Category Archives: General

The Mirror in Ferguson

protecting shop

Ferguson residents guard local businesses from looters.

I had mixed feelings about sharing these two videos by Johnathan Gentry and Fredrick Wilson respectively. On the one hand, I disagree with some of the collectivist assumptions reflected. I do not think, for example, that law-abiding people have some peculiar responsibility for crimes committed by others, merely because their skin tones are similar. I reject the very concept of race—biological essentialism being obsolete at least as applied to racial categorizations—and would prefer a world in which people’s group identities were defined by their values and interests rather than the shades of their skin.

Nevertheless, there is a message of strength and empowerment in these videos so rare in this day and age that the words deserve to be heard—not just by their intended audience of people who look a certain way on the outside, but by everyone who sometimes fails to look hard enough inside themselves. I could not get the videos to appear as previews, so please click on the links above and watch both, because these men’s words are more powerful and thought-provoking than anything I could write.

Increasingly, we blame rich people, corporations, white people, the patriarchy, the government, politicians, our parents, our bosses, our teachers—everyone but ourselves—for the circumstances of our lives. Sometimes it is painful to look in the mirror and acknowledge that we are where we are, not because the world is unfair, but because of our own choices and actions—even harder to consider that we could get somewhere else, starting now, if we would but expend the effort.

Ferguson is the ultimate mirror, forcing that hard look.

Natalie Dubose's bakery was destroyed in the Ferguson rioting. A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help her rebuild.

Natalie Dubose’s bakery was destroyed in the Ferguson rioting. A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help her rebuild.

When we remember to see ourselves and each other as individuals in categories of one, instead of archetypes of the groups to which we belong—white cop, black man, Asian student, working poor, the 1%, Christian, Muslim, woman, mother, Jew—it becomes possible to consider that Officer Wilson may have been justified in using deadly force—and still acknowledge the increasing militarization of the police and that some police departments have race relation problems. To accept that Wilson likely would have been acquitted after trial—and still ask questions about the strange way the grand jury proceeding was conducted. To contemplate that the grand jury made the right decision and simultaneously acknowledge that people see more phantom guns when they are looking at someone of another race. To ask questions about how police interact with members of some communities and not lose sight of the fact that unarmed white men are killed by cops too.

Because pumpkins.

Because pumpkins.

It becomes possible to recognize that people with darker shades of skin are no more responsible for rioting in the wake of a grand jury proceeding than people with lighter skin are responsible for rioting at pumpkin festivals or in the wake of a sporting event. The vast majority of people of all the arbitrary groupings we call “races” are law-abiding. Finding differences at the extremes and then generalizing them to everyone in the group is falling for the fallacy of the tails.

Yet there is something inherently inconsistent about objecting to being stereotyped based on your race or gender or religion or nationality or class—while simultaneously embracing that group identity.

If your identity is tied to a shared history of oppression, a struggle against obstacles and unfairness so overwhelming that other members of your group have snapped in anger or folded under the pressure, you cannot simultaneously ask others to ignore this aspect of your identity when they interact with you.

Shirt Storm

Matt Taylor, space scientist, shirt wearer.

It is the same fundamental mistake made by the women of #ShirtGate. You cannot proclaim yourself so disempowered that pictures of scantily clad fictional women on a shirt impact your comfort in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and simultaneously demand to be treated as equal in these fields. As Glenn Reynolds so aptly stated:

It seems to me that if you care about women in STEM, maybe you shouldn’t want to communicate the notion that they’re so delicate that they can’t handle pictures of comic-book women. Will we stock our Mars spacecraft with fainting couches?

You cannot have it both ways.

You have to choose.

Are you an individual who overcomes what the world throws your way? Or have you embraced a group identity defined by oppression that mutes your abilities and exempts you from personal responsibility for your actions and your outcomes?

The choice is yours.

Accept that you will be judged and treated accordingly.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.
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Community Conservatism – Reviving the Middle Class Economy

median_income

Governing for a Healthy Middle Class Economy

Conservatives do not believe that the government can “create” jobs directly. This canard of the left does nothing but destroy market-driven, sustainable jobs at the expense of increasing the national debt and attaching an anchor to GDP growth in exchange for short term government employment and expanded private sector government influence. That doesn’t mean that a conservative Congress can’t stand for job creation. The way we get there is by providing the modern infrastructure, economic freedom, and competitive tax code that attract, rather than repel the world’s wealth. We want to decrease the cost of doing business here at home and focus government resources on business-supportive roles, rather than coercive ‘partnerships’. It begins with a smarter tax code.

A) Pass Corporate Tax Reform (dare Obama to veto)

I don’t recommend settling for half-measures here and I recommend putting this near the top of the agenda for 2015. Obama has, on multiple occasions, put Corporate tax reform in his state of the union address in his 6 years in office (five addresses, 4 mentions). Corporate tax reform that accomplishes the closing of certain loopholes, the ending of certain forms of corporate welfare, and the reduction of rates to something that competes with the rest of the developed world has broad, bipartisan support among the voting middle class. In Washington, such measures have met with stiff resistance from corporate lobbies who do not want to see the corporate tax base broadened to include them, specifically (through the removal of loopholes). Let the GOP stand for the voters, not for special interests, and pass comprehensive corporate tax reform that does the following:

• Cuts the corporate tax rate to 25% at most
• Creates a two-tiered capital gains tax bracket, where all capital gains are taxed at a much lower rate below $250,000 each year
• Excises many of the tax-sheltering loopholes used by the biggest corporations to avoid paying; in particular, the shelters to profits earned overseas by American companies
• Gives corporations a ‘tax holiday’ to repatriate foreign capital until January of 2021
• Creates a lower corporate tax rate for wealth generated by manufacturing concerns – 15%, perhaps

There are, I’m certain, other great ideas that could be included in a sweeping change like this, and we’re all ears. This is just a start. The goal is to create an environment that encourages businesses to take risks and expand their workforce here at home without taking the punitive approach championed by Obama (penalize companies that keep their money overseas, rather than improve the economic climate at home).

B) Pass the REINS Act (obtain Obama’s veto)

REINS is a relatively simple piece of legislation passed in the GOP-controlled house and left to gather dust in Harry Reid’s file cabinet. It requires congress to approve all regulations in excess of $100M as scored by the Congressional Budget Office each year. If said regulations cannot be approved, they are immediately stricken. This is good policy on so many levels, not the least of which is that it maintains the separation of the non-political government agencies from the political process in the drafting of public policy regulations but forces Congress to exercise some oversight on those regulations that are particularly costly. We recognize that regulatory science should not be trapped by the political process, but we also believe that unelected agencies should not have carte blanche to pass regulatory rules without oversight that serve as a huge burden to economic growth. It will give the voters some ability to hold their representatives responsible for the regulatory state and encourage those who draft said regulations to minimize their costs or garner broad public support for their necessity. It will also make public the CBO scoring of the cost of every major regulation, helping the public to get a sense for the true costs and benefits of each.

C) Return the Full-Time Workweek to 40 Hours

We’ll talk more about the Affordable Care Act when we get to healthcare, but one of the most pernicious things the ACA accomplished was to effectively reduce the American workweek to 30 hours in the eyes of the law. Democrats supported this concept to avoid the tendency of corporations to get 39 hours of work per week out of employees to avoid having them counted as full time and thus be forced to offer benefits. The problem, of course, is that reducing the workweek to 30 hours meant a lot of people just got cut down to 29 hours. If you’re a struggling poor or working class American, this tends to drive you to take two part time jobs and you end up working more and still not getting benefits, or working drastically less and not making enough money to survive. If all else fails, regarding the ACA, increasing the workweek back to 40 hours at least offers some relief for people in this situation (and the CBO projects a big surge in part time labor under the ACA as it currently stands).

