Category Archives: Government Incompetence

Ethanol not only isn’t Green… It’s Blacker than Coal

Mother Jones Ethanol Problem Breakdown

Image credit: Mother Jones (oh… and that was 7 years ago. it’s worse now)

 

A new total environmental impact metastudy has been published, rating the environmental impact of electric cars, with results for each type of electric car and the types of power generation used to fuel them; comparing them against conventional gasoline, and ethanol fueled vehicles.

http://www.nbcnews.com/science/environment/your-all-electric-vehicle-may-not-be-so-green-study-n268961

Their basic conclusion, is that electric cars are in fact no better, and are often worse for the environment, than conventional cars (because of their manufacturing inputs, waste outputs, and the impact of electricity generation).

Of course, anyone who has been paying attention to the actual technologies and manufacture of electric cars has known this for years… They’re essential philosophical symbols, rather than any real benefit to the environment.

… but that’s a different argument for another day…

What I find most interesting though, is the conclusions and comparisons they drew between different energy sources… particularly ethanol:

“The study finds that overall, all-electric vehicles cause 86 percent more deaths from air pollution than do cars powered by regular gasoline. But if natural gas produces the electricity? Half as many deaths as gasoline cars. Wind, water or wave energy? One-quarter. Hybrids and diesel engines are also cleaner than gas. But ethanol isn’t, with 80 percent more deaths.”

… 80 percent more damage (expressed here as deaths) than regular gasoline, just direct damage, not second order effects and the like. Nearly as much as straight coal.

When you add the damage ethanol causes from starvation, increased food costs, food insecurity, and additional transportation costs, as well as damage to vehicles and distribution infrastructure… it’s FAR worse than coal.

Resource Media - Ethanol, Food or Fuel

Image Credit: Resource Media

Then there’s the subsidies it soaks up and therefore the additional tax burden it creates… Ethanol is far FAR worse than coal.

Oh and then there’s the fact that ethanol is actively preventing better greener technologies from being developed; both by consuming resources which would otherwise be more productively used, as well as directly, because the ethanol industry lobbies against competing technologies, and for mandatory ethanol use.

… And of course, that’s ignoring the damage it does to our political process, dominating the early primary process, in effect acting as a filter for presidential candidate selection.

Ethanol is quite possibly the worst fuel in common use.

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

Repost: It’s not about Elites or Idiots

Reposting something I wrote back in 2011, because it’s come up again recently in social media… and because it remains true and relevant today.

Over the past few years, there has been a constant drumbeat from “progressives” (and even some non-lefties) that conservative anti-elitism is effectively “anti-science”, “anti-education”, “pro-stupidity” etc…

This is partially in response to the fact that many conservatives use the terms “elitist” or “the elite” (in the political and social context, not in the context of achievement… though that distinction is lost on leftists) as a pejorative.

Their basic comment comes down to “Well, if you don’t want intelligent, well educated people running things who would you rather run them, idiots?”

Thus, completely missing the point.

Conservatives and libertarians aren’t against smart well educated people; in fact many of us ARE smart, well educated people.

…We’re against people who want to run things.

This idea is so utterly foreign to the leftist mind, that they literally cannot conceive it, or believe it.

You see, to a conservative or libertarian, it’s inherently obvious… axiomatic even:

The world runs better, when everyone runs their own lives, and their own business, with as little interference as possible; save that which is absolutely necessary for the common good, or to prevent harm to others.

No government official or lawmaker can know more about your life, or your business, than you do; therefore, they cannot run your life or you business as well as you can.

No matter how smart, or well educated they may be, and no matter how many of them there are, they will always be working with less information then you have. Their information will always be less current. They will always have less experience in dealing with the conditions unique to your life and your business.

Since no-one can run your life as well as you can, no-one should.


Note: Economists call the idea that if you’re just “smart enough” “well educated enough” etc… you can make everything run right, the “perfect information fallacy”. If you could have perfect information (that is all information about all conditions and factors that could possibly effect the outcome of a decision) and perfect reason (that is, the ability to analyze all factors correctly at all times), then you could make perfect decisions. However, it is impossible to have perfect information in a complex system (never mind perfect reason) thus all decisions will necessarily be imperfect. This is the primary reason why communism or socialism… or in fact any kind of “managed economy” could never possibly work on a large scale; even if every person participating in that economy were a perfect communist, acting only for the benefit of the collective.

To a leftist, that is simply ridiculous… Impossible even. Someone has to be running things. It simply cannot be any other way.

You have to understand, leftists fundamentally and fully believe, that nothing (or at least nothing good) can possibly happen, without “someone running things”. No matter how “free” or “unregulated” something may appear to be, in reality, there is always someone behind it, really in control, and making sure it goes the way they want it to; favoring some parties and punishing others, exploiting some for the benefit of others.

Note: Conversely, this also means that whenever anything happens, it’s because of the person in charge. Everything good that happens is to their credit, and everything bad that happens is their fault.

It’s called the “daddy” philosophy of government (or more formally, paternalism, or paternalistic government).

