignored in favor of the majority.

Haughty equality vs. humble equality — posted 11/24/2005

How is Social Security tyranny? The issue is simple. I am oppressed by Social Security because I am forced to sacrifice some of my property by the state. I was never asked whether I would like to sacrifice some of my property to participate in the Social Security system. A majority, voting decades before I was born, made the decision that everyone should sacrifice some of their property to fund the Social Security system.

Many would argue that, since it was a democratic majority, it is not tyranny. From my vantage point as an individual, it makes no difference who decided I should give up property without my consent; I am oppressed because I am forced to do so. Simple, is it not?

Now, I can already hear some people saying that this Quincy fellow is just a selfish curmudgeon who doesn’t want to help his fellow Americans. While I am a generous person by choice, I resent being forced to do things without my consent. My perceived generosity, though, is neither here nor there in regards to the point of this essay.

Considering that most of the people who would raise the above objection have a certain view on another issue, let us examine that as our next case. Here’s the question: Would it be tyranny if the majority of people voted to ban abortion for everyone?

Ah, now the issue is not as clear cut, is it? If you believe that women should be able to get abortions, then such a vote would be horribly wrong in your mind. If you believe that they shouldn’t, such a vote would be a vindication. In this case, just as in the Social Security case, a majority voted to impose its will on a minority.

This brings us to another question: Does the size of a group that holds a position reflect the rightness of that position? While it should be clear from the last 5 millennia of human history that a majority can be terribly wrong, this is still a commonly held fallacy. Let us consider the case of the Catholic Church during the inquisition. It held the majority view that the earth was flat and everything rotated around it. As we know, from the work of Columbus, Galileo, Keppler, and Copernicus, these views were incorrect. Each of those four men contradicted the views held by millions, but these four were right and the millions were wrong.

If not democracy, then what? That is a good question. I’ve spent the last several paragraphs illustrating the problems of democracy, but I have not yet offered a better way. You may not believe this after reading the above, but democracy is part of the answer. The other part of the answer is the realization that certain things are so sacrosanct that they must never come up for a vote. First among these are the rights to life, liberty, and property. Second are those liberties enumerated in the Bill of Rights. They are so important that, no matter what the majority wills, they cannot be abridged. This concept, that the law and natural rights are more important than the wills of men, is vital to ensuring that democracy does not become tyranny. It is something we must learn, or re-learn, before it is too late.

Humble equality vs. haughty equality

In the history of the United States, the word equality has been held in the highest esteem. It has also been subjected to a multitude of meanings. Our understanding of equality has drifted far from what it was when Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” In Jefferson’s day, had one seen one man rich and one man poor, he would wonder if the two men we being treated equally in the civil realm. If they were, then the two men would have been considered equal. This is humble equality. Now, when one sees the same sight, he assumes that there must be an inequality between the two that society must rectify. This is haughty equality.

First, let us look at the concept of humble equality—that we can only level the playing field in the public realm (law, the courts, government, etc.) by ensuring that people are treated equally regardless of race, class, and gender. We do not know you should live your life, nor do we know how you should run your business. You have the same chances to succeed, and fail, as we grant ourselves. We do not care how you live your life not because we are mean or selfish, but because we are simply not qualified. Sadly, we are in the minority.

Now, let us contrast that with haughty equality. Such equality, in fact, is not equality at all. It is illusory. It relies on a fundamental inequality—that some people know, better than you, what you should have or how you should live your life. In thinking about equality, it is an amazing proposition—that people are truly not equal, and should not be treated equally, so that they may appear equal to observers. It is also an incredibly dangerous proposition, since it relies on people to determine what way of life is good and how to enforce it.

Imagine you come upon two people, one rich and depressed, the other poor and happy. They are clearly not equal and your goal is to change that. What do you do to change it? Do you take from the rich man to give to the poor man on the rationale that money is good and the poor man does not have enough? Do you do the same thing on the rationale that the rich man is too rich to be happy? Do you reckon that the poor man is happy as he is and take from the rich man to make him emulate the poor man, keeping the takings for yourself? What is the right course of action for these people? How do you know? Do you even care what is right for them, instead focusing on what you think is right?

How much information would it take for you to make a good decision in this case? Would you need to know why the rich man is depressed? What if he were normally quite happy but had just lost a close relative? Would that impact your decision? What if he had gotten where he is by betraying everyone around him and he was burdened by guilt? What if he were suffering from cancer and needed the money to fight it?

