Category Archives: Politics

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the fine print eh?

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

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

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

 Yeah no.

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

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

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

Don’t you wish YOUR job had raises like this?

This whole government “shutdown” thing has brought out a lot of talk about federal pay.

A liberal of my acquaintance posted something on facebook a couple days ago:

“A Republican I know said, ‘If you got furloughed because of the shut down, maybe you should get a real job.’
Yeah… about that…”

‘pon which he linked to a story about the cops, border patrol agents, etc… who were not being paid while protecting congress, and our country.

It’s a good point. There are plenty of people doing real, important jobs, who are not being paid… Some of them have gone home, but a LOT of them… actually about 2/3 of the federal non-military workforce, hasn’t. They’re still doing their jobs, they just aren’t getting paid for them.

I don’t have a problem with good people doing as best they can at their job…

The problem I have is… there’s too damn many of them… And they are doing too many things, that they don’t need to be, or shouldn’t be doing.

So, I said something which I think is fairly well known in libertarian circles:

“A good friend of mine is a border guard with ICE… yeah, he’s got a real job.

That said, there IS a point when the most liberal liberal in America has to think ‘why in the hell do we have 50% more federal government payroll than 1998… we’re not getting more than we got then… at least not more good useful stuff….’ That’s just non-military federal staff payroll by the by, not any other spending…”

His commenters didn’t believe me, or just said inflation or homeland security etc…

I clarified, no, federal non-military payroll; meaning the total compensation (wages/ salaries, non-cash compensation and benefits) of full time permanent non-military federal workers, has increased, by at least 50%, in constant dollar terms, from 1998 to today.

Oh and homeland security is only a fairly small portion of that increase (Only 9% of the federal workforce, though it is the single largest federal agency – excluding the civilian employees of the military and veterans affairs – in terms of manpower).

To which he said, quite reasonably Would you care to source that?.

Gladly sir….

Congressional Reporting Service report on trends in the federal workforce:

http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/RL34685_20110419.pdf

Congressional Reporting Service report on average wages etc… in the federal workforce:

http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1702&context=key_workplace

Several other primary sources in the footnotes of this article, notably from the Bureau of Economic Analysis:

http://www.downsizinggovernment.org/overpaid-federal-workers

So… let’s break it down shall we?

The CRS reports there was a 17%… actually 16.7% increase in the federal workforce between 2000 and 2010.

I don’t have the numbers from 1998, 1999, 2011, 2012, or 2013, but other sources indicate that it’s probably not much, because there were hiring freezes and reductions that make it pretty much a wash. 17% is probably good for 1998 to 2013.

So, a 17% increase in non-military federal staff from appx. 1.8 million to appx. 2.1 million (excluding the civilian employees of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Veterans Affairs; currently about 900,000).

Oh and it’s important to note that these numbers do not include contractors. Contractors compensation does not count against federal payroll, and they are not counted as federal workers… which is one of the major reasons there are so many of them…

How many?

In 1998 there were approximately 1.8 million federal workers, and only 6.5 million contractors.

Well, as of 2013, there are appx 2.1 or million federal non-military workers… and appx 17 million contractors.

Contractor compensation DWARFS the federal payroll. It’s well over 20 times federal payroll in fact… though we really have no exact idea how much, because it’s buried in hundreds… or possibly thousands… of different budgets, and literally millions of line items (many of which are gray, or black).

So, let’s talk money…

First, let’s talk about total compensation.

Total compensation includes both wages and other cash compensation, and non-cash compensation such as benefits.

Bureau of Economic Analysis reported average total compensation for federal employees went from appx. $67k in 2000 to appx. $115k in 2012.

In constant dollar (that is, adjusted for inflation) terms that is a 29% raise.

Oh but that’s just from 2000-2012 I don’t have the exact numbers here from BEA for ’98,’99, and 2013…

Purely from a trendline analysis, you see a 2.15% annual average constant dollar compensation increase. Extend the trendline from 1998 to 2013, and instead of 29% it’s about 38%.

A 17% workforce increase and a 38% raise, is a 60% increase in total payroll…

Now… even if you just take cash compensation, BEA reports an increase from $56k to $82k; a constant dollar increase of 16%.

That’s much lower than the increase in total compensation, but still quite respectable… And remember, this is in constant dollar terms, so that’s over and above inflation and cost of living increases.

Again, thats 2000-2012. Extending the trendline from 1998 to 2013 and you get 21%.

21% raise times a 17% workforce increase, is a 41% total increase in constant dollar terms; for just cash compensation.

Now… those are BEA numbers, what about CRS numbers?

Hmm… I don’t have the exact numbers on total comp increases from those years… But I do have their percentages… in fact I have every percentage increase, and the inflation percentage, for every year since 1969…

Federal Average salary and wage increases year over year, 1999-2013 (1998 would reflect increases from 1997):

1999: 3.4% over inflation
2000: 2% over inflation
2001: 0.3% under inflation
2002: 0.4% under inflation
2003: 0.2% over inflation
2004: 2.0% over inflation
2005: 0.2% over inflation
2006: 1.4% over inflation
2007: 1.6% over inflation
2008: 1.8% under inflation
2009: 1.6% over inflation
2010: 1.9% over inflation
2011: 1.8% over inflation
2012: 1.8% over inflation
2013: 1.8% over inflation

Official numbers have not been released for 2011, 2012, and 2013; the 1.8% is from news reports and other websites stating that though federal salaries have been in a base rate freeze, the average salary has increased 1.8% over inflation in each of the last 3 years. This is consistent with previous increases.

So, from purely federal internal sources, we have an average wage/salary only, increase of 24.8%. Times a workforce increase of 16.7% (also from the CRS), we have a 45.6% increase.

So… there’s the CRS’s own estimate, of average wage and salary alone.

Unfortunately, the CRS doesn’t estimate total compensation, but if we assume the BEA numbers are reliable, non-cash compensation has increased from appx 22% of cash compensation in 1998 to approximately 40% of cash compensation in 2012.

This estimate is not out of line with other trends and percentages well known in HR (noncash compensation, particularly benefit costs, have doubled or more in the last 15 years)… so I think it’s a good and reasonable approximation.

Oh… might be useful to summarize here.

I’ve got two different sets of numbers, which are different enough to be noticeable, but not enough to completely contradict each other.

Note: The difference between the BEA and CRS may include slight differences in the way they calculate compensation; and they definitely include differences in the way inflation is calculated. The BEA numbers used BLS inflation adjustment. CRS uses CPI based inflation adjustment (CPI is a component of the BLS inflation adjustment, but there are other elements included as well).

Workforce increase 16.7%

BEA: cash compensation increase 21% total comp increase 38%
CRS: cash compensation increase 24.8% total comp increase 42.8%

Total payroll increase cash/comp

BEA: 41%/61%
CRS: 46%/66%

So… no matter which numbers you believe, total comp increase is WELL over 50% in 15 years, and according to the CRS cash comp is up nearly 50%; and the lowest estimate is 41%…

Over and above inflation…

Yeah… don’t you wish your job had raises like that?

Oh and one more thing…

From the late 1960s, through the 80s and into the early 90s, federal workers as a whole were actually paid quite poorly, as compared to comparable private sector jobs. Their wage scales were originally set at bottom of market to begin with (generally though of as a tradeoff for their better job security and benefits), and the unusually high inflation from 1968 to 1984 had private sector wages rapidly increasing, while federal cost of living adjustments were significantly under the rate of inflation.

