Category Archives: Corruption

A Public Service for Our Readers Regarding Federal Drug Enforcement

We are posting this as a public service and informational notice, for our cannabis using, interested, curious, or just plain liberty oriented readers and friends…

Contrary to articles such as this:

Congress Effectively Ends The Federal Ban On Medical Marijuana
HighTimes

It seems the controversial $1.1T spending bill that is preventing the U.S. government from shutting down is chock full of surprises.

As you may know, much to the dismay of marijuana activists and lovers of democracy everywhere, the bill smacked down Washington DCs referendum that legalized recreational marijuana in the nation’s capital. What you may have missed (because those shifty politicians are doing everything under the table) is that the bill also quietly, but effectively lifted the federal ban on medical marijuana.

Let us be VERY clear… NO the federal government has not legalized, or ended the federal prohibition of medical marijuana.

No, really, they didn’t, no matter what High Times says.

Manufacture, distribution, transportation, storage, sale, possession, and use, of Marijuana are all still federal crimes. Further, they are automatic disqualification on a background check, or a drug test, or a security clearance etc… etc…

They also make one a prohibited person with respect to firearms, explosives, and destructive devices.

Yes… even in Washington and Colorado. 

All they did in this omnibus appropriations bill, was to partially defund and deprioritize enforcement of federal marijuana prohibition, against medical marijuana dispensaries only (NOT grow ops, or users) in those states with medical marijuana, between January and September.

That’s it. 

Here is the actual text, of the portion  of the bill in question:

“Sec. 538. None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana. Sec. 539. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used in contravention of section 7606 (“Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research”) of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Public Law 113-79) by the Department of Justice or the Drug Enforcement Administration.”

There has been no real change in the law, there is just a change in the administration of a small subset of enforcement.

In fact, this action makes getting the changes we need in the law harder and less likely.

Far worse though, it furthers the toxic notion that we can just arbitrarily, capriciously, and disparately, choose to not enforce the law, when we feel like it… But then any time we change our mind we can go ahead and start enforcing it again.

This disrespects and debases the very foundation of rule of law.

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

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

Community Conservatism – Government Accountability and Service

thedmvhell

Restoring Faith in Public Institutions

One effect of the Obama administration that many conservatives think is, somehow, positive, has been the massive deterioration in public trust in government. Liberty-minded folks have variously argued that the millennial generation has no faith at all in government and that this makes them budding allies against liberalism. We would argue that millennial voters now attempting to enter the middle class all seem to want badly to believe that government can work and that Democrats are better at garnering their votes by promising that the latest wave will be the ones to restore that trust. We believe that being conservative is not the same as being anti-government, and that we need to seize upon this opportunity to convince a frustrated generation of Americans that conservatives can govern, that government can be a positive force if properly restrained, and that we can make the system work. Accountability and an end to cronyism are the keys.

A) Abolish Federal Employee Unions

Franklin D. Roosevelt – the granddaddy of all classical US progressives – believed that it was wrong to allow federal employees to unionize, because it represented a fundamental conflict of interest when they bargain with the same people for their benefits that they use union funds to elect. One of the major sources of “good-pole-boys” cronyism in Washington is the persistent political power of federal employee unions. Many of the same people lobbying Congress to enact the Affordable Care Act, for example, were members of the union for IRS employees. Federal employees should not be shielded from the realities of the policies enacted by Washington, and they should not have collective power to exert over policies that they must enforce, by which they themselves do not live.

B) Pass the ARM Act

Don’t go looking for that acronym – I invented it (sounds strong and impressive, right?). The Annual Reporting Mandate law would require all federal agencies granted budgetary allowances to report precisely how those funds were spent to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and would task Congress with affirming that those funds were properly disbursed in the service of the mandate of the agencies, issuing refund requirements when agency spending is not deemed appropriate. Simple, albeit time consuming, this annual review of the unelected fourth branch of government would force transparency and keep federal agencies leaner and less prone to fraud and abuse (this should include the Federal Reserve).

C) Pass ‘Unrevolve’ Legislation

No one is surprised, anymore, when someone from a government agency is fired for malfeasance of incompetence, latches on with a lobby firm, and returns a few years later, under a new administration. No one is alarmed when members of Congress lose political races and are immediately absorbed by lobbies, PACs and Wall Street, only to return to politics shortly thereafter in a new state. This phenomenon was given the term of ‘revolving door’ and ensures that no one is ever truly held accountable when they behave as political operatives within the system, breaking rules to achieve political ends, even if they are caught. Congress should act to bar people who have been by PACs, lobbying firms or other specifically politically organizations from serving as elected officials or as appointees in government agencies. The same bill should provide for the enactment of new, harsher penalties, the revocation of pensions and the lifetime barring of any government employee implicated in wrongdoing or incompetence while in service. It’s not clear that we can ever completely stop the crony wheels from spinning, but we can make it much more difficult for political operatives to avoid accountability.

D) Codify The Ryan Plan for Better Service

We’ll talk much more about containing the cost of our unfunded entitlement liabilities and securing those benefits for future generations in a later installment, but while we’re on the subject of government accountability, one of the main reasons that even the poor who are being theoretically most served by the safety net have lost faith in government is that customer service and accountability in government flat out sucks. As someone who is legally blind, I have had the misfortune to require access to the Social Security Goliath, and let me tell you – the way in which the government disseminates benefits, administers mistakes, keeps tabs on benefit recipients, and attempts to improve their standards of living is hopefully out of date, painfully bureaucratic, inaccessible and, frequently, just plain dehumanizing.

But you don’t have to be receiving SSI or retirement assistance or Medicare or veteran’s benefits to know how appallingly depressing government services are. Just take a look around your local DMV office the next time you’re updating your state ID or driver’s license. What you’ll see in any government office from the IRS to the DMV to the SSA is a collection of overworked, miserable employees using hilariously out of date computer systems, handling citizens as though they were cattle, and generally taking their frustrations out on people who need their help. It’s a bleak landscape filled with despair and dependency and no one enjoys it – not even those who claim to be perfectly happy to stay on welfare (and yes, they do exist). If conservatives would like to shed the unfair label of uncaring toward the poor, they should take steps to improve customer service while reducing the cost of that service and saving the taxpayers money. Fortunately, Paul Ryan has devoted considerable ink to discussing how he would accomplish this. The basic tenets of his plan go as follows:

• Nuke the federal workers unions (as already discussed) and allow federal and state agencies to fire employees who do not work with compassion and manners toward their charges.
• Instead of funding (at last count) 86 separate federal anti-poverty programs, many of which overlap in their missions, creating enormous redundancy and waste, while confusing the heck out of the public, block grant federal budget dollars to the states and establish achievement-based standards in the provision of such programs (in other words, judge the merit of state-run anti-poverty, affordable housing, healthcare, preventive care, and nutrition programs by how well they work, rather than by the appeal of their stated mandates), to be run by the states and scored by the Congressional Budget Office. Let the states have considerable latitude to experiment on needs-based programs, but revoke programs that fail to improve outcomes or that get horrible customer service ratings. This review is to be conducted annually.
• Rather than sending each citizen to many different offices to manage his or her benefits, establish a personal management system in which all people seeking any type of benefit consult by appointment with one social worker who oversees all of their needs – in this way, re-humanize the process and establish a relationship between the citizen in need and the resources at his or her disposal, while making interacting with the state more efficient and more frictionless for the customer. Each social worker can probably handle hundreds of recipients at a time without an overworked schedule, and without life-sucking endless waits in lines to be seen by a stressed-out bureaucrat who doesn’t know anything about your needs. This managed model has proven to be more cost-effective in private sector human resource management as well.
• Give civic non-profits and religious organizations access – don’t limit petitions for participation in new state anti-poverty programs to government bureaucrats. In this way, empower (through the provision of federal grants) the mediating “civic society” to do good works that can be tracked by the government and good ideas duplicated when they prove effective. Turn the generosity and goodwill of the people into a giant engine of creativity that stands a better chance of rescuing the poor.

This basic template should be honed into policy that can stand as a strong platform for Republicans running for office in 2016 and unite social conservatives with the poor and disaffected that they wish to help, broadening the potential voter base for the Republican Party through improved dialogue.

Final Note: I considered discussing the possibility of pushing a Constitutional amendment that would enact term limits for Congressmen, Senators and Federal Judges, since this is an idea that is growing increasingly popular as anti-incumbent sentiments rise nationally, but I believe that is a concept that has strong plusses AND strong minuses and should be more carefully considered at the state level before any action is taken.

Net Neutrality: A Complex Issue With No Satisfactory Solutions

Yesterday, Chris Byrne had a write-up regarding President Obama’s “stated” support for Net Neutrality. “Stated” is in scare quotes because, as Chris noted, President Obama’s support for this ( much like his “support” for gay marriage) is a limp-wristed attempt to mollify his young, technologically literate base.

Of course, because it’s Obama and there’s a cottage industry dedicated to demonizing him, Ted Cruz had to come out with the stupidest political statement of the year (Non-Dollard/Kincannon Division).

With the mainstream attention these positions will now bring, and with an FCC decision on the issue due in 2015, the issue can no longer be ignored:

Net Neutrality is a major political issue, right now.

Chris Byrne correctly noted, that the lack of competitive options in local internet access is the primary factor leading us into the situation we’re in now. A deeper look into this shows… yeah, it shows we’re screwed either way.At the moment, there are no realistic answers that will satisfy consumers.

The explanation as to why is complex, to say the least.

Keep in mind that as I go through the issues surrounding net neutrality, I will be attempting to take common arguments, and technical background, and break them down into layman’s terms. Although readers of The Liberty Papers tend to skew more educated than most, I understand that not everyone is tech savvy enough to understand much about how the internet works beyond “I go to Google and email shows up!”. » Read more

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.

Net Neutrality… Obama… Cruz… How About Oliver?

Today, Barack Obama(D) has announced that he will pretend to support net neutrality:

 

 

In response, Ted Cruz (RPDGC*), has announced that Net Neutrality is the work of the devil:

 

 

The idea that either Democrats OR Republicans actually support net neutrality is a joke.

The Democrats have (and still do) very strongly supported big media and big communications, who are largely anti neutrality. it’s only when net neutrality obviously became a big issue among young liberals (who were largely unmotivated to turn out this midterm election) that they have pretended to support it.

The Dems could have made it a campaign issue, except then they wouldn’t have had the huge media and communications industry money for the elections, that they needed to avoid getting spanked even worse than they did.

If Obama had actually supported net neutrality, he wouldn’t have appointed an anti neutrality industry stooge as FCC chair… but again, if he did that, the Dems would have lost that sweet sweet big media money.

On the other hand, the Republicans are largely anti “big media” and anti “big communications”, and only became anti-neutrality when the Democrats decided to take it as an issue.

What is Net Neutrality?

Frankly, any libertarian should support net neutrality as a principle (government regulation is another matter).

Net neutrality as a principle, is simple. All legitimate traffic should be treated equally, no matter the source or destination. No internet service provider should filter, censor, or slow down traffic from their competitors, their critics, or because of politics or national origin; or for any reason other than technical requirements for safe, efficient, and reliable network operation.

It’s how the internet has always been run, up until recently, without any government action necessary. There’s a famous quote: “The internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it”. Any internet service provider that censored, filtered, or slowed down traffic from anyone (for anything other than technical reasons) was routed around, and cut out of the net, by its peers. It was a great example of independent action and peer enforcement working in the marketplace.

Unfortunately, this is no longer the case.

Why is it an issue now?

Large media and communications companies like Comcast and Verizon have been deliberately and artificially blocking or slowing down traffic to and from their critics and competitors.

Of course, getting government involved does generally make things worse. In fact, it already did in this case, since the government has been involved from the beginning, and it was largely government action that created the current problem.

In a rational and unbiased competitive environment, consumers would have a reasonable choice of internet service providers, and any ISP that chose to censor or limit access, would lose customers, and either correct themselves or go out of business.

Unfortunately, we don’t have anything like a free and competitive market in internet access. Government regulation and favoritism has created huge monopolies (or at best duopolies, and no, wireless access is not realistic and reasonable competition given the distorted market and cost structures there either) in internet access.

We’ve reached a point where the telecommunications monopolies that government created and support, are in fact deliberately applying anticompetitive, unfair (and in some cases already unlawful) restraint against their critics and competitors.

Since they are government supported monopolies, the market is not allowed to correct the undesirable private action.

This means that, unfortunately, government action IS required… and even if it were not required, it’s inevitable, because politics is politics, and this is now an “Issue”.

So what do we do about the problem?

Please note, I don’t trust either Democrats OR Republicans on the issue in general, and I don’t trust either, or the FCC to regulate neutrality at all. Cruz does have at least one valid concern, in that the history of government regulation of almost every industry, but particularly technology, is mainly a long record of suppressing innovation and other negative unintended consequences.

The ideal solution is to end the government created internet access monopolies that most Americans live under, and allow free and open market competition to correct the problem.

Without government limitations on competition in actual high speed, high quality internet access; competition will increase, prices will fall, and any provider that filters or slows legitimate traffic will lose all their customers and go out of business.

This isn’t just a prediction or libertarian idealism talking by the way. It’s been proved out in Korea, Japan… even in the UK. Everywhere that internet access competition has been allowed to flourish, everything has improved (conversely, in the U.S. where we have deliberately increased the power and scope of these monopolies, we have the worst internet access of any technologically advanced nation).

Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen.

The next best thing, is to mandate net neutrality in the least intrusive, least stupid way possible, and to react intelligently (and rapidly) to changes in technology and its uses, to avoid regulatory distortion and suppression of innovation.

Unfortunately, that isn’t likely to happen either…

That said, it’s remotely possible for us get closer to that, quicker, than we can to disassembling the thousands of federal, state, and local regulations, which have created these monopolies, and made the barriers to entry for competition impossibly high.