D) Expand the Earned-Income Tax Credit

Right now, if you earn less than $11,000 for an individual or $88,000 for a family filing jointly, and are legally eligible for that work, you can claim an earned-income tax credit (variable by family size and earnings). The EITC is good policy for the poor and working classes and should be expanded with increased credit sizes (perhaps another 30-40% proportionally) and availability (up to incomes of less than $125,000 for a family filing jointly). Make this revenue neutral by creating a “super-wealthy” tax bracket (>$1,000,000) that is taxed at a slightly higher rate and by eliminating eligibility for certain tax credits for people in this new upper tax bracket. Normally, the GOP is not associated with eve the smallest of tax increases for the wealthy, but if we reduce corporate taxes as previously outlined, this sort of minor compromise will come out in the wash while selling as good, fair tax policy to middle class voters.

E) Exempt Small and Moderate-sized Businesses from Burdensome Regulation

Small business start-ups are responsible for the majority of new jobs that pay above the media household income. They’re also in sharp decline here in the US. One of the major reasons for this is that, when Congress enacts legislation to regulate business, it does so with larger businesses in mind. We recognize that it is indeed necessary to regulate larger corporations, because they can have disproportional impacts on the environment, the free market, and the welfare of the people. We also recognize that big business can absorb the cost of our most aggressive regulations, but small business cannot. We also believe it is unreasonable for small businesses, frequently run by citizens without the resources to educate themselves on the full extent of the regulatory state cannot be expected to comply to the same degree as larger corporations, and that their likely impact on people, the market or the economy is greatly reduced. We, therefore, must pass a law stating that regulations determined to be of great impact by the CBO as in the REINS act, should be applied only to corporations with greater than 250 employees or more than a negotiable amount of total assets.

F) Repeal Sarbanes-Oxley and Replace with Common Sense Reporting

Again on the subject of over-regulation, this panic-move following Enron’s collapse is among the worst offenders for needless corporate regulatory burden, annually costing billions in the private sector for compliance and producing no change in accounting transparency. It reminds us of the mindless and often pointless busywork we used to get in school, and compliance requires companies to hire a fleet of folks who are specifically experts in the labyrinthine letter of this law. It must go and be replaced by much simpler-to-follow guidelines for financial reporting.

G) Greenlight Keystone XL and Other Energy Infrastructure Projects on Federal Lands

The latest estimate by industry sources is that Keystone XL pipeline would create in excess of 20,000 good paying jobs immediately and have extensive multiply impacts on the job market, not to mention making it cheaper to move oil to high-demand parts of the country where oil prices are currently far too high. Our best environmental impact studies conclude that the XL pipeline would be a net positive for the environment if you assume that the alternative is transport by rail, rather than non-use. This is a no-brainer.

H) Abolish the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Allow Nuclear Energy Expansion – Complete Yucca Mountain Facility for Waste Management

As the science improves to reduce waste products from nuclear fission power, and as the EU and Japan continue to move ahead of us on safe, clean nuclear energy, our ability to innovate and, perhaps, solve the problem of excessive fossil fuel emission is stymied by the anti-science left’s crusade against Nuclear Energy. It’s time to stop being parochial and superstitious in the face of overwhelming evidence that nuclear energy is, by far, our best source of affordable, clean energy.

I) Abolish the Export/Import Bank

It may not be immediately apparent how ending this brand of corporate welfare can help create jobs, but it becomes clearer when you realize that many of the businesses that benefit from Ex/Im assistance are the non-dynamic, struggling corporations not likely to hire a large labor force, and it always seems to come at the expense of healthy competition. Again, the key to job creation is a competitive, free market that rewards well-run companies, not the ones out begging for federal dollars to stay afloat and squash upstarts.

Privacy Is Dead, Long Live Privacy

Nothing beyond our reach“Americans Say They Want Privacy, but Act as if They Don’t.” Thus proclaims the headline from Claire Cain Miller, writing at the New York Times. Miller is talking about the results of a new survey from the Pew Research Center, finding that Americans do not feel secure entrusting their personal information to digital communication channels. Their distrust is directed at both private businesses and the government.

But, as Miller notes, they keep sharing anyway.

Perhaps the paradox is tied to our evolution, from the time when early man lived in caves, with few walls separating members of a clan; when to the extent anyone had privacy, it existed only because others voluntarily averted their eyes. Perhaps a buried part of us longs for the days when family members slept in the same room, children shared beds and people lived entire lives in the town where they were born.

When we were anchored in communities that bore witness to the minutiae of our lives.

Miller’s headline reminded me of a piece from earlier this year called Why You Should Embrace Surveillance, Not Fight It, by Kevin Kelly at Wired. Kelly reminds us that:

[T]ransparency is truly ancient. For eons humans have lived in tribes and clans where every act was open and visible and there were no secrets. We evolved with constant co-monitoring. Contrary to our modern suspicions, there wouldn’t be a backlash against a circular world where we constantly spy on each other because we lived like this for a million years, and — if truly equitable and symmetrical — it can feel comfortable.

Families and communities knew each other’s business. Privacy was nothing more than an extension of courtesy, the voluntary willingness of others to avert their eyes.

The Industrial Revolution changed that. We moved away from our families and towns of origin. Our houses got bigger, the walls and doors more plentiful, until even the baby had her own room.

Now technology—the same force that once drove us away from our circles of watchers– has delivered new circles and new watchers.

What the Industrial Revolution took away, the Internet gives back. We are no longer six degrees from Kevin Bacon, but three degrees from everyone.

Privacy as we have briefly known it is on its way back out. As Kelly writes:

Most likely, 50 years from now ubiquitous monitoring and surveillance will be the norm. The internet is a tracking machine. It is engineered to track. We will ceaselessly self-track and be tracked by the greater network, corporations, and governments. Everything that can be measured is already tracked, and all that was previously unmeasureable is becoming quantified, digitized, and trackable.

Why is Kelly so sure? Because governments are abusive and out of control? No. He is sure about us, about the choices we will make:

[I]f today’s social media has taught us anything about ourselves as a species it is that the human impulse to share trumps the human impulse for privacy. So far, at every juncture that offers a technological choice between privacy or sharing, we’ve tilted, on average, towards more sharing, more disclosure.

*     *     *

The self forged by previous centuries will no longer suffice. We are now remaking the self with technology. We’ve broadened our circle of empathy, from clan to race, race to species, and soon beyond that. We’ve extended our bodies and minds with tools and hardware. We are now expanding our self by inhabiting virtual spaces, linking up to billions of other minds, and trillions of other mechanical intelligences. We are wider than we were, and as we offload our memories to infinite machines, deeper in some ways.

In other words, we want all of the things by which we will destroy our own privacy. We want the ease and convenience of cashless transactions and online purchasing. We want the masturbatory self-stroking of publishing our every whim and thought onto the perpetual web. We want limitless hotspots where we can be permanently plugged into the extended selves our devices allow us to be. We want the security of seeing through clothing and walls and across distances and time.

We don’t just want it. We demand it.

The Pew Research results suggest the future of privacy may be the same as its past. The voluntary willingness of others to turn theirs heads.

To pretend they do not see.

Parts of this post previously appeared on my website LibertyGroundZero.com. The image is via TechDirt.com.

Sarah Baker is a writer, libertarian and attorney, living in Bozeman, Montana, with her daughter and a houseful of pets. She can be found on Facebook or Twitter.

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

Long Slow Burn – GruberGate as a Microcosm

GRRRRRR

We, here, at The Liberty Papers do not generally share our correspondence, but the big issues of the day are, in fact, talked about at length in our site’s Google Group as we coordinate what we’ll be talking about at this lovely blog. Without being specific or quoting anyone directly, I would like to put forward what the group reaction was to the so-called ‘GruberGate’ scandal. In a word:

‘Meh’

If you’ve been living under a rock or watching nothing but MSNBC (same difference, really), I’ll give you a quick summary of what GruberGate entails. For six years, conservatives have blasted away at the Affordable Care Act (hereafter, the ACA). For six years, we’ve been talking about how the promises made by people trying to get it passed were impossible to keep, how the bill would raise the deficit, make healthcare more expensive and less stable, drive away doctors, narrow your networks of providers – basically the exact opposite of every claim put forward by Democrats between 2008 and 2012. The media uncritically reported White House talking points for most of that time, doing absolutely zero digging and finding no evidence of problems with the law as a result.

