Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for America (page 1 / 1)

Some Precaution on Pence’s Precautionary Principles →

On the subject of Vice-President Pence's unwillingness to be alone with women other than his wife, I think Sarah Skwire makes a very good point.

It’s a cliché, but a true one, to note that the real work of many professions gets done at the bar or on quick lunches or dinner grabbed with a colleague, outside the formal constraints of official meetings. When that cliché is true, and to the extent that it is true, precautions like Pence’s, that cut women out from that kind of social interaction, also cut them off from at least one route to success.

Sauce for the Goose

I wonder, then, whether Pence and others who guard themselves in this way would consider extending their prohibitions on such private meetings with opposite gender colleagues to colleagues of the same gender. In other words, if Mike Pence won’t allow himself to meet with female colleagues for a casual private dinner or drink, then perhaps he should consider disallowing interactions like that with male colleagues as well.

I think, at a minimum, that considering that possibility will tell us a lot. If your immediate reaction to that suggestion is to think that it would be unfairly restrictive to men to tell them not to go golfing alone with the Vice President, or join him for an impromptu cheeseburger, or take advantage of a quick trip on a private jet in order to get to know him better and pitch him a few ideas…then maybe that policy is even more unfair when it is applied only to women.

If it is unreasonable to think that a woman’s career is damaged because the VP won’t meet with her privately, then it is unreasonable to think a man’s career would be damaged for the same reason. If it is not unreasonable to think that such restrictions damage a woman’s career, then Pence owes it to his female colleagues and constituents to ensure that their male counterparts don’t have better access to him than they do.

It is, at least, worth thinking about seriously.

Hacking Democratic Rules Isn’t Good Government →

Megan McCardle makes a good point about people's increasing desire to "win" at politics, by any means, at any cost.

What’s most worrying, however, is that intelligent people are discussing this stuff. Over the last decade, we’ve spent more and more time on these sorts of procedural hacks. Filibusters to prevent judicial nominations -- and parliamentary maneuvers to weaken the filibuster. Debt ceiling brinkmanship -- and whether Obama could mint trillion-dollar platinum coins to get around it. We have become less and less interested in either policy or politics, and more interested in finding some loophole in the rules that will allow one party or the other to impose its will on the country without the messy business of gathering votes and building public support. It started with the courts, but it certainly has not ended there.

Each procedural hack slightly undermines the legitimacy of the system as a whole, and makes the next hack more likely, as parties give up on the pretense that winning an election confers the right to govern, and justify their incremental power grabs by whatever the other party did last.

​> ...

What matters is not who started it, or the last outrage committed by the other side. What matters is who ends it. Unfortunately, while both sides quite agree that it needs to end, they also agree that it should end only after they themselves are allowed last licks. As long as both sides cheer their own violations while crying foul on the other side, the escalation will continue -- until we no longer have a political system worth controlling.

​I've long believed that the most important thing isn't whether you win or lose in politics. The most important thing is to have a system of rules and to strictly abide by those rules, whether or not it gives us the win we want. Increasingly, at all levels of politics, we're choosing to throw out the rule book in favor of winning. In the short term, it appears to give us what we want. In the long term, it's going to destroy the entire concept of American government, with results that no one will like.

Free Speech in America is Pretty Absolute →

Charles C. W. Cooke offers a quick primer on America's expansive free speech tradition. When I think of American exceptionalism, this is one of the areas that comes to mind.

As the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled, under American constitutional law there is simply no such thing as “hate speech.” In Texas v. Johnson, the Court confirmed that “the government may not prohibit the verbal or nonverbal expression of an idea merely because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable,” thereby echoing the insistence of a lower court that “the First Amendment does not recognize exceptions for bigotry, racism, and religious intolerance or ideas or matters some may deem trivial, vulgar or profane.” Indeed, as FIRE’s Sean Clark noted in 2006, the government may not prohibit much at all:

The First Amendment allows you to wear a jacket that says “Fuck the Draft” in a public building (see Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15), yell “We’ll take the fucking street later!” during a protest (see Hess v. Indiana, 414 U.S. 105), burn the American flag in protest (Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 and United States v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310), and even give a racially charged speech to a restless crowd (see Terminello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1). You can even, consistent with the First Amendment, call for the overthrow of the United States government (see Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444). This is not a recent development in constitutional law—these cases date back to 1949.

It is worth remembering that Madison did not believe that his Bill of Rights was necessary to protect speech at all. Because the Constitution is a charter of enumerated powers, he argued in Federalist No. 10, Congress enjoys no capacity to censor the press in the first instance and does not therefore need to be prevented from doing so:

Why for instance, should it be said, that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretence for claiming that power.