This left a population of workers who were dramatically underpaid in comparison to the private sector, all the way through the early 1990s.

Many still are. Those in the bottom 2/3 of the federal pay scale are generally still significantly UNDERPAID, not overpaid as compared to private sector; sometimes dramatically so (permanent non-contractor federal IT staff make less than half industry comparable salary for example).

Those in the top 1/3 though make quite a lot more than comparable private sector jobs.

…Well, that is, until you get to the “senior executive” level, where, once again, they make 1/2 or less what they would in the private sector ($190k a year is the top out. Private sector workers at those levels of education, experience, responsibility etc… typically make anywhere from $200k to over a million, with $400k+ not uncommon).

It is only from the mid 90s that the federal payroll, and specifically average pay (skewed by the top 1/3), began to dramatically outpace private sector pay.

The bottom 2/3 of the federal workforce didn’t get very much of that increase.

The top 1/3 of the federal workforce got much larger increases.

Also, there are far more workers in the top 1/3 of the pay scale than there were in 1998. Far more making more than $100k a year, and far more making more than $150k a year.

The middle 1/3 shrank significantly.

So there’s more low end, more high end, and less middle…

Not exactly shocking…

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

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

It isn’t, wasn’t, aint ever gonna be…

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Greatest Fraud in the History of the Human Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is NOT INSURANCE.

Perhaps I am not explaining this properly…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defunding and Debt Limits and Shutdowns Oh My!

Welcome to the sideshow folks…

Step right up and enjoy the posturing, rhetoric, and antics of our congressional clown crew…

Over to your right you’ll see the amazing vocal endurance of Republican Senator from Texas Ted Cruz as he tosses red meat to the base…

… To be serious, there are a large group of people, who don’t understand why the rest of us consider what Ted Cruz did (a 21 hour “filibuster” of a motion in relation to items within a continuing resolution for funding the federal government for the next six months), both harmful to the country, and nothing more than grandstanding.

For them, it looks like Cruz was (in the composite words of many Americans on the right):

“Taking a brave and principled stand against the funding of a bad law that will harm our country.”

In reality, he was doing no such thing.

Cruz is being maligned by his own party because he was being a clown. This “filibuster” was nothing but a clown show.

It may be viscerally satisfying, but it’s idiotic. It will do absolutely NOTHING for the Republicans, of for those against Obamacare, except throw red meat to the stupider side of the base.

This is underpants gnomes strategy.

Step one: “Non-filibuster a piece of already passed legislation that I can’t stop by doing this… but that’s OK I wasn’t really trying to, really I was just trying to get media attention and attract donations from the less intelligent and aware side of my political base”.

Step two: … uh….

Step three: Electoral Victory?

“But, one brave man, standing up for what he believes in, can do amazing things. A small group of patriots can change the world, just look at the American revolution.”

No, they can’t. No guns involved in this one. No big foreign war distracting the occupying power. No actual fight going on among the actual fighters… just a series of bargaining and trading; while the rhetorical fight goes on among the spectators.

It may be emotionally satisfying rhetoric, but that’s all it is, rhetoric.

You are not a member of the patriotic few, bravely standing up against the despotic elite, risking all for freedom.

In fact, unless you support drug legalization, getting the state out of marriage…and almost everything else… giving up legislating morality and goodness entirely… You AREN’T EVEN ON THE GOOD GUYS SIDE.

You’re just another guy on the badguys side, who wants the badguys to tax the tea a little differently.

Oh and as “just another guy”, you actually aren’t on their side at all…

You’re a spectator rooting for your team from… not even the stands… from the comfort of your own home; with the game streamed lived via satellite into your living room.

“But what would you have us do? Just give up, let the Democrats run the country into the ground”

Nope… Not at all…

I’d have you stop assuming the rhetorical mantle of revolutionary patriot because it makes you feel good; and stop supporting things which reinforce that feeling, without actually DOING anything.

If you buy Ted Cruz’s stunt, you are perpetuating this crap.

If you want to actually do something… ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING. Get involved with your political party on a local level. Get onto policy committees. Become a subject matter expert for the party on something you know, and use that position to help steer the party, and the politicians in the party, in the right direction.

That’s actually doing something. This thing with Cruz? It’s just something you can say you supported so you can feel morally vindicated while not actually doing anything.

“You’ll see… Cruz was right, this is bad law and we must stop it. Cruz will be vindicated, time will tell”

Well of COURSE he’s RIGHT, we all know that… it’s AWFUL law… even Jon Stewart thinks it’s bad law… but that doesn’t mean he was doing any good… or even try to for that matter.

Vindicated how?

Sure he’s increasing his own fundraising, and certainly he’s right about Obama care… but to be vindicated you have to have done or said something substantive, and then been proven right later.

How has he done that?

He’s hurt the Republican party badly with the center, and provided yet another target for mockery and ridicule… and to scare those who think this sort of thing is either stupid or crazy…

Yes, he’s increased his own fundraising… and tripled that of everyone on the left.

This is not some brave heroic last stand. This was a foregone conclusion. Obamacare would never, under any circumstances, be defunded. This wasn’t a filibuster. This wasn’t moral courage.

If it was a serious attempt to stop Obamacare, fine, that would be great. Even if it were a futile attempt, if it were even structurally capable of stopping it, sure… it wasn’t and isn’t.

It wasn’t really even a symbolic gesture.

It was pandering, to the lowest common denominator. It was Ted Cruz setting himself up to be the poster boy for the low information voters of the right.

And he knew EXACTLY what he was doing… By all accounts Cruz is a brilliant man.

“It doesn’t matter if he was doomed to fail, it was the right thing to do anyway. Standing up for what’s right is never wrong”

If that’s what he was actually doing, I wouldn’t be so irritated by this.

I’m irritated because this is what they do instead of something useful. “I supported Ted Cruz’s filibuster but those nasty democrats and RINOs passed it anyway”

The people who believe this, don’t seem to understand that what Cruz did actually hurt us. Us being those of us who really fight against government overreach, and bad law.

It gave cover to the people who wanted to do nothing anyway, it encouraged a few whackjobs to make spectacles of themselves, and it INCREASED the morale and assumed moral authority of the other side.

Do you not realize how stupid and ridiculous this makes anti-obamacare people to the middle? How hysterical it makes them appear to the other sides donors? How this is a permanent harmful soundbite/video clip?

It’s idiots like this that made them able to paint Mitt Romney as an ultraconservative ultra right damn near American Taliban…

When in fact, he wasn’t conservative enough for a lot of people to bother even coming out, and they just stayed home rather than vote.

This is NOT a dedicated small group of principled people fighting against government overreach… That would be excellent.

This is the Republican equivalent of a college student “sticking it to the man” by wearing Che Guevara t-shirt an shouting about oppression and justice, out in front of the admin building.

“You don’t understand… Cruz is different… he’s the only one of the Republicans with the guts and the principle to stand up and do something”.

If he had actually done that, I would more than agree… I’d be cheering him on too.

But he didn’t.

If he were actually different… I’d be 100% behind him… Hell, I think he’s a good man, and in general he will probably be a good senator, though it’s a bit early to tell. If nothing else, he’s a LOT smarter than most Senators.