As with all leftist ideas, the basic principle of the daddy government is based on what children learn during kindergarten. All money, power, control, and guidance comes from “the people in charge”, like your daddy, or your teachers.

Daddy has authority, and money. From that money, he gives you your food, housing, education, medical care etc… With that authority, he sets rules, rewards you with things when you do well at what he says you should do well at; and punishes you for doing badly, for doing things he doesn’t want you to do, or for not doing the things he thinks you should do.

When you need something, daddy makes sure you get it. When you want something, you ask daddy, and if he thinks you should have it, he gives it to you.

Daddy enforces “fairness”. Daddy makes sure you share, and play well with others. Daddy protects you from the bad people hurting you, or taking advantage of you. When things are bad, daddy will make them all better.

I should note, some people prefer to call this the “mommy” philosophy of government… which may be closer to appropriate, given most leftists have no idea what a father is , or what they are good for anyway.

When you’re five years old, daddy controls the entire world; and there’s nothing daddy can’t do.

Leftists have never really advanced in economic, social, or moral maturity beyond that point. They believe that the world continues to work that way as you grow up; only instead of daddy, or “teacher”, the one in charge is “government”.

In fact, they not only believe it’s the way it should work, they believe it simply IS the way it works, and there can be no other possible way.

Since there is no other possible way, and someone has to be controlling things; it’s absolutely critical that we get the smartest, best educated, most “elite” people to be in charge. If you’re against that, it must be because you want someone in charge who is going to favor you.

Or rather, because they have such a low opinion of the “common man”, they believe that “the people” themselves are idiots, being deceived by the people who secretly want to control everything. The people who want to control everything have convinced the “common man” of the lie of the “free market”, and of “equal opportunity” and “the American dream”. They’re all just lies the secret controllers tell the “common man”, so that the controllers can rig things to favor themselves, and their cronies. Those people are anti-elitist, anti education, pro-stupidity, and want idiots to run things, because they can then secretly control the idiots for their own benefit.

Note the assumption there that anyone who is smart and well educated MUST know that the leftists are right; therefore anyone who disagrees with them is either stupid, or evil.

This isn’t some far out conspiracy theory by the way; this is exactly what leftists think was behind the Bush presidency. Not only do they freely and publicly admit it, they write books and make movies about it.

They completely miss the point.

They don’t understand that conservatives and libertarians have a completely different idea about what government is, and what it should do.

They don’t understand…

We don’t want idiots running things….

We don’t want ANYONE running things.

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.

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

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.

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

Quote of the Day: #Ferguson Edition

Here’s a great observation for Lucy Steigerwald writing from Rare:

Whether the shooting of Brown by Wilson was justified or not, it’s important to remember that there were good reasons people distrusted the Ferguson police’s narrative of events.

Police did everything wrong after Brown was killed. They left his body in the street, they refused to answer questions or identify the officer. They used military tech to answer the protests that resulted. They repeatedly teargassed crowds, arresting peaceful protesters and members of the media.

Officer Darren Wilson shouldn’t be punished for the impression that people — especially minorities — have of the police. If he doesn’t deserve prosecution, he shouldn’t be prosecuted. Whether he deserves harsh, little, or no punishment is still up for debate.

Read the whole thing. The entire article is worth quoting but I thought I would just wet your beak.

57,000 Federal Workers On Paid Leave For Months: WaPo

The Washington Post has written about a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that makes the claim that over 57,000 federal workers are on paid administrative leave for over a month.

Tens of thousands of federal workers are being kept on paid leave for at least a month — and often for longer stretches that can reach a year or more — while they wait to be punished for misbehavior or cleared and allowed to return to work, government records show.

During a three-year period that ended last fall, more than 57,000 employees were sent home for a month or longer. The tab for these workers exceeded $775 million in salary alone.

(…)

But a forthcoming report by the Government Accountability Office found that 53,000 civilian employees were kept home for one to three months during the three fiscal years that ended in September 2013. About 4,000 more were kept off the job for three months to a year and several hundred for one to three years. The study represents the first time auditors have calculated the scope and cost of administrative leave.

All of this is despite clear government regulations stating that paid time off should never go beyond a few days; the Justice Department, in one example, limits the time to ten days unless the assistant attorney general approves a longer period. However, one particular case – of someone who was put on leave, and wanted a resolution – indicates a clear problem with the left hand not talking to the right:

“Six months went by and we didn’t hear anything,” said Scott Balovich, who was put on administrative leave from his computer job at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Alaska. “You’re so anxious. You don’t know if you’ve got a job. You’re getting paid, but it’s no vacation.”

Balovich was kept out of work while investigators examined how pornographic images had gotten onto his computer hard drive. He ultimately was cleared of any personal involvement and returned to his job last week. His attorney, Debra D’Agostino, a founder of the Federal Practice Group, said he “got stuck in the inertia of bureaucracy.”

Linked in the piece is another WaPo report from December 30, 2012, going over the minutia of the federal workers themselves when they get stuck in legal pergatory.