Of course neither Democrats nor Republicans support or plan to do that.

The whole thing is a spiraling charlie fox of disingenuous cynical idiocy.

Personally, I say forget Obama, forget Cruz, and listen to Oliver (or if you don’t care for Oliver, or can’t watch a video, there The Oatmeal):

 

 

*Reactionary Populist Disingenuous Grandstanding Cynic… not the Republican party, just Cruz

Edited to add a few paragraphs clarifying what net neutrality was, and why it’s currently an issue

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

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

Vote Cynically… The Politicians Certainly Do

So far, my co-contributors at The Liberty Papers have encouraged you to vote for Democrats, vote for Republicans, vote for Libertarians, not vote at all, and vote idealistically.

All are good arguments… or at least reasonable ones, with well argued rationales and logic behind them. I encourage you to take the time now to read all of them, and then come back here before continuing.

Done reading? Great…

Now, my position on how you should decide who to vote for is basically…

Screw all that… Vote Cynically

Presuming of course you’d prefer to optimize your voting pattern for reduction in the amount YOU… and most everyone else… gets screwed by the government that is.

I base this on one simple fact, that we all know (or at least should know) to be true:

Politicians are all liars

Of course, not all politicians lie about everything all the time, but generally assuming that all politicians are liars is a sensible optimization.

Though actually, there is a better… or at least more accurate and comprehensive…way of putting it.

Politicians, respond to their perceived incentives, to maximize their perceived advantages, and minimize their perceived disadvantages, for their own perceived benefit or interest (whether direct or indirect); often without regard for objective truth, facts, or “the greater good”; if these things are perceived to be in conflict with their interest.

Of course, so does everyone else.

Generally speaking, people respond to their perceived incentives and interests. Of course, they may misperceive or misunderstand what those are (very frequently), and they may respond in ways that are inefficient, ineffective, inappropriate, or counterproductive (in fact they most often do).

Even in the case of “pure altruism” (which yes, some deny the existence of), people do what they think is the “good thing”, or the “best thing” to do… which is still acting in according to a perceived interest or incentive, they just valued the “higher interest” greater than their own direct personal interest.

Most often, people do not intentionally act against against their own perceived interests

If you think politicians are better than everyone else, that somehow their motivations, intentions, or actions, are purer or more altruistic than those of any other person, you are wrong…

… and you know you are wrong… or at least you should.

If you think any politician is actually protecting your interests, or “standing up for you”, or “for the little guy”, or “the victim”, or  that they value or prioritize the principles, “values”, and issues, that they notionally “share” with you; over… or even equal to… their electoral calculation, you are wrong…

… and you know you’re wrong… or at least you should.

Sadly, most people seem to delude themselves into believing otherwise… or they wish it were, so strongly, that they simply choose act as if it was, against all evidence.

Some people just can’t, or won’t, let go of that hopeful, comfortable, delusion. Even when they know the truth, they keep voting for politicians thinking that somehow, “this one will be different”.

No… they won’t be different… 

Politicians are “different” , only in that they ACTIVELY seek direct personal power over others, and are willing to do what it takes to gain that power; including lying, cheating, stealing, and killing (even if it’s only at second hand).

This certainly does not make politicians better or more altruistic than anyone else, no matter how “good” or “beneficial” they, or you, or anyone else believes their ideas are, or how much “good” they claim to want to do (or you think they could do).

Yes, it’s possible that some politicians, at some point, will stick to their “values” or “principles”, or their honest position on issues, even if they know that doing so is against their own personal best interests.

It does happen… very rarely, but it does happen.

Most often though, no matter what they actually believe, or pretend to believe, or publicly claim to believe (sadly, often all three are different); what they actually DO, is vote cynically (or tactically, or strategically, or pragmatically, or corruptly, or with loyalty to their party and their financial supporters). They vote for what they believe to be optimal for advancing their true interests: perpetuating and increasing their own power, and enforcing their own preferences against others.

… After all… that’s why they become politicians (no matter what language they choose, or justification they claim, to pretty it up).

This is true of those who call themselves Democrats, and those who call themselves Republicans.

This is true of those who call themselves liberals, and those who call themselves conservatives.

What about Libertarian (or libertarian) politicians? 

There are so few who even CLAIM to be libertarians (or Libertarians), who are actually elected to national office (or  who in anything close to the real world, even stand a remote chance of ever being elected to a national office) that they are safe to ignore for the most part (and thus far almost all of them are actually Republicans).

Even if they were not however, libertarianism as a philosophy (and basic economics for that matter) would rather clearly show, that you shouldn’t trust “libertarian” politicians either.

You shouldn’t trust ANYONE who has, wants to have, or is trying to obtain, personal control over the coercive force of the state. Including those who claim to wish to reduce that control, use less of it, or to abolish it entirely.

It’s simply safer… and smarter, and more realistic… to assume that they are all lying; or that even if they are trying to be honest, once they have that power, they won’t want to reduce or release it (no matter what their justification may be).

… such an assumption has been proven by history, to nearly always be justified.

You have to understand, that most of the time what most politicians claim to believe, and their claimed goals and positions, are simply not what they actually believe… and very often even when they are, that’s a bad and dangerous thing.

The most dangerous thing in the world is a true believer, with the power, and the motive, to enforce their beliefs on others.

Most of what politicians claim to believe is actually about social signaling and fundraising

Allow me to repeat my frequent admonition, that many… perhaps most… of those who identify themselves as conservatives, are in fact no such thing; they are reactionary populists… or just cynical opportunists.

Many or most of those who claim to be liberals… or progressives… are ALSO reactionary populists, or cynical opportunists.

They claim what they claim, because it’s just about the easiest way for them to raise three things they need: Passion, Fear, and Money.

Politics runs on Passion, Fear, and Money

Importantly, any one, can be converted into any of the other two (with varying degrees of difficulty).

Real policy, is boring. It’s messy, and detailed, and complicated, and tedious, and most often unsatisfying.

“Doing nothing”, which frankly is most often what the government SHOULD do,  is even more boring.

Most people don’t have the time, the background, the information, or sufficient interest; in the complexities of the issues, the details of policies, of how real legislation actually ends up being written and passed into law… nevermind the infinitely more tedious and complex regulations that implement those laws.

Hell… even most politicians don’t… They staff it out, or just do and say what their party, their PR people, and their fundraisers, tell them.

I can only think of one president who was elected on a platform of doing as little as possible, and just trying not to screw up too much, Calvin Coolidge… and that was only because he was running for re-election on a successful record of having done so the previous two years, after being elevated to the presidency by accident (the death of Warren Harding). The only thing he ever actually actively did, was to increase tariffs dramatically… which as it happens, turned out very very badly.

Good government is boring. Bad government (or the idea of it) is what generates passion, fear, and money

Government is complicated and boring, and people for the most part don’t understand it… but they do understand narratives that conform to their sociocultural expectations, norms, and biases.

So that’s what politicians and the media give us (not because it’s a big conspiracy, simply in furtherance of their own interests).

We have shorthand. We have litmus tests, and shibboleths, and sacred cows, and “dog whistles”.

We have social signalling, and ingroup identification, and outgroup demonization.

We have “Barack Obama is a secret muslim socialist” and “The Republican war on women”, and “the Democrats will steal your 401k” and “the Republicans will ban abortion”.  Or to simplify “Democrats are evil and stupid” and “Republicans are stupid and evil”.

We have constructed narratives, that people can relate to, idealize, and project themselves into

There are a disconcerting number of people “on the right” who seem convinced that if we just wish hard enough, we can live forever in a magical time approximating 1957 through 1962 on continuous loop… But with iPhones.

For leftists, its the same kind of fantasy, except it’s 1962 through 1967, and Kennedy never dies (and is actually the “Progressive” fantasy they project onto him…).

So, these are the narrative preconceptions that “liberals” and “conservatives” attempt to pander to, and the narratives they attempt to construct.

Sociologists, psychologists, political scientists, PR people, political consultants, and the politicians themselves; figured something out a long time ago, which unfortunately many don’t understand, find disturbing, or simply refuse to believe…

For most people, most of the time, the facts, issues, positions, policies, and outcomes, don’t even really matter that much (though most don’t understand this about themselves, or believe it when it’s pointed out to them). Politics (or political issues) become a matter of social signaling;  ingroup selection, identification, and reinforcement; and outgroup exclusion and demonization.

Their sociopolitical identification becomes part of their identity, their self justification, and their ego.

It’s a team sport, and it’s about scoring points for “their side”, and avoiding having points scored on  “their side”. Their side has to be defended and error cannot be admitted, because the other side would score points, the “good guys” might lose the “bad guys” might win etc…

The way you “score points”, and raise passion, fear, and most importantly money; is to make people believe you’re like them (the good guy – ingroup identification), that the other guy isn’t like them (the bad guy – outgroup exclusion and “othering”), and that they are bad, and evil, and stupid, and wrong, and ruining everything in every way (outgroup demonization).

Once someones sociopolitical identification has become internalized as part of their sense of self, they generally cannot admit serious fault or error on the part of their sociopolitical ingroup, without causing themselves emotional and intellectual injury and pain, cognitive dissonance, even existential crises… most people try to avoid those things whenever possible (sometimes going to great or ridiculous extremes to do so).

There are two major parties, but one overriding interest is shared by both.

Some believe that there is effectively no difference between the major parties… that’s is JUST a team sport, or a horse race etc… That they’re the blue statist party and the red statist party, and the only difference is in the rhetoric.

This is false. There are plenty of very important differences. The devil is in the details, and there are so very many details… Particularly when you get into cabinet and subcabinet posts, executive appointments (and the impact on the executive agencies), and state and local government.

The great problem though (and the large element of truth in the concept), is that both major parties believe in using the coercive power of the state to “fix things” and “do good things” and “make things better”.

Both parties believe that to do so, they need to increase the power of the state in the areas that “need to be fixed” (…and between them, they believe EVERYTHING needs to be” fixed”).

Both parties believe that they (and the people who they agree with and identify with) are the “right people” to have that power, and make those changes, and “fix those problems”; and that in order to do so they need to stay in power, and in control of its mechanisms and institutions.

It’s just that the two major parties believe that different things are “wrong”, or “broken”, or need “improvement”… Or that they should be “corrected”, “fixed” or “improved”, in different ways, by different means.

That’s not “no difference at all”, or even a distinction without a difference… but it can certainly seem like that at times.

Let’s be clear about something though… 

If you believe that an appropriate response to someone doing something you do not like, but which is not otherwise violating someone else’s rights, is to use the government to force them to stop, YOU ARE NOT CONSERVATIVE.

If you believe that an appropriate response to someone doing something you do not like, but which is not otherwise violating someone else’s rights, is to use the government to force them to stop, YOU ARE NOT LIBERAL.

If you believe that an appropriate response to someone doing something you do not like, but which is not otherwise violating someone else’s rights, is to use the government to force them to stop, YOU ARE MOST CERTAINLY NOT LIBERTARIAN.

…Even if what they are doing is in fact, bad, and stupid, and wrong, and harmful.

Let me use the Republicans and “Conservatives” as my example for now…

One must draw the distinction between a political party (which must operate in the real world of electoral and legislative politics), and a political philosophy.

The Republican party is in no way “the” or even “a” conservative party, they are simply
generally more notionally and theoretically “conservative” in their rhetoric, than the Democratic party.

They officially profess to subscribe to some conservative principles and ideals, but they also have elements of their platform and policies which are in fact antithetical to truly conservative principles and ideals. That’s not even getting into what they actually DO… or sometimes more importantly, choose NOT to do.

There is no truly, explicitly, and consistently conservative political party in the United States… or at least none that have any national notice or significance. That includes the American Conservative party, and the Constitution Party; both of which are even more reactionary and populist than the Republican party.

This of course is how they attract and retain their adherents, and raise their money.

There is little money in true conservatism. There is often little passion as well, at least from the outside perspective. 

There is money (and power) in anger, and fear.

There is money (and power) in authoritarian reactionism.

There is money (and power) in authoritarian populism.

There is money (and power) in “there oughta be a law”.

These things are not conservative (nor are they liberal).

Actual  conservatives, are actually generally pretty “boring”… or at least they are more nuanced… subtle… or just muddled looking and feeling; than either media, or “the base” can get excited over, or even understand.

There is rarely any purely black and white, definitely good or unambiguously bad, in ACTUAL conservative policy; there is only “less bad” and “slightly better”, and balancing of interests, advantages, and disadvantages.

With truly conservative policies, without gross oversimplification, there is rarely a clear, compelling, and easily understood narrative for people to identify with, or for the media to  portray.

In an attempt to engage the public, sometimes conservatives or their supporters, attempt to use the techniques of narrative construction that reactionaries and populists use (beginning with the aforementioned gross oversimplification)… This generally results in less than positive outcomes. Often at best misunderstanding and misrepresentation (intentional or otherwise), at worst descending into parody and mockery, and buried under strawmen.

When there is a clear, factual, and truthful narrative, it is generally inconsistent with… or even explicitly contradicts, the activist, statist, idealist, or authoritarian narratives; that most people (both those who identify as “liberal” and those who identify as “conservative”) have internalized as their own map of “reality”, and as part of their own identities.

Rather than face this contradiction, most will ignore it,  oversimplify and distort the truth to sorta kinda almost fit an existing narrative they understand, or simply make one up that fits their preconceptions and biases.

Ironically, those who most loudly proclaim themselves to be conservative; who with great wailing and gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, decry the Republican party the loudest for being insufficiently so; are IN FACT  most often doing so, not for being insufficiently conservative, but in fact for being insufficiently reactionary, authoritarian, statist, or populist.