Then some guy who’d lost his insurance after being promised that that wouldn’t happen and decided to do some actually investigating. Within a day of beginning his search, he found video footage of one of the ACA’s chief architects, Jonathan Gruber, candidly discussing the ACA with his peers in Academia in which he said THIS (follow the links to see the videos), THIS, and THIS.

Many things have been said about GruberGate, and I won’t rehash them here. The response to this story by many libertarians (not just those of us writing here) has been a collective “well duh!” We have, after all, been talking about everything that Gruber willingly admits in his various talks on the ACA – that it’s a pack of lies intended to fool the American taxpayer by fooling the Congressional Budget Office, that it amounts to a giant national experiment and the architects have no clue what it’ll do, that expanded coverage can’t happen without raising revenue to pay for it, and that the archetype (RomneyCare) was already a failure, being propped up by federal dollars all along. We knew all of that. The insults he lobs at the American voters aren’t entirely unfounded either. Many Americans, like it or not, vote without any idea of what they’re supporting. So why should we get up in arms over it.

After arguing rather cantankerously with my fellow bloggers here, trying to explain why this story enraged me so, it dawned on me what was really going on in my head. I may come to self-awareness later than I should on occasion, but I generally get there if I think on it long enough. This whole story – the story of the Affordable Care Act from conception, to birth, to signing, to repeal efforts to angry Americans who feel lied to and voting R to prove something to the left to the GruberGate controversy…it is a microcosm of everything I’ve been battling for years.

When the ACA was first being discussed, the conservative reaction was a combination of people like those in my family, who were horrified by the likely outcome of such a bill and who relied heavily on health insurance to make their various medical problems affordable to treat, but who reacted by studying the proposal and attempting to logically argue as to why it was a very bad bill indeed…and people screaming at town hall meetings because they just instinctively feared such a big, sweeping change. It’s human to fear change, and in this case their fears were justified, but instead of focusing on doing the work of exposing the lies in the ACA, most of conservatism was consumed with death panels and doomsday imagery of Uncle Sam examining a woman’s lady parts (yes, that was a real conservative ad).

Now I’m not saying I think the IPAB is good for “end of life” care…it’s not. But ‘death panel’ rhetoric sounds literally insane to your typical low-information swing voter who might be swayed by bringing a convincing argument to the debate. And, of all of the conservative reactions to the ACA, which ones do you suppose were primarily covered by the media, by ACA advocates and in the political discussion on Capital Hill – the reasoned arguments as to why the ACA would fail and make things worse, or the fear-mongering?

But guess what – that made someone like me who worked hard to understand the problems with the ACA into a looney tune screaming about death panels when I voiced my opposition to the law before any leftist. They accused me of being a liar. They accused me fearing change. They accused me of not caring about the poor and the uninsured. And they had the support of, once again, an uncritical, unserious mainstream media telling them any concerns about the ACA raising costs, impairing the system, causing doctor shortages or narrow networks, etc. were just crazy conservative fear mongering. Our detached, empirical expert, Jon Gruber, says so – read the study.

When the truth came out – when it turned out that Jon Gruber believed everything I did about the ACA except the part about those results being bad for healthcare…when he gleefully admitted that RomneyCare was a failure economically, that the ACA had nothing to do with making healthcare affordable, and that he and his colleagues had no clue how to bend the cost curve down – and then had the audacity to call us stupid for believing him, I would have been satisfied. I wouldn’t have been angry for long – it would have brought some semblance of peace to be vindicated in the fight. Except that the reaction of the left was to lie even more, minimize Gruber’s roll in crafting the bill, and then…call conservatives fear mongers again for reacting to this story with anger and for losing trust in government to solve problems like these.

This is inherently the entire problem I have with the left – every time their bad ideas don’t work and people realize it, they find the loonies in the conservative ranks and make those guys their opposition, and when you try to bring reason to the party, they accuse you of just being one of the loonies. And when you turn out to be RIGHT…oh well whatever nevermind. That fight never mattered anyway – on to the next fight.

Until conservatives are willing to call liberals (and other conservatives) out for not fighting fairly, for distorting the history of the argument, for scanning through the crowd for the easiest person to attack, for straw men and lies, for parliamentary tricks and poor research, and for their ugly assumptions about the American people, we will always lose the argument. Always. And that…is what is truly terrifying me into anger. We were right. All along, conservatives were right about the ACA and the insincere, cynical motives of its creators. We were right, they were wrong, and somehow, we still lost the argument. And it’ll happen again and again until we get angry enough to turn the tables on them – to call them out on their unfair tactics and their bad science and their twisted, utilitarian assumptions.

We’re about to have the same fight on immigration. Learn to recognize their tactics and fight back, or there will come a day when you remember how right you were about the negative consequences of an open border, and how little it mattered that you were right.

That Really Grinds My Gears

grindmygears

You know what really grinds my gears? Partisan hacks who attack members of the other party based on nonsensical and silly things that really do not matter in the grand scheme of things. Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of this. The most recent example of partisan stupidity came when President Obama wore a traditional Chinese outfit to the 2014 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit, which was hosted by China. President Obama wasn’t the only attendee to dress like this. All of the participants wore the same outfit. In fact, the APEC Summit has a longstanding tradition of attendees wearing traditional clothing that represents the host country. In case you missed it, here is the outfit from this year’s APEC Summit:

obama-xi-purple

To Americans, the outfit may look a little silly. Does it look  little like something Dr. Evil would wear? Maybe. Does it look like something out of Star Trek? Yes. It’s okay to point these things out and get a little laugh. I have seen people joke that President Obama is missing his communicator pin. Others have said that the participants in the group photo look like they are about to be beamed up. Heck, the other day I made a comment that “at least they didn’t give him the red shirt.” Anyone who is a Star Trek fan will get the reference that those who wore the red shirts were the ones to get killed off. Statements like these are all in good fun.

However, I have to draw the line at people who attacked the president and his character based on the outfit. Here are a few examples of attacks that I have seen throughout my Facebook and Twitter feeds over the past few days:

  • He looks like a Communist dictator.
  • How un-American!
  • What a disgrace! I can’t believe that he would wear something like this and on Veteran’s Day no less!
  • Obama is a disgrace to our troops.
  • Ronald Reagan never would have worn something like this.
  • Ted Cruz would never wear something like this.
  • No real American would ever wear something like this.

Seriously? Do we have nothing better on which to attack the president other than his outfit? I even saw one post to someone referring to his outfit as “Kenyan.” Kenya? As mentioned before, it is tradition for participants to wear the cultural outfits of the host nation. So is this any less American?:

kerry-bali-dancer_2695290c

How about this one? Is this un-American?

Bush APEC

Does this one embarrass the troops?

APEC Bush

The fact is that there are a lot of issues on which we can attack President Obama. There are much more important issues such as the looming national debt, net neutrality, Common Core, immigration reform, the escalation of troops in the Middle East, the handling of the economy, Obamacare, etc., etc., etc. So let’s focus on the policy debate and leave the silly personal attacks behind. We may be able to accomplish more. And that, folks, is what really grinds my gears.

Just in good fun, I leave you with this picture of Ronald Reagan wearing a poncho and sombrero:

Reagan sombrero

11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month

 

poppy2

 

It is now the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, at Compiegne…

In the United States, today is Veterans Day

In America, Memorial Day is for the dead, and Veterans Day is for the living. As such, first I wish to give thanks.

I thank all of you, still serving to defend our country, those of our friends and allies, and those who, wherever they serve, are fighting to preserve freedom, liberty, justice, and humanity.

May god bless you and keep you.

I thank all of my brothers and sisters who have served in the past; for the risks you have taken, and the sacrifices you have made.

To the rest of the world, today is Remembrance Day, sometimes known as Armistice day, or poppy day; commemorating the moment that the first great war of the last century was ended; in the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month of the year of our lord nineteen hundred and eighteen.

96 years gone, and still every year we mark this day.

Why is it called poppy day?

Britain, France, Belgium, Canada, Australia, Russia… and on the other side Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary (and the remains of the holy roman empire), Turkey (and the other ottomans)… an entire generation of young men in Europe were lost to the most futile, worst run war, in modern history.