Paul Brachfeld, the inspector general for the National Archives, planned to ring in the new year with his wife with a relaxed visit to their vacation home near Bethany Beach, Del. In October, the couple took a cruise to Puerto Rico. Brachfeld runs every morning in Silver Spring, hikes with Spree, his Jack Russell terrier, in the woods most afternoons and catches up with his adult daughters in the evening. All while collecting his $186,000 government salary.

These days, his life seems like one long vacation. The veteran watchdog for the historical records agency is entering his fourth month on paid time off, one of an unspecified number of federal employees who are collecting paychecks and benefits to do .?.?. nothing. At least nothing to advance the immediate interests of the government.

(…)

In a system that rarely fires people, no one can say how many are on paid administrative leave. It’s one number the government apparently doesn’t track.

There are many reasons for this, and most of them involve a desire to not be sued by workers. Between union contracts, interpersonal squabbles and outright sour grapes, workers are a threat to sue their employer, and when it’s the federal government, there’s additional layers of oversight, obfuscation and confusion worked in. This leads to many people having an interest to prevent that from happening, and those people tend to work slow.

As far as direct supervisors – middle managers – are concerned, putting someone on administrative leave is a win-win situation: they get rid of a problem for whatever reason, and they don’t have to pay the person so they could care less. What’s another $50,000? But it adds up, to the tune of $775m, plus benefits, and asking the government to oversee itself in this case is like asking a wolf to guard the flock.

The answer, however, isn’t necessarily to just make government work right-to-work. Between existing workers unions (which have brought good things to American workers all around, whether they’re union or not), the continued skittishness of the existing job market, and the potential for abuse due to personal or political connections – imagine a Democratic takeover of an office resulting in any Republicans in that office being thrown out onto the streets – going completely right-to-work would be a tremendous shock to the system that would damage workers and cause tremendous instability in public sector work. The only justification for that is that the resulting inefficiency that comes from such high turnover could potentially lead to a reduction in government because the existing one isn’t working, but breaking ones toys to get new ones is never a solid answer.

The answer here is simply stronger enforcement: five working days of leave, with back pay due if no issues are found or if termination cannot be adequately justified. If an HR department cannot build a case for termination within that amount of time, then the worker can go back to work, even if they’re a “threat”. It will force people to think long and hard before going that route. Government bureaucrats who need a fainting couch reading that can simply look at the other side of the argument – full right-to-work, which I’m sure many of my colleagues would argue for – and pick which side they prefer.

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.

John McCain vs John McCain: Ebola Czar Edition

In 2008, even though the presidency of Barack Obama has been a disaster, the American people picked the lesser of the two evils. It is truly terrifying that John McCain won the presidential nomination of a major political party.

At first, Senator McCain was opposed to using “czars” in government as this tweet obtained by the Huffington Post shows:

Fast forward to now and the Ebola epidemic. What does Senator McCain urge President Obama to do? Appoint an Ebola czar.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) believes President Barack Obama should appoint a “czar” to lead America’s response to Ebola.

“From spending time here in Arizona, my constituents are not comforted. There has to be more reassurance given to them. I would say that we don’t know exactly who’s in charge. There has to be some kind of czar,” McCain said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“I don’t think we’re comforted by the fact that we were told there would never be a case of Ebola in the United States,” McCain continued. “Obviously that’s not correct.”

Today, President Obama did just that. He appointed Ron Klain, a longtime advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, to the post. Klain has no apparent healthcare background.
So where does Senator McCain stand on the appointment? Senator McCain blasted the appointment of Klain.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who led the charge calling on President Obama to appoint a health czar to oversee the response to Ebola, says the president’s pick of Democratic operative Ron Klain is inadequate.

“Frankly, I don’t think Mr. Klain fits the bill, as a partisan Democrat, certainly not in any effort to address this issue in a bipartisan fashion,” McCain said Friday evening on Fox News.

“He has no experience or knowledge or background in medicine,” he added.

McCain is correct about the fact that Klain’s sole qualification to be Ebola Czar is that he’s a partisan Democrat hack and as such, he has no business coordinating anything. So what does McCain propose instead?

McCain said on Fox that Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell was the logical choice to fill the role of an Ebola czar, adding that she is a “very capable individual.”

Do Senator McCain and President Obama know we already have an Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response within the Department of Health and Human Services whose job is to….coordinate the government’s response to pandemics like Ebola?

Why do we need yet another “czar”?

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Performance Enhancing? Nope… normalizing… But don’t try to tell the DEA that

There’s a funny thing about my life… I’m not sure if this is comic, tragic, ironic or what…

I spent more than 10 years as a serious competitive powerlifter, football player, wrestler, and martial artist, and another few years as a just a hobbyist.

In that entire time, I never did a single “performance enhancing drug”… Never even tempted to do so.

Now I’m a broken down, fat, middle aged cripple… who the DEA looks at like I’m a drug dealer or abuser of “performance enhancing substances”… just to keep from getting fatter, more broken down, and more crippled.

I’m 8 years into the frank symptoms of chronic illness (which turned out to be a weird and rare kind of endocrine cancer, that almost killed me, and basically destroyed my endocrine system. I have been cancer free for almost 2 years now), and  I am now on damn near the exact combination of drugs that “juicers” would traditionally use for such things.