Of course… do a find and replace in this section on “conservative” and “Republican”, with “liberal” and “Democrat” , and it will also be accurate (… okay… you also have to replace “constitution” with “green”).

Most people want to be controlled… they simply want to believe they chose their own masters

It is sometimes said, there are three types of people:

  • Those who want to control others
  • Those who want to be controlled
  • Those who just want to be left alone

The core problem libertarians face, is that most people really do want “someone to be in charge of things”. Either themselves, or someone they agree with, or identify with, or think is “the right man”, or who will “do the right things”.

Even if they don’t want to be controlled themselves, they want “someone to be in charge” of  “the other people”… You know, the bad people… the ones they disagree with and don’t identify with. The ones who are “screwing everything up” or “getting in the way of things being improved”.

They see the many problems in the world, see the resources, reach, and power of government, and think “hey, we should SOLVE these problems… Fix these injustices. Right these wrongs… We can do it if we really try, we just have to really want to do it”.

Most people have internalized the idea, that if we just put people who are good enough, and smart enough, and “right” enough, in charge of everything, with the power to “make it right”, that everything will be better, or good, or right….

…or some other such fantasy.

Even if they know it’s a fantasy, most pretend it’s true anyway, because the alternative seems far worse… Far scarier.

The idea that no-one is in charge, and that no-one can “fix it”, is far more terrifying, than the notion that “the bad people are controlling everything and making it all bad”. At least then, there something you can do… some control you have.

Most people simply don’t want to face that there isn’t any such thing as “the right people”, and only very rarely is there a “right thing”.

Trying hard, and meaning well, don’t count.

“Ok… so what do you do then? Give up? Ignore politics? Don’t Vote? Does it really just encourage the bastards?”

Well… yes, voting DOES encourage the bastards, but that’s not ALL it does.

You may not like politics, but you can’t ignore it. To paraphrase… You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.

You are a participant, whether you want to be or not… just like everyone else.

Then only question is, are you going to be a passive participant, or are you doing to at least try to do something?

Is voting actually doing something? 

Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t… It is if you do it right.

Of course, it’s not the only thing you can or should do… but that’s a discussion for later.

“I hate this politics crap… it doesn’t work, it’s all wrong, it’s messy, it’s inefficient, it’s nasty, it’s corrupt… ”

Yes… it is. That’s life. Deal with it.

I’m a libertarian, not an ideologue.

For me, libertarianism is a matter of ethics, and morals,  and process improvement. It’s not really a matter of politics… or at least not just politics.

“Politics” is not an identity, or a moral system, or a philosophy, or a social belief system.

… or at least it shouldn’t be, because man… it’s pretty awful at being any of those things, never mind all of them.

Politics, is how economics, sociology, anthropology, biology, and psychology; all battle against each other (and often, against reality itself), in an absurd and perverse attempt, to agree on some way of not killing each other… or taking or breaking each others stuff… at least not without permission, or damn good reason.

More concretely, “Politics” is a set of frameworks for making collective decisions. Governments are one of the systems we have for managing these frameworks. States are one of the structures by which we can enable and execute on these decisions (there are several other options in all three categories, but what we’ve got now isn’t likely to be replaced by anything better any time soon).

They are just part of the toolsets needed to execute the mission of  maximizing human liberty, and minimizing the coercive restraint thereof.

note: For those of you who are actually strict or pure anarchists, who believe that human liberty can only be maximised in the absence of governance, or of a state… unfortunately you are wrong. Without government, the strong who desire power over others, will  gather power to themselves, and use that power to force their will upon the weak and the unpopular. 

…Of course they do that with government as well… the tyranny of the majority is the worst tyranny… The trick is to limit government power, and ability to grant itself more, as much as possible… and to periodically shoot them all and start over.

As a minarchist, I understand and accept that the state exists, likely always will exist, and for some things it is the best realistic option (meaning likely to be close to achievable in the world we actually live in) to get certain things done which need to be done.

Note: Or which are of such great benefit to all, at so little detriment, that doing so is an objective good, and not doing so is an objective negative (basic sanitation, public health, common defense, disinterested courts etc…) Exactly what things are absolutely necessary, vs. what is just acceptable for the state to do, vs. what it is NOT acceptable for the state to do…  is a much bigger argument… actually a centuries long series of much bigger arguments. 

There’s lots of things we COULD do using the power and force of government. I just think that most of the time we shouldn’t, because no one and certainly no collective, knows how to run my life better than I do… And I don’t know how to run anyone else’s life better than they do.

…Even if that means that stupid or evil people do stupid and harmful things, or that we don’t make things as good as we could possibly make them. 

We can’t ever know what all the consequences and effects of our decisions and actions may be, nor can we truly know if we made a correct or optimal decision, nor can we eliminate our own biases and prejudices, nor can we ever have perfect information or perfect reason.

No matter what we do, we will always be wrong, in some way, at some time, for some one. We can only make what we believe to be the  least wrong decision for ourselves, at the time  we have to make it, with the information we have at the time, and under the conditions we made it.

Since we cannot know these things, and can’t be right, only less wrong; we should only force on others that which is absolutely necessary (or which is of significant, unambiguous and compelling benefit to all, with minimal or inconsequential cost or detriment… and even that much, and what constitutes that… is up for major debate). 

We don’t have the moral or ethical right,  to violate other peoples rights for their own good, or for the collective good; even if they are doing stupid and harmful things with those rights… so, long as they are not actually violating anyone elses rights (and again, what that constitutes is vigorously debated). 

I believe it is a moral imperative to use the force of the state as little as possible. I believe it is a practical optimization to help achieve this imperative,  to reduce the power the state has whenever possible, as well as reducing both the opportunities it has to use it, and the ease in which it does so. 

Unfortunately, this ethical philosophy generally won’t get you elected anywhere I know of…

Politicians get elected, because people still believe “there oughta be a law”

There are NO elected or electable politicians who agree with me… or at least those who

None.

Even those who claim to be libertarians… They still believe (or at least claim to believe) in using the coercive force of the state to enforce their preferences.

…Because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t have a purpose or a job.

Politicians don’t get elected on the promise of doing nothing, they get elected by promising to “right wrongs” and “fix problems”.  They get elected because most people, no matter what they claim to believe, still think “there ought to be a law” when they see something they dislike enough.

There are plenty who CLAIM to agree with me, or who agree with me in part, or who will at least generally vote in a way that would advance (or not undermine) what I believe in… at least on some issues. Particularly when it comes to local politicians and local issues.

… but that’s an awful lot of caveats.

The Perfect is The Enemy of The Good… or the “Good Enough For Now”… or the “Best We’re Gonna Get”… or the “Least Bad” 

Since no one who is ever going to be elected, ever agrees with me completely… or generally in more than a few particulars… I have to work on a “least bad” decision making basis.

That’s almost always true of any complicated issue by the way… there’s rarely ever such thing as an unambiguously good or right decision… Only the “least bad” or “least wrong” decision.

So, whenever possible, I vote in the way that I believe will reduce the power of the state, the legitimate use of that power, and the ease with which the state may do so; unless doing so would be cripplingly wasteful, inefficient, or hindering, of the critical and legitimate missions of the state.

When, as is so often the case, I am unable to vote “well”, I try to vote in the way that will be “least bad” for that goal.

If that’s impossible, I will attempt to vote in a way that blocks the formation of overwhelming power blocks, or restrains the use of such power; for example voting for split government, bloc spoilers, effective opponents to dominant power concentrations etc…

Purity tests are not useful. They are in fact harmful. Trusting them is stupid, and applying them makes you miss out on things which might usefully advance your interests (or at least usefully aid in defend them)

If you could trust them, then MAYBE purity tests would be worthwhile, but you can’t.

As a libertarian, how can you vote for “them”?

“As a libertarian, how can you vote for a Republican when the party is controlled by so called social conservatives, who are against drugs and gay marriage”

“As a libertarian, how can you vote for a democrat when the party is controlled by socialist nanny staters”

Because in the real world, politics and government are not about purity, or perfection, or ideals… They’re about calculation and optimization, of the possible. It’s simply a question of least bad decision making.

If I waited for a candidate who believed exactly what I did… Well, that’s never going to happen.

If I waited for a candidate I trusted completely…. Well, that’s never going to happen either.

So… if I want to have any impact or influence whatsoever, I need to act locally, and personally, and apply least bad decision making.

Why bother voting at all?

Because yes, least bad decision making actually works.

Is it great… no… but it’s better than nothing…

You CAN have an impact as an individual. You can influence local candidates, and local parties. Local parties write state level platform and legislative input, and select local candidates. Local candidates become state level candidates, and local party positions become state party positions. Then later, state candidates become national candidates, and state party positions become national party positions.

Hell… Robert Heinlein wrote a book about the process in 1949 called “Take Back Your Government”, and most of what he wrote then still applies today (at least in principle… obviously demographics, social issues, cultural tastes etc… have changed).

Decisions are made by those who show up

I go to local political events. I meet candidates and participate in conference calls, and round tables, and townhalls and debates. I have been active in my local political scene several places I have lived. Through county level involvement, I’ve helped write position papers  which became part of the state party platform, select candidates who were elected to statewide office, and even write legislation that was eventually passed on the state level (in north Idaho… we basically arranged a libertarian takeover of a county republican party).

… Perhaps more importantly, I’ve helped STOP legislation, and positions, and candidates, which would have been AWFUL for liberty.

If there is a competitive libertarian (no matter what party affiliation they claim), who isn’t a nutjob, or a 9/11 truther, or some form of involuntary collectivist, or authoritarian statist claiming to be a libertarian (Chomskyites… christ no… ) I’ll gladly vote for one. I have voted for libertarian local candidates in the past, a couple of whom even got elected.

If I live in a state or a county that’s going to go Democrat, or Republican, no matter who I vote, I’ll absolutely vote for a libertarian, because the higher the numbers libertarians get, the less they can be ignored,  the more negative press the major parties get, and the more people get exposed to libertarian ideas.

If both parties select absolutely awful candidates who I can’t see any advantage in voting for, or disadvantage in voting against, I will vote libertarian as well.

As I said above, I will vote to block concentration of power, or to counter existing concentrations or excesses, or to blunt their effectiveness.

Most often though, least bad decision making, means I vote Republican (and every once in a while, very rarely, and only on a local level, Democrat).

Why Republican? Why not Democrat?

There are a few “benchmark issues” that will GENERALLY give you a good idea about where a politician stands on rights, freedom, liberty as a whole, individualism and collectivism and the like.

  • Abortion
  • Gun control
  • Economic freedom
  • Drugs
  • Taxation
  • Wealth redistribution
  • Personal moral choices
  • Publicly funded and controlled education
  • Foreign policy
  • Freedom of speech

Sometimes an individual politicians positions on these issues will be inconsistent with each other, or with other members of their party, but they’re generally clustered into areas of agreement with their party which are generally roughly identified as “social issues’ and “economic issues”

I disagree with most major party candidates, about most of theses issues… “both” sides… in some fairly significant ways.

I disagree with both major parties, about social issues, and economic issues. I am not socially a Democrat and economically a Republican. That’s just pseudo-libertarian populism. My disagreements with the Republicans  are absolutely as strong, and as important to me, as my disagreements with democrats.

So why do I generally vote Republican (at least for national offices)?

Because I’m a cynic…

Well, that, and because I’m an engineer by both nature, and by education and training.

Engineers understand that the perfect is the enemy of the good, and that small incremental changes with testing, and iterative optimization over time (with evidence, data, and metrics); is the only way to actually be successful in complicated endeavors over the long term.

We got here by creeping incrementalism. We can roll SOME of it back through creeping decrementalism

Liberals, and conservatives, Democrats, and Republicans… All have stupid, harmful, and destructive notions about the use of the coercive force of the state. I would like to minimize the impact of these stupid, harmful, and destructive notions, to the extent I am able.

Very broadly, Democrats claim to believe (and generally vote for) one set of ideas in each category, and Republicans claim to believe pretty much the opposite set of ideas in each category.

As I said, I am not a Democrat on social issues, and a Republican on economic issues… HOWEVER, very broadly and generally speaking, Democrats claim to believe stupider and more harmful things in the “economic” category, and Republicans claim to believe stupider and more harmful things in the “social” category.

So, if both social and economic issues are equally important to me, why do I generally vote Republican?

I’m counting on incompetence, inefficiency, ineffectiveness, venality, malice, and deceit.

… and I’m rarely disappointed.

Now… the thing is… with liberals, or “progressives” or leftists of most stripes… most of them really sincerely believe in using the coercive force of the state to make changes in society.

Importantly, they often actually attempt to. and are depressingly successful in, passing legislation theoretically intended to implement and enforce their stupid, harmful, and destructive ideas (though generally speaking, not the changes they actually claimed they were trying to make, with the results they claimed to intend; since it seems liberals don’t believe in or understand the law of unintended consequences, or that results are more important than intent).

Critically for my optimization process (and most unfortunately) Democrats seem to be pretty good at passing stupid and harmful laws in both the social and the economic regimes.

Republicans for the most part, limit their efforts to… or at least focus the majority of their claimed efforts on… their harmful, stupid, and dangerous social ideas (yes, the majority of… not all, by a long shot).

In particular, with notionally socially conservative politicians… or at least the ones that actually manage to get elected… most of them don’t actually believe in the stupid ideas they claim to believe. They’re simply social signalling, or pandering to the less intelligent on “their side” (who unfortunately are also often the most motivated).

More importantly, they rarely make any kind of sincere or effective attempt to actually pass these idiotic and harmful laws (they’ll propose them, but they hardly ever actually even try to pass them). The few true social conservatives who actually manage to get elected, and who do sincerely believe their own idiocy, are mostly ineffective at passing legislation attempting to implement said idiocy

Basically I trust Republicans to generally be less competent and effective  at executing on their agenda than Democrats

Which, under this rationale, is exactly what I want.

