Category Archives: Politics

Rand Paul Is Not a Perfect Libertarian, But He Comes Closer Than the Rest

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In a post over at Reason’s Hit & Run, Jacob Sullum is asking “Can Rand Paul’s Positions on Abortion and Gay Marriage Be Defended on Libertarian Grounds?” Sullum concludes that yes, they can be, “but you have to try pretty hard.”

The correct answer as to both is no.

First, with respect to abortion, Rand Paul believes that from the point of conception, human life is entitled to state protection. Sullum concludes that this position “can be defended on libertarian grounds” once one “accept[s] the premise that a fetus is a person with a right to life.”

Rand Paul is correct (and Sullum is right to implicitly recognize) that abortion is not self-evidently beyond the purview of government. To the contrary, conflicts between rights-bearing individuals are quintessentially within that purview.

Government is the repository of collective force, the monopolistic holder of the privilege to enforce conformance to the collective will. According to most libertarians, that power is legitimately wielded to protect individual liberty, such as through the punishment and prevention of crimes like assault, battery, murder, rape, robbery, etc.

As an aside, from what I understand, even most anarchists endorse some sort of protocol for dealing with violence. One of my disagreements with anarchists is that I have never found anything semantically useful about calling those protocols anything other than “government.”

In any case, Paul and Sullum are therefore further correct that, if one accepts the unborn have rights, abortion is an issue that falls well within the purview of the state—because it involves a conflict between individual rights most of us readily acknowledge (the right to control one’s body versus the right to continue living).

As far as I know, however, nothing in libertarian doctrine answers the underlying, fundamental question of whether and when the unborn become rights-bearing. Only philosophy can tell us what attributes entitle a living entity to rights, and only medical science can tell us when the unborn develop those attributes.

I therefore disagree with Sullum in this very narrow respect: It would be better to say there is nothing inherently unlibertarian about Paul’s position on abortion than to say that libertarianism provides a basis for defending that position. Perhaps I am being pedantic. Perhaps it is an issue purely of semantics.

But it is one that matters to libertarians and non-libertarians alike.

Paul has some treacherous political terrain to navigate if he hopes to win both the GOP primary and a general election. If he wants the libertarian base to cross that terrain with him, he will probably need to articulate his positions with that level of finesse.

As a final note on the abortion issue, since non-libertarians often ask how we come down on this, I will go ahead and state my own position for the record. My own personal criteria for recognizing a living being’s entitlement to rights include some combination of the following: the ability to prefer existence over non-existence, the potential for high level sentience and the capacity to experience pain. I do not support interfering with a woman’s bodily autonomy from the moment of conception. I agree with Rand Paul, however, that fetuses become rights-bearing before the end of pregnancy and even before the end of the first trimester.

Second, on the issue of gay marriage, Sullum quotes Paul as lamenting that:

Ultimately, we could have fixed this a long time ago if we just allowed contracts between adults. We didn’t have to call it marriage, which offends myself and a lot of people…

From a libertarian perspective, there is no “we” here. There is no group properly endowed with the power to decide for everyone else what relationships get to be called “marriages.” It is for individuals to decide whether their relationship constitutes a “marriage,” and it is for other individuals to decide whether they agree with that characterization.

The issue is increasingly a litmus test precisely because it is so revealing of a candidate’s feelings about the relationship between individuals and government. It will be hard to sell a message of small government and liberty while simultaneously insisting that government should be so deeply involved in our lives as to define relationships and dictate how words are to be used.

In the past, Paul has indicated that he supports leaving it to the states to decide whether to recognize gay marriage. That position might solve Paul’s political problems as a federal candidate. But it is not inherently libertarian. Libertarians are, generally speaking, concerned with defining and limiting the exercise of force. That concern is not limited to federal government exercises of force.

Without more, Paul’s reliance on federalism requires libertarians to accept the following compromise: that while Paul believes state governments can interfere with private marriage, since he is not running for state office, we ought not worry overmuch about it. The argument is not without its merits. But it is also not libertarian.