What about the poor man? Would you like to know why he is happy? What if he were married to someone wonderful and wanted nothing more than he had? What if he were about to have a child? What if he were an artist or writer who cherished the way he lived?

Would you make a better decision if you knew any of those things? Absolutely. If the rich man were suffering from cancer and needed his riches to fight it, you would (hopefully) find it unconscionable to take some of those riches to give to a happy, albeit poor man. Likewise, if the poor man actually cherished his lifestyle, you would probably think it futile to give him riches he did not want.

Believe it or not, I gave you more information about the two men than most “haughty equality” crusaders have. Usually, they can only see the cold bottom line: one man makes a lot of money, another makes a little money. They, based on this, decide that the rich man should—must—give up some of his riches to help the poor man. Of course, they do not often deal with two individuals. Instead, they seek, through government, to impose their beliefs on a multitude of individuals—a multitude of lives, of circumstances, of temperaments.

They may deprive a rich man dying of cancer the money he needs to save his life. They may give money to a poor man who does not want or need it. It does not matter. The advocates know, by virtue of intelligence and belief, what is good for each of those individuals even without knowing the details of each life. The advocates are more equal than the multitudes they impact.

This ego trip, though, is not the end of the issue. If, in a democracy, a minority used its power to the detriment of the majority, they would not hold that power long. The “haughty equality” advocates always manage to garner a good amount of support for their efforts. How? The advocates get a good number of people to believe that they will benefit from the scheme. Listen to FDR, perhaps the greatest of the “haughty equality” advocates:

The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:
Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
Jobs for those who can work.
Security for those who need it.
The ending of special privilege for the few.
The preservation of civil liberties for all.
The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.
These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding straight of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.

Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement. As examples:
We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance.
We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.
We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.
I have called for personal sacrifice, and I am assured of the willingness of almost all Americans to respond to that call. A part of the sacrifice means the payment of more money in taxes. In my budget message I will recommend that a greater portion of this great defense program be paid for from taxation than we are paying for today. No person should try, or be allowed to get rich out of the program, and the principle of tax payments in accordance with ability to pay should be constantly before our eyes to guide our legislation.

-From FDR’s “Four Freedoms” speech.

With words like this FDR convinced an entire generation to trade away their liberty, and the liberty of their fellow citizens, in return for the promise of a brighter future. Roosevelt convinced a good part of the American population that the government could make better decisions for them than they could themselves. They saw the promise of mighty civic heroes acting to save them from the vagaries of circumstance.

The decision to give up control of one’s life to another, of course, is one every individual is free to make. The problem here is not that people are choosing to do this for themselves, but rather they are choosing to do it through the state, an institution that affects everyone. We all participate in and pay for FDR’s “great defense” program, even though a good number of us would rather not. Because FDR’s program is run through the state, a democracy, our preferences were ignored in favor of the majority.

Sadly, this process has been repeated time and again in this country and many others. Time and again, people decide that they deserve to run the lives of others. Time and again, they convince those others that they should be running their lives. Time and again, they will do this in the name of equality. Time and again, these people declare themselves more equal than others. Time and again, these people inflict harm. Yet, if enough time passes, it will happen again, unless we stop it. We should not bow to “haughty equality” again.

(Cross-posted at News, the Universe, and Everything.)

About Quincy – The (highly) abridged version

In the blogosphere I go by Quincy, which is a nickname I picked up in high school. I’m a twenty-something working as a software designer at an insurance company here in Marin County, CA. Odd place to find someone with my pro-liberty beliefs, I know. More on that in a moment. I spend my off time as a trumpet player, classical singer, composer, and conductor. I also spend it blogging, obviously.

So, why the nickname? Well, as you may have imagined, Marin County is not exactly friendly to those who don’t ascribe to the progressive ideology, and as you can gather from my presence at this blog, I don’t. Actually, my interest in liberty was born out of Marin’s progressive orthodoxy. I grew up here, and for a while as an early teen bought into the progressive ideology. Then I began to compare Marin’s politics with the writings of the founding fathers and realized something was wrong. By the time I was a senior in high school, I was quite Jeffersonian in my beliefs and a constant pain in the rear to my civics teacher, who was a devotee of FDR.

So, that’s it. If you want to get to know more about my personal views, come on by my blog, Pith ‘n Vinegar, and check it out.

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