I take more testosterone every week than most steroid abusers would even think of… and I don’t cycle it, I take it constantly, deep muscle injection every week.

I take an aromatase inhibitor to keep all that testosterone from converting to estrogens and testosterone antagonists (and giving me all the nasty side effects that not cycling off testosterone injections give you). We’re experimenting with that one right now, but we may end up adding an estrogen/estradiol antagonist to the mix on top of the aromatase inhibitor.

By the by… those drugs are normally what they give to breast cancer and ovarian cancer patients. They actually say in the interaction warnings “do not take if you are a man”… unless of course you’re a man whose body is producing too much estrogen, or converting too much testosterone into estrogens and testosterone antagonists, and blocking his ability to produce and use testosterone properly. If you’re not one of those men, it dramatically increases the effect of testosterone (and other steroid hormones) on your body.

I’m on enough primary thyroid hormone to quite literally kill a normal person… in fact, not just “enough”, the amount I take is several times the lethal dosage. It’s still may not be enough for me. The doc just increased it today, and will probably increase it again in 6-12 weeks when we sort out the effects of the new meds. Sometimes athletes abuse thyroid hormones for weight loss, increased energy, and to boost other performance enhancing hormones naturally.

For allergies, and for inflammation pursuant to the endocrine issues, I take two different other steroidal medications (a glucocorticoid and a mineralcorticoid), which act as bronchodilators and anti-inflammatories.

To deal with some of the unfun and nasty side effects and after effects of the cancer (to improve metabolic function, energy, mental acuity etc…) I’m also taking enough creatine to put a normal person into kidney failure… For me, it actually makes my kidneys work better.

Because of the aftereffects of the cancer, the endocrine issues, and the side effects of the medications, I’m on megadoses of vitamins and minerals. I mean MEGADOSES.

Between all of those, my growth hormone production and DHEA production should be elevated through the roof… as if I was taking illegal supplementation of HGH. It’s not… because my endocrine system is so screwed up.

For my edema (another lovely endocrine side effect, which can be made worse by my meds), I take more diuretics than the most abusive wrestler, gymnast, or bodybuilder. I’ve lost 24lbs in 24 hours, and 48lbs in 7 days just from the pills.

For musculoskeletal pain and systemic inflammation, I’m on more and stronger anti-inflammatories than any athlete rehabbing after a major injury (I take 1000mg of etodolac twice a day). I also get periodic shots of antiinflammatory medications directly into my knees.

Those let me get out of bed and walk. Without them… I just don’t.

Between my normal blood chemistry, the damage the cancer did, and the side effects of medications, I’ve got polycythemia, and I’m a hyperclotter. I’m basically naturally blood doping.

To counter the aftereffects of the cancer and make the other meds work better (adrenal and pituitary support), I’m on enough stimulant medication (which is also a bronchodilator) to make the DEA look funny at my doctor… until he explains all of the above.

In fact, the DEA looks funny at several of the drugs I’m taking above. My doctors have had to explain to my pharmacists, and both have had to explain to the DEA… no, I’m not a drug dealer or abuser, I’m not a steroid abusing weight lifter… I’m just a guy who needs this stuff to live.

I should be taking actual pain killers too… I’ve got enough musculoskeletal  damage, neurological damage, and inflammation, that my baseline background pain is pretty substantial.

For those familiar with pain management, I live at about a 3-4 most days, with breakthrough to a 7 on good days, and 6 or 7 with breakthrough to 9 or 10 bad days.

That’s with the meds. Without… there are no good days. There’s just days I can get out of bed, and days I can’t.

I simply refuse to take painkillers. They don’t do a damn thing for me unless I take horse tranquilizer doses, and then they knock me out cold… or worse, leave me sami conscious and barely awake, but unable to think, or concentrate, or really actually sleep. Beside, I don’t like the other side effects.

I’ve learned just to live with the pain, and take what pain reduction I can get with my other medications.

And by the way… this is a MASSIVE REDUCTION of the stuff I used to be taking, during the cancer. My primary care physician and my endocrinologist are both alternative and integrative medicine believers who hate drugs, and only prescribe the absolute minimum necessary.

I’m not overmedicated… if I go off of any of them, or all of them, nothing gets better and it all gets worse. We’ve done differential testing, going off one at a time and seeing the impact then going back on, then varying dosages… I’m definitely not overmedicated.

If anything, there are some other medications that might help me more. We’re very slowly adding things in one at a time, so we can test and measure and adjust.

This isn’t overmedication…

This is what happens, when your endocrine system completely loses the ability to regulate itself. It’s trying to regulate through medication, what the body normally regulates naturally.

It’s what I need to live, and be functional.

The worst thing is though… because of DEA actions, regulations, guidelines, and investigations… Several of my medications, that I need to live, and be productive, and actually be ME?

They’re constantly short of them, or out of them entirely. Sometimes it’s every pharmacy within 30 miles.

They don’t stock them, they don’t stock the dosages I need, or they don’t stock enough to fill my scrips for a month.