But really… other than that… he’s not much different than any other professional politician.

I’ve read the mans bio, read some of his speeches, hell I was even on a conference call with him and Marco Rubio at some party event during the campaign last year.

Yeah, he’s accomplished, and he’s got a hell of a back story (great family tale), but… what is it you think makes him so special?

He’s a smart guy, apparently a great legal mind, clerked for Rehnquist, editor of the Harvard law review… which are great things sure… but but I don’t see what you seem to see that makes him particularly exceptional among senators. He’s been a politician basically since law school; either full or part time.

He spent less than a year in private practice before going into an administration job, then less than 4 years out of the fedgov, where he ran for office twice, before going back to the fedgov.

He’s a professional politician.

I think he’s probably going to be a good senator (kinda hard to tell 9 months in), but I don’t see anything there that says anything other than professional politician… He’s a smart man and seemingly a good man… and those are great things… but he’s still a professional politician, and has never been anything but a professional politician.

I mean… he actually voted… in fact the senate voted unanimously 100-0… for the motion he was supposedly filibustering…

How can you even call it a filibuster if you’re going to vote for it?

So… In the next show, we have the “Government Shutdown”.

As of right now, the Republicans in congress have refused to sign any continuing appropriations bills that require the raising of the U.S. federal debt ceiling, and which fund Obamacare.

Therefore, the Republicans are trying to pull a repeat of 1996 and “shut down the government”; again to foster the illusion that they are taking a principled stand against excess spending and government waste etc… etc…

They aren’t.

“Why can’t they just balance the budget, instead of raising the debt ceiling again… That’s not a solution, that’s just making the problem worse?”

That’s the question of a well meaning, intelligent person, looking at this problem from a rational perspective…

So it’s completely irrelevant to anything they do in Washington of course.

First thing, the whole “Defund Obamacare” spiel is, and always has been, a sham. It’s more redmeat for the base. It’s not going to stop Obamacare, never was going to, never could; and even if it could, the republicans couldn’t get it past the senate, or a presidential veto, or an override etc… etc…

It’s just PR.

The Republicans saw what happened to Mitt Romney. They know that a large portion of the electorate doesn’t think they’re conservative enough and so won’t bother to vote for them… This is how they’re trying to address that issue. Nothing more substantive than that.

This still leaves the debt ceiling issue… and of course, incurring yet more federal debt is a bad thing. We are already at more than 105% of GDP (of course, that’s far lower than most other nations, but it’s still quite bad).

However, since it is quite literally impossible for any continuing appropriation to be passed that doesn’t require increasing the debt ceiling… In fact, even without a continuing appropriation the debt ceiling will need to be increased (because of credit payments, entitlements, and other already legislated spending); the debt ceiling is GOING to be raised.

Either that, or an accounting trick will be used to do the same thing.

It’s not a solution. It’s a requirement of the circumstances.

Balancing the budget… that’s a joke; given that we haven’t actually PASSED a budget or OPERATED under a budget , since 1997. From 1998, the government hasn’t been funded with a passed budget, it’s been funded with omnibus spending and special appropropriation bills, and continuing resolutions.

In fact, since Obama was elected, we haven’t even managed to pass an omnibus spending bill, and have exclusively funded the government with special appropriations and continuing resolutions.

The reality of the “debt ceiling” is, the U.S. is NOT going to default on its credit payments, under any circumstances.

In the first place, a U.S. credit default would trigger a world wide economic collapse and long term depression the likes of which have not been dreamed of outside of dystopian fiction.

So yeah… that’s bad… let’s not do that.

Even if that weren’t true, the politicians in this country are not going to let people miss entitlement payments… which is the whole reason why we don’t have a budget in the first place…

Every politician in America knows that if they get blamed for their constituents missing a social security check, they are done… dead… never to be elected to anything, even dog catcher, again.

So, any threat not to raise the debt ceiling, or to have a true and complete government shutdown, really is just grandstanding.

Until we make serious cuts to entitlements, we are not going to have anything close to a balanced budget. No politician in this country who has actually managed to get elected and wants to be re-elected is going to EVER under any circumstances, vote to cut entitlements. Therefore we are never going to have a balanced budget again… or at least not until there is a real unavoidable crisis, where they can cover themselves by saying “we had to do it to save the country”, and their opponents can only look like irresponsible liars if they try to say otherwise…

Of course, if this country weren’t filled with economically and politically ignorant “citizens”, then perhaps the electorate as a whole would understand that we’ve long past the point at which such a crisis could be avoided, and that something really needs to be done right now…

Unfortunately, what looked like it was going to be the first major group of voters working for entitlement cuts in this country, the “tea party”; was quickly overrun by a huge number of these idiots who, completely un-self aware were saying, with complete sincerity “get the government out of healthcare and welfare… but don’t touch my social security and medicare”.

The politicians noticed this… Particularly the smart ones… Like, say, Ted Cruz.

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

Declassified: CIA Aided Iraq’s Chemical Weapon Attacks on Iran

Bashar al-Assad has allegedly crossed what President Obama called a “red line” using chemical weapons against up to 1,000 people. The threat of chemical weapons and other WMD by such unsavory characters as Saddam Hussein was the major pretext for “preemptive” war with Iraq.

President George W. Bush argued that regime change was necessary due to the fact that Hussein used these awful weapons in the Iraq-Iran war and against the Kurds. In this post 9/11 world, “outlaw regimes,” particularly those he dubbed the “Axis of Evil” (Iraq, Iran, and North Korea) were a threat to the civilized world which could no longer be tolerated. Chemical weapons are so taboo, after all, even the Nazis opted not to use chemical weapons on the battlefield!*

But as this article in Foreign Policy points out in analyzing declassified CIA documents, the use of these weapons was not so taboo inside the CIA at the time when Saddam Hussein used them against Iran (yes, the very same event which would later be cited as a reason to attack Iraq about a decade and a half later):

In 1988, during the waning days of Iraq’s war with Iran, the United States learned through satellite imagery that Iran was about to gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses. U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent.

The intelligence included imagery and maps about Iranian troop movements, as well as the locations of Iranian logistics facilities and details about Iranian air defenses. The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence. These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq’s favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the Reagan administration’s long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed. But they were also the last in a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years that the Reagan administration knew about and didn’t disclose.

U.S. officials have long denied acquiescing to Iraqi chemical attacks, insisting that Hussein’s government never announced he was going to use the weapons. But retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was a military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes, paints a different picture.

“The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn’t have to. We already knew,” he told Foreign Policy.

It seems that U.S. foreign policy is quite hypocritical, no? Using chemical weapons are fine as long as they are being used against a nation the administration at the time happens to dislike, for whatever reason…until a later administration decides differently. While the use of chemical weapons is very inhumane and rightfully condemned by the civilized world, the U.S. hardly has the moral high ground in deciding where any red line is or what action should be taken whenever it is crossed.**

H/T: AntiWar.com

*Not that the Nazis had some sort of moral objection to using such weapons when exterminating the Jews. The reason these weapons weren’t used on the battlefield was probably due to the difficulty in using chemical weapons in anything other than ideal weather conditions and that they did not want the Allies to use the weapons used against them.