On the other hand, Paul’s comments last year that “I don’t really think the government needs to be too involved with” marriage were decidedly libertarian in nature. Perhaps that is even his true position, and his more recent remarks have been more about rallying another wing of the GOP base. Whether he can get past the primary without clarifying remains to be seen.

As a final note, sophisticated social conservatives will argue that state maintenance of traditional marriage does not constitute an exercise of force, but merely an expression of what relationships the majority choose to recognize as “married” within the meaning of the law. The distinction is worthy of recognition and merits debate. However, states use force to collect taxpayer money to run their marriage licensing programs, and most libertarians intuitively support some version of “equal protection” doctrine.

In summary, to answer Sullum’s question, Paul’s position on when life becomes entitled to state protection is neither supported by nor contradicted by libertarian doctrine. If he thinks state legislatures can define marriage for individuals, however, Paul is far afield from basic libertarian tenets.

Does that mean I won’t vote for him?

No. I fully intend to vote for Rand Paul in the GOP primary. If he actually gets the nomination—and I hope he does—I may vote for him in the general as well. For one thing, I suspect that his true position on gay marriage is largely libertarian. Even if I am wrong about that, Rand Paul is still leagues more libertarian than any candidate the two major parties has run in my adult life.

I have never been lucky enough to be offered a candidate who both satisfies my politics and has a chance of winning. His imperfections notwithstanding, it would be nice if Rand Paul could change that.

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

Quote of the Day: Jason Pye on the Smarter Sentencing Act

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Jason Pye, former contributor to The Liberty Papers and current Director of Justice Reform at FreedomWorks posted an article yesterday for Rare Liberty about some promising political developments in the area of criminal justice reform. Perhaps one of the most promising of these developments at the federal level is a bill being considered is S.502 – The Smarter Sentencing Act.

Jason explains why he believes this reform is a step in the right direction:

With federal prison spending booming, an unlikely bipartisan alliance has emerged to bring many of these successful state-level reforms to the federal justice system. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have joined with Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) to reform federal mandatory minimums – a one-size-fits-all, congressionally mandated approach to sentencing.

[…]

The Smarter Sentencing Act would expand the federal “safety valve” – an exception to federal mandatory minimum sentences for low-level nonviolent offenders with little or no criminal history – and cuts in half mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders. This more rational approach to sentencing will reduce costs on already overburdened taxpayers. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated a net $3 billion cost-savings over a decade. The Justice Department believes the bill will save an eye-popping $24 billion over 20 years.

The benefits of the Smarter Sentencing Act may not end with the fiscal savings. It could also reverse the damage done by federal mandatory minimum sentences in certain communities, which, as Lee recently explained, “have paid a high cost for the stiff sentences that mandatory minimums require.”

5 Memes that Need to Die

Internet memes – what would social networks look like without them? We all “like” some, share, and laugh at the most clever ones (others…not so much). Memes are a simple way to communicate to your social network your opinion on various issues from issues as serious as war and peace to more innocuous issues like which way is the proper way to install a roll of toilet paper (I’m an anarchist on that question). Not everyone has the time to write lengthy blog posts about these issues but almost everyone has enough time to click “share.” Like blog posts do, sometimes, these memes open up great discussions or debates (but often devolve into childish nonsense…sadly).

There are a few memes that are so incredibly inane that you will wish there was a “dislike” or “this is so stupid” button option when it crosses your news feed. The following are 5 memes which deserve to die by way of a logical response. These are numbered but not intended to be in any particular order as they all just need to die.

1. Those Dastardly Koch Brothers
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For some reason, people on the Left have a huge hate on for the Koch brothers. If we are to believe the above meme, the Koch brothers are so rich and powerful that they could single-handedly fire 17 or more congressmen. Apparently, its only a few wealthy individuals and/or multinational corporations which advocate Right-wing ideas who lobby in Washington or contribute to campaigns and form super PACs.

According to Opensecrets.org, Koch Industries ranked #14 in the 2014 election cycle and #50 all time. To put the remaining contributors into perspective in the 2014 election cycle, 29 of the top 50 corporations donated most or all their money to Democrat/liberal campaigns while 9 donated most or all their money to Republican/conservative campaigns (the remaining 12 donated more or less evenly to both though some certainly leaned more one way or the other).