I have to get hand written, signed scrips every month, I can’t get refills, and I can’t get more than a 30 days supply at once. If I’m caught with more than a 30 days supply, I can be charged with unlawful possession, and possession with intent to distribute.

I have to hand carry those scrips to the pharmacies, only for them to tell me that it might be a week, maybe two weeks, before they can fill the scrip; because the DEA production quota for that quarter had been exceeded, or the distributors orders were above the DEAs suspect threshold, or because they had sold out of all they could order for that month without the DEA investigating them, or because one scrip of mine was more than the DEA told that pharmacy they could keep in storage.

We won’t even get into what the drugs themselves cost, or what they would cost without the regulatory and compliance burden to deal with these issues.

…And god help me if I actually took the painkillers I should be taking.

All this… because the medications that I need to live and function… are sometimes abused by other people to “enhance their performance”.

… and somehow, some people still seem to think that the “drug war” is helping?

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 Nanny State Strikes Again: School’s Implementation of Zero Tolerance Goes Too Far

In an effort to control perceived growing violence in schools, Congress passed the 1994 Gun Free Schools Act (GFSA) which required states to implement zero tolerance policies on school property as a prerequisite for receiving federal aid from the U.S. Department of Education. In 2002, Congress repealed this version but reauthorized the zero tolerance requirement under the No Child Left Behind Act. The revised bill expanded the school’s jurisdiction for such offenses from school property to any school-related function. So under the No Child Left Behind Act, school districts would not receive federal funding unless they implemented zero tolerance policies with a mandatory one year expulsion for any student who brings or possesses any firearm on school property or at any school function. School officials are also required to report these offenses to law enforcement agencies.

Have school boards taken these policies too far? Despite no duty or requirement to do so, most school districts have enacted strict zero tolerance policies for other offenses including possession of knives, drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. They have also enacted zero tolerance offenses for acts of violence and even expression of speech, all under the guise of protecting students. For example, an honor student in Dearborn, MI was suspended this month for a year because school officials found a small pocket knife in her bag at a football game.  From the Huffington Post:

A Detroit-area high school has suspended an honors student for the rest of the school year over a pocketknife the student says she had by accident.

Atiya Haynes, 17, was caught with the pocketknife at a homecoming football game in late September at Annapolis High School in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. School officials were searching the bags of female students exiting the restroom after a security guard claimed to have smelled marijuana nearby, according to local outlet WXYZ-TV. When officials searched Atiya’s bag, they found no marijuana, but did find a small knife.

Atiya says she did not realize the knife was in her bag. Her grandfather had given it to her over the summer, urging her to carry it for protection when riding her bike through dangerous neighborhoods to her lifeguarding job, according to MLive.

Atiya, an Advanced Placement student, was originally expelled from Annapolis High following the incident. However, on Monday, the school board rolled back her punishment, albeit slightly. Atiya is now suspended for the rest of the year, but will be allowed to take online classes and graduate with her class in 2015, reports local outlet WJBK-TV.

For starters, students do not lose their constitutional rights when they enter school property. Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch Dist, 393 U.S. 503 (1969). The Supreme Court has further held that public school administrators are considered state actors for purposes of Fourth Amendment searches. New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325 (1985). Students also have a reasonable expectation of privacy in items that they bring to school, even though this expectation is diminished. School officials do not need probable cause to search, like law enforcement would. They may search based on a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing and most jurisdictions require that this reasonable suspicion is individualized. One US District Court has held that the scent of marijuana is insufficient to show an individualized reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing if the scent cannot be determined to come from any individual or confined group. Here, the security guard claimed that s/he detected the scent of marijuana “nearby”, but there is nothing to suggest that the scent could be confined to Atiya or anyone else in the immediate area. I would argue that this was an unreasonable search and the knife is just “fruit from the poisonous tree.”

Let’s say, for all intents and purposes, that the search was valid. The punishment still does not fit and is excessive. Miss Haynes is an honor roll student, enrolled in AP classes, and potentially college bound. I would imagine that this suspension will go on her permanent record, which could affect her ability to receive scholarships or even get into certain colleges. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that she didn’t even know that the knife was in her purse. Is this the type of protection that Congress had in mind when it passed No Child Left Behind? In this case, Atiya Haynes is the only child being left behind and she is not the only one. Here are some other examples of overreaching zero tolerance policies:

In 1998, a Colorado school expelled a ten year old student when her mother inadvertently packed a small paring knife in her lunch. Despite trying to do the right thing by turning it in, she was expelled under zero tolerance policies and school officials said they had no discretion. While the expulsion was eventually overturned, her family was forced to move after receiving harassing letters that her family was trying to destroy the school.

In 1999, a Florida high school student was suspended for one year for bringing nail clippers to school. This expulsion was also reduced to a ten day suspension. However, the principal of the school was quoted as saying that he “was not…ready to arm kids with more ammo, to bring more items on our campus and make it an unsafe place.” Forget the fact that the student never used the nail clippers herself. Did I mention that her “crime” was bringing nail clippers to school? Nail. Clippers. This is the kind of “dangerous” activity we are trying to protect students from? Let that one sink in.