**Assuming there is no direct threat to national security of the U.S.

Don’t Bail the Democrats Out By ‘Defunding’ Obamacare

If something isn’t done to stop the train wreck known as Obamacare before next year, the healthcare system and the economy will suffer. Tea Party Republicans in the House and Senate have vowed to “defund” Obamacare even if it means shutting the government down. Obviously, opponents of this law should do everything possible to stop this from happening…right?

Maybe it’s not so obvious.

Obamacare cannot truly be defunded because the spending is built into the law itself but for the sake of argument, lets say there was some loophole that would make defunding possible. Why would Republicans want to bail the Democrats out? The Democrats own this legislation because not a single Republican voted in favor.

Let the Democrats suffer the consequences at the ballot box in 2014 and 2016. If the Republicans somehow managed to delay, add exemptions from some of the laws worst aspects, or alter Obamacare’s implementation, the Democrats would then have an out. President Obama could resort to his usual demagoguery in the campaign season the “Affordable Care Act would have worked if the Tea Party extremists hadn’t screwed it up!” The Obama media would be more than happy to echo this party line.

There is a better way. What if allowing Obamacare to be fully implemented as scheduled would lead to its ultimate demise? Far from trying to soften the blow or delay the law’s implementation, opponents of the bill, especially Republicans in positions of leadership should call the president’s bluff and let the train wreck occur. Over the many objections from many of us, Obamacare passed, failed numerous repeal efforts, and prevailed in the Supreme Court.

Also, consider that Obama was reelected. Its time for the American people to take their medicine and live with the consequences. We keep hearing about how the progressives have a better plan than those of us who believe in smaller government and free markets; let’s find out together just how wise they are!

No delays to save incumbents in the 2014 election. No waivers for employees, employers, the labor unions, for Congress, or for government workers. No waivers for anyone. How many times have we heard progressives say “we’re all in this together”? We should call their bluff on this as well.

To the extent that President Obama is trying to selectively enforce the law, Republicans should challenge his authority to do so in the courts and ask the president why he wants to delay his signature accomplishment as president.

Let the American people experience the broken promises of Obamacare for themselves. Let the Democrats defend the law in the 2014 campaign when voters see their work hours cut to less than 30 hours a week (if they are lucky to keep their jobs at all), their premiums rise, and/or lose the insurance plans they already have.

If after the American people (and I mean all of the American people) experience this pain sooner than later and still decide that Obamacare is the way to reform health care then I suppose we are getting exactly the system we deserve.

Reason’s Mike Riggs Interviews Radley Balko on Police Militarization

It’s been nearly a month since Radley Balko’s latest book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces was released. Now Balko is making the rounds with the various media outlets about this subject which normally receives very little attention by the media. As one would expect, Balko has more than his share of critics particularly from the cops-can-do-no-wrong crowd but there has also been a quite positive response by at least some members of law enforcement (particularly former cops who began their careers prior to the SWAT era).

In the video below, Reason’s Mike Riggs interviews the author.

(Note: Link above is taken from Reason‘s site, so if you click through and buy it from Amazon via that link, a portion of the proceeds go to Reason Magazine.)

Joe Scarborough vs. The Minister of Truth

MSNBC is typically a safe place for the Obama administration to promote talking points, propaganda, and bald faced lies. Imagine Press Secretary (or more accurately, Obama’s Minister of Truth) Jay Carney’s surprise on Morning Joe when the host Joe Scarborough wouldn’t allow him to get away with arguing that the ongoing congressional investigations into the Obama Administration are ‘phony scandals’.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The Minister of Truth, Jay Carney:

“The president will go back to Galesville, Illinois today to deliver a speech about where we need to move the economy, what we should be focusing on here in Washington. And it shouldn’t be on the skirmishes that cause gridlock. It shouldn’t be on the phony scandals that have consumed so much attention here, uh, all to come to not. It should be focused on what we can do to strengthen and grow the middle class…”

Scarborough responded:

“You brought up ‘phony’ scandals. That’s like, seriously? That’s like throwing red meat in the middle of a dog. So I’ve got to ask you this question: ‘What phony scandals?’ Do you think the IRS scandal is a ‘phony scandal’

Carney responded by saying the Republicans have been ‘cherry picking’ information and that the president has cracked down on officials who have been responsible for any wrong doing. Carney went on to say that President Obama “is not focused on pretend scandals that Republicans want to turn into partisan skirmishes.”

Scarborough would have none of it.

“You say that there’s cherry picked information…let’s just take this IRS scandal. The fact is its far different from what you said. In the beginning you just said it was the Cincinnati office and then we find out there were more people in Washington involved. In this past week we found out that despite what any of us think about the investigations on Capitol Hill…I see you smiling…I don’t know that there’s anything to smile about. That this wasn’t just a couple of crazy people in Cincinnati. This information actually went up to the Chief Council of the IRS which was one of two political appointees by the President of the United States and the entire IRS.”

Carney then accused Scarborough of contributing to the ‘line’ by Republicans.

“Is that the truth or not, Jay.” Scarborough interrupted. “Don’t give me talking points. That doesn’t work on my show and you’ve been here long enough to know…I’m not someone you can talk down to from your podium. Answer my question, Jay!”

In so many words, Carney didn’t take back his assertion that the scandals in question are ‘phony’ and that “we need to get to the bottom of what happened at the IRS” but the public’s attention and the attention of congress should be on the economy (how bad can the truth behind these scandals be if the president wants to get the public’s attention back on a very anemic economy?). In other words, pay no attention to the scandals behind the curtain or to the fact that the emperor is wearing no clothes.

This is a very interesting comment considering that Carney’s boss wanted to turn the nation’s attention back to the George Zimmerman not guilty verdict last week.

The Constitutional History Lessons You Didn’t Learn in School

More often than not, history is written by the winners and taught by individuals who love big government. Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom has been providing a refreshing non-P.C. presentation of history that is rarely brought up. Very little of what we call history either is “settled” without controversy or without lingering questions.

• What is the true philosophical inspiration for the Declaration of Independence?
• What is the meaning of “natural law” and “natural rights”?
• Was the American Revolution just about “no taxation without representation”?
• Was the Articles of Confederation really inadequate for the needs of the several states?
• Was the Constitution itself legally drafted and adopted in replacing the Articles of Confederation?
• How controversial was the Constitution previous to its ratification?
• Was it originally the intention that the union would be perpetual? (i.e. Was it the common understanding during the ratification debates that states could leave the union or not?)
• What did the founders think about states nullifying federal law?
• Was the American Civil War (or “War Between the States”) really about slavery?
• Might slavery have ended without war?
• Was the Supreme Court intended to be the final arbiter of both state and federal law?

These questions and more are explored in Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom. The video below “German and British Antecedents [to the U.S. Constitution]” is the first of 15 videos available for free from Liberty Classroom (watch the rest here,). Each lecture runs for about 25 minutes. Enjoy!

Your Ox Will Eventually Be Gored

It seems logical that every American, regardless of political affiliation/philosophy, race, religion or creed, would be concerned about the revelations concerning domestic spying on the part of the NSA. If the Obama administration can spy on and mistreat the Tea Party and other right wing causes, the next Republican administration could spy on and mistreat Occupy Wall Street and other left wing causes.

As it turns out, this is not necessarily the case. According to an article by David A. Love, the black community has largely greeted this news with a shrug and a yawn.