So… it’s generally a cynical, but realistic, optimization to vote for Republicans, because the stupid and statist ideas from their side generally don’t actually get implemented or enforced (or they get overturned in court), while the Democrats stupid and statist ideas often do.

That’s what voting cynically really means.

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

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

Tesla Whines About Protectionist Legislation for Auto Dealers While Using Government Largesse to Compete

Last week, I wrote about rent seeking auto dealers lobbying for protection from competition with manufacturers utilizing direct-to-consumer sales models. I mentioned direct-to-consumer manufacturer Tesla by name, and suggested such legislation would prevent consumers from enjoying the savings that might otherwise be realized from Tesla’s efforts to “eliminate the middle-man.”

I should have taken the opportunity to address Tesla’s own abundant receipt of government largesse.

And to be clear, “government” largesse is always paid for by the taxpayers.

In a piece entitled “If Tesla Would Stop Selling Cars, We’d All Save Some Money,” Forbes contributor Patrick Michaels details all the ways Tesla benefits from government handouts. Michaels concludes that taxpayers shell out $10,000 for every car Tesla sells.

Michaels starts with a claim that purchasers of Tesla vehicles receive a $7500 “taxback bonus that every buyer gets and every taxpayer pays.” Since the tax credit appears to be non-refundable, I would not count it as a cost to other taxpayers, as Michaels does.

But the federal tax credit is only the tip of the crony capitalist iceberg for Tesla.

There are also generous state subsidies paid by taxpayers to the wealthy people who buy Tesla’s expensive vehicles. Purchasers in Illinois, for example, can receive a $4,000 rebate from that state’s “Alternate Fuels Fund,” a $3,000 rebate to offset the cost of electric charging stations, and reduced registration fees. California likewise offers a long list of rebates and subsidies to buyers of electric vehicles.

One of the hidden costs to consumers comes in the form of the increased price tag on cars sold by manufacturers who do not qualify for California’s mandated emissions credits, which they instead have to buy from Tesla, allowing it to earn a profit despite selling cars at a massive loss. As Michaels explains:

Tesla didn’t generate a profit by selling sexy cars, but rather by selling sleazy emissions “credits,” mandated by the state of California’s electric vehicle requirements. The competition, like Honda, doesn’t have a mass market plug-in to meet the mandate and therefore must buy the credits from Tesla, the only company that does. The bill for last quarter was $68 million. Absent this shakedown of potential car buyers, Tesla would have lost $57 million, or $11,400 per car. As the company sold 5,000 cars in the quarter, though, $13,600 per car was paid by other manufacturers, who are going to pass at least some of that cost on to buyers of their products. Folks in the new car market are likely paying a bit more than simply the direct tax subsidy.

Slate’s Scott Woolley details another way in which Tesla has cost taxpayers money. In 2009, Tesla received a $465 million Department of Energy loan that allowed it to weather a financial maelstrom. Unlike Solyndra (and Abound Solar and Fisker Automotive and The Vehicle Production Group LLC), Tesla managed to repay the loan in 2013. According to Michaels, it did so by reporting its first ever quarterly profit (earned from the sale of the emissions credits), which sent its stock soaring and enabled it to borrow $150 million from Goldman Sachs, and then issuing a billion in new stock and long-term debt.

But Tesla paid the U.S. taxpayers back at a rate far below what venture capitalists would have earned on the same loan. As an example, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk also made a loan to Tesla. Musk got a 10% interest rate and options to convert the debt to stock, which he did, resulting in a 3,500% rate of return on his investment.

In contrast, the U.S. taxpayer received a 2.6% rate of return.

In other words, in our crony capitalist system, taxpayers take the loss on bad loans like the one to Solyndra, but do not enjoy commensurate reward on good loans like the one to Tesla.

But there is still more. Tesla cannot keep earning emissions credits, which allow it to earn a profit despite selling its cars at a loss, unless it can keep selling those cars. Josh Harkinson, writing for Mother Jones, writes that:

Its first-quarter profit, a modest $11 million, hinged on the $68 million it earned selling clean-air credits under a California program that requires automakers to either produce a given number of zero-emission vehicles or satisfy the mandate in some other way. For the second quarter, Tesla announced a $26 million profit (based on one method of accounting), but again the profit hinged on $51 million in ZEV credits; by year’s end, these credit sales could net Tesla a whopping $250 million.

Tesla’s ability to continue selling the cars that earn the credits is in question. The market for $80,000 cars has a limited number of buyers. Tesla must expand its customer base with a more affordable product.

One way to achieve that would be to cut the vehicle’s range. But subsidies, credits and fuel savings notwithstanding, consumers have little taste for lower ranges—even at a much lower price. Another way for Tesla to lower the cost of its vehicles is to cut the cost of its batteries without sacrificing the range. As Harkinson observes:

That, however, may again depend on massive subsidies—in this case funding to battery researchers and manufacturers by the governments of Japan and China. Over the past five years, Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization, a public-private partnership founded in 1980, has pumped roughly $400 million into developing advanced battery technologies. Tesla’s Panasonic cells also might be pricier if not for subsidies the company received to expand its battery plants in Kasai and Osaka.

When Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill reaffirming Michigan’s protectionist legislation for traditional automobile franchise dealers, auto blog Jalopnik reported GM’s position as follows:

“Competition is always healthy,” GM spokeswoman Heather Rosenker tells Jalopnik. “But it needs to be on a level playing field.”

In the context of the substantial aid Tesla receives from federal, state and foreign governments, it is easier to have some sympathy for the plight of traditional manufacturers—and their dealers.

Ultimately, that sympathy shines a spotlight on the problems created when government starts “tinkering” in the market. Inevitably, that initial, well-intentioned tinkering necessitates ever more intrusive secondary tinkering aimed at remediating the unintended side effects of its initial foray into the market.

Consider health care. Inflation in the cost of U.S. health care began to outpace the general rate of inflation when the government began subsidizing health care costs. Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman has estimated that real per capita health spending is twice what it would be in the absence of third party payments, and that Medicare and Medicaid are responsible for 43% of that increase. The remaining portion can be blamed in large part on the third party payments from mandated employer health care coverage, further separating patients from the cost of their care and eliminating the market forces that would otherwise keep costs down. Add to the foregoing the government-enforced monopolies on health care education, leading to 22% fewer medical schools in the United States now than one hundred years ago, despite a 300% increase in population, and attendant provider shortage. All that well-intentioned tinkering created a whole host of ugly, unintended side effects, necessitating more tinkering. The federal government responded with the Affordable Care Act and its accompanying thousands of pages of new regulations.

Everywhere the pattern repeats. The cost of higher education outpaces general inflation precisely because the government wants to help people pay for it. The unintended side effect is increasing numbers of graduates with useless degrees and few job prospects, necessitating further tinkering in the form of loan relief, jobs programs and minimum wage hikes. The Federal Reserve suppresses interest rates to artificial lows in the well-intended effort to speed recovery from the bust of the dot-com bubble. The unintended (in this case, it may actually have been intended, at least by Paul Krugman) side effect is a new bubble in housing. When that bubble bursts, the government must step in to bail people and banks out of their bad investments, create new bureaucracies and new regulations making it harder for people to qualify for loans (in contrast to previous tinkering designed to make it easier).

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I am not a radical free-marketer because I dislike poor people or have a special love for corporations. I am a radical free marketer because I know no amount of tinkering ever produces results as beneficial as what the market produces, naturally and efficiently, all on its own.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Oregon’s GMO Labeling Measure Is Cronyism For Big Organic

 

 

freeandequal

Recently, I was sent a post that Free and Equal, a pro-Liberty organization that many Student libertarians take part working with,  stating that Labeling is important, and the “Evil corporations” are pouring money into preventing GMO-Labeling. They felt the need to explain themselves by saying that, it’s okay to donate money, but where it comes from is the problem. That Big Organic is just trying to help people, and GMO’s areevil. So the GMO Shill King decided to take time to tear this apart and explain the issue with libertarians supporting woo-filled amendments, which are tied to special interests.
While, it is public knowledge that No on measure 92 has raised almost double the money the Yes side has, and yes Monsanto, Dupont, and Syngenta have been some of the key donors to the No side, and Big Organic has funneled majority of the Funds into the the Yes side. Saying one side is evil and doesn’t want you to know, is not the correct argument, so let’s examine the text of Measure 92.
The first three really can be covered together, since they are exceptionally misleading. Polls have not consistently showed anything they very between 40-70%, not very accurate and consistent if you ask me, and are these people actually informed on the measure themselves, or the Science behind Genetic Modification?  Two, well what evidence do they have of health reasons, economic does not exist since GE’d foods are exceptionally cheaper than there “Certified Organic” counter-part, and what culture in the world says they need Food labeling — If you ask me that is exceptionally hyperbolic? Number Three is even more so misleading, when you bring Codex Alimentarius into this, an organization that holds no bearing in court but hopes to set international trade standards to help efficient trading in the globalized world, it is important to realize that even the “Book of Food” has said GMO’s have no evidence to claim they pose any health concerns, and that is why it should be left up to the countries. Every major NGO or Institute of science in a given country has spoken fiercely against these countries that require arbitrary labeling or an outright ban on Genetic Engineering, these bans have been political to support popular opinion rather than based on fact.

 

So, numbers 4-7 are screaming blatant lies. The FDA actually requires some of the strictest testing in the world on genetically altered foods, they also require several outside sources that are independent or in academia to peer review not only the studies the government does, but as well as the ones the corporations use say their product is safe. Saying there have not been studies done is an outright lie, unless these 1700+ Studies simply do not count. These studies have been in an international catalog for a long while now. So why do we keep hearing that they have not been tested, and we are the “guinea pigs”? When people include “mixing plant and animal” genes in a measure on a ballot, the only reference point that have was the Flavr Savr Tomato in 1996, this tomato had an anti-freezing gene added to it from a fish, it was labeled as such openly by the company, and it failed taste tests by consumers, after approved for sale, but left an allergen warning for those allergic to fish on it, and was pulled from shelves in early 1997. Other than that one instance no one has added anything that cannot naturally occur in nature to our food supply.
Number 6 on this measure actually has no evidence to support it whatsoever, not a single government scientist that has undergone any peer review of his studies to support this claim, has ever been able to show even a theory to support this claim. This is because it simply is not the case and people touting this as reasoning; do not understand how genetic engineering works. Number 7 is another that is simply not true, hundreds of tests are done independently anytime a new product wants to come to market, it is not illegal to independently test a given product, actually it has been encouraged.
Number 9, This is not about Kosher and Halal meats and food products; this is really just another random claim that actually does not exist. These are part of a completely separate issue and tying them to a genetic engineering bill is quite silly. It is not like someone is going to eat a piece of corn that was slathered in pork fat without them knowing. Genetic engineering does not work like that.

 

10 and 11 are like half-truth “findings”. They take things largely out of context, and use them to support a biased end. As a pro-market libertarian, using government to create barriers of entry is a wholly dishonest thing in itself. When using untrue statements to make that end possible and scare tactics to make the public panic to gain support is a bothersome thing indeed. Codex Alimentarius standards, which were adopted to the WTO, are the labeling requirements for international trade.  How it works is actually quite simple. If a country requires more than COO labeling, such as GM and Pesticide labeling, they send a sample off for independent study to determine if the Label the company is using is accurate. Then not only is the label the company used sent, but the independent verification as well. So when you hear it is a “voluntary” thing, it really is, you can voluntarily label and trade with nations that require labeling or not, it is not forced. The reason Big Organic and Big Biotech did not oppose these new additions is simple, Big Organic knows that very few countries require labeling on natural pesticides, mutagenically altered foods, or hybridization techniques, so in other words are safe from labeling other than COO. While the rest of the companies who use RNA interfered or Transgenicially altered foods can: A. avoid trade, B. Label them and independently prove they meet the countries said Threshold, or C. trade with countries without arbitrary labeling requirements.  The economic value of these products are unchanged on an international scale, so these findings are inherently false.

 

Numbers 16 and 17, The environmental harm findings of this measure are another exceptionally misleading piece as well.  It talks about soy being genetically engineered and then immediately following throws this crazy number at you “527 million pounds of additional herbicide” applied to the nations farmland, but it does not distinguish between organic farming and conventional, furthering the misinformation that only genetically engineered or conventionally grown foods use Herbicide. Herbicide resistance crops also result in low-tillage or no tillage, which has been noted to be actually more sustainable, and helps farmers from turning to the more environmentally dangerous herbicides. What Herbicide resistance actually does is it causes the plant to degrade the herbicide used and render it harmless. These two types are RoundupReady(Glyphosphate) and LibertyLink(Glufosinate), The transgenic alterations to these crops allows for farmers to choose when they need to spray, and gives the ability to control weeds through the whole season, and they have virtually no herbicide present in the take, which is an amazing feat of science.  Another misrepresentation of the problem is in regards to drinking water,  several studies have shown that what Glyphosphate and Glufosinate have replaced have actually helped resolve the issues of drinking water, since the lethal concentration of both is so incredibly high, compared to pyrethrins/rotenone(Used in Organic Farming) and Atrazine(what was used before Herbicide resistance crops), what little that doesn’t get absorbed into the soil and degraded into something harmless, what is present in the drinking water is virtually non-existent after undergoing water treatment. The argument could have been made that use near waterways, and damage possible to aquatic life from the run off could have been made, but restrictions are in place on levels that can be used near waterways on conventional farming, but not on organic.