In four years, 18 million men died (or went missing, which is mostly the same thing), and 22 million men were wounded.

In fact, Europe has never recovered from this greatest of historical mistakes. It was the direct aftermath of world war one that lead to world war two; the combination of which largely created the postmodern European culture that is slowly being destroyed from without and within by self hatred, depression, defeatism, socialism, islamist theofascism, and reactionary nationalism.

But I digress… I was talking about why it is called poppy day.

Flanders is a region of Belgium, where (along with Wallonia and northern France) the fighting in the great war was at it’s bloodiest. The worst battles of the war were at Ypres, the Marne, the Somme, and Verdun.

At the Somme alone, the British lost 20,000 dead in one single day; and the allied forces (mostly British) lost 120,000 dead, and over 375,000 wounded total; with 100,000 dead and 350,000 wounded on the German side.

The battle lasted from July 1st , til November 18th, 1916. Almost five solid months of the most brutal trench warfare ever seen; and nothing to show for it but blood, and mud.

Perhaps 200,000 total dead at the Marne (1st and 2nd), perhaps 50,000 at Ypres, Perhaps 300,000 total dead at Verdun… (10 months, and the bloodiest battle of the war, though the Somme had the bloodiest day); and nothing to show for it but blood and mud.

There was an amazing thing though… That blood, and that mud… it became magnificently fertile soil; and soon after the fighting ended, all over these horrific battlefields, poppies began to bloom.

In the first great war, as had been tradition for most of western history, those killed in battle were buried in the fields where they fell. Their memorials were raised on or close by those battlefields; a tribute to those who fought and died, and a reminder to those who did not.

In 1918, there, in Flanders, and Wallonia, and France; there lay an entire generation of men. Millions upon millions of white crosses, millions upon millions of unmarked graves in farmers fields; surrounded by millions upon millions of poppies.

A symbol of life, of blood, of the fight for liberty and freedom. The poppies among the dead were taken up; first by the French and the Belgians, then the Canadians and British and Americans.

Today, the poppy is a symbol of remembrance, expressed best perhaps by this poem:

 

In Flanders Fields
–Lt. Col. John McCrae, M.D. RCA (1872-1918)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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

Just NOT at the Same Time Please

Sharing, as a service to our readers…

From Reason: http://reason.com/blog/2014/11/10/guns-and-pot-which-states-are-friendly-t

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

Mandatory Ebola Quarantines: Constitutional or Fear-Mongering?

Last Friday, a federal judge ruled that the state of Maine could not force a mandatory ebola quarantine on nurse, Kaci Hickox, who recently returned to the U.S. from Sierra Leone. According to CNN:

District Court Chief Judge Charles LaVerdiere ordered nurse Kaci Hickox, who recently returned to the United States after treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, to submit to “direct active monitoring,” coordinate travel with public health officials and immediately notify health authorities should symptoms appear. Another hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

Hickox was held under quarantine in New Jersey after she returned to the U.S. because she had broken a fever. Since then, Maine, New York, Florida, Illinois, California, Georgia, Connecticut, Maryland, and Virginia have enacted some form of mandatory quarantine of some level or another. I’ve heard a lot of people, even within libertarian circles, arguing in favor of the mandatory quarantines. I think that these views are largely based on fear and misinformation. First, are these mandatory quarantines even constitutional? Let’s do a brief constitutional analysis.

By forcing a mandatory quarantine on someone, the state is taking away their liberty. Under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, the state may not deprive one of “life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” Therefore, quarantines are a matter of substantive due process. (For a brief tutorial on substantive due process, click here). The courts will have to apply a strict scrutiny test because one’s liberty is a fundamental right. There are three prongs to a strict scrutiny analysis:

  • (1)  The government must have a compelling interest in the law which would restrict one’s liberty;
  • (2)  The government must narrowly tailor the law to meet that interest; and
  • (3)  The government must use the least restrictive means possible to meet that interest.

Does the government have a compelling interest in enforcing mandatory quarantine laws for people who exhibit symptoms of ebola? Absolutely! The government certainly has an interest in protecting its citizens from a deadly disease. There really isn’t much of a question here. The government can easily prove this prong of the strict scrutiny test. No problems yet.

Are mandatory quarantine laws narrowly tailored to meet the government’s interest of protecting citizens from deadly diseases? Maybe. This is where it becomes a bit tricky. Some states enacted laws which would require anyone who has had any contact with an ebola patient or anyone who recently visited areas of Africa known to have the ebola virus to be quarantined for at least 21 days, despite not showing any symptoms of the virus. This is clearly not narrowly tailored to protect the public from this deadly disease. Other states require the quarantine only if there has been a known exposure to ebola such as splashing bodily fluids or a needle stick. This is much more narrowly tailored to meet the government’s compelling interest. In the case of Ms. Hickox, her quarantine was not narrowly tailored to meet the government’s compelling interest because she was showing no actual symptoms of ebola. Therefore, I do not believe that her quarantine was constitutional. However, I could see cases where a quarantine would be constitutional, such as the case of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to die from this disease, and the staff who treated him. In those cases, where the patients showed symptoms of ebola, a 21-day quarantine would be justified.

Are the mandatory quarantine laws the least restrictive means possible to meet the government’s compelling interest? No! Not in these cases. In the case of Ms. Hickox, she was originally quarantined in a New Jersey hospital for 21 days. This is certainly too restrictive because she showed no real signs of the ebola virus other than having a fever. When she returned to Maine, officials wanted her to stay in her home for 21 days. While this is less restrictive than the hospital, it is still unconstitutional because of the restrictive nature of the order:

Late Thursday, the judge had ordered stricter limits on Hickox, requiring that she “not to be present in public places,” such as shopping centers or movie theaters, except to receive necessary health care. The temporary order permitted her to engage in “non-congregate public activities,” such as walking or jogging, but said she had to maintain a 3-foot distance from people. And it forbade her from leaving the municipality of Fort Kent without consulting local health authorities.

I think that Judge LaVerdiere got it right when he lifted the restrictions that she not be present in public. I do agree that she should submit to regular checkups and screenings, but only because I think that it is the responsible thing to do and Ms. Hickox seems to agree:

Standing with her boyfriend Ted Wilbur, outside their home in Maine, Hickox told reporters the decision was a “good compromise” and that she would continue to comply with direct active monitoring.

“I know that Ebola is a scary disease,” she said. “I have seen it face-to-face. I know we are nowhere near winning this battle. We’ll only win this battle as we continue this discussion, as we gain a better collective understanding about Ebola and public health, as we overcome the fear and, most importantly, as we end the outbreak that is still ongoing in West Africa today.”

Therefore, mandatory quarantines are likely to be unconstitutional if the patient tests negative for the virus or shows no symptoms of having the virus. However, mandatory quarantines are more likely to be constitutional for patients who have shown symptoms of the virus or tested positive.

This is where we need to separate a legitimate concern from fear-mongering. I’m no doctor, so I’ll let the experts from the Mayo clinic explain what ebola is, its symptoms, causes, and risk factors. According to the experts, ebola is spread through blood, bodily fluids, mostly in Africa, and not through the air. Should we be concerned? Absolutely. Should we be fearful of every person who comes in from Africa and institute travel bans for anyone seeking to come into the country from those areas? Absolutely not! in fact, the chances of you getting ebola are about 1 in 13.3 million, which is less than being killed in a plane crash (1 in 11 million), being killed by a lightning strike (1 in 9 million), or being killed in a car accident (1 in 9100). So if you decide to be fearful of ebola, I would recommend that you don’t fly anywhere, stop driving, and don’t go outside while it’s raining. You’re more likely to die from those than from ebola. For the rest of us, we will just continue to live our lives.

Should Adrian Wyllie (L-FL) be Included in Debates?