In 2013, two Virginia middle school students were suspended for nine months for shooting airsoft guns (similar to BB guns) in their front yard. The school claimed jurisdiction because the bus stop was in front of their house.

In 2012, a six year old student in Maryland was suspended for pointing his finger in the shape of a gun and saying “pow.” The principal sent a letter home to the parents stating that the boy “threatened to shoot another student.” Yes, this will be on this boy’s permanent record.

Similarly, a seven year old Maryland student was suspended in 2013 when he bit his pop tart into the shape of a gun and said “bang bang.” These two events led Maryland State Senator J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore) to introduce the “Reasonable School Discipline Act of 2013″ to the Maryland Legislature, which would prohibit schools from suspending or expelling students who use any object that resembles a gun, but serves another purpose. In other words, the bill requires school administrators to use a little common sense. Has it really come to the point where we need such legislation?

In 1999, a Missouri high school junior was suspended for ten days when he responded “yes!” to an online message board asking whether students thought that a Columbine incident could happen at their school. As a result, he became ineligible for the National Honors Society and missed taking achievement tests which would have placed him in college level courses.

Finally, we saw the post made by Tom Knighton yesterday about the five year old student who was forced to undergo a psychological evaluation and sign an agreement to not harm anyone or herself because she drew a picture of a gun and held up a crayon, saying “pew pew.” She is five!

According to the National Association of School Psychologists, students who are suspended from school are more likely to suffer psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety from being ostracized. They are also much more likely to wind up in the juvenile justice system and therefore, the “playground to prison pipeline.” The American Psychological Association’s Zero Tolerance Task Force further found that zero tolerance policies had the opposite effect on preventing school violence. This is just another example of overreaching state power and the government, in its “infinite wisdom”, thinks it knows best. We would be better off to eliminate or reduce zero tolerance offenses. Our kids and future generations will thank us.

Rant: People Who Don’t Link To Source Material

Earlier today, my new co-contributor Matt wrote about the ridiculous Houston city council subpoena on a group who was against the transgender bathroom-rights law.

Where did the original story come from? Right here at The Washington Times.

It’s a busy article.

It comes complete with a picture from the San Francisco gay pride parade. What does San Francisco have to do with Houston bathrooms? I’m not quite sure.

It has a minute-long vapid video featuring a reading of the first two paragraphs of the article, because apparently 300 words is such a weighty article that it elicits “tl;dr” from typical readers of the Washington Times.

And of course it has a rather superficial 300-word article touching only ever-so-slightly on the merits of the case. The article which doesn’t even summarize the basic legal rationale for the group who is challenging the subpoena. The basic legal rationale that’s so simple that I’ll summarize it for you in two sentences:

The law states that subpoenas may only ask for evidence likely to result in admissable evidence on the merits of the case and doesn’t violate various legal privileges. ADF asserts that the subpoenas are overly-broad and violate the law by asking for such wide-ranging materials (some of which are Constitutionally-protected expression and others that are attorney-client privilege or protections against nonparties to lawsuits) that it cannot possibly be within the law.

You know what the Washington Times article is also lacking? ANY GODDAMN LINK TO THE ACTUAL SOURCE MATERIAL!!

It’s not like it was hard to find. A 10-second Google search led me to the ADF web site. A prominent link on the front page of the site got me to their press release in the first 10 seconds on their site. And ADF, to their credit, linked both the subpoena and their motion to quash in the first paragraph. And it’s not like links are expensive. Hyperlinks are free.

So I read them. I realize, this is ridiculous in the days of blogging when everyone has an opinion on Supreme court decisions despite the fact that none of them ever actually reads the opinions. When I read the subpoena and the motion to quash, it was pretty apparent that the subpoena was overly broad. When you dig into it, though, there are a lot of areas of the subpoena that are quite likely to result in admissible evidence. Hence why in the motion to quash, you’ll see this statement:

The Nonparty Pastors respectfully request that the Court issue an order quashing their subpoenas. Alternatively, the Nonparty Pastors request an order modifying the subpoenas to clarify that they do not include (or a protective order declaring that the Nonparty Pastors need not produce) the requested documents that are not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence and the requested documents protected by the First Amendment privilege, the deliberative-process privilege, the attorney-client privilege, and the work-product doctrine.

In a lawsuit alleging that a city council unfairly determined that an insufficient number of petitions were gathered, the portions of the subpoena related to the records of petitioners are certainly likely to result in admissible evidence. The content of sermons discussing the Mayor, on the other hand, are clearly not. So if the city attorneys narrow the scope of their subpoena (as the WSJ–an entity which deserves kudos for actually linking the subpoena and motion!–reports they’re already backing away from), they’ll probably still be able to get the discovery information they need to prepare an adequate defense to the lawsuit.

Of course, IANAL, and it’s entirely possible that I got my legal analysis wrong. But what I do know is that I’ve already given you, the readers of The Liberty Papers, a more cogent (and more entertaining, I hope) analysis of the issues than Valerie Richardson of The Washington Times. And unlike Valerie Richardson, I actually gave you the links to go form you own opinion if you doubt my reporting in any way. Because frankly, my dear readers, you’re worth it!