Is this lack of concern because many blacks do not want to be critical of the first black* president? This might account for some of this shrugging but Love suspects that there is something much deeper at work here:

The black community has decades of experience being monitored, so this type of surveillance is nothing new. Given the long history of being spied upon, many blacks already assume they are being monitored by the government […]
[…]
African-Americans are no strangers to surveillance, as their activities were highly regulated through the slave codes, laws which controlled both slaves and free blacks.

The mistreatment of blacks did not end when slavery was abolished, of course. Love goes on to describe several other atrocities such as the Tuskegee experiment, J. Edgar Hoover’s illegal spying on Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and others.

Tragic chapters such as Tuskegee have been cited as a reason why African-Americans distrust the medical establishment and are hesitant to participate in clinical research. One study found that 67 percent of black parents distrusted the medical profession, compared to half of white parents.

As I read this, I wondered why there isn’t a similar distrust of the government as the medical establishment by blacks in general. The Tuskegee experiments were done at the behest of the U.S. Public Health Service, after all!

After finishing the article, I decided to read through the comments section (this is a blog that is dedicated primarily with concerns of the black community; the comments can sometimes be very illuminating). The very first comment by a user with the handle “Blackheywood Heywood” did not disappoint:

The US government began spying on Black folks before this government was created, yet it was no outrage.Give me a break, it seems slowly mainstream America is discovering how it feels to be thought of as suspicious or guilty before being accused, never mind arrested. Welcome to the world of the American Black male.

Heywood has a valid point. The answer to the question why the lack of outrage by the black community concerning the NSA and IRS scandals could just as easily turned against what Heywood called “mainstream America.” Indeed, where was the right (for lack of a better term) on these outrages? Where has the Tea Party been on the question of “stop and frisk,” in New York in which minorities are especially targeted to be searched, supposedly at random? Is this simply a case of “out of sight, out of mind?”

I believe there’s also another phenomenon at work: the memory hole. Near the close of the article, Love mentioned an event that took place in Philadelphia in 1985 I was completely unaware of:

On May 13, 1985, following a standoff, a Philadelphia police helicopter dropped a bomb on the house on Osage Avenue occupied by the black “radical” group known as MOVE. Police reportedly fired on MOVE members as they escaped the burning home […]
[…]
The 1985 bombing—which killed 11 people, including 5 children and destroyed an entire neighborhood of 61 row homes in West Philadelphia—marked the first such attack on U.S. citizens by government authorities. The survivors and victims’ families received $5.5 million in compensation from the city of Philadelphia.

I try my best to be informed about historical events as well as current events. How is it that this is the first I had ever heard about the Philadelphia Police dropping a freaking bomb on a neighborhood in an American city?** I must have been sick that day in American History class (I also didn’t learn about the Tuskegee experiments until well into my twenties; maybe I was sick on that day as well).

Maybe MOVE was a radical organization maybe it wasn’t*** but nothing could justify the police dropping a bomb on a neighborhood. Perhaps this atrocity is well known by people in the black community, both young and old but not so much outside the black community (or maybe I’m one of the few Americans who never heard about this but I doubt it).

MOVE probably wasn’t the first group the government described as “extreme” to a point where government officials ordered and used military force against its members; it certainly wasn’t the last. How many people out of a hundred know about what happened at Ruby Ridge? The Weaver family, why they were “extremists” after all and therefore, why should anyone care about their rights? How many people out of a hundred know about the conflicting accounts of what really happened at assault on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas? (Here’s a hint: a great deal more than what the MSM reported at the time). I suppose because these people were part of some sort of cult, their rights didn’t matter either!

This is where the real problem of indifference lies. I’ve heard far too many people with the attitude “it’s not my problem” or “it doesn’t affect me”. Even more disturbing is the attitude some people have that they are happy when someone of an opposing view has his or her rights of life, liberty, and/or property trampled on (i.e. “Screw them, they are ‘extremists’”). Far too often, concerns about civil liberties depend on whose ox is being gored at that particular time.

I would like to humbly suggest that if you are not as upset when its someone else’s ox, even if it’s the ox of your opponent’s, one day it will be your ox that will be gored. Perhaps Martin Niemoller said it best in his very short work “First they Came” describing how the Nazis took freedom away from the whole population, one group at a time. By the time the Nazis got around to taking freedom from what remained of the population, Niemoller concluded “there was no one left to speak for me.”

To be clear, I am not comparing the U.S. government to the Nazis. Such hyperbolic comparisons are not constructive and minimize the very crimes against humanity the Nazis committed. I am making a comparison about how populations respond to encroachments on liberty, however. As demonstrated in Love’s article, there are plenty of examples of injustice from American history.

Here are just a handful more:

  • The Indian Removal Act
  • Slavery
  • The internment of Japanese Americans
  • Jim Crow
  • McCarthyism

And many, many more.

Each of these policies were permitted to happen because the majority apparently felt that curtailing freedoms of these minorities would somehow not affect their own freedoms. We should acknowledge that these injustices occurred and try to learn the right lessons (rather than pretend the U.S. government or the American people have committed no wrongs ever) and move on.

Every injustice and every violation of rights of life, liberty, and property must be answered by all of us as if it’s our own liberty that is at stake.

*Yes, I’m aware that Obama is actually half black. However, if a man of his description was accused of committing a crime and at large, he would be described as a black man.

**In light of this, Rand Paul’s questions about government using drones to attack Americans on American soil no longer seem so far fetched, unfortunately.

***All I know is what I read in the cited article.

Quote of the Day: “Highest Honor” Edition

“Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American…”

- Edward Snowden in response to Cheney and others calling him a traitor for his NSA leaking.

Fusionism And The “Coalition Government”

Doug today had a very good post on the concept of Libertarian/Conservative Fusionism.

Suffice to say that I agree with him on the basic points, but had another take that is just too much to put into comments.

It seems that the Conservative groups understand that they’re not a majority on their own, but that they’re greater in number than libertarians. It also seems that Liberals understand the same things. And both groups see that they have SOME policy positions in common with libertarians, although as Doug aptly points out, often we arrive at similar policies based upon completely different first principles. So both groups believe that by getting the support of libertarians, they achieve a majority and can enact their policy goals. And they think that for libertarians, getting *some* of our goals is better than none of our goals, so we should come along for the ride.

At heart, the idea of “fusionism” vs “surrender” is key. And it’s one that Doug brought up, and as I said, I’m in agreement there. Either Conservatives or Liberals see a libertarian fusionism as a way to grow THEIR power, not as a way to grow OUR power. Both groups are not libertarian and don’t want libertarian ideas to grow. So in each case, they want our numbers but not our ideas — they want surrender.

As libertarians, though, we understand that our numbers make us large enough to be a key swing voting block if we acted in unison (granted, it’s tough to get libertarians to do ANYTHING in unison). The key is that we want that voting block power to actually result in policy changes that reflect libertarian policy. The major parties want fusionism on election day and for us to then shut up every other day.

Fusionism in the United States is untenable as a method for advancing libertarianism. We should reject it.

Now, that’s a bold statement. But the simple fact is that fusionism in a first-past-the-post direct representation voting system allows major parties to forget about the “fusion” part of fusionism as soon as the election is won. There is no incentive for them to continue placating libertarians once they’ve gained power. Which is why, of course, you only see the “out of power” party talking about fusionism, as we saw in the initial “liberaltarianism” talks back in the Bush days, and why we see Conservatives reaching out to us now.