Last week, Florida became the laughing stock of the nation once again when the televised gubernatorial debate was postponed because of a fan. The bigger story may be that the event organizers, Florida Press Association and Leadership Florida, excluded Libertarian Party candidate, Adrian Wyllie, because he did not meet the minimum polling threshold of 15%. Despite an 0ptimus poll, which showed Wyllie trending 13%, which would have put him within the margin of error of the polling threshold, Wyllie was still excluded because the poll was not released prior to September 30. Wyllie filed suit in the Southern District of Florida to be included, but a federal judge  sided with event organizers:

U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn said Wyllie did not meet the requirements for gaining access to the debate hosted by the Florida Press Association and Leadership Florida. Cohn said the private nonprofit debate sponsors did not change the access rules by increasing the polling threshold required for a qualified candidate, 15 percent.

Also, Cohn ruled, Wyllie’s exclusion was not a violation of his First or Fourteenth Amendment rights. Wyllie argued that, because the event is to be held at the publicly funded BrowardCollege, he had a free-speech right to be onstage with Gov. Rick Scott and Democrat Charlie Crist.

But Cohn said BrowardCollege was merely the location and that the event is a “nonpublic forum,” according to case law.

Cohn said the defendants “offer legitimate reasons” for excluding candidates like Wyllie and six others because the goal of the debate is “to provide a forum to inform Florida voters through the meaningful exchange of ideas among those gubernatorial candidates with a reasonable chance of winning the election.”

 

In an election where both the Republican and Democrat candidates are largely unpopular, who is to say that Wyllie does not stand a “reasonable chance of winning the election?” A recent CNN/ORC International poll found that neither major candidate has more than a 50% favorable rating. The same poll has Wyllie trending 9%, with Rick Scott and Charlie Crist in a statistical tie at 44% a piece among likely voters. Scott and Crist’s low favorability ratings suggest that many likely voters will be voting for “the lesser of two evils” because they don’t realize that there are other options.
If a potential candidate has qualified for the ballot, should they not have the opportunity to be heard by the voters? While I agree that the event organizers, who are private entities, should be allowed to invite or exclude whomever they choose, I think that it is bad policy. To exclude a candidate who is polling in or close to double digits, with a fraction of the funding of the major party candidates, denies the voters the right to hear all sides of the issues. (To see all of the candidates’ fundraising figures, click here.)
Florida is not alone. Robert Sarvis, a Libertarian candidate in Virginia, was excluded from the gubernatorial debates last year despite polling 9% at the time. In Minnesota, Independence Party candidate, Hannah Nicollet, was excluded from two of the four televised debates despite a tradition of including third party candidates in Minnesota. Some states have been more willing to allow third party and independent candidates to participate . Earlier this month, Idaho included Libertarian and Independent candidates in their gubernatorial debate. There is no reason to exclude Wyllie, or other third party candidates, from the debate other than to protect the interests of the two major parties. Voters deserve better. We deserve to hear from all eligible candidates and to hear all sides of the issues.
The third and final Florida gubernatorial debate will be held tonight at 7:00 pm e.s.t. and will be hosted by CNN. This post is not an endorsement of Adrian Wyllie nor his campaign, but an attempt to start a dialogue on the issue of open debate.
(Editor’s Note: The post was changed after publication to reflect that the debate is tonight, not tomorrow night –Kevin)

 

Fair Competition Illegal in Auburn, AL

When surveyed, 100% of Americans think fair competition is good for the economy (give or take a few communists). So when is it a crime for a competitive business to even attempt to operate in the land of opportunity? When government has chosen the winner before the fight.

Witness: Uber in Alabama

CULLMAN, Ala. — If Auburn residents are driving for Uber, as company officials claim, they risk arrest like their counterparts in Tuscaloosa.

“Yes, we’re operating in Auburn,” spokesman Taylor Bennett wrote in an email to Watchdog.org on Thursday.

However, no Auburn residents have applied recently for a vehicle-for-hire business license, meaning if anyone is driving for Uber there they’re doing so illegally, City Manager Charlie Duggan told Watchdog.

This notion that you must be licensed and bonded by the city in order to do something as simple as drive a car and pick up passengers ALMOST sounds reasonable from a legal perspective (towns covering their butts to avoid liability, right?), but it’s a ploy in most towns that have this rule, because the process of getting licenses involves insane compliance to standards frequently only accessible to the government-favored cartel, such as:

requiring background checks on drivers, adequate liability insurance and a business license

The last feature is key since the state provides businesses licenses at its discretion. If you read on you find that noncompliance poses the risk of a $500 fine and up to six months in jail (!) – a bit harsh for participating in an enterprise which chooses to have different standards than those foisted on the industry by local and state authorities.

I’ll be talking about this issue in more depth another time, complete with a brief history of the taxi business in most American cities. For now, it suffices to say that Uber is a private sector competitor to the traditional public-private partnership that is the cab cartel. The company features innovations centered around the customers and their needs. Those innovations include an app for your mobile device that lets you reserve a ride, see where your car is currently located, and gives an ETA for its arrival, a way to pay for the ride in advance, and roomier, nicer vehicles, all at competitive prices. Urban cab services are stuck in the bygone era of street-side and phone arranged reservations, payment upon arrival, and aging cabs, complete with no ability to plan your trip on your terms. But the cities love this older model because they are able to obtain revenue from it, and their model is designed to protect both that revenue and the drivers (who are often unionized).

I’ll build on this in later posts, but I’ll leave with this parting thought: Uber and the cab cartels perfectly summarize the capacity of the private sector to service the customer and the capacity of big government to service itself and the worker at the expense of the customer and all of our rights to pursue happiness by building a better business.

James Comey vs. your privacy

Today’s smartphones contain more data about your life than any other device in human history. It could be argued that they even contain more usable information about your whereabouts and activities than your own brain. Naturally, post-Edward Snowden, protecting that information is a priority for a lot of people.

James Comey wants access to all of that information and he’s willing to let bad guys get at it too:

“Encryption threatens to lead all of us to a very dark place.”

“Encryption isn’t just a technical feature; it’s a marketing pitch … it’s the equivalent of a closet that can’t be opened. A safe that can’t be cracked. And my question is, at what cost?” Comey said. “Both companies [Apple and Google] are run by good people, responding to what they perceive is a market demand. But the place they are leading us is one we shouldn’t go to without careful thought and debate.”

[…]

“With Going Dark, those of us in law enforcement and public safety have a major fear of missing out—missing out on predators who exploit the most vulnerable among us … kids call this FOMO,” he said.

Comey kept referring to the “debate” and “national conversation” that needs to be had regarding widespread encryption. That conversation, in Comey’s mind, should stop and start with the idea that there must be a “front door” means for the FBI, NSA, and other law enforcement agencies to blast through encryption. In other words, companies should be “developing [law enforcement] intercept solutions during the design phase,” a proposition that, beyond making encryption useless, is potentially not even technically feasible.

“Congress might have to force this on companies,” he said. “Maybe they’ll take the hint and do it themselves.”

Read the whole thing.

Operation Inherent Resolve Inherently Hard to Nail Down

Operation Inherent Resolve is the new name for the 2014 U.S.-led intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. From military aid, advisors and humanitarian efforts, the operation has evolved into airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. also has troops on the ground, to serve as “military advisers,” to protect key infrastructure and U.S. installations, and to coordinate humanitarian interventions.

Though the “resolve” is allegedly “inherent,” President Obama maintains these troops will not engage in combat. What is not inherently apparent is whether the operation is constitutional, how its goals will be achieved, or how things are going thus far.

CONSTITUTIONALITY

Congress has not declared war. Air strikes commenced on August 8, 2014. The Commander-in-Chief’s sixty-day grace period under the War Powers Resolution—itself of questionable constitutionality—thus expired in early October.

Or maybe Congress has authorized the operation.

The White House claims that the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force and/or the 2002 AUMF provide sufficient Congressional approval. The former authorized the use of force against anyone who aided in the September 11, 2001, attacks (whoever or wherever they might be). The latter authorized force against “Iraq” (whatever that is).

One can have some fun—and score some purely political points—arguing that, if the same authorization applies, then those “wars” were not successfully completed. Or if they were successfully completed, and this is a new and different conflict, then POTUS needs to go back to Congress.

THE STRATEGY

In late August, Obama stated “we don’t have a strategy yet” and that his administration was working to “cobble together” a coalition to come up with one. That same month, the Pentagon suggested that airstrikes alone “are unlikely to affect ISIL’s overall capabilities,” have “a very temporary effect” and have neither “effectively contained” nor “br[oken] the momentum of the threat.”