It is hard to disagree with environmental issues, but by saying it is only half of the equation is the problem, and the other half is okay, is being intellectually dishonest.  When I see organizations that support freedom, transparency, and equality under the law, and only address half the spectrum to gain supporters, and disenfranchise the rest of a movement that has fought long and hard for real science and real transparency in government, only to be co-opted and used to support their brand of cronyism it is disheartening to say the least.

 

Section 3 is where the Cronyism begins, instead of the hyperbole and scare tactics used in the findings; this is why so much money has been poured into Measure 92. If you read this part of the measure you see that Big Organic exempts themselves from the regulations they want to place. We see this happen all the time, in politics yet here it is okay, but not in other areas? So how are they exempting themselves, well they do it subtly,  “Raw Food” was an issue in 2011, when Big Organic fought to science to sell almonds with cyanide in them, lethal doses of cyanide mind you.  The argument was when you were selling “Raw Almonds” pre-2011 you were actually selling almonds that have undergone RNA interference, this process actually suppressed the almonds production of cyanide, which made it safe for you to eat after a process of blanching or steaming the almond, to remove any extra bacteria(generally salmonella). When Big Organic won, they agreed to use PPO(propylene oxide) to coat and fumigate, which neutralize the cyanide. Since PPO is something that can be considered “Organic” since essentially ALL things are organic — remember back too high school chemistry. This allowed them to sell raw almonds, coated with poison, to consumers, and since this is organic it is not subject to any of the safety regulations for labeling or health concerns, or really anything.

I proposed this too my friends and followers on Facebook “Which would you prefer a Raw Organic Almond, which underwent Fumigation and is coated with an Herbicide known as PPO, to neutralize the Cyanide in Raw Almonds or a Genetically Modified Almond, which underwent RNA Interference to suppress the Cyanide, and does not need to undergo fumigation, but is steamed or blanched.” The answer was pretty straightforward “Organic obviously, because they care about people, and not profit, GMO’s are bad” with the few responses of my fellow science lovers “is this a serious question, The GMO obviously.” This showed me that a lot of misinformation is out there, people who do not understand how science works, they learn from sources like Food Babe, who have absolutely no credibility in the science community and are paid to spread scare tactics. Measure 92 is literally a proponent of the same thing.

Where the real concern is though, is 4.b.
(b) Methods of fusing cells beyond the taxonomic family that overcame natural physiological, reproductive, or recombination barriers, and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection such as conjugation, transduction, and hybridization.

For purposes of this definition: “In vitro nucleic acid techniques” include, but are not limited to, recombinant DNA or RNA techniques that use vector systems; techniques involving the direct introduction into the organisms of hereditary materials prepared outside the organisms such as biolistics, microinjection, macro-injection, chemoporation, electroporation, microencapsulation, and liposome fusion.

This is Big Organic’s lovely exemption. This is the whole motive behind this ballot measure. It only targets half of the GMO’s and not the ones that are considered Organic. This is targeting Biotech companies, like the IRS targetednconservative and liberty groups, and it unacceptable.  While even Pure-Organic(no pesticides natural or synthetic, or CMS alterations) activists are against Big Organic on the issue.  When you read for the purpose of this definition, it misses literally ¾ of the geneticially modified foods.  When you have it so precisely defined, and leave out CMS altered seeds, which fall under “hybridization” Since they are cisgenically altered, and are considered cell cusion. The difference between Cisgenic and Transgenic is simple; Cisgenic means of the same species, Transgenic covers different biological families. Internationally hybridization is considered Genetic Engineering, and must follow the same guidelines for labeling. So why intentially leave it out on Measure 92, the motive is clear, it gives Big Organic an unfair advantage in the market, and allows for them to continue to spread lies about pesticides and GMO’s, when they themselves genetically modify in labs, just like the companies they are wanting to force to Label.
The definition is purposefully missing Mutagenisis(Process of using Radiation to force mutations in cell structure) which has zero guidelines or regulation in the United States, and no safety procedures before going to market, Cisgenics,  cell fusion hybridization, and several others. Which have no regulations, or testing before going to market, which this Measure blames on Biotech such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Dupont, and Dow Chemical, when in reality, the proponents of Measure 92 are the ones who are the culprits of these problems.
I have heard the argument of the “Right to Know” side, which there is a valid argument for. I absolutely think people should be able to know what is in their food. This measure does not do that, what it does is Unfair and Bias targeting of certain industries while exempting others from safety and health regulations. It continues the bias that “Evil Corporations” are poisoning you, but these billion corporations “are looking out for the people”. If we were to label, it would have to include all sides, and include pesticide toxicity and thresholds. While I would prefer private companies do this, If that is not an option then we must limit the cronyism attached to it, by not strictly attaching it to Biotechnology, but Big Ag as a whole.  Simply because the misinformation leading to ill-informed voting on a measure that does not protect them, or change anything, but aims to add more costs to the opposition, while leaving loopholes for the proponents is bad for the market, bad for America, and bad for consumers. The reason Big Organic exempts themselves from GMO labeling everytime legislation is proposed, is because well, if you read “Certified Organic” and “This product has undergone the process of Mutagenisis where it was put in radioactive enviroments to force mutations.” You would question what you were buying.

What measure 92 is doing is furthering the hyperbole, and destroying the market. There are plenty of reasons to not like Monsanto, or any other Big Ag group, this is not one of them, the motivation behind them funding “No on Measure 92” is them fighting an unfair market regulation, and hyperbole, any business would fight lies and giving another company and unfair advantage. If we want to attack the “Evil Corporations” let’s go to congress and fight agriculture subsidies,  and crony politics used to get them, on both sides of this measure.

When “Free and Equal” says “Big Money is not just an amount, but who is behind it.” When challenged about Big Organic pouring money into this measure as well.  The response is appalling, it essentially says “Big money is fine as long as it is the Cronies I support, not the ones you support” then add “For their own pocket and not the people” is very intellectually dishonest if you read the actual ballot measure. At least Free and Equal disclosed that they are sponsored by a proponent of Measure 92, but still if they support real freedom and equality under the law, they would still be actively against measure 92, since it goes against everything an organization that pushes government transparency and equality under the Law. I have been in this movement for over a decade, and am scared when I see it coopted by people who think “Big money is bad, crony capitalism is bad, but unless it looks like it is for people then it is good”  Which is essentially what Free and Equal said here.
They are exactly right though, it is important to examine the motive behind Big Money, because Measure 92, the money behind it, is very much against the consumer, against the market, and against half the industry. This measure is something conservatives, libertarians, and progressives can come together on the one thing we all agree on, crony capitalism is what is wrong with this Country, and we need to fight to end that. This measure shows exactly the problem with fear-mongering and scare tactics can do, and how easy it is to push something like this onto people with clear motives to target a certain group and create new barriers of entry and extra cost to the consumer.

If you believe in labeling or not, you should vote NO on Measure 92, because it isn’t a labeling bill, it is a targeted bill, and exempts Big Organic, if you want labeling lets work together and create a real labeling bill that is fair to the whole market—That’s only if you think it is a right to know what is in your food.

What’s that got to do with the price of whiskey in West Virginia

Sometimes it can be hard for people to grasp how government distortion of the free market actually impacts them, and why it’s such a corrosive and destructive force.

The whole issue is so big, and so pervasive, that people can’t relate to it, or focus on it, or see how it hurts them personally… at least until it does something like say, get them thrown in jail, or shuts down their business, or costs them their job; at which point the local news stories and the facebook posts and the buzzfeed and upworthy click bait flood out with sympathy for the individual story… but the larger issue is never addressed.

In this short post, consisting of nothing but some bare facts, Gizmodo illustrates the direct personal impact of the nanny state, rent seeking, regulatory capture, state sponsored monopolies, and regressive tax policies… all in one piece about whiskey:

GIZMODO: How Much a Bottle of Whiskey Costs in Every State

Alcoholic beverage sales in the United States are a nearly perfect example of government induced market distortion.

In many states (18 as of this writing), all liquor sales and pricing are exclusively controlled by the state. Some states (and many cities and towns) explicitly set the minimum price for which a bottle or a drink can be sold. In ALL states, there is relatively restrictive licensing to sell liquor (often extremely restrictive, and almost always politically controlled).

Additionally, most states require liquor retailers purchase their liquor either from the state directly, or from a strictly limited number of state licensed distributors.

This can extend to ridiculous extremes, such as Florida, where a recent reinterpretation of the law requires brew pubs to sell their product to a state licensed distributor, who then sell it back to them (both required to sell at a minimum price, and both paying taxes on the “sales” between each other, and THEN retail taxes on top) just so they can serve their own customers.

The states offer many rationales for these restrictive regulatory regimes, including reducing drinking, limited access to minors, reducing fraud and tax cheating…

…All of which have not only been ineffective, they have in fact generally had an impact opposite of their stated intent.

The REAL purpose behind this restrictive control, is of course the real purpose of most restrictive licensing and pricing schemes…

Power, Control, and Money

Retail, restaurant, and bar liquor licenses, in restrictive licensing areas; can sell for huge amounts of money, or can be subject to years of delays (or both); generally at the whim of politicians and bureaucrats .

These business owners, are mostly willing to play along with this scheme, because it limits their competition, and it increase the value of their business (which they can later sell for a very high price).

In fact, in some areas, local liquor license holders are allowed input (or even a veto) on whether a new business can obtain a liquor license, or whether (or to whom) a liquor license can be transferred.

Even if a license holder is opposed to restrictive licensing, they may have had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars… even millions in some cities… to obtain their license (or to purchase a business that already had one, which is often the only way to get a license); so often they actively work against reform, because they don’t want to see the value of their investment plummet.

Liquor distribution can be even more lucrative, particularly with state granted near monopolies, and often state regulated minimum pricing; guaranteeing distributors little or no competition and huge profits.Some states go so far as to only license a handful of distributors for the entire state, or even license them exclusively within certain counties, municipalities or regions; giving them effective monopolies on all liquor sales in their areas.

Of course, as with anything of great value, the politicians and bureaucrats who control licensing, can get great benefit from granting them, allowing them to be transferred,  reducing the costs associated with obtaining them; or more destructively, for NOT granting a license to a potential competitor.

A few minutes talking with anyone in the hospitality trade, or anyone with an interest in government corruption, and you’ll hear endless stories of shakedowns, bribes, organized crime influence, naked influence peddling…

Liquor licensing is possibly the single most corrupt area of government in this country… and that’s really saying something.

And then there’s the taxes… oh the taxes…

Even if we ignore the inherently corrupt and corrupting issue of restrictive licensing,  the states (and for that matter federal government), derive considerable revenues from liquor sales.

In some states, there is both an excise tax on all alcohol sales, PLUS a “spirit tax” (charged per gallon of “spirituous liquor”), AND a separate (and much higher) sales tax on alcohol or spirits (beer, wine, and “spirituous liquors” are often taxed very differently).

In Washington state (the highest alcohol tax state, which has only recently decided to allow, in a very limited and restricted way, sales of liquor through some private retailers), the combined excise and spirit tax is $35.22 a gallon, PLUS a 20.5% sales tax on liquor (the national average is $5.33 per gallon, and most states do have a separate sales tax for spirits)

… But wait, there’s more… 

Washington, like many other states, also charges all liquor retailers and distributors an additional fee; which in their case, is 17% of gross revenues from alcohol sales.

Obviously, businesses are going to pass that fee onto consumers; so, in effect, Washington is adding a 37.5% sales tax, on top of the spirit tax, to every sale.

For a 750ml bottle of whiskey costing $18, that ends up being $6.98 in excise tax (hidden from the consumer), plus $6.75 in sales tax; a total of  $11.02 for the whiskey, and $13.73 in tax.

This map, from  http://www.Taxfoundation.org , shows the spirit taxes around the country (not including additional sales taxes on spirits):

State Spirit Tax Rates

 

All of this of course, is on top of the federal taxes on liquor manufacture, distribution, and sales; which for “spirituous liquors” (generally defined as alcohol for human consumption, packaged and sold above “50 proof” or 25% ethanol by volume) are $13.50 per proof gallon (a “proof gallon” is the amount of ethanol in one gallon of 100 proof liquor. If you are distilling and blending 80 proof liquor, the tax will be 80% of that rate per gallon. For an 80 proof 750ml bottle of whiskey, the federal spirit excise is $2.14).

These federal taxes are first paid directly by the producer to the ATF. Then more taxes are paid from the distributors, and finally, by the retailers.

So actually, that example above? It’s not really a total of  $11.02 for the whiskey, and $13.73 in tax… It’s really a total of…

…Well, if we tried to do a real total cost accounting for what the total tax burden, including all liquor taxes, sales taxes, and regulatory compliance costs… It’s probably more like $3 for the whiskey, $6 in federal taxes and other compliance and regulatory costs, and $16 in state taxes, and compliance and regulatory costs.

And then there’s the actual state monopolies…

Some states don’t bother taxing liquor separately, or they tax it at “normal” rates as they would any other product; they just hold a legal monopoly on all liquor sales.

The revenues available to the states through liquor sales are so great in fact, that in a rare example of a state government doing something that makes economic sense, and is even almost libertarian (as libertarian as any state controlled enterprise could be anyway); the state of New Hampshire (which has no income or sales tax) explicitly operates their state controlled liquor stores as a (relatively) efficient business, with good pricing and marketing designed to attract buyers from other states; helping them to keep tax burdens in the state otherwise among the lowest in the nation.

If you’ve ever driven into or out of New Hampshire on I-93 or I-95, those giant Costco sized buildings on both sides of the highway at the first rest stop after the tolls  (of course they’re after the tolls… have to capture that revenue), are state liquor stores; specifically designed and located to capture sales and revenue from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine, and New York residents, many of whom drive to New Hampshire specifically to buy liquor and avoid the high prices and taxes in their own states (appx. 50% of all liquor sales in NH are to out of state residents, about 50% of which come from the four state liquor stores on 93 and 95).