Publications that give you opinion without linking to original source material are trying to keep you dumb. They either want you to keep coming directly to them for analysis (likely), or don’t want you to read the source material and realize they’ve gotten something terribly wrong. Or maybe they’re just terrified that you’ll click on the link and not come back. Or maybe all of the above. Either way, they treat you like infants.

Don’t let them get away with it. Demand better. This is 2014. I hate to use the term “mainstream media” in such a derisive tone that went out of style in about my third year of blogging–right about the time Sarah Palin started calling it the lamestream media–but even The Washington Times should have figured out how to hyperlink by now.

Cost is NOT Price, and Neither Cost, nor Price, are Value

Prices Provide a Misleading Measure of Dollar Devaluation
Forbes Magazine Online – Keith Weiner

There’s not a human being alive who doesn’t know the dollar is falling. Everyone over 25 has stories of what prices were like, way back when (and younger people have heard them). I remember when gasoline was 60 cents a gallon, and my mom remembers when it was 20 cents.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen acknowledges the official objective to push the dollar down by 2 percent per year. This intention is behind the Fed’s ill-conceived loose money policy.

It’s important to measure each drop. This is not just to keep a scorecard on the Fed, but because a change in the dollar skews historical comparisons and distorts business decisions, like giving increases to workers and pensioners….

Read the whole piece, and then come back…

The thesis statement of the piece is correct, in that prices provide a misleading indicator of currency valuation (and that our weak dollar policy, as pursued by every administration since Bush 1 to some degree or another, is fundamentally wrong and destructive for that matter).

Unfortunately the author suggests that simply using a different price denomination and comparison (to gold) is a less misleading indicator… In this, he’s absolutely incorrect.

What you really want to compare is purchasing power parity (PPP) as measured by equivalent standard of living, expressed as a dollar cost in constant dollars normalized to average labor hour wage or compensation.

i.e. this item costs 5 minutes of average labor, this costs 8 hours, this costs 20 years; the cost to maintain this equivalent normalized standard of living across an aggregate population is 1940 hours of median labor wage etc… etc…

Note, this is NOT an expression of the fallacious labor theory of value, it is an explicit measure of purchasing power parity as actual cost, INCLUDING opportunity cost (in terms of time), not currency denomination.

The critical function isn’t price, and it isn’t wage… it’s cost, in this case expressed as a cost to value ratio as a normalized dollar (to make it easy to relate to wages and prices).

Cost is not price; it’s a totalized measure of inputs including resources, time, and opportunity.

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

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

Ebola: A Consequence Of Austerity?

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

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

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

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

Oh, wait. No, that didn’t happen.

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

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

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

Simple: science spending doesn’t buy votes.

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

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

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

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

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

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One Out of 25 Prisoners on Death Row is Innocent

Benjamin Franklin once argued: “It is better 100 guilty persons should escape than that one innocent person should suffer.” The purpose of courts as drafted in the Constitution was to minimize the occurrences innocent people from “suffering” via an adversarial system in which the accused is considered innocent until proven guilty to a jury of his or her peers.

Regardless of these lofty goals, the question must be asked: how well has this system worked?

If the standard is that of Franklin’s (i.e. less than 1%), then the idea that a rate of 1 in 25 death row convicts are likely innocent is clearly unacceptable. According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, to the best the researchers were able to determine, this about what the rate is.

Pete Yost for the Associated Press reports:

From 1973 to 2004, 1.6 percent of those sentenced to death in the U.S. — 138 prisoners — were exonerated and released because of innocence.

But the great majority of innocent people who are sentenced to death are never identified and freed, says professor Samuel Gross of the University of Michigan Law School, the study’s lead author.

The difficulty in identifying innocent inmates stems from the fact that more than 60 percent of prisoners in death penalty cases ultimately are removed from death row and resentenced to life imprisonment. Once that happens, their cases no longer receive the exhaustive reviews that the legal system provides for those on death row.
[…]
Because of various assumptions, it might be best to use the margin of error in the study and say the innocence rate is probably between 2.8 percent and 5.2 percent, said University of South Carolina statistics professor John Grego, who wasn’t part of the study.
[…]
“The high rate of exoneration among death-sentenced defendants appears to be driven by the threat of execution,” says the study. “But most death-sentenced defendants are removed from death row and resentenced to life imprisonment, after which the likelihood of exoneration drops sharply.” The study estimates that if all defendants sentenced to death remained in that status, “at least 4.1 percent would be exonerated. We conclude that this is a conservative estimate of the proportion of false conviction among death sentences in the United States.”

I have to say that, even as a fierce opponent of the death penalty, I would have never guessed the number of innocent individuals on death row to be this high. I was horrified by the notion that 1 in 100 or even 1 in 1,000 such individuals could be killed by the state, but 1 in 25?

This brings me to my question for those who support state sanctioned killing: is this an acceptable error rate to you? How many innocent people are we willing to sacrifice in order to kill the most heinous of individuals? Based on this study, the current policy is that we are apparently at peace with the idea of killing 4 innocent people to kill 96 guilty.