The problem is the voting system. And we will NEVER have a viable libertarian movement in this country with the system we have in place. The only way for this large voting block to ever have power is in a multi-party proportional representation system, where “coalition governments” must form to get anything done.

In those political systems, the main parties usually cannot get a parliamentary majority on their own. Thus, in order to get anything done, they often must negotiate and compromise with a smaller party in order to move legislation forward. That smaller party then has an ongoing “veto power” over the actions of the legislature that persists long after election day. If the major party moves too far away, the coalition falls apart and the major party can’t get anything done.

America is the perfect place for a libertarian minority party which would have REAL power in a multi-party proportional representation system. The nation still retains much of the “rugged individualism” mindset that conquered the frontier, even if it continues to wane over time. Libertarians are thus a very sizable minority voting block, but our “winner takes all” system ensures that a 15% party will absolutely never get meaningful representation in our House or Senate. Swap that system to proportional representation, and libertarians will find their way into our legislature, and be able to do something to rein in the beast that we’ve created.

However, that’s never going to happen. Americans are too wed to the idea of being able to put a face and a name to “My Congressman” even if the guy from their district is ideologically lukewarm to everything they believe. I don’t believe we’ll ever see proportional representation absent a complete breakdown of the political process — and let’s face it, if that day comes we’ll all be worried about FAR more than how Congress is elected. We’ll be worried about riots in the streets.

So let’s just call the whole thing off. Fusionism isn’t just dead; it was stillborn. It’s never going to work. Libertarians should focus on other methods to advance our ideas, because all we’ll get from the major parties in fusionism is betrayal.

The Intellectual Absurdity Of Libertarian-Conservative Fusionism

The libertarian movement finds itself immersed once again in a debate over strategy and where, exactly libertarianism fits in to the American political milieu. Specifically, I’m referring to the ongoing debate about “fusionism” that is perhaps best typified by the May 2013 exchange of essays over at Cato Unbound, which I recommend that everyone who is concerned about the future of what some people have started to call “the liberty movement” read. In it’s most basic form, fusionism refers to the idea that libertarians ought to ally themselves with the conservatives as a way of advancing their ideas. Implicit in this position is the idea that libertarians and conservatives have enough ideas in common to form a coherent political alliance, and that the differences are minor enough that the political alliance can be maintained without one side being subsumed into the other and rendered a virtual nullity.  Most specifically, I would argue that this is the danger that libertarians face in any alliance with a conservative movement that is far more numerous and political powerful, and one of the many reason why any argument in favor of fusionism should be viewed with deep skepticism.

The most important thing to remember in dealing with the entire fusionism debate is that, contrary to Ronald Reagan’s famous quote in a 1975 interview with Reason Magazine that “the very heart of  conservatism is libertarianism,” there are and always have been significant differences between conservatives and libertarians when it comes to basic political philosophy.Where conservatives place significant value in the preservation of “tradition” and generally stand against the idea of radical change, libertarians generally advocate a political philosophy that stands in direct challenge to the status quo, rejects the idea of tradition for tradition’s sake, and emphasizes the primacy of the individual over the group, whether that group be the “traditional family,” the church, or the state. On some level it’s hard to see how conservatives and libertarians can be compatible with each other on any level given their significant core differences.

Even getting beyond the core differences, though, the similarities between conservatives and libertarians are far less obvious than might seem at first glance. For example, it is often stated that libertarianism is basically a mixture of “fiscal conservatism and social liberalism,” meaning that libertarianism is a blend of conservative economic policy and “liberal” social policy on issues such as personal freedom. However, as Jeremy Kolassa pointed out in his initial essay during May’s Cato Unbound debate, there are significant differences between libertarian and conservative views on economics and government fiscal policy:

[W]hat about economics? Surely we can agree with conservatives there. But let’s be honest, Jonah Goldberg was incorrect in saying that Friedman, Hayek, et. al were the Mount Rushmore of conservative economics. Conservative economics is more aptly described by the term “trickle down”: By giving tax breaks and subsidies to corporations and those at the top, the wealth will flow downward and lift the boats of those at the bottom. But that is not increasing freedom or limiting government, it is merely tilting society in the direction of one group rather than another.

That’s not libertarian. A libertarian economic policy would be to eliminate all the subsidies given to businesses, give the tax breaks to everybody, and knock down the barriers that prevent newcomers from setting up businesses. Libertarianism is universalist, not top-down.

This highlights the major difference between “libertarian” and “conservative” economics. Libertarians are pro-capitalism. Conservatives are pro-business. While they sound similar, these ideas are emphatically not the same and never could be. Through the means of creative destruction, capitalism frequently tears down and destroys established businesses. Conservatism, however, in its quest to maintain the status quo, steps in to prevent this. The best example? 2007. If conservatives were truly pro-market, they would have never passed TARP, but they did and bailed out the banks. That’s a conservative, not a libertarian, economic policy.

If conservatives and libertarians can’t even really agree on economic policy, then where’s the basis for the alliance?

Perhaps my biggest problem with fusionism in its current incarnation, however, is the extent to which it demands that libertarians silence their criticism of their so-called conservative allies in the name of “unity.” Even if one accepts the argument that libertarians and conservatives are on the same side when it comes to economics, there is no denying that there are significant differences between the two sides on many issues. The most obvious, of course, are social issues such as gay marriage, the drug war, pornography, and, for some but not all libertarians, abortion rights. In addition to that, it’s generally the case that libertarians have a far more restrained view of what proper American foreign policy should be than conservatives do, even in today’s era where conservatives suddenly seem to have become anti-war when the war is being led by Barack Obama. Based on those differences alone, the idea that libertarians and conservatives are just two sides of the same coin is clearly false.

So, this leads us to the inherent flaw of modern fusionism. People who consider them libertarians are expected to join conservatives in their vehement, and often insane when expressed by people like Michele Bachmann and Allan West, criticisms of the left, and they are also expected to keep their mouths shut when it comes to criticism of their so-called conservative allies when they advocate policies that clearly violate libertarian principles. That’s not an alliance, it’s surrender. If libertarians stay silent while conservatives continue to push continually absurd arguments against marriage equality that advance hateful and bigoted stereotypes about homosexuals, for example, then they are essentially abandoning their principles in favor of short-term, and likely quixotic, political gain. There is no value in keeping your mouth shut just so you can be part of the political “Cool Kids Club.”

None of what I’ve said here should be taken as a rejection of the idea that libertarians should reject the idea of temporary alliances with people on the right to advance specific issues. There are plenty of such issues where conservatives and libertarians can find common ground to push through policies and make progress on the local, state, and federal levels, and coalitions have always been a part of politics in the United States.  However, there’s a difference between coalitions and surrender, and it’s clear to me that fusionism demands nothing more than abject surrender from libertarians and expects them to become little more than the lapdogs of conservatives. Well, we’ve tried that one before, my friends, and it didn’t work. We’d be foolish to try it again.

On a final note, I’d like to note that conservatives aren’t the only ones at fault here. One of the major problems with libertarianism is that, in many ways, it is not a coherent philosophy but rather a hodgepodge of different philosophies that have united under the banner of libertarianism. Among our ranks there are minarchists, Hayekians, the Mises crowd, fans of Milton Friedman, utilitarians, Christian libertarians, anarchists, and anarcho-capitalists. Given that the general principles of libertarianism are still very much in the minority in the United States, perhaps its inevitable that people who clearly have their own deep philosophical differences. However, the lack of a core philosophy is, arguably, one of the biggest weaknesses of libertarianism. I intend to address that issue in a future post.