It is now mid-October. Has the strategy been any more clearly defined?

While the U.S.’s involvement “is going to be a long term project,” the President nevertheless concedes that “[t]here is no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq.” Instead, the U.S. encourages the formation of an inclusive Iraqi government, which would in turn make Iraqi forces stronger and more cohesive in their efforts to defend themselves.

Wait.

We already did that once, didn’t we?

This effort will be complicated by the fact that, as the Times reported back in July, classified assessments of the Iraqi military find it to be “compromised” by extremists, making it too dangerous for US troops to work with them against ISIL.

That complication illustrates one of the overarching problems with the “war” on “terror” from the outset: We cannot tell who the enemy is and we cannot know when it has surrendered. How do we tell which people in Iraq and Syria are ISIL and which are ISIL’s victims? What would the “defeat” of ISIS look like? How do we know when it has happened? Does everyone who supports ISIL have to be dead? Do its leaders sign surrender documents?

Until we define the answers to these questions, our actions against ISIL will either be ineffective or never-ending—or both.

HOW IT’S GOING SO FAR

If it remains unclear exactly how the US will know when it has defeated ISIL or how long that might take, it is even murkier how it is going so far.

With $2 billion in assets and substantial support from Sunni Muslims around the world, ISIL’s ranks are swelling and it is drawing recruits from foreign countries everywhere. As ISIL continues to behead captives in retaliation for western interference in its endeavors, the fault lines of shifting alliances are as treacherous as ever.

In Syria, ISIL is fighting President Bashar al-Asad, who the U.S. agrees “must go.” The U.S. is trying to help Syrian “moderates” fight against both Present Bashar al-Assad and ISIL and other “non-moderate” rebels.

After Susan Rice claimed Turkey had agreed to let coalition forces use Turkish bases to assist the moderate Syrians rebels, Turkey repudiated any such agreement. Instead of helping in the fight against ISIL, Turkey has bombed a faction of Kurds called the PKK. The PKK is designated as a terrorist organization by both Turkey and the U.S. But the PKK—along with other Kurds—is currently trying to defeat ISIL militants near Kobani, which the U.S. (and presumably Turkey) also wants to do.

U.S. ally Saudi Arabia officially condemns and opposes ISIL. It is one of the coalition members. But Saudi Arabia supports Sunni Salafism, which is the philosophy also followed by ISIL.

The U.S. and Iran do not get along, because the U.S. considers Iran a terrorist state and opposes its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. But Iran is helping support the Iraqi government against ISIL. In exchange, it wants concessions on its nuclear aspirations and a reprieve of sanctions. Fighting ISIL would help the U.S. and moderate Iraqis. It would also help Iran’s friend, Bashar al-Assad, who the U.S. says “must go.” At the same time in Yemen, Iran is supporting the Houthis, who are moderate Shiites and thus enemies of ISIL. This will anger U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, who is helping in the fight against ISIL in Iraq but who also supports Sunni Salifism, which is the philosophy of ISIL.

Clear as mud?

If not, you may have some sympathy for Rear Admiral James Kirby as he tries to answer a question about how things are going in Operation Inherent Resolve. “Military action is not going to be decisive in and of itself,” Rear Admiral Kirby explains. There are “areas where we are having success,” but it is a “mixed picture.” It is “gonna take a long time” and the U.S. will be “in this … for a matter of years.”

Whatever else may be said about the author of this meme that has been making the rounds on social media, the situation can aptly be summed up as follows:

So some of our friends support our enemies and some of our enemies are our friends, and some of our enemies are fighting against our other enemies, whom we want to lose, but we don’t want our enemies who are fighting our enemies to win.

[And i]f the people we want to defeat are defeated, they might be replaced by people we like even less.

 

Miss me yet?

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

Scientists, Signalling, and Sides

Recently, a scientist who I generally quite like… and who in geek circles has a lot of cred and “cool” (though he’s done a good job of beclowning himself in the past few weeks), Neil Degrasse Tyson; has used the big soap box of his reimagined “Cosmos” TV show, to essentially dismiss anyone opposed to the theory of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming causing catastrophic climate change, as being “anti-science”.

He is sadly incorrect in this…

There are plenty of scientifically literate, educated, pro-science folks, who understand the facts and the issues at hand, and do not subscribe to what is in fact a rather radical theory which is thus far not only not supported by the evidence, but which is in fact contradicted by it.

Unfortunately… he is correct ENOUGH, that it has become a matter of ingroup and outgroup identification and “the drawing up of sides” (which, of course, has exploded into total ridiculous “politics as a team sport” over the past few weeks with the quote fabrications issue).

All too often, ones position on this matter IS a matter of scientific ignorance, and has become simply signalling of ones sociopolitical/ideological position.

Often enough that it’s a good enough proxy for many to simply make the assumption…

NOTE: This leaves aside the corruption of funding question. The funding corruption issue is an entirely separate issue. It’s a serious and important issue that I’ve addressed before… and it is a large part of the explanation of why the proponents in and around the field of environmental science behave as they do. The funding question however, is neither necessary, nor sufficient, to explain the political or social positioning, or the passion and intensity thereof, when it comes to the huge majority of scientists whose funding has nothing to do with environmental and climate science whatsoever.

The problem is, for Tyson… and for a lot of other scientists… This stopped being about the facts of the case …or for that matter about science at all… a long time ago.

It became about sides…

One side being pro science, the other side being anti-science.

One side being everyone who respects science, and education, and opposes ignorance…

The other side being the Kansas and Texas textbook authority people. And the creation museum people. And the anti-gay, anti abortion people. And the science funding cutters and actual anti-science nutjobs.

AND IN PART… UNFORTUNATELY OFTEN IN LARGE PART… THEY WERE RIGHT…

Since the “social conservatives” drew up some pretty clean lines, with congressional support and legislative activity on “their side” (particularly on the state level), everything else, which had been fairly fractured politically from the perspective of science, felt an existential threat. Those who were not politically active and motivated got so, in a big way, quickly, when they saw the way things were going.

As soon as this bloc hardened up, it had to become unassailable… It couldn’t admit error or fault in even the smallest way, or it would become politically vulnerable. The “other side” would use that error to force their anti-science agenda through.

This isn’t to say the liberals didn’t already have their blocks of agenda science… Of course they did; the entire block of ” environmental science” formed its core and still does. If you consider “social science” a science at all (at it’s best, it is, but mostly it isn’t), that is even more politicized and agenda driven, and always has been.

But the “social conservatives” (who, I keep emphasizing in these pages, are mostly anything but “conservative”, they are mostly populist religious reactionaries) essentially unified the vast majority of science, and mostly aligned on the left (since the anti-science folks are mostly aligned on the right) against their direct assault.

And yes, often, it has been a direct assault. A mostly weak, futile, and stupid one to be sure, centered around local and state level action, mostly in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Alabama, and Arkansas… But very direct and tangible assault it has been and continues to be.

An Aside: Don’t try to defend the “social conservative” position here for the most part. If it were an actual social conservative position, that would be fine… and defensible…

The only “socially conservative” science position has to be “science is science, leave agendas out of it, left OR right. Stop using it as an excuse for social experimentation and social engineering”.

It would be things like “stop trying to teach sex-ed in kindergarten as a mask to set up a gay rights educational agenda for 5 year olds” (something I actually fought down in Phoenix, and I generally support “gay rights”… but that’s MY job to teach, when and how I think it’s appropriate for MY kids… not the schools job).

But right now, the self identified “social conservative” position and agenda certainly isn’t that. It’s trying to make it illegal to teach ACTUAL SCIENCE in high school for example.

And no, your personal religious views… NO MATTER WHAT THEY ARE… have NO place in the classroom.

In any way.

Under any circumstances.

So long as we compel public education and there is no publicly funded alternative, this must always be so.
Stop trying to disguise it with “intelligent design” or “teach the controversy” garbage as well… it’s a disingenuous lie, insulting to everyone elses intelligence, and everyone knows it.