Of course, dividing these campaigns into “liberal” and “conservative” is itself, problematic. David Koch is more of a libertarian (small “L” to be sure) than a conservative. He supports many of the same causes that progressives do such as cutting military spending, being anti-war, supporting gay rights, and ending the war on (some) drugs. Apparently being socially liberal isn’t good enough; being fiscally conservatives make the Koch brothers the spawn of Satan.

The underlying complaint here is that there is too much money in politics. I have a very simple and practical solution: if you don’t like money in politics, get politics out of money. If those in congress only did what they were constitutionally permitted to do there would be little or no reason to lobby at all.

2. Drug Test Everyone on Welfare
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I have to admit that I was a little more sympathetic to the notion of drug testing people receiving welfare when I first heard it being proposed. After all, when you take money from taxpayers who are earning and paying for your basic necessities of life, do you not at least have the obligation to prove you aren’t blowing the money getting high instead of looking for work?

While this is a great idea as a principle, it turns out its a terrible idea in the real world. If the idea of drug testing is to save money, then the problem is – it doesn’t. Florida had this law (before it was struck down by a federal judge) and the results were quite interesting. Of 4,086 people who were tested for drugs, a whopping 108 tested positive. The costs of requiring the welfare recipients to take the drug tests cost more that what it saved from rejecting the 2.6% who failed. Other states which have tried this experiment had similar results.

I think its very important for those of us who dislike the welfare state remember that its not just the poor who receive it. There are parasites whose entire existence is made possible only through wealth redistribution but there is more than one class of parasite. If the true reason behind drug testing is to humiliate those receiving a government check (because we now understand that it isn’t to save money) then we should ask the board members and CEOs of all the major corporations receiving corporate welfare and bailouts to stand in line to fill the cup up to the line as well.
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Recovered From the Memory Hole: Benjamin Netanyahu’s Prophesies of Doom

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Benjamin Netanyahu is an incredibly gifted speaker – no question about that. Never can I recall any particular speech being met with so much anticipation, trepidation, and controversy as the speech that he delivered to a joint session of congress just days ago. What is it about this man – Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Prime Minister of Israel that causes emotions to run so high?

Among conservatives, evangelical conservatives in-particular, to be the slight bit critical of Netanyahu or his policies is akin to hating the Jewish people. We are told we must “stand with” or “support” Israel (whatever standing with or supporting entails) no matter what.

At the risk of being met with these criticisms and others, my position is that Benjamin Netanyahu is a politician who has a geopolitical agenda. Israel is another nation which has a government that has its flaws as all governments do. I do not intend these statements to be pejorative but to bring both the PM and his government back into the realm of the real world.

Let me call what Netanyahu’s speech what it was: a political speech. Political speeches, by their nature, are designed to promote a point-of-view. Stretching the truth to its absolute limits, hyperbole, and minimizing opposing opinion is part and parcel of political speeches. In this particular speech, we are to believe that the current negotiations will only “pave the way” for Iran to getting the bomb. Iran is years or even months away from getting the bomb.

The thing is, Iran has been years or months away from getting nuclear weapons for 20 or so years now according to Netanyahu. As Murtaza Hussain writing for The Intercept points out:

“The conclusion from this history is inescapable. Over the course of more than 20 years, Benjamin Netanyahu has made false claims about nuclear weapons programs in both Iran and Iraq, inventing imaginary timelines for their development, and making public statements that contradicted the analysis of his own intelligence advisers.

Despite this, he continues to be treated by lawmakers and media figures as a credible voice on this issue.”

Jon Stewart makes many of the same observations (below). Both Iraq and Iran were supposedly getting close to acquiring nuclear weapons. Obviously, nothing of the kind was ever found in Iraq following Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Obviously, I am no fan of the despotic theocratic regime in Iran. The idea of such a regime acquiring nuclear weapons is quite frightening. And while the concept of mutually assured destruction may or may not be an effective strategy, I see no harm in diplomacy and regular unannounced inspections of Iran’s nuclear programs.