Just how much difference does this make to the price of whiskey? 

Like I said above, it’s all so big, so pervasive, it can be hard to get a handle on. Some of the costs you can see directly, like sales taxes. Some of them are partially hidden, like excise taxes. Some of them are completely hidden, like the costs of reduced competition, and the costs of regulatory compliance (in economics these are called hidden externalities).

How about we simplify, and just show you the money?

One product, compared across all 50 states, and just see how the regulatory and tax environments in each state effect the price…

Gizmodo chose the most common and popular American whiskey, in the most popular sized bottle: A 750ml bottle of Jack Daniels (which by the way sells for about $8 from the distiller to the distributors, which includes the $2.14 in tax paid by the distiller to the ATF).

What do you think the price difference might be?

On one 750ml bottle of Americas best selling whiskey, what do you think the price difference might be from state to state? (this is comparing the lowest advertised or verifiable price within a state, not cherrypicking a high price)

Oh and by the way, this includes the excise tax, but DOES NOT include sales tax (making the differences even higher).

$1… $2… $5… $10?

How about $20…

Well, actually, $19.

In New Mexico, you can get a bottle of Jack for $15.99. In Alaska, that same bottle costs $35…

Ok… well.. that’s Alaska… transportation costs and all that, right?

Jack Daniels is famously distilled in Lynchburg Tennessee, which by the way, is in a dry county, where all alcohol sales are banned (as is the case in appx 220 counties in 32 states, with another 250 or so counties having near bans or extremely tight restrictions). How much does a bottle of Jack cost in Tennessee?

$25…

Yes, Jack Daniels costs $10 more IN THE STATE THE STUFF IS ACTUALLY MADE, than it does 1300 miles away in New Mexico.

Even worse, is West Virginia, which almost shares a border with Tennessee (less than 30 miles of the extreme western edge of Virginia separate them… My wifes family is from there, it’s a very pretty drive, I highly recommend it), where a bottle of jack costs… wait for it… $32.99.

It’s not just the taxes… it’s all of the other effects of the regulatory burden…

The great part of this comparison is that it accounts for more than just the tax rates. It shows you the complete total cost impact of market distortions and differential burdens across the states; not just for alcohol, but for retail business in general.
Tennessee has one of the lowest spirit taxes in the country, at only $4.46 per gallon, but a bottle of Jack costs $32.99. Washington has the highest taxes in the country, at $35.22 per gallon, but a bottle of Jack costs $18.99 (again, both before sales tax).

Show me the numbers

From the Gizmodo piece:

Here’s the complete list, arranged by price:

  1. New Mexico: $15.99 (Quarter’s Discount Liquors, Albuquerque)
  2. Arizona: $16.99 (Total Wine and More, Phoenix)
  3. Florida: $17.99 (Wine and More, Daytona Beach)
  4. Texas: $17.99 (Wine and More, Dallas)
  5. California: $17.99 (BevMo, Culver City)
  6. Washington: $17.99 (BevMo, Bellingham)
  7. Oklahoma: $18.53 (Bryan’s Liquor Warehouse, Oklahoma City)
  8. Nevada: $19.99 (Lee’s Discount Liquor, Las Vegas)
  9. Louisiana: $19.99 (Prytania Liquor Store, New Orleans)
  10. Wisconsin: $19.99 (WI Discount Liquor, Milwaukee)
  11. Kansas: $19.99 (Lukas Liquor, Overland Park)
  12. Missouri: $19.99 (Lukas Liquor, Kansas City)
  13. Minnesota: $19.99 (Zipp’s Liquor, Minneapolis)
  14. Illinois: $19.99 (Binny’s, Chicago)
  15. Maine: $19.99 (Lou’s Beverage Barn, Augusta)
  16. Wyoming: $20.99 (Dell Range Liquor Store, Cheyenne)
  17. Delaware: $21.99 (Tri-State Liquors, Claymont)
  18. Georgia: $21.99 (Midtown Liquor, Atlanta)
  19. South Carolina: $22.90 (Burris Liquor Store, Charleston)
  20. Colorado: $22.99 (Colorado Liquor Mart, Denver)
  21. Pennsylvania: $22.99 (Wine and Spirits Store, Philadelphia)
  22. Mississippi: $23.32 (Stanley’s Liquor and Wine, Jackson)
  23. Idaho: $23.95 (State Run Liquor Store, 17th and State, Boise)
  24. South Dakota: $23.94 (Capital City Wine & Spirits, Pierre)
  25. Indiana: $23.99 (Nick’s Liquor Store, Hammond)
  26. Maryland: $23.99 (Eastport Liquors, Annapolis)
  27. Nebraska: $23.99 (The Still, Lincoln)
  28. Alabama: $23.99 (ABC Liquors, statewide)
  29. Vermont: $24.00 (Beverage Warehouse, Winooski)
  30. Ohio: $24.25 (Campus State Liquor Store, Columbus)
  31. Arkansas: $24.52 (Lake Liquors, Maumelle)
  32. Virginia: $24.90 (ABC Store, Richmond)
  33. Oregon: $24.95 (Northside Liquor Store, Eugene)
  34. Tennessee: $24.99 (Frugal MacDoogal Liquor Warehouse, Nashville)
  35. Connecticut: $24.99 (BevMax, Stamford)
  36. New Jersey: $24.99 (Super Buy Rite, Jersey City)
  37. North Dakota: $24.99 (Empire Liquors, Fargo)
  38. Utah: $25.49 (State Liquor Store, Salt Lake City)
  39. New Hampshire: $25.99 (Liquor and Wine Outlet, New London)
  40. Kentucky: $25.99 (Old Town Wine and Spirits, Louisville)
  41. Montana: $26.75 (Bottle and Shots West Liquor Store Billings)
  42. North Carolina: $26.95 (ABC Store, Raleigh)
  43. Rhode Island: $28.00 (City Liquors, Providence)
  44. Michigan: $28.62 (Calumet Market and Spirits, Detroit)
  45. New York: $28.99 (Warehouse Wine and Spirits, New York)
  46. Iowa: $28.99 (Liquor House, Iowa City)
  47. Massachusetts: Charles Street Liquors: $28.99
  48. Hawaii: $29.99 (The Liquor Collection, Honolulu)
  49. West Virginia: $32.99 (Liquor Co, Charleston)
  50. Alaska: $35.00 (Percy’s Liquor Store, Juneau)

Disclaimer: This is not a scientific survey, but I tried to call basic, non-fancy liquor stores for the price check. It’s not clear how much of the discrepancy from state to state is caused by cost of living, tax rates, regulations, or just good ole fashioned price gouging.

You can see, the majority of states are clustered around $20-25, only 7 states cheaper than that, and 12 states more expensive, even though the spirit taxes in those states vary widely. Again, this just shows you the overall burden… the effects of what is seen, and what is unseen… in a highly regulated market.

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

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

How Do You Measure The ‘American Dream?’

The question of class mobility has come to define the “American Dream” in political discourse. And, although this post will take a bit of a contrarian position, it is absolutely inarguable that there is a problem with economic immobility today that is having a very depressing impact on the way we communicate to solve problems and on our freedoms in general. But this is not how you go about making that point.

There are many accepted indicators of whether a person has “done everything right” but the most important such indicators have traditionally included college advancement (graduation and especially graduate degrees), marriage, and home ownership.

The original graphic is a classic example of a complex topic simplified into uselessness. When I look at the graph, I see that, in fact, college grads who started poor move up to the middle classes and stay there at much higher rates than rich kids who drop out of high school (yay!)…but somehow the Post comes away with the misleading headline: Poor kids who do everything right don’t do better than rich kids who do everything wrong.

Really? This only looks at the shear proportions who “graduate college” vs. “drop out of high school” – that can hardly be seen as “doing everything right” vs. “getting everything wrong”. What did the college grads major in? There is ample research supporting the conclusion that most college majors these days are bad long term investments. What did the rich kids who didn’t finish HS go on to do? Were they drop-outs because they had alternative plans? Did they pick up a trade?

And more to the point – how many of those poor kids had good parenting examples at home upon which to build the foundations of healthy marriages?

Slate takes on many of my same talking points here. They mention other confounding factors, and note the misleading nature of the Post’s article title. Props to them!

But they make the unfortunate logical leap that there is something inherently wrong with a system where not all poor college grads do well later in life, or that the forces leading to their remaining in poverty are things we can fix.

An excerpt:

The real issue, as O’Brien points out, is that rich kids enjoy lots of advantages that keep them from falling to the very bottom of income distribution, and sometimes those advantages keep them at the very top. They might be able to go to work for family businesses, for instance, or family friends. Researchers like Brookings’ Richard Reeves call that collection of advantages “the glass floor.” Educated poor kids are in the exact opposite position. Many attend second- or third-rate (and possibly for-profit) colleges that churn out less-than-useful degrees. And instead of a floor propping them up, their families and friends can act like an anchor pulling them down. A classic example: a college-educated woman who goes home and marries a boyfriend who never made it past high school and has trouble holding down a job.

Emphasis mine. Notice the not-so-subtle insinuation that colleges that operate for profit are bad for the poor, and that the less-useful degrees are not to be found in the halls of elite, expensive colleges, only those second rate low-end state schools or the aforementioned dirty capitalist institutions. Of course, even top end colleges (including the ivy leagues) are now offering degrees in a wide array of financially useless liberal arts curricula. Also notice the suggestion that the problem isn’t with the failure of people raised in poverty to establish and keep stable families, but that those families are holding them back. They’re getting it exactly backwards. Every credible study on the persistence of poverty finds that single parents and people who suffer divorce are the most likely to get stuck in poverty.

So let’s summarize the position of Slate’s team (and likely that of the Washington Post):

1) Economic mobility continues to be problematic at best for the poorest Americans, even with hard work.
2) Graduating from college is a mark of hard work.
3) Hard work should be rewarded with a high rate of success.
4) If we could separate the poor from the things that hold them back (especially their struggling families and their alternative education sources), they would thrive.

If the writers at Slate would like to address the problem of hard-working, driven poor people being less able to move up the economic ladder than (perhaps) would be ideal, I suggest that they stop grinding political axes and start looking at the hard data. The data all indicates that the leading indicator for economic immobility is single parenthood, and that children of single parents are more likely to also be single parents themselves later in life. Get to the root of the problem and you find that this is not something that government can forcefully correct – and frankly, I’d be terrified if they tried.

Michigan Reaffirms Protectionist Legislation for State Auto Dealers

As Tom Knighton covered earlier this week, the Michigan state legislature let its crony capitalist flag fly when it passed a bill affirming Michigan’s protectionist legislation for traditional franchise auto dealers. Yesterday, Republican Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill into law.

Under existing law, an auto manufacturer could not a sell new vehicle directly to retail customers other than through “its franchised dealers.” The new legislation signed by Gov. Snyder deletes the word “its.” It thus allows manufacturers to sell through other manufacturers’ dealers, so long as they do sell through someone’s franchised dealer. This legislation is intended to protect Michigan dealers from competition via direct-to-consumer models like that employed by Tesla Motors.

I love capitalism. But I hate crony capitalism.

Tesla wants to bypass traditional auto dealers, who operate via franchises licensed by manufacturers, and instead sell directly to consumers. This would benefit consumers—and manufacturers like Tesla—by eliminating the dealer middlemen.

Michigan does not want its consumers to enjoy those savings.

In this ignominious regard, it joins New Jersey, Maryland, Texas and Arizona. In addition to those, Georgia’s dealers are currently, in the words of Reason’s Brian Doherty, trying “to use the violent force of the state to stop Tesla Motors from innovating and competing against them.”

Auto blog Jalopnik reports that:

The dealer’s case—and GM’s—is that dealers provide a valuable service to consumers and by continuing to employ the traditional dealership model, they’re protecting car owners.

If it were a valuable service, it would not require protectionist legislation. It requires protectionist legislation precisely because it would have trouble competing in a market where consumers were given a choice. Jalopnik further reported GM’s position as follows:

“Competition is always healthy,” GM spokeswoman Heather Rosenker tells Jalopnik. “But it needs to be on a level playing field.”

In other words, GM thinks a level playing field is what is created when one of the world’s largest automobile manufacturers uses the strong arm of government to force other manufacturers to follow its chosen sales model, instead of allowing each to experiment with its own methods and models.

As more than 70 law professors and economists complained when Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed similar protectionist legislation:

There is no justification on any rational economic or public policy grounds for such a restraint of commerce. Rather, the upshot of the regulation is to reduce compe- tition in New Jersey’s automobile market for the benefit of its auto dealers and to the detriment of its consumers. It is protectionism for auto dealers, pure and simple.

*     *     *

[W]e have not heard a single argument for a direct distribution ban that makes any sense. To the contrary, these arguments simply bolster our belief that the regulations in question are motivated by economic protectionism that favors dealers at the expense of consumers and innovative technologies.

If our Republican elected officials actually practiced capitalism—instead of its crony capitalist impersonator—they might fare better at the polls. Without a doubt, consumers would be better off.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

“Climate Change”, and the false dichotomy of “evil or stupid”

As we run up to the midterm elections, the drumbeat is once again sounding throughout that land, that Republicans… or rather, everyone not Leftist… are “anti-science”, “pro-ignorance” etc… etc…

I am constantly hearing some variant of “Republicans are either evil or stupid for not… X”.

The sad part of course, is that a certain percentage of non-leftists, including libertarians and conservatives are in fact, nuts, particularly about science… and another large block are ignorant.

Of course, so are large blocks of those on the left… but that’s not what we’re talking about right now.

There are certainly many scientific issues over which the ideological spectrum split, but likely the biggest one, with the most uniform split (there’s very few whose ideological “side” don’t match the position staked out by that side, to some degree or another)….