This entry was tagged. America Free Speech

Ferguson

I find the entire situation in Ferguson to be infuriating and frustrating. I'm furious that a police officer got into an altercation with a young, black man and shot and killed him. I'm furious that the police department's first response was to suit up and bring out the tactical military gear. I'm furious that MRAV's, sniper rifles, and grenade launchers are considered appropriate tools for America's civilian police force.

I was frustrated that it took 3 nights of standoffs, tear gas, and rubber bullets before Missouri governor Jay Nixon decided that something was wrong and relieved the police of responsibility for Ferguson. I was elated when the Missouri State Highway Patrol was given responsibility and responded by leading protestors through town, listening to protestors, and being photographed hugging protestors instead of pointing guns at them.

I was confused when I heard that protestors, on the very first night, had reacted to the shooting by looting and trashing a local convenience store. Looting, in general, confuses me. Who does that? Who responds to a tragedy by saying, "Screw it. I'm mad and I'm going to respond by beating up this other innocent bystander."

Make no mistake, that's what looting and vandalism is. It's violence against the innocent and the uninvolved. Most stores that are looted are owned by local community members. They're staffed by local community members. They provide goods, services, jobs, and incomes to local community members. By destroying them, you're destroying local incomes, services, jobs, and wealth. You're depriving the owner of a livelihood. You're depriving the workers of an income. You're depriving the people who live and work near that store of the services that that store provided.

I've heard that protestors are claiming that they looted because that was the only way to draw attention to their cause. That's stupid. Protest marches, sit-ins, and rallies draw attention to your cause. Practicing non-violent resistance draws attention to your cause and generates sympathy from those watching. Looting and vandalism is a senseless act of violence and rage directed against those unfortunate enough to be located too close to the scene of tragedy. It's violence for violence's sake, responding to injustice by multiplying injustice.

So I was frustrated and angry when I heard that the night of calm in Ferguson was followed up with a night of renewed fighting and renewed vandalism. I was angry when I heard that the police stood back and allowed the looting to happen, forcing store owners to defend their own businesses. First the police over responded by armoring up and acting worse than most occupying forces. Then they under responded by allowing thugs to destroy community businesses. I'm angry because they don't understand—and can't perform—their own jobs.

I want justice in Ferguson. I want the police officer responsible for the shooting to be arrested and tried for murder, treated the same as any other civilian assailant. If a jury determines that his actions were justified, he can walk free and resume his job, the same as everyone else. If the jury determines otherwise, he can suffer the penalty, the same as everyone else.

And I want the looters to be arrested, charged, and tried as well. Their actions are neither necessary nor useful. They're criminal and should be treated as such.

One final note. I've seen people on Twitter questioning why second amendment anti-tyranny gun nuts haven't had anything to say about Ferguson. As one such nut, here's my response.

The citizenry of Ferguson absolutely have a right to own weaponry sufficient to defend themselves from criminals, whether vandals or an overreaching police force. The police force certainly seems to have given sufficient provocation for these Americans to justify an armed response. It was just such provocations, in Boston, that ultimately led to the War for Independence.

That doesn't mean that now is the right time for an armed response or that an armed response is the wisest course of action, at this time. I won't absolutely advise against it, and I won't absolutely advise it. I'm not on the ground in Ferguson, I don't know all of the facts, and I don't have the knowledge to speak wisely about the situation.

But the citizens of Ferguson, as citizens of the United States, have the right to assemble, to speak, and to petition for redress of grievances by any means necessary, either First or Second Amendment. But they don't have the right to claim that violence against local property owners is one such means of redress. That's why I'm increasingly angered with, and frustrated by, both sides of this standoff.

The Myth of Americans' Poor Life Expectancy →

Do Americans really pay more for healthcare and get less for it than most other industrialized countries? Avid Roy does some myth busting.

If you really want to measure health outcomes, the best way to do it is at the point of medical intervention. If you have a heart attack, how long do you live in the U.S. vs. another country? If you’re diagnosed with breast cancer? In 2008, a group of investigators conducted a worldwide study of cancer survival rates, called CONCORD. They looked at 5-year survival rates for breast cancer, colon and rectal cancer, and prostate cancer. I compiled their data for the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan, and western Europe. Guess who came out number one?

This entry was tagged. America Research

Is Income Inequality Unfair? →

From Scott Rasmussen, at Real Clear Politics:

For most Americans, the context is very important. If a CEO gets a huge paycheck after his company received a government bailout, that’s a problem. People who get rich through corporate welfare schemes are seen as suspect. On the other hand, 86 percent believe it’s fair for people who create very successful companies to get very rich.

In other words, it’s not just the income; it’s whether the reward matched the effort. People don’t think it’s a problem that Steve Jobs got rich. After all, he created Apple Computer and the iPad generation. But there was massive outrage about the bonuses paid to AIG executives after that company was propped up by the federal government.