It’s not about “inclusiveness” or “teaching alternatives”… It’s about trying to force society to stop teaching actual science and history, and start teaching what YOUR church tells YOU to believe.

If you want to teach your kids that everything their science and history teachers teach them is wrong and against Gods will and teaching… go for it. That’s what churches and home bible study, and home religious schooling, and private religious schools are for.
But you don’t get to legislate that my kids have to be taught your religion, or that they NOT be taught what your religion says is false. In fact, you don’t even get to try…

What is more… by trying, you permanently forfeit any right to participate any more in any public process other than voting and speechifying. You have proven that you neither understand, nor respect, the rights and liberties of others. You have proven, that you are not to be trusted.

If you think that somehow your moral or religious superiority justifies ignoring (or altering) our societal rules, moral conventions, laws and constitution… because God looks on your views with special favor and you have to see his good works through… or some other such twaddle… You think the ends justify the means, and you are not to be trusted.

That view makes you every bit as dangerous as the islamists… and every bit as dangerous as the left wing think you are…
Not just dangerous to their agenda… Dangerous to the United States, to science, to education, to the fight against ignorance, and to the fight for liberty.

And yes… that means that the atheists and the liberals “automatically win” in schools when it comes to science.
Get over it.

They “won” the second you decided that science and history were your enemy. You SHOULD lose here… For the United States to continue, you NEED to lose on this issue.

The schools are not supposed to be a battleground (yes, they are, but they are not supposed to be and making it worse is not helping), and your side here is flat wrong… Better in degree than the Islamicist lunatics, but not in kind.

If you think your beliefs can’t stand up to the “threat” presented them by science and history… Well the first thing is you might want to take a look at your personal faith… and the second is, you may want to re-evaluate those beliefs.

So for right now, it has become impossible for those who support science as a whole, but want GOOD science to prevail, to assault the BAD science that dominates the field of environmental science. The entire science “bloc” is in “defend science against anti science bigots and extremists and idiots at all costs no matter what” mode.

Every time someone gets up there and says “I believe every word of the bible is literally true and you shouldn’t be allowed to teach children otherwise” they make it worse.

Oh and before anyone tries to say I’m an atheist, or anti religious… nope. I am a confirmed and sincere catholic. I’m just anti-stupid.

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

Houston Loses Collective Mind – Subpoenas Pastors

Here is the news story in its original form for your shocked brains to attempt to process:

Houston Subpoenas the Churches Over ‘HERO’

The Alliance Defending Freedom is countering this abuse of freedom with legal action – a motion to stop these subpoenas from going ahead (and you can find their legal reasoning here.

Notably, ADF claims that the city’s subpoenas, which the city claims go toward answering a lawsuit filed by Houston citizens over this new rule (dubbed HERO – cute), is a fishing expedition, and that the pastors being subpoenaed were not even involved in the lawsuit. It looks as though the city may be hunting for some way of legally punishing the city’s religious leaders for taking a position counter to ‘HERO’, and their methods are questionable at best.

But let’s step back a minute and talk about that rule.

‘HERO’ states that transgendered persons who identify as a different gender than what shows up biologically cannot be denied access to opposite-gender bathrooms in any public building in Houston. The theory is that it is a hardship for a biologically male (or female) person who identifies as the opposite gender to be forced to use the bathroom of their biological gender.

A lawsuit filed to stop this rule from going live is what brought the debate to a boil, but I do want to briefly discuss the merits of the rule itself. I want to be sympathetic here – but how can any purveyor of a public restroom be certain of the state of mind of anyone wishing to use the opposite gender bathroom? It is well known, thanks to the internet and its cornucopia of platforms for discussion of sexual orientation and proclivities, that there exist a not-insignificant number of individuals who obtain sexual gratification from spying on the bathroom habits of the opposite sex. Houston is the place for these folks! Simply claim you are transgendered and spend all the time you want in there. I, for one, do not believe it is possible to uphold this law without creating a huge array of unintended consequences, not the least of which being a big increase in sexual assault and rape in ladies rooms in the city.

But – and this is hard to believe – there is a bigger issue. In order to enforce the rule and punitively punish anyone who would bring a legal challenge, city officials feel within their rights to spy on – oops, I mean subpoena – the sermons of pastors not directly involved in said legal challenge on the topic of this rule. It is a deeply alarming world in which we now live, if it is considered normal behavior for a city to decide that compliance with this rule shall include absolute verbal agreement at the threat of legal action; and that in order to obtain this agreement, they shall have the unfettered right to pry into the private worship of any congregation in their jurisdiction on a fishing expedition. What’s next – the Justice Department deciding that it has the right to subpoena all churches to make sure they comply with the Affordable Care Act or do not explicitly oppose democrat candidates? Oh wait – the IRS is beginning to consider spying on churches to make sure they do nothing “political”.

Here’s hoping that ADF is successful in its challenge – but, to be honest, I doubt it will matter in the long run if these abusive legal tactics become the norm (as they already seem to be doing).

I fear for us all.

Windowpanes, Pencils, and Paperclips

A few days ago I wrote something on facebook that bears repeating here:

A comprehensive understanding of the pencil problem, combined with a thorough understanding of the broken window fallacy (and its inputs and corollaries… Hazlitt for example), makes a pretty good inoculant against socioeconomic lies and stupidities.

Although they are implied by the conditions above, perhaps one should also specifically reference the scale and complexity problems, the perfect information fallacy, the perfect man fallacy, and the law of unintended consequences…

Some of our readers may be unfamiliar with the pencil problem.

In comments, the novelist Ryk Spoor provided a decent explanation, which I’m going to paraphrase here, with my own edits and revisions (and the addition of the last bit, about planning and control):

No one man, can make a pencil, or at least a pencil which could be sold economically.
In general terms, the pencil problem, is that even simplest and most common objects in our civilization generally require an immense number of people and inputs; to not merely build, but manufacture and sell in sufficient numbers, to make it worthwhile to build them cheaply (or at least so that they can be sold economically).

The applies to everything from cars and computers, to pencils, to paperclips.

If you wanted ONE paperclip, it would be an epic undertaking, from locating the appropriate ores, refining them, turning them into steel, figuring out how to draw the steel into the appropriate size of wire, and then finally producing the paperclip from that wire. The amount of effort involved in it would be months of your labor, assuming you had the talent and resources to do it at all.

Instead, you go to a store and buy a 100ct box of them for a dollar; or even at minimum wage, a few minutes of your time for a hundred of the things.

Multiply that by all the different types of goods and services in a modern civilized society, and it starts to become clear just how many people, in how many different specialties, with how much infrastructure, are needed to keep everything running.

Given that scale and complexity, it should also be clear how impossible it would be to plan, control, and manage, anything approaching a national economy or infrastructure centrally; or in fact in any way other than as devolved and decentralized as possible.

The original statement of the problem in this way came from an essay by Milton Friedman (which was a restatement of an earlier essay, “I, Pencil” from Leonard Read, which was a restatement of Hazlitt, which was a restatement of Bastiat and back down the chain).

A video of Friedman explaining the problem:

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

The problem with “Wouldn’t it be…” and “Wasn’t it…”

Progressive ideas usually begin with:

“Wouldn’t it be great if…” (progressives are generally theorists)

Ok, right there with you so far…

Conservative ideas usually begin with:

“Wasn’t it great when…” (conservatives are generally empiricists)

Yup, that works for me too…

The complication is the next step, taken by both progressives and conservatives:

“Since that would be great, it is our moral obligation, to use the force of government to MAKE it that way”

… and that’s where we part ways.

The problem, is that I believe I have no moral right to force MY personal beliefs, preferences, or ideas on anyone else (no matter how “great” or “right” they may be).

I also believe that we have a moral obligation to use the force of government as little as possible (even if doing so may be “for the greater good”).

Of course, that’s where the kicker hits, from both left and right…

“Since you oppose something which is great, and which is a moral obligation, you must either be stupid, or evil”

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: MLK Day Edition

(Re-post)

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is unquestionably one of the most famous speeches in American history. In listening to the speech today, I found the following passages that aren’t as often quoted to be some of the most powerful lines in the speech.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

America has come a long way since King delivered this speech. Racial and ethnic minorities have made great strides thanks to courageous individuals like King who made a stand for liberty and justice (and in King’s case, paid with his life) and we are all better off for it.