“Climate Change”

Ok, talked about it here before, and there’s plenty of great resources on the topic (try Climate Skeptic for a start)… But it’s an issue among my friends right now, and Neil Degrasse Tyson has been talking about it lately (before his most recent brouhaha), facebook is… well, pretty much always covered with it etc…

Let me just lay things out for a bit…

First, YES, there ARE loonies out there who say that there is no climate change “because Jesus” or “It’s all a conspiracy man” etc… etc… etc…

Feel free to ignore them, as you would on every other subject. They don’t represent any kind of reality based universe, never mind a rational position.

There are also those who simply say that there is no such thing as climate change whatsoever… But mostly they are either ignorant of, or don’t understand, the science, math, or historical record in question

And yes, there are far more of those than there should be in 2014.

However, some of us come to our positions through a knowledge of science, engineering, math, the scientific method, research methodologies and data analysis.

There are those, myself among them, who actually DO understand science, and don’t believe in CATASTROPHIC, ANTHROPOGENIC, global warming, leading to systemic, catastrophic climate change.

We are not irrational, ignorant, evil, driven by unsavory motives, or stupid.

We come to this position, because we understand that:

  1. The question isn’t whether climate is changing and will change in the future, it always has and always will. The question is how much has it, how much will it in the future, and why.
  2. Catastrophic, anthropogenic, global warming leading to catastrophic climate change, is a tightly interconnected theory. For any element of the conclusions to be correct, ALL of the suppositions within the theory must be correct. The instant any of them changes, at all, the theory falls apart.
  3. The mathematical models for this have always been highly speculative and have proven non predictive both forward and backward.
  4. The data is greatly variable ( and often poor) in quality, and is adjusted in ways that make it less than useful for a model with high sensitivity predictions, because small changes or inconsistencies in the data make big changes in the model.
  5. The catastrophic model adopted by the U.N. has some major dependencies which are entirely theoretical, and have not been borne out by historical facts; specifically estimates of forcing, estimates of weighting of various factors, and particularly estimates of extremely high sensitivity to certain factors (especially CO2), that while throughout all of history have exhibited one behavior (a stable, negative feedback system), for some reason (i.e. humanity is bad and stuff), things have changed now… even though CO2 has been much higher in the past, and it didn’t happen then… Such that a very small change in CO2 will have a large multiplier effect, transforming the stable negative feedback system that the climate has been throughout the entirety of history to this point, to an unstable positive feedback system.
  6. There is no evidence for this catastrophic theory, nor does it correspond with historical models, or models that prove to be historically predictive (i.e. if you run the model backwards and forwards in time, it matches roughly with what actually happened).
  7. This prediction has been made since the mid 80s (prior to the mid 80, from the early 70s they were predicting global cooling and ice age by the way), and the models have proven to be grossly inaccurate. They are constantly revised to reflect the same conclusion, but never actually predict what ACTUALLY happens in the real world. There was initially slightly more warming than the previous historical models predicted, but by 1991 warming was back to the historical trend line, and there has actually been no significant warming since 1994-1998 depending on exactly which dataset you look at.
  8. Human outputs from all of industry, vehicles etc… Make up less than 1% of total atmospheric CO2… actually between .3 and .4%. The VAST majority of CO2 comes from forests, oceans, animals, and soil (and the bacteria contained therein). They also absorb CO2 in the natural CO2 cycle.
  9. If the historical, non catastrophic models prove correct, and they have so far, there will be between less than 1 and just over 2 degrees centigrade warming in the next 100 years. This is not catastrophic, and is consistent with warming/cooling cycles throughout history.
  10. If all human output of carbon dioxide and other theorized elements of climate change stopped right now, today… That number wouldn’t change at all, or at most very little. Within the margin of error.
  11. Once you take the catastrophic sensitivity to a tiny change out of the model, many other factors become far greater “forcings”, particularly the suns variability (relating to sunspot cycles).
  12. If the catastrophic models are correct, either we already have, or we soon will, pass the point of no return. We would not only have to completely stop emitting CO2 entirely, but we would have to take large amounts of it out of the environment.
  13. No matter what, the developing world isn’t going to stop burning wood, and coal, and growing and modernizing and using as much hydrocarbons as they can. They don’t give a damn what european liberals think, they just want to cook their dinners and have lights at night.
  14. No matter what, China and India aren’t going to stop being 60+% of all CO2 emissions from human sources (that’s according to the environmentalist group, the earth policy institute. UN numbers say it’s more like 30-40%), because if they did they’d all be plunged into even greater poverty and likely starve to death.

What it comes down to is this:

  • If the catastrophic models are correct, it’s too late to do anything about it anyway.
  • Even if every western nation utterly stopped producing ANY output which contributed to climate change, it wouldn’t make any difference whatsoever.
  • If the catastrophic theory is wrong, and everything point to it being so, then we would be spending trillions of dollars, destroying economies, ruining millions or billions of peoples lives etc… All for little or nothing.
  • There are real, actual, proven problems that are far more likely to be important, and that we can actually do something about, that are much better ways to spend our time and money.
  • Ok… so why do so many people support the idea… particularly so many scientists?

    The same reason anyone does anything… because it aligns with their perceived incentives, beliefs, worldview, narrative, and identity.

    To wit…

    1. Funding
    2. Social signaling an ingroup identification
    3. Politics
    4. Power and control (climate change legislation is all about taking power and control from one group, and giving it to another)
    5. Ideology and alignment with world view
    6. The precautionary principle
    7. Anti-capitalism
    8. Funding
    9. Because if they don’t, they don’t get jobs, their papers don’t get published, they don’t get university positions etc…
    10. Because they know that it’s not as bad as the press makes it out to be, but that making it super duper scary is the only way to make the morons out there pay attention and actually make some of the good positive changes that need to happen (like more energy efficient technology, and more research into alternative energy)
    11. Because the entire world has lined up into teams, not just about climate change, but about ALL social, cultural, and scientific issues… Evolution, homosexuality, everything else about the environment etc… and one team has decided to label themselves “progressive” and “liberal” and “pro science” and the other team “anti science”, and nobody wants to be “regressive” and “anti-science”.
    12. Did I mention funding? There is no funding in saying “things are going to be about like they always have been, with some small changes as expected, and maybe a very small degree of increased change… it will have some moderate impacts”. That’s boring, and it gets ignored, and no-one gets any funding, and you can’t do additional research on it. No-one is paying for research into squirrel populations and how “1 degree per century of climate change will impact them).

    Yes… I repeated myself, in several different ways there… That was intentional.

    The Broken Record

    Catastrophists have a record, of being broken records… and being mostly or entirely wrong.

    From 1974 until 1985 or thereabouts, many of the exact same scientists, politicians, pundits, and environmentalists who today are saying are going to warm our way into a combination of ice age, deserts, and typhoons everywhere… were saying the exact opposite.

    At the time, their theories and models said that we were going to precipitate our own ice age, blocking out the sun, and that crops would fail and we would starve to death.

    The fact is, we’ve heard over and over again for decades that if we don’t do exactly what this one particular group wants us to do about any particular issue within 5, 10, 20 years etc… that we’re all gonna die, the world is gonna end, everything will turn to dust, there will be no birds, no trees…

    Anyone remember when acid rain was going to kill us all?

    Yes, in part, it’s because we did respond to the concerns of the environmentalists, regulations were changed somewhat, technology got better, we polluted less and cleaned up more. These are all good things.

    But mostly it was because they were dramatically overstating both the problems, and the solutions; either because they actually believed it, or for political reasons…

    Seems to me, mostly for political reasons.

    Mostly we haven’t done what they asked.

    The world didn’t end.

    We didn’t all die.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean they aren’t right this time…

    …One of these times they just might be… or at least they might be more right than wrong…

    …it just means that we should really be very careful, and very skeptical, about what they say, what we believe, and what we do about it.

    Oh and one more thing…

    There is one final, and almost universal test of the validity of someones claim that “everything has to change”.

    It can’t prove that a claim is true… but it can nearly always prove a false claim to be false, or at least greatly exaggerated.

    Simplified, it’s called the “Act as If” test.

    Does the person making the claim, act as they would if the claim were true, and as urgent as they say?

    Is it conclusive? No… but it’s a pretty strong indicator.

    Do those who say they believe in truly catastrophic anthropogenic global warming pass this test?

    Do they actually act as they would, if they actually believed their predictions.

    The answer is very much no… not even close.

    So, if they don’t… why should anyone else?

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

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

    “Bad” or “Wrong” or “I don’t like it” is not equivalent to “Unconstitutional”

    In a comment on someone elses post, another reader wrote “The DEA is an unconstitutional and illegal agency”.

    This bugs me… We frequently see these sorts of statements made about the DEA, the ATF, the federal reserve (where ok, there’s at least a rational and reasonable though flawed argument to be made… most of the people shouting stuff like that above aren’t making those arguments, but still)… Basically any federal agency that they don’t like, or which enforces laws, or uses delegated powers which they personally don’t like.

    No, the mere existence of the DEA is not unconstitutional or illegal. It is perfectly constitutional in that it is an executive agency chartered to enforce the laws promulgated by the legislative branch.

    The fact that the federal government has no constitutional authority to outright ban or criminalize such substances as the DEA is chartered to regulate, or to ban or criminalize their manufacture, use, or possession (and only limited power to regulate their sale. No, sorry, regulating interstate commerce and making such laws as necessary for the general welfare does not grant them such broad and deterministic powers… and Wickard v. Filburn is bad law and needs to be overturned), does not mean that all laws relating to such substances are illegal or unconstitutional. There are legitimate regulatory powers that such an agency may lawfully and constitutionally exercise.

    AS CURRENTLY EXTANT AND IN THEIR CURRENT ROLES AND ACTIONS… The DEA often engages in unconstitutional behaviors, and acts to enforce unconstitutional laws. That much is certainly true. But they are not inherently unconstitutional, or illegal.

    Those are actually really important distinctions. Not just semantics or distinctions without difference.

    This is so, because you go about addressing the issues, and solving the problems, differently. Things which are blatantly and directly illegal or unconstitutional are best addressed in one way. Things which are peripherally so, are best addressed in a very different way.

    You have to shoot at the proper target, with the proper ammunition.

    Also, it’s really important to remember, that “bad and stupid” or “harmful” or “undesirable”, or “pointless”; does not necessarily mean “unconstitutional”. Nor does “constitutional” mean “good”, or “useful” or “effective”.

    That’s not even a matter of judges discretion or interpretation… The constitution actually provides far less protection of rights, and limitation of powers, than people believe it, expect it, and wish it to (at least explicitly… the 9th and 10th amendments… there’s much bigger and messier issue).

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

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

    Deny/Disrupt/Degrade/Deceive

    Last week at United Liberty, Alice Salles posted a very disturbing article about the NSA and GCHQ intercepting and storing webcam images from supposedly private web chats. Between 3 to 11 percent of these images contain sexually explicit content. What would the NSA and GCHQ possibly want with these images apart from a few individual agents getting their jollies?

    According to secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden, it seems that these images are to be used to embarrass any would-be critics of the NSA, GCHQ, or anything else the federal government doesn’t want the citizens to get too uppity about. Glenn Greenwald explains:

    By publishing these stories one by one, our NBC reporting highlighted some of the key, discrete revelations: the monitoring of YouTube and Blogger, the targeting of Anonymous with the very same DDoS attacks they accuse “hacktivists” of using, the use of “honey traps” (luring people into compromising situations using sex) and destructive viruses. But, here, I want to focus and elaborate on the overarching point revealed by all of these documents: namely, that these agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.

    Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums.

    Greenwald is in no way being hyperbolic here. Some of this might sound like some kind of Alex Jones nonsense, but these conclusions are based on actual leaked documents he shared in the article itself (I highly recommend everyone read these). Here are two leaked Power Point slides that I found to be very revealing and disturbing:

    effects

    Pay special attention to the last bullet point on the second slide: “The 4 D’s: Deny / Disrupt / Degrade / Deceive.”

    These are the tactics that are to be used against American critics of the federal government! The federal government is using the internet via social media to destroy lives and reputations (for national security?). As outrageous and Orwellian as this all is, as I learned reading Jesse Walker’s latest book, these tactics are not new. J. Edgar Hoover had a program called COINTELPRO, and there was a similar CIA program during the Nixon administration dubbed “Operation CHAOS.” The only difference now is the technology to carry out these operations is vastly improved.

    In the light of these blatant, strategic lies, how can we ever trust anything we are told by the federal government? It seems the “Innocence of Muslims” video deception Obama’s Ministry of Truth tried to sell us during the 2012 Benghazi attacks was only par for the course!

    This revelation made possible by the hero and patriot Edward Snowden* should serve as a warning to us all any time the government accuses anyone of being a terrorist or a traitor to take such accusations with a great deal of skepticism.

    *And yes, he is a hero and a patriot make no mistake about that.

    Liberty Rock: “Spike in My Veins” by Korn

    This is a great, important, video. I hope you will enjoy this. I have some additional thoughts about this video and this subject posted here.