Free Market Organs: The Case for Capitalism in the Organ Transplant System

A 10-year old Pennsylvania girl by the name of Sarah Murnaghan could die within a few weeks if she doesn’t receive a lung transplant soon. There’s currently a petition on Change.org directed at HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to alter the current policy so that Sarah is made a higher priority on the donor list because the clock is ticking at least somewhat faster than some who are ahead of her.

I’ll leave it to the readers to determine if this petition is the right way to go in the case of Sarah, but I think there is a much larger problem with the organ donation system that I believe could be addressed by the free market. Back in 2008, I wrote a post about why a regulated, above board organ market would be superior and much more moral than the current “altruistic” system. Some of my examples might be a little dated (Hanna Montana is all grown up now) but my overall point stands. Though this post is mostly about live donations, compensation going to an individual’s estate would give Sarah and countless others a much better shot at living.

Free Market Organs (Posted January 24, 2008)

Last week, Doug linked a post about British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s support for a policy that would allow hospitals to harvest organs without prior consent of the decedent or his/ her family. In essence, the organs of all deceased British citizens would belong to the government’s healthcare system except for those individuals who “opted out” prior to death. The policy in the U.S. is an “opt in” approach rather than “opt out.”

Why is this distinction important? Answer: the presumption of ownership. If citizens have an option of opting in, this shows that individuals own their bodies; to suggest that an individual has to opt out shows that citizens’ bodies are property of the government (unless s/he makes an affirmative claim on his/her body).

The reason for Brown’s support for this policy is quite obvious: like just about everywhere else in the world, Britain is having an organ shortage. So if presumed consent is not the answer to solving the organ shortage, what is? Randolph Beard, John D. Jackson, and David L. Kaserman of Auburn University published a study in the Winter 2008 issue of Cato’s Regulation Magazine. The team studied the effectiveness of current policies aimed at maximizing donor participation and organ matching. Among the policies they analyzed were: increased government funding for organ donor education, organ donor cards (such as having the words “organ donor” on driver’s licenses), required request, kidney exchange programs, and donor reimbursement. None of the policies have come close to solving the shortage. The researchers estimate that roughly half of the potentially viable cadaver organs are ever harvested. With the exception of the inefficient kidney exchange program, one feature that all of these programs have in common is that they each rely on altruism on the part of individuals to donate organs without any sort of compensation.

The one solution which the researchers believe would be effective, monetary compensation to organ donors or their families, is illegal almost everywhere. In 1984, the National Organ Transplant Act was passed making it a crime in the U.S. for a surviving family to receive payment for their loved one’s organs. The law was passed mostly on ethical grounds without any consideration for what would happen to the supply of available organs. The researchers estimate that some 80,000 lives from 1984 to present have been lost because of the bill’s passage and other subsequent policies in the current “altruistic” system. The researchers further project that another 196,310 lives will be lost between 2005- 2015 (and this is what they consider a “conservative” estimate!).

As controversial as compensating families organs of deceased family members is, the thought of an individual driving to a hospital, removing an organ (such as a kidney), and selling that organ to someone in need of the organ for a profit is a complete non-starter. This shouldn’t come as a shock given that in today’s lexicon; the word “profit” is a dirty word. The people who scream bloody murder whenever people decide to “scalp” tickets to sporting events or tickets for Hanna Montana concerts (what’s the big deal with Hanna Montana anyway?) will not likely be in favor of selling vital organs. Anti-capitalist objections aside, free market buying and selling of organs appears to be the most practical solution.

Cato Institute’s Director of Bioethics Studies Sigrid Fry-Revere found that Iran is the only country that does not have an organ shortage and has not had a shortage in ten years. Why? Because Iran (of all places!) is one of the only countries where it is legal for individuals to buy and sell organs from live, voluntary, donations. Revere’s findings also revealed that even if all the viable organs were taken by force by the government from cadavers, there would still not be enough organs to provide an organ to everyone who needs one (Cato Daily Podcast dated January 15, 2008). Maybe the Iranians are on to something here? David Holcberg, writing for Capitalism Magazine agrees arguing in favor of a free market system for organs on both practical and moral grounds:

If you were sick and needed a kidney transplant, you would soon find out that there is a waiting line–and that there are 70,000 people ahead of you, 4,000 of whom will die within a year. If you couldn’t find a willing and compatible donor among your friends and family, you could try to find a stranger willing to give you his kidney–but you would not be allowed to pay him. In fact, the law would not permit you to give him any value in exchange for his kidney. As far as the law is concerned, no one can profit from donating an organ–even if that policy costs you your life. Patients’ attempt to circumvent this deplorable state of affairs has led to the emergence of “paired” kidney donations, an arrangement whereby two individuals–who can’t donate their organs to their loves ones because of medical incompatibility–agree that each will donate a kidney to a friend or family member of the other. But this exchange of value for value is precisely what today’s law forbids. Thus, under pressure to allow this type of exchange, in December the U.S. House and Senate passed The Living Kidney Organ Donation Clarification Act, which amends the National Organ Transplant Act to exempt “paired” donations of kidneys from prosecution.

The congress says that kidneys can be exchanged without sending anyone to jail; how thoughtful. While this is an encouraging step in the right direction, why won’t our elected officials go the rest of the way? Is it the potential risks for the donors? Holcberg points out that the risk for a healthy person dying from donating a kidney is about .03% and usually live normal lives without reducing his or her life expectancy.

No, I suspect the objection to selling organs is more rooted in the overall distain far too many people have towards capitalism. It’s simply unethical to make a profit off of something that someone else “needs” whether its gasoline, Hanna Montana tickets, or a kidney. Only the “privileged” will be able to buy organs if such a system were adopted, they would argue.

Even if this were true, denying a person the right to purchase an organ to save his or her own life should not be subject to a vote or someone else’s ethical hang-ups. If I want to remove a kidney and sell it to a willing buyer for $30,000 (or whatever the going market rate is) I ought to have that right. Why must we assume the government has the right to tell us what we can do with our bodies whether it’s selling our organs by our own choices or government taking them from us after we die without prior consent? Our individual rights of life, liberty, and property demand that we have the ability to make these choices for ourselves.

Quote of the Day: Unequal Treaty Edition

For those of you who have not seen this yet, there is a really important debate about libertarian/conservative “fusionism” at Cato Unbound. Among the essays responding to the lead essay authored by Jacqueline Otto is Jeremy Kolassa’s essay entitled: An Unequal Treaty.

Here is one excerpt from his essay explaining why fusionism has failed to deliver more liberty:

In her opening essay, Jacqueline Otto makes several points about where libertarians and conservatives converge. But notice the elephant in the room: social issues. At no point in her essay does she write about gay marriage, drug legalization, civil liberties, feminism, or even foreign policy or immigration […]

[…]

For libertarians, this is a question of the individual’s right to rule his or her own life. That is, after all, what liberty is about. For a conservative, society to a great extent rules a person’s life. It is not always a question what the individual wants, but of what is right for the community. The community, in turn, is built on centuries-old traditions. Allowing gay marriage would break these traditions, which is why most conservatives are denouncing it as rampant immorality. Viewed in this light, conservatives are really just the other side of the progressive coin. Both put the community in charge.