No-one Should Be Forced to Join a Union Against Their Will…

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From Reuters:

Wisconsin Senate approves right-to-work bill, sends to state Assembly

BY BRENDAN O’BRIEN

(Reuters) –

The Wisconsin Senate narrowly approved a “right-to-work” bill on Wednesday that would bar private-sector employees who work under union-negotiated contracts from being required to join their unions or pay them dues.

 

 

The bill, which would make Wisconsin the 25th U.S. state with a right-to-work law on the books, cleared the Republican-led Senate on a 17-15 vote following hours of debate marked by periodic angry shouts from opponents in the Senate gallery.

 

 

Supporters of organized labor chanted “Shame!” as the legislation was passed and sent for further consideration to the state Assembly, where Republicans also hold a majority.

 

 

One Republican senator, Jerry Petrowski, broke with his party and joined all 14 Democrats in the chamber in voting against the measure.

 

 

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a possible Republican presidential hopeful, is expected to sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

Walker drew accolades from conservatives across the nation in 2011 when he ushered through legislation curtailing the powers of most public-sector unions in Wisconsin amid large protests at the state capitol in Madison.

 

 

Supporters of the right-to-work measure contend it could attract more businesses to the Midwestern state.

“I think this is something that is going to have a direct impact on the manufacturing sector in Wisconsin,” Senate Republican leader Scott Fitzgerald said after the vote.

 

 

Opponents cast the bill as an assault on organized labor and blue-collar workers that would limit union revenues.

“They are evaporating the middle class, and no one in this room seems to care,” Senator Dave Hansen, a Democrat, said during the floor debate.

So ignore the rather clearly biased language in the piece and video linked above, if you bother clicking through and reading it… If you’ve seen one piece about the subject, you’ve pretty much seen them all, and this one is no different.

Wisconsin is debating “Right to Work” legislation in house committee right now, after passing in the senate. A right to work measure (which may or may not be substantially identical to the one passed by the senate) is likely to pass the house as well, and governor (and likely Republican presidential candidate) Scott Walker is likely to sign it.

As per usual, leftists are up in arms about anything that might favor individuals over organized labor…”Anti-worker, anti-poor, anti-little guy, anti-union, destroying the middle class, 1% evil” etc… etc…

Bull

Can someone tell me how making it illegal to force someone who doesn’t want to join a union, to join a union… is anti-union?

That’s all “right to work” means… You can’t be forced to join a union if you don’t want to, and employers can’t be forced by the government to recognize or deal with a particular union if they don’t want to.

The “right to work”, is simply the right to freely associate and form contracts as we choose, which is supposed to be a right guaranteed us in this country (of course, so often it is not… but that’s another issue entirely).

Wait… What? Unions can force people to join who don’t want to?

Yes, they can, and they do.

Most people don’t know this, but in 26 states, unions are given special powers and privileges by the government, which you as in individual, or a private company or other organization would not have.

One of these, is that you can be forced to join a union against your will, if you want to get a job in a particular industry, or at a particular employer, or to keep your job at an employer after a union comes in.

Worse, in some states, you can opt out of the union, but even if you do, the union can still take dues straight out of your paycheck against your will, as if you were a member. They can also negotiate for you against your will, and set the terms and conditions under which you work, against your will.

Of course, since you aren’t a member, even though they’re taking your money and controlling your job, you don’t get to vote in the union, control its decisions in any way, or get any of the benefits of membership. The union gets your money, and all the benefit as if you were a member, without actually having to be accountable to you at all. And there’s nothing you can do or say about it.

Oh and the union can then do things like use that money to get politicians you oppose elected, get legislation you oppose passed, and change the terms and conditions of your employment against your will, without your approval or consent.

In those same 26 states (as well as federally in some cases), employers can be forced to recognize and negotiate with a union, even if they don’t want to. In fact, even if the union doesn’t actually represent their employees in some cases, or only 50.01% of their employees decide that a particular union will represent them.

“Right to Work”, is about ending some of those, frankly insane, conditions that unions operate under.