    We are the ones taking all the pain
    Falling on our faces
    They don’t care anyway
    Anyway, now
    You’re the one that makes me feel like I’m alive
    You’re the one that pushes me all the time
    All the time, now

    We are hard and grey
    Always fate, to do what they say
    Calling me deranged
    Feeling power, I must take its place some way

    Never gonna run away
    Seeking out the path
    But the pain always gets in the way
    Slowly watch me die
    I’m insane, so dangerous
    Don’t you dare get in my way
    Throwing in the towel
    Got me strained, so betrayed
    Get the fuck out of my way
    Looking at my thoughts, I take my time
    Pounding all these spikes in my veins

    We are the ones reaching out in vain
    Trying to solve our problems
    They won’t go away, go away now
    You’re the one that makes me feel like I’m alive
    You’re the one that pushes me all the time
    All the time, now

    We are hard and grey
    Always fate to do what they say
    Calling me deranged
    Feeling power, I must take its place some way

    Never gonna run away
    Seeking out my path
    But the pain always gets in the way
    Slowly watch me die
    I’m insane, so dangerous
    Don’t you dare get in my way
    Throwing in the towel
    Got me strained, so betrayed
    Get the fuck out of my way
    Looking at my thoughts, I take my time
    Pounding all these spikes in my veins

    Pounding all these spikes in my veins
    Pounding all these spikes in my veins
    Pounding all these spikes in my veins

    Never gonna run away
    Seeking out my path
    But the pain always gets in the way
    Slowly watch me die
    I’m insane, so dangerous
    Don’t you dare get in my way
    Throwing in the towel
    Got me strained, so betrayed
    Get the fuck out of my way
    Looking at my thoughts, I take my time
    Pounding all these spikes in my veins

    Pounding all these spikes in my veins
    Pounding all these spikes in my veins
    Pounding all these spikes in my veins
    Pounding all these spikes in my veins
    Pounding all these spikes in my veins
    Looking at my thoughts, I take my time
    Pounding all these spikes in my veins

    BOOK REVIEW: The United States of Paranoia

    Conspiracy theories are only believed by people on the fringe of American politics? Not so says Reason’s Jesse Walker in his latest book: The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory. Walker argues quite the opposite in his opening chapter: “The Paranoid Style is American Politics”:

    By the time this book is over, I should hope it will be clear that when I say virtually everyone is capable of paranoid thinking, I really do mean virtually everyone, including you, me, and the founding fathers. As the sixties scare about the radical Right demonstrates, it is even possible to be paranoid about paranoids. (p. 24)

    For those who are hoping that this is another book in which the author’s goal is to prove or disprove any particular conspiracy theory, Walker makes is clear that this is not what this book is about (for the most part). He also makes a point to acknowledge that some conspiracies have been proven true (ex: Watergate among these, see Chapter 7 for more examples), “At the very moment you are reading this, someone somewhere is probably trying to bribe a politician. The world is filled with plots both petty and grand…” (p.21). Instead telling the reader what to believe, Walker tells a history about what people have believed on this continent from colonial times to now and how these beliefs have shaped the political debate and very the culture itself.

    Among the earliest examples of American conspiracies shaping politics and culture resulted in the infamous Salem Witch Trials of the late 1600’s. According to the belief at the time, witches conspired together and with the Devil to bring evil to the land. Disease and other misfortunes the colonists suffered were believed to be the direct result of these alleged Satanic rituals. Men and women were accused, tried, and executed with little or no evidence. The legacy of Salem continues today. When some public official is accused with wrongdoing, credibly or not, the accused and his or her defenders inevitably will call the proceedings a “witch hunt.”

    Soon after the colonies won their independence from Great Britain and became the United States of America, the citizenry turned its distrust of power inward. Who could be trusted to lead this new nation and how could the people keep another tyrant or a cabal of tyrants from taking control? As it turns out, many of these fears were quite legitimate. Not everyone was satisfied with the Articles of Confederation. There were actual conspiracies afoot to overthrow existing system under the AOC in which the several states had most of the power while the national government had little. An attempted military coup called the “Newburgh Conspiracy” was stopped when George Washington convinced his fellow soldiers that overthrowing the government by force was not the right way to go about changing the political system.

    » Read more

    The First of Many “Outrages” of 2014

    I’m not much of a fan of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie but I find the faux outrage by the Left about the George Washington Bridge closing* absolutely nauseating. Louis DeBroux over at United Liberty almost completely matches my attitude about how the Left and the MSM (but I repeat myself) are handling this scandal. DeBroux rattles off a good number of scandals on the part of the Obama administration, nearly all of which make the bridge closing look like a prank (read the article and you will understand my point). On his last two sentences, however; DeBroux hits it out of the park:

    So was the bridge closing an abuse of power? Absolutely. Illegal? Very likely. Should everyone involved be fired or prosecuted? Without a doubt.

    But forgive me if I can’t work myself up into a lather with outrage when the same people now bellowing their fury have been conspicuously silent over far worse abuses from their own camp.

    *When I first heard of this, my reaction was “But if not for government, who would close the bridges and roads to exact revenge on political foes?” Seriously. What would happen if this bridge was managed by a *gasp* private, for profit greedy Capitalistic company? What would be the motivation to ever close the bridge other than necessary repairs?

    Bye Bye 4th and 5th amendment: Obamacare info may be used for Law Enforcement and Audit activities

    Well… we knew that the 4th and 5th amendment meant nothing to them… never mind HIPAA… but really?

     

    Obamacare Marketplace: Personal Data Can Be Used For ‘Law Enforcement and Audit Activities’

    Maryland’s Health Connection, the state’s Obamacare marketplace, has been plagued by delays in the first days of open enrollment. If users are able to endure long page-loading delays, they are presented with the website’s privacy policy, a ubiquitous fine-print feature on websites that often go unread. Nevertheless, users are asked to check off a box that they agree to the terms.

    The policy contains many standard statements about information automatically collected regarding Internet browsers and IP addresses, temporary “cookies” used by the site, and website accessibility. However, at least two conditions may give some users pause before proceeding.

    The first is regarding personal information submitted with an application for those users who follow through on the sign up process all the way to the end. The policy states that all information to help in applying for coverage and even for making a payment will be kept strictly confidential and only be used to carry out the function of the marketplace. There is, however, an exception: “[W]e may share information provided in your application with the appropriate authorities for law enforcement and audit activities.” Here is the entire paragraph from the policy the includes the exception [emphasis added]:

    Should you decide to apply for health coverage through Maryland Health Connection, the information you supply in your application will be used to determine whether you are eligible for health and dental coverage offered through Maryland Health Connection and for insurance affordability programs. It also may be used to assist you in making a payment for the insurance plan you select, and for related automated reminders or other activities permitted by law. We will preserve the privacy of personal records and protect confidential or privileged information in full accordance with federal and State law. We will not sell your information to others. Any information that you provide to us in your application will be used only to carry out the functions of Maryland Health Connection. The only exception to this policy is that we may share information provided in your application with the appropriate authorities for law enforcement and audit activities.

    The site does not specify if “appropriate authorities” refers only to state authorities or if it could include the federal government, as well. Neither is there any detail on what type of law enforcement and/or audit activities would justify the release of the personal information, or who exactly is authorized to make such a determination. An email to the Maryland Health Connection’s media contact seeking clarification has not yet been answered

    The second privacy term that may prompt caution by users relates to email communications. The policy reads:

    If you send us an e-mail, we use the information you send us to respond to your inquiry. E-mail correspondence may become a public record. As a public record, your correspondence could be disclosed to other parties upon their request in accordance with Maryland’s Public Information Act.

    Since emails to the marketplace could conceivably involve private matters regarding finances, health history, and other sensitive issues, the fact that such information could be made part of the “public record” could prevent users from being as free with their information than they might otherwise be. However, as noted, any requests for such emails would still be subject to Maryland’s Public Information Act which contains certain exceptions to the disclosure rules.

    Read the fine print eh?

     These are such clear 4th and 5th amendment violations I can’t believe anyone didn’t immediately say “uh guys… we cant actually do this”…

    … but as I said, we know that our elected and selected “lords and masters” don’t give a damn about the 4th or 5th amendments (or really any of the others ones any time they become inconvenient).

    So while I’m sure they were told they couldn’t do it, I’m sure they said “ahh well the disclaimer and release is enough, we’ll be fine”.

     Yeah no.

     And as far as HIPAA goes… In reality these terms of use are not anywhere near an adequate HIPAA disclosure release, so using any of this data in any manner other than for healthcare purposes would be a federal offense.

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

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

    It isn’t, wasn’t, aint ever gonna be…

    I mentioned Social Security as an entitlement payment in my post on the government shutdown, and it raised a fairly common objection in several who read it:

    They don’t think of Social Security as an entitlement, or a welfare payment; they view it as their right, by virtue of having contributed to the system for their entire working life.

    So, time to correct a very major, and unfortunately common, misconception.

    Social Security, is NOT a pension, nor is it insurance.

    Now, I realize that the majority of the American public believe this is so, because they have been deliberately defrauded by our government…

    First read this to understand the scope and scale of the fraud, and the problem it (now only vestigially) masks:

    The Greatest Fraud in the History of the Human Race

    Ok… so, by now, most people understand that Social Security, as it is, is essentially a legal Ponzi scheme (whether they accept that, or admit it… if they can do basic match, they at least understand it).

    What I really didn’t fully appreciate until recently, is that often, even people who understand this is true, don’t understand why or how it got that way.

    There is a very common misconception, even among otherwise economically, historically, and legally well informed and educated people, that the current state of Social Security is somehow a twisting of what it was intended to be, or taking advantage of loopholes etc…

    Many people believe that Social Security was set up to be an annuity based insurance and pension plan. That paying FICA contributions was supposed to buy you into a long term annuity, or investment plan, and that your Social Security payments were intended to be the product of that investment.

    They think that the “trust fund” exists, and was set up to collect and invest the contributions of the workers who paid into it, so that the investments would fund the workers retirements.

    They believe that the problem with Social Security is that congress has been raiding the trust fund since 1958 (most don’t know it was since ’58, but they are sure that’s why Social Security is broke).

    Unfortunately, every bit of this idea is entirely incorrect… and people who hold that idea generally do so, because they were deliberately misled.

    I’s simply not true… though many… perhaps most… people believe it is; but in fact, Social Security was always nothing more than a pyramid scheme, and an entitlement.

    They misunderstand entirely… Because they have been deliberately deceived; as has been the majority of the population.

    Social Security was NEVER, EVER, an annuity, pension, or insurance.

    Actual insurance, annuities, pensions etc… were not part of the legislation that created it, or anything thereafter.

    Also, there never was an actual “trust fund” as such… simply an accounting of surplus contributions which were, in theory, to be placed into low yield “no risk” treasury bonds.

    Note, I said “surplus contributions”… this means contributions in excess of payouts to existing recipients. Because benefit payments are not made from the proceeds of investment, they are made using the payroll taxes of those currently paying in today (this is why we call Social Security a ponzi scheme… When Bernie Madoff does it, it’s fraud and he goes to jail. When the government does it, it’s… well it’s still fraud, even worse fraud… but no-one goes to jail sadly).

    The sham of it, particularly the sham of the accounting trick they called the “trust fund” was publicly proclaimed as early as 1936 (by Alf Landon in his presidential campaign).

    Social Security is, and always has been, a tax and entitlement distribution scheme.

    The government lied, and called it insurance, but in fact it has never been anything other than a payments and distributions pool, funded by taxes.

    You can look it up, in 42usc (the section of U.S. code defining the various programs known as Social Security).

    The programs collectively known as Social Security are referred to as insurance several times, but in fact they very clearly are not. The legal definitions and descriptions make this very clear. Social Security is a tax and entitlement disbursement scheme, by act of congress.

    There is no individual ownership, no accrued value, no capital gain, it cannot be transferred, and it can be changed (or removed), at will, by congress; without being construed as a taking without due process.

    It is NOT INSURANCE.

    Perhaps I am not explaining this properly…

    It’s not that congress went against the intent, or written provisions of the law, and changed Social Security from what it was supposed to be, to what it is…

    It’s that in fact, the law was NEVER what they told the American people it was.

    In fact, if the law HAD been what they sold it as, then that law would have been declared unconstitutional by the supreme court (as had the earlier railroad pensions act, which actually DID created a property based pension scheme). It was specifically because it WAS a tax and distribution, that congress had the power to do it; and was argued thus before the court in 1937.

    Helvering v. Davis clearly defines Social Security “Contributions” as a tax, and social security “benefits” as welfare payments. This is the basis for it’s constitutionality.

    Fleming v. Nestor in 1960, reaffirmed that FICA is a tax, and that the “contributions” are government property, to be done with as the government sees fit; and that “contribution” through FICA did not cause one to accrue a property right to any asset, pension, or insurance scheme, nor did it create a contract consideration, right, or obligation on the part of the government. Further, it affirmed that “benefits” were NOT insurance or pension disbursements, but entitlements by act of congress, and that congress could change them at any time in any way they chose, without being construed as a taking under the 5th amendment (though they did say that they must have cause and due process to do so… but any legitimate cause within their purview would do).

    Justices Black and Reich, specifically dissented from the majority opinion, explicitly and expressly addressing the issue of property rights. They believed that such contributions, to such a program, SHOULD as a matter of moral and public good, be considered property, and have property rights attached. They acknowledged however that the law as written did not, and that by strict interpretation the majority was correct… They just thought it was better to make it property anyway.

    Unfortunately, it’s not… It is neither a pension or insurance, and never has been, from the very beginning.

    However, almost every explanation ever given the public, and in most documentation, it is referred to as insurance, or even a pension.

    All as part of the greatest fraud in the history of the human race.

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

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

    Quote of the Day: Failed Attempt at Intimidation Edition

    “If the UK and US governments believe that tactics like this are going to deter or intimidate us in any way from continuing to report aggressively on what these [Snowden] documents reveal, they are beyond deluded. If anything, it will have only the opposite effect: to embolden us even further. Beyond that, every time the US and UK governments show their true character to the world – when they prevent the Bolivian President’s plane from flying safely home, when they threaten journalists with prosecution, when they engage in behavior like what they did today – all they do is helpfully underscore why it’s so dangerous to allow them to exercise vast, unchecked spying power in the dark.”

    Glenn Greenwald writing in response to his partner David Miranda’s 9 hour detention by UK authorities at Heathrow Airport.

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