As long as conservatives wish to use the machinery of the state to enforce their moral code, fusionism will be doomed and the so-called progressives will continue to prevail. Alliances with conservatives need to be formed but we libertarians can no longer accept this unequal treaty, as Kolassa describes it (and quite accurately, I might add).

Our Democracy

Barack Obama tells graduates at Ohio University today:

Still, you’ll hear voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s the root of all our problems, even as they do their best to gum up the works; or that tyranny always lurks just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave, creative, unique experiment in self-rule is just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.

Perhaps those voices are on to something… Here’s Alcee Hastings on “our” democracy:

“When the deal goes down, uh… All this talk about, uh… rules? We make ‘em up, as we go along.”

Thus it was that Obamacare was never passed in full by the House. Pelosi made up the rules as she went along. The will of the American people was expressly ignored by Democrats in Congress to inflict Obamacare on us. In fact, we the people had to pass the bill to find out what was in it, according to Pelosi.

It was funny (and not a little terrifying) to see how quickly “our” democracy bent to Obama’s will. Then the system of checks and balances came into play to claim a little of the Democrats’ power. Now, after an embarrassing attempt to pass new gun controls on his own, Barack Obama gets up an preaches seriously about our democracy. In other words, when Congress misbehaves, it’s our democracy. Heh.

Because it’s the Right Thing… and Because it’s Tactically Sound

A few days ago, an NBA player of no particular note came out as gay…

Which, really, should also be of no particular note.

But then ESPN decided to put a moronic bigot (whose name I won’t mention and whose video I won’t bother linking to here… why publicize idiots like this) to discuss the issue… and predictably he spouted moronic bigotry all over the screen, and made it an even BIGGER spectacle…

Now, the intarwebs are full of folks reacting against the reaction against the reaction against etc… etc…

They’re caught up in the noise, and not the issue.

I try not to do that… and to smack it down when I can.

I take issue with the way issues surrounding homosexuality in public life are covered by the media, and often with the strategy and tactics employed by activists… but I believe in, and work for equal rights and equal protection for homosexuals (and before anyone gets offended by my use of a single word… you’re an idiot… YOU are part of the problem… because you are offended stupidly by nothing, and not working towards a real solution).

Chris Kluwe, NFL Punter, wrote a post in support of the gay community in HuffPo yesterday… I normally don’t link to them, but I think this is a rational and correct position, reasonably well put…

Really, my position and reasoning are simple…

I speak in support of equal treatment for homosexuals, not because I am one, but because it is the right thing to do.

Because I believe in equal rights and treatment for EVERYONE.

Whether I approve of them or not.

Further, I do so, because anything which can be used against those you disapprove of… can also be used against those you DO approve of…

…or YOU.

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

Margaret Thatcher Defends her Record and Capitalism Itself

In marking the passing of one of the staunchest defenders of capitalism who held high office, I thought it would be appropriate to post this video of Margaret Thatcher in which she defended her record against her Labour Party critics. In this video, her political opponents thought the income gap grew too much under her leadership. Listen to her answer. This is the sort of unapologetic defence of capitalism we need in leadership on this side of the pond.

Another interesting part of this video was her warnings against the idea of a central European bank and currency. It seems that she was quite prescient given the problems of the Euro.

Gay Marriage, Religious Rights, and Freedom of Association

(Re-post: originally posted November 23, 2008)

California’s Proposition 8, the ballot measure aiming to outlaw same sex marriage, passed on a very close vote. Prop 8’s supporters* pushed a campaign of fear, misinformation, and a complete distortion of the meaning of individual liberty. This campaign commercial is typical of the intolerance and hysteria being promoted from the “yes” campaign.

Argument #1: Churches could be forced to marry gay people.

Argument #2: Religious adoption agencies could be forced to allow gay couples to adopt children; some adoption agencies would close their doors as a result.

Argument #3: Those who speak out against gay marriage on religious grounds will be labeled “intolerant” and subjected to legal penalties or social ridicule. Careers could be threatened.

Argument #4: Schools will teach students that marriage is between “party a” and “party b” regardless of gender. Schools also teach health and sexuality and would now include discussions of homosexuality.

Argument #5: There will be “serious clashes” between public schools and parents who wish to teach their children their values concerning marriage.

Argument #6: Allowing gays to marry will restrict or eliminate liberties of “everyone.” (Example: Photographers who do not want to work at same sex weddings)

Argument #7: If Prop 8 fails, religious liberty and free speech rights will be adversely affected.

My response to these arguments is that we should be advocating for more freedom for everyone rather than restrict freedom of a group or class of people. The state should recognize the same contract rights** for a gay couple as it would between a man and a woman. To get around the whole definition of marriage issue, I would propose that as far as the state is concerned, any legally recognized intimate relationship between consenting adults should be called a “domestic partnership.” From there the churches or secular equivalent to churches should have the right to decide who they will marry and who they will not (just as they do now).

Rather than subject an individual’s rights to a vote or either party forcing their values on the other, we should instead advocate freedom of association and less government in our everyday lives. Somewhere along the way, we as a people decided that the government should involve itself more and more into the relationships of private actors. The government now has the ability to dictate to business owners quotas of who they must hire, family leave requirements, how much their employees must be paid, and how many hours they work (among other requirements). For the most part, businesses which serve the public cannot deny service to individuals for fear of a lawsuit.

A return to a freedom of association society would remedy arguments 1, 2, 6, and 7 from this ad. As to Argument #3, the anti-gay marriage folks are going to have to realize that in a free society, they are going to have to deal with “social ridicule”*** or being called intolerant. Anyone who takes a stand on any issue is going to be criticized and called names. In a freedom of association society, an employer would have every right to decide to layoff individuals who hold views or lifestyles they disagree with.

While we’re on the subject of intolerance, perhaps we should take a moment to consider if people who would deny equivalent rights which come with marriage are intolerant. This ad is exactly the same as the previous ad except that the words “same sex” and “gays” have been replaced with “interracial.”

Believe it or not, there was a time in this country when there were such laws against interracial marriage. Those who argued against interracial marriage made very similar arguments to what the anti-gay marriage people are making now. Today most of us would say those people were intolerant.

Intolerance aside, Arguments 4 and 5 can also be answered by reducing the role of government in our lives. What the “yes” people should be arguing for is a separation of school and state. While we as a nation are trending toward more government involvement in K-12 education, those who do not want the government schools to teach their children the birds and the bees or enter into discussions of homosexuality can put their children in private schools which share their values or home school. School Choice is the obvious answers to these concerns.

Prop 8’s supporters have turned the whole idea of individual liberty on its head. They claim that in order to preserve the rights of the greatest number of people a minority of people necessarily must sacrifice their rights. This is absurd and dangerous. Perhaps it is this complete misunderstanding of individual rights among Californians which contributed to Prop 8’s passage.

When explained properly, the rights of life, liberty, and property is the easiest concept to understand.

Hat Tip: The Friendly Atheist

Posted Elsewhere:

Dan Melson @ Searchlight Crusade has written a very thought provoking post on this issue. Some of his arguments I agree with, others I don’t but all of his points are well argued.

» Read more

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