Here is the rest of the speech. Listen and be inspired.

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

The scope and scale of the fraud… and the misconception that allows it to continue and worsen

So, once again, telling people the truth about Social Security produces indignation, and the expression of common misconceptions… to wit:

“Hey wait a second. I paid into Social Security for 47 years. I’m just getting out that I paid in, and the return on my investment. It’s not my fault congress didn’t do what it was supposed to, and raided the trust fund”.

Actually, no, you’re not. Not even close.

The first thing is, as noted in the pieces “The Greatest Fraud in the History of the Human Race“, and “It isn’t, wasn’t, aint ever gonna be…“; there is no investment, no insurance, no pension, no annuity, and no “trust fund”.

The payments to current retirees are entirely and exclusively paid out of the taxes of current productive workers. Nothing else.

Further, retirees actually get far more out than they put in.

As of 2010, the average retired worker received $1180 per month, or $14,160 per year. This is, in theory properly inflation adjusted etc… So can be dealt with in constant dollar terms.

In constant dollars, the average individual salary has almost doubled over the working life of the current retiree, from somewhere around $13,000 (constant dollars remember) in 1963 to around $25,000 in 2010.

The FICA tax rate is currently 12.4%, currently split equally between the worker, and the employer. Meaning that the average annual FICA contribution is currently about $3100, $1550 by the employer, $1550 by the employee

That’s about 1/5th the amount paid out to the average retiree…

If we assume a 47 year working life (actually, the average is 39 years for women who work, and 44 years for men who work, with a national average of 37 years – including non-workers – but we’ll be generous), that would, presuming constant wages in constant dollars, mean a total contribution of about $146,000.

Against an 11 year average retirement, that would be about $13,200 a year… Only the average is actually $14,160, a difference of about $1000, or about 7%.

However, because constant dollar wages have actually almost doubled over the life of the average retiree (meaning that their FICA taxes were much lower for much of their working life; particularly prior to 1984) and because the average working life is approximately 44 years, not 47 years (for men who work… we’ll exclude women, as they didn’t make up a major percentage of the full time workforce until the 1980s), the actual numbers are much worse…

In constant dollar terms, given inflation (particularly the inflation that occurred from 1968-1984), and the current average lifespan after taking retirement of 11 years; the average social security recipient actually receives 2.7 times in benefits as they paid in (this is the SSA’s estimate).

This is primarily the result of inflation, and dramatically increased lifespan. Unfortunately, as no actual return earning investments have been made, it takes the increasing contributions from new and more productive workers, to keep paying down the current payments.

This tells the tale:

Total benefits paid, by year
Year – Beneficiaries – Dollars

1937 – 53,236 – $1,278,000
1938 – 213,670 – $10,478,000
1939 – 174,839 – $13,896,000
1940 – 222,488 – $35,000,000
1950 – 3,477,243 – $961,000,000
1960 – 14,844,589 – $11,245,000,000
1970 – 26,228,629 – $31,863,000,000
1980 – 35,584,955 – $120,511,000,000
1990 – 39,832,125 – $247,796,000,000
1995 – 43,387,259 – $332,553,000,000
1996 – 43,736,836 – $347,088,000,000
1997 – 43,971,086 – $361,970,000,000
1998 – 44,245,731 – $374,990,000,000
1999 – 44,595,624 – $385,768,000,000
2000 – 45,414,794 – $407,644,000,000
2001 – 45,877,506 – $431,949,000,000
2002 – 46,444,317 – $453,746,000,000
2003 – 47,038,486 – $470,778,000,000
2004 – 47,687,693 – $493,263,000,000
2005 – 48,434,436 – $520,748,000,000
2006 – 49,122,624 – $546,238,000,000
2007 – 49,864,838 – $584,939,000,000
2008 – 50,898,244 – $615,344,000,000

You can see that:

from 1950 to 1960, beneficiaries increased by a factor of 4.5, payments increased by a factor of 12
from 1960 to 1970, beneficiaries doubled, payments tripled
from 1970 to 1980, beneficiaries only increased by 30%, while payments increased by 400%
from 1980 to 1990, beneficiaries only increased by 11% while payments more than doubled.
from 1990 to 2000, beneficiaries increased by about 11%, payments increased by about 50%
from 2000 to 2010, beneficiaries increased by about 11%, payments increased by about 50%

These are reflective of the huge jump in expected lifespan between 1950 and 1990, and the massive inflation from 1968 to 1984.

We are about to hit another inflection point however. Or rather, we already have, it’s just not reflected in the numbers yet. In the 2000s, beneficiary growth slowed down, because the 1940s were a relatively low birth rate period for the U.S.

In 2007, the baby boomers started hitting minimum retirement age of 62. In 2010, they started hitting 65. The peak of the baby boom was from 1946 to 1959, where we maintained, on average, more than double our previous normal population growth year over year. This is combined with an expected increase in lifespan over previous generational co-horts of 3-7 years; and an increase in real income of almost 30% to 50% over previous cohorts.

So, the REAL fun, is the 10 years from 2010 to 2020… when instead of the typical 1 million or so additional beneficiaries, and 30 billion additional dollars in payments per year, we are expecting 2.5 million additional beneficiaries, and over 100 billion additional dollars in payments per year.

Then from 2020 to 2025, the increased slow down, to just 1.75 million additional beneficiaries… but still over 100 billion additional payouts.

Basically, we’re looking at increasing the beneficiary population by about 50%, and about tripling the annual payments, in the next 12 years.

This is happening, just as the earners in peak earning years fall off precipitously. From 1964 to 1975 the birth rate dropped by 30%, and has pretty stayed there ever since.

By 2025, we’re looking something like 75 million beneficiaries, and 2 trillion a year in payouts; against probably 125 million productive workers (this is accounting for population growth, as well as retirement growth).

That’s $16,000 per year, per productive worker.

Presuming todays average salary per productive worker of appx $25k with a real dollar increase of 3% annualized (the average over the past 100 years) over 12 years, you get appx $37k.

It would require a 45% payroll tax rate to cover that… Which is about 4 times what it currently is.

That’s JUST for social security, never mind all other taxes… and that’s a fairly optimistic growth rate for both worker population, and worker wages.

… and its obviously completely impossible.

We literally cannot tax our way out of this… We’d have to increase taxes to 100% of income… and then expect to actually get it (which we won’t. We’ve never been able to extract more than 22% of gdp for more than a few years even in WW2, and never more than 19% average over any rolling 10 year period); and it isn’t going to fixed by “modest reform”.

We are going to have to cut social security dramatically AND raise taxes dramatically… there is literally no other possibility.

Oh… and it gets worse for the following 11 years… well, that’s based on todays average survival after retirement… it’s estimated that average goes up by 4 years over the same time period… before it starts to get any better… and it’s not for 15 years after that, that retirements actually slow below the rate of worker increase…

… and then another 15… or given increasing lifespans probably 20 years at that point… before wages actually increase at a rate higher than retirement payouts.

Oh and the “trust fund”? Yeah, even if it actually existed, it would only be about 2.7 trillion… which is only about 4 years payments at current levels, and 2 years payments at expected future levels. So, even if the “trust fund’ hadn’t ever been raided, we’d STILL be in this situation.

So… it’s 2013… We’re already below zero, and if we don’t do anything to fix it, we’re basically hosed until about 2070.

And it isn’t because “you’re getting your fair share of what you put in”… You’re actually getting 2-3 times what you put in.

Well… for now anyway…

We’ve already run out of money… The question now is, what happens when we run out of debt, and excuses.

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

Titles Wrong, Concept’s Right



This illustrates the fundamental flaw of all authoritarian philosophies quite handily… The author titles is as “anarchy in one lesson”, but actually it’s liberty in one lesson.

This is the problem with people who consider themselves anarchists… They don’t actually understand what anarchy is (and that it is in fact one of the WORST and LEAST fee states of man).

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

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