This is a price that a free and just country should be unwilling to pay.

Facts Are Stubborn Things, Mr. Reid

Every individual who has told the press that they have had a bad experience with ObamaCare is either lying or are too stupid to know how to use the Internet. This is the latest line by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), anyway. Perhaps it’s these kinds of accusations that gave one Colorado woman the presence of mind to record her phone call with the “Connect for Health Colorado” navigator due to her own problems with the website.

Rebecca Ryan of Fort Collins has a preexisting condition but until recently, she was covered by a different government healthcare plan called “Cover Colorado.” The reason for changing her plan? As it turns Cover Colorado did not meet the requirements of ObamaCare and some 14,000 plans were canceled as a result. Rebecca liked her healthcare plan but wasn’t able to keep it. Sen. Reid wants Americans to believe Rebecca is lying about this “horror story” but this is only the beginning of Rebecca’s experience so far with ObamaCare.

As it turned out, Rebecca could save $15 a month with the new plan with one little caveat: she would lose her doctor whom she has received care from for the last 9 years. If, however; Rebecca wants to keep seeing this doctor she can do so if she is willing to pay an additional $140 a month:

Rebecca: So, the lowest monthly premium is, um, way higher than I was paying before and I thought this was supposed to be lower.

Rep: Now this could be way higher if it’s a doctor, if you have a doctor that’s (??) in there. So, often, if you have a doctor that you work with, you can be picking plans that are higher, if that doctor is a more specialized doctor.

Rebecca: She’s just a general family doctor. She’s not specialized.

A few minutes later, Rebecca was looking for dental coverage but was having some trouble with the website. The navigator explained that she needed to remove the filters Rebecca had in place for her doctor (stupid citizen!):

Rebecca: Do I have to go through the whole filter thing again?

Rep: Is your doctor listed when you hit ‘Find a Dental Plan’?

Rebecca: I don’t know why she would be. She’s not a dentist.

Rep: But she was put in as a provider? (pause)

Rebecca: Ok, my hospital was listed too, so I removed them both [as search filters]. However, what if I want to keep her? I’ve been with her a long time, and I don’t want a different doctor.

Rep: If you want to keep her then you’re looking to pay the 515 dollars a month.

Rebecca: So they’re going to penalize me because I want to keep my doctor?

Rep: Yes.

There you have it Mr. Reid. One individual whose experience is that 1. she lost the healthcare plan she liked, 2. can keep her doctor if she wants to pay a higher price, and 3. had some difficulty with the website (I’ll leave it to the readers and you to decide if its the fault of Rebecca or the website).

And lest you believe, Mr. Reid; that Rebecca, the original reporter on this story, or I have taken this call out of context, please feel free to listen to the entire 24 minute conversation in the player below.

You see Mr. Reid, no amount of smearing of the groups which oppose ObamaCare, no amount of calling people liars, and no amount of repeating “billionaire Koch brothers” can change the objective fact that some people are now worse off than before ObamaCare. Perhaps many others will also record these phone calls to expose your lies. I’m quite confident that Rebecca Ryan of Fort Collins, Colorado is but one person being hurt by this boondoggle.

LAPD Officers Fire Shots at Innocent People; Taxpayers Punished

Remember the LAPD shooting incident that occurred during their manhunt for Christopher Dorner just over one year ago? The one in which eight LAPD officers fired 103 shots into a vehicle that kinda sorta looked like the one Dorner was believed to be driving but turned out to be two women delivering newspapers without making any threatening moves to justify using deadly force whatsoever?

Though fortunately, both women survived, these eight cops would surely be charged criminally or at the very least never be allowed to work for law enforcement ever again…right? Maybe, maybe not (I have read conflicting reports). Some may be terminated while others may be retrained.

But the very idea that these cops should ever be allowed to have a concealed carry weapons permit (CCW) let alone patrol the streets as police officers is absurd and irresponsible. As outrageous as this determination is, there was actually an effort to clear the officers of any wrongdoing (These cops were dealing with a very stressful situation, after all). Thankfully, Chief Charlie Beck told the Police Commission that the officers should be found in violation of LAPD policy (I should hope this would violate LAPD policy!) at the very least.

The victims of this shooting/attempted murder will be compensated at the tune of $4.2 million plus an additional $40,000 to replace the vehicle at taxpayer expense. Certainly this is the very least the City of Los Angeles could do.

Any time one of these events happen, I can’t help but wonder, what would happen to a normal person who behaved this way? What would be the reaction if eight individuals sans the government issued costumes fired shots into a vehicle because they were feeling threatened by someone and resulted in the exact same outcome?

I think it is very safe to say that all eight would be doing hard time at San Quentin and would be paying damages to the women with their own money. It’s also safe to say that none of the 8 would ever be allowed to own a firearm in the future or allowed to vote if they lived long enough to get out of prison.

And rightfully so.

The government issued costumes should not protect individuals from an irresponsible, criminal act such as this. But unless and until we hold local governments and local law enforcement accountable, these criminal acts will continue and we will continue to foot the bill.

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.

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