Income inequality isn't unjust unless the income was ill gotten gains. Our goal as a society shouldn't be to stamp out income inequality. It should be to stamp out crony capitalism that allows people to get rich through connections instead of requiring them to get rich through innovation that makes the rest of us richer.

On hitchhiking around America via private plane →

The most fun is the people I run into. This country is so diverse…it’s like 50 different countries but everywhere I go I encounter helpful people who have interesting stories of their own. The landscape of the US is stunning, particularly in the West.

The most surprising? How much fun flying in small airplanes can be! One flight in New Mexico stands out where wild horses were running below the plane and there were no roads in sight. I was also surprised to discover so many people who are returning to a lifestyle of sustainable living, from urban farms to solar homes and the eco-friendly efforts of the larger cities. I also really dug getting to try out the flight simulators at Dallas’s Aviation Training & Resource Center.

I think I know what I'll do when I retire.

This entry was tagged. America Wealth

Krugman and Inequality of Free Time →

Krugman is correct that women spend more time in paid jobs than before. But women also spend much less time doing unpaid household work. Overall, men and women enjoy three to six hours a week more free time than in the 1960s — Americans have more leisure today than a generation ago.

In fact, lower income Americans have more free time today than upper income Americans do. It seems that people face a trade-off between higher incomes with less free time or lower incomes with more free time.

Speaking personally, I know I could probably earn more if I put in more time at work. But I'm happy to forgo that extra income in favor of spending more time at home, with my family.

Subject or Citizen?

I was struck by this bit from Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, as soon as I read it. A bit of background. Tesh Vorpatril is visiting the planet of Barrayar and is introduced to its ruler, Emperor Gregor. They are both at Vorkosigan House, the home of Lady Ekaterin Vorkosigan.

[Emperor Gregor said] “How do you do, Lady Vorpatril, Mademoiselle Rish. Welcome to Barrayar.”

He said this in the exact same way that Lady Vorkosigan had said, Welcome to Vorkosigan House. It came to Tej that he was the one man here who was not a subject.

Every Barrayaran is a subject of Emperor Gregor, pledged to obey him. With their lives, if necessary. Emperor Gregor was the only Barrayaran "who was not a subject". When I read that, it spent me down a trail of thought. What does it mean to not be a subject? What does it mean to be a citizen, instead?

An emperor is sovereign over many people. Gregor has the power of life and death over his subjects. He can order summary executions at will. A subject holds his own life only at the sufferance of his liege lord.

Gregor is responsible for his subjects. He must protect them, provide for them, care for them. Subjects are dependent on their rulers.

An emperor can seize whatever he wants: property, possessions, or people. Subjects have no legal recourse against this seizure. Subjects enjoy prosperity only at the whim of their sovereigns.

A citizen is sovereign over himself. He holds his life in his own hands. No one has the authority to order his execution. Citizens are independent. A citizen is responsible for himself. He must provide for himself, care for himself, and look out for his own interests. A citizen is entitled to keep what is his. His property is his own and cannot be taken. His possessions are his own and cannot be taken. His family is his own and cannot be taken.

Citizens are not, however, forced to stand alone, live alone, and die alone. A citizen can freely surrender a portion of his sovereignty to another. He can allow another to act as his agent, in all matters. He can allow another to provide for him, defend him, guard his interests, and more. But he retains sovereignty in all things. He can, at any time, fire his agent and either resume excercising sovereignty himself or choose a new agent to act on his behalf.

This is what it means to be an American. We are a nation of 300 million sovereigns. We have delegated a portion of authority to our elected representatives. We allow them to negotiate treaties in our names, to make and conclude war, to levy taxes and spend from the public fisc. But the President is not our ruler. Neither is Congress or the courts. They are merely our delegated agents. We are the rulers.

That is the difference between subjects and citizens. Subjects are ruled by someone else. Citizens rule themselves. Are you a subject? Or a citizen?

Paul Ryan: Restoring the Rule of Law →

Paul Ryan, with a very, very good speech on the importance of the Constitution and on the primacy of the rule of law, in our political and economic system.

We can strengthen our defense of liberty if we remember to keep in mind those who are struggling to make ends meet. What makes our Constitution such an extraordinary document is that, in making the United States the freest civilization in history, the Founders guaranteed that it would become the most prosperous as well. The American system of limited government, low taxes, sound money and the rule of law has done more to help the poor than any other economic system ever designed.

I want to talk today in particular about the last of those – the rule of law, which is absolutely essential to all the other benefits of our system, to the prosperity and freedom of our country, and to the well being of all Americans, especially the most vulnerable.