… Or at least that’s what it’s supposed to be about… It doesn’t always end up that way, because politics is what it is, so you have to be careful and pay attention to the details…

In “right to work” states, unions are still free to form, recruit members, and to collectively bargain in those members interests with employers. Workers are still free to join unions. Employers are still free to negotiate terms and contracts with the union, and if the employers don’t want to negotiate, unions are still free to use the power of their membership to make the employer negotiate through strikes, work stoppages and slow downs, and other organized labor actions.

The only difference, is that the union just can’t FORCE anyone to join the union, or force employers to negotiate with the union, or get the government to do it for them.

Why is this a bad thing?

It isn’t. Straight up, it isn’t.

It’s not bad for employees, it’s not bad for employers, it’s not actually bad for the unions if the unions are doing what they’re supposed to be doing, It’s not bad for consumers who consume the goods and services these employers provide.

In fact, in reducing union overreach to whatever extent it may (probably not too much, but one can hope), and in reducing the overall cost of doing business in the state of Wisconsin, it’s likely to benefit consumers with lower prices, and potentially with more business and more jobs in the state

This doesn’t always work out… It has generally done so in relatively business friendly states like Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama (I said relatively… relative to Illinois, New York, Wisconsin etc..). In those states, which are right to work, non union manufacturing has generally done well, in some cases even boomed. Not only that, but wages have substantially increased in those areas, not crashed as predicted by unions.

Right to work has not had as positive an impact in say, Indiana, or Michigan (yes, Michigan has been right to work since 2012… and yes, organized labor is still having a collective fit over that fact), which are comparatively less business friendly, higher tax, higher regulatory burden, and higher cost of living. In fact, mostly, companies have used the change in status to help them get rid of legacy contracts which were burdening their bottom lines, and then move to other states.

That however isn’t really the fault of right to work… it’s the decades of anti-business regulation and being forced to accept bad union contracts (and to be fair, decades of bad management as well).

Overall, right to work in and of itself is not a negative for anyone… well… except two groups.

The only parties it’s bad for, are union officials, and the politicians they’re in bed with). The officials depend on the politicians to pass legislation that favors the union officials, in exchange the politicians depend on the officials for large donations, and the use of their organization for street level politics (campaign volunteers, donor lists, call lists, phone rooms, rally fillers, doorbell ringers etc…). Without the forced membership and dues, the union officials don’t have as much money to donate to those politicians in exchange for favors, nor as many warm bodies to throw at their campaigns.

Also, if people can leave the union at will, it means that those officials have to watch their steps, and actually be accountable to union members…. Unfortunately something which has proven to rarely be the case today.

Leaving aside the corruption angle, and even the economics of it…

Does “right to work” reduce unions power? Potentially yes, if people don’t want to join, or want to quit the union.

However, I don’t see that as a bad thing. Why would that be a bad thing?

If people don’t want to be members of the union, why should the union get more power? Or any power at all?

Shouldn’t a union get it’s power from the strength of it’s membership, who support it, and in turn are supported by it? Shouldn’t a union attract and retain members because they are effective at doing so?

If they can’t do that… why should the union exist at all?

If they CAN do that, then why do they need the government to force people to join, and force companies to negotiate with them exclusively?

If the unions actually do what they’re supposed to do, and what they say they do… Why is this even an issue?

Right… thought so… 

Here’s the thing though… Even if it were a provable economic net negative, that actually did harm jobs and wages, and even if all of the horrible terrible no good very bad things unions and democrats claim of right to work were true…

…I would still be in favor of right to work.

Why?

It’s a question of individual rights

I generally favor right to work, because I’m in favor of fundamental individual rights, including, but definitely not limited to: freedom of conscience, freedom of association, freedom of self determination, the right to private property, the right to the fruits of ones labors, and the freedom to make contract as one sees fit.

I generally support right to work legislation, presuming that’s what it really is (as with all legislation, what it claims to be, is often nothing to do with what it is, so pay attention to the details), because no-one should be forced to join any organization against their will (even if it’s absolutely for their own good), and no organization should have the right to control others in the way unions do, without those persons consent (even if doing so is to those persons benefit). It really is that simple.

For that matter, in general, I oppose involuntary collectivism, and preventing involuntary collectivism is what “right to work” is supposed to be about.

I’m all for voluntary collectivism… absolutely 100%. If you agree and consent to be a part of a group, and to take action as part of that group, or be represented by that group, great. More power to you, and to them.

In fact, I’m all for unions. I think collective bargaining is a wonderful and powerful tool, and I wish more people across more industries and market segments would take advantage of it.

An aside… I’m not just blowing theoretical smoke here. I’ve got a personal stake in this, both as a matter of principal, and as a practical matter in my own profession.

The level of worker exploitation, and in general negative, harmful, and just plain stupid labor practices in information technology, my chosen profession, is absolutely despicable.

Employers routinely extract far more labor from employees than they are paying for, or than that is reasonable for employees quality of life or professional development; while at the same time deliberately suppressing those employees wages, and denying them opportunities for improvement or advancement.

… and we allow them to do this. We accept it, because we don’t believe we have the power to change it, or we feel too insecure to do so.

The only way these conditions are going to change, is if they obviously  and clearly no longer work to increase profits or improve stock prices.

Actually, it’s been repeatedly and conclusively proven they not only don’t help, but they substantially harm organizations, including their bottom lines… but execs still love them because the stock market loves them (That’s another issue entirely)

That being the case, the only way needed change is going to happen, is if enough of us in the profession stop accepting these conditions, and do something about them.

A company can’t be pumping its stock prices, if it doesn’t have anyone keeping it’s computers and networks operational…. or at least not for more than a few weeks. 

 

 

Stop working for companies that use these practices. Insist on being paid for our time. or in receiving compensatory time off. Report companies for labor law violations, and make sure the laws are properly and evenly applied, through the use of the media and political pressure (I think most labor laws are horrible and stupid and shouldn’t exist, but so long as they do, the greater tyranny is that they are applied capriciously and unevenly based on political whim, and lobbying).

Most importantly, as managers, leaders, and thought leaders in the industry, don’t allow and accept these practices in your own organization. When they pop up… and they will.. gather together, and pound them into the dust before they can take over.

One of the more effective ways we could do all of that, is with collective bargaining, and collective and consistent messaging to the media, and politicians (though sadly, I don’t think it’s likely to happen any time soon). Not necessarily a union, but some type of voluntary collective organization to increase our negotiation power and leverage, and help to prevent things like companies requiring hundreds of hours of uncompensated overtime.

If enough of  us act… whether collectively or as individuals, we can force changes. Without enough of us acting in concert, we can’t… And if we can’t, we’re left depending on the government to “fix” things… and you know how I feel about that. 

It’s when you take that choice away by force, that I have issues. Forced unionization is never OK… and that includes “democratic” forced unionization.

Just because you got a few dozen of your friends together and you all voted to give you the “right” to control everyone else, doesn’t actually give you the right to control everyone else. Even if there’s 50 million of you, and 1 of everyone else. Otherwise, there are no individual rights, only privileges and entitlements dispensed by the will of the majority. That’s no less tyranny than a dictatorship of one man… and in some ways is a greater one.

“Oh, but democracy is great. It’s the will of the majority, so you just have to go along”

Right… because giving more control over your life to everyone else is always a great idea, especially when jobs and money are at stake.

Giving your coworkers a vote on how much you can make, how much you can get paid per hour and how much of a raise you can get when, how many hours you can work, what tasks you can do, how you can do them, whether or not you can be promoted and when…

…Actually, often a veto, not just a vote…

And people like this idea why?

No thanks. Not up for that.

I have no problem with unions, in fact I think they’re great in theory, and I’d like to see a lot more of them, a lot more active, doing what they are supposed to be doing…

So long As:

1. Participation (including fees or dues) is voluntary
2. They are not given special privileges or powers over individuals or employers by the government
3. Individuals and employers are free to negotiate and form contracts outside the union
4. The union cannot set the wages, benefits, conditions and terms of employment, and working conditions; for individuals or employers, without their consent.

If they’ve got consent for collective representation of all the workers, and the employer agrees to the conditions and terms… GREAT. That’s what collective bargaining is for.

Otherwise, what gives you or anyone else, the right to determine those things for me, my employer, or anyone else?

Just because you and your friends voted on it?

I don’t think so, no.

 

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

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

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