What is the rule of law? When the Declaration of Independence cited as justification “the laws of nature and of nature’s God,” the Founders were channeling Aristotle, who wrote that the rule of law in principle means that, quote, “God and intellect alone rule.”

Aristotle defined the law as “intellect without appetite,” by which he meant justice untainted by the self-interest of those in power.

The great difficulty we encounter in striving to meet Aristotle’s ideal was best summed up by James Madison: “if men were angels, no government would be necessary. And if angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

But, as Madison reminded us, men are no angels, and government is “administered by men over men.” Grounded in a proper understanding of human nature, our Founders tackled this challenge head-on with a brilliant Constitution and a healthy separation of powers, binding all men to the same set of laws and preventing any one man or group of men from gaining enough power to declare themselves above the law.

Do read the whole thing.

No "Fundamental Right" to Own a Cow, or Consume Its Milk →

Wisconsin Judge Patrick J. Fiedler, on your fundamental rights.

"This court is unwilling to declare that there is a fundamental right to consume the food of one's choice without first being presented with significantly more developed arguments on both sides of the issue."

"no, Plaintiffs to not have a fundamental right to own and use a dairy cow or a dairy herd;

"no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to consume the milk from their own cow;"

"no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice..."

If Americans don't have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice, what rights do they have?

Education Before Public Schools

Did you know that before British and U.S. governments created public schools, parents still placed a high value on education? That children got a better education each passing year? That schools were cheaper? That 95% of teenagers were literate? That teenagers were more literate without public schools than they are now, with them? Truth.

I recently discovered a fascinating article on The Spread of Education Before Compulsion: Britain and America in the Nineteenth Century from the Freeman.

A few, choice, excerpts. First, the experience in Britain.

Contrary to popular belief, the supply of schooling in Britain between 1800 and 1840 was relatively substantial prior to any government intervention, although it depended almost completely on private funds. At this time, moreover, the largest contributors to education revenues were working parents and the second largest was the Church. Of course, there was less education per child than today, just as there was less of everything else, because the national income was so much smaller. I have calculated, nevertheless, that the percentage of the net national income spent on day-schooling of children of all ages in England in 1833 was approximately 1 percent. By 1920, when schooling had become "free" and compulsory by special statute, the proportion had fallen to 0.7 percent.

The evidence also shows that working parents were purchasing increasing amounts of education for their children as their incomes were rising from 1818 onwards, and this, to repeat, at a time before education was "free" and compulsory by statute. Compulsion came in 1880, and state schooling did not become free until 1891.

... It is not surprising that with such evidence of literacy growth of young people, the levels had become even more substantial by 1870. On my calculations for 1880, when national compulsion was enacted, over 95 percent of fifteen-year-olds were literate. This should be compared to the fact that over a century later 40 percent of 21-year-olds in the United Kingdom admit to difficulties with writing and spelling.

Second, the experience in the U.S.

Sheldon Richman quotes data showing that from 1650 to 1795, American male literacy climbed from 60 to 90 percent. Between 1800 and 1840 literacy in the North rose from 75 percent to between 91 and 97 percent. In the South the rate grew from about 55 percent to 81 percent. Richman also quotes evidence indicating that literacy in Massachusetts was 98 percent on the eve of legislated compulsion and is about 91 percent today.

Finally, Carl F. Kaestle observes: "The best generalization possible is that New York, like other American towns of the Revolutionary period, had a high literacy rate relative to other places in the world, and that literacy did not depend primarily upon the schools."

And, the conclusion.

If, on the other hand, the term "universal" is intended more loosely to mean something like, "most," "nearly everybody," or "over 90 percent," then we lack firm evidence to show that education was not already universal prior to intervention. The eventual establishment, meanwhile, of laws to provide a schooling that was both compulsory and free, was accompanied by major increases in costs. These included not only unprecedented expenses of growing bureaucracy but also the substantial costs of reduced liberty of families eventually caught in a choice-restricted monopoly system serving the interests not of the demanders but of the rent-seeking suppliers. Both sides of the Atlantic, meanwhile, shared this same fate.

We educated our children before we had universal, "free", public schools. We educated our children before the rise of strong national and state teachers' unions. We could have it again.

Barney Frank Wants to Kill Fannie and Freddie?!?

Be still my beating heart. No, wait. Start beating, my stilled heart. Barney Frank just recommended killing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

"As I believe this committee will be recommending, abolishing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in their present form and coming up with a new whole system of housing finance [is in order]," House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D, Mass.) said at a hearing.

This is the same Congressman Frank that previously refused to believe that anything could possibly be wrong with Fannie and Freddie.

"These two entities--Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac--are not facing any kind of financial crisis," said Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee. "The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing."

And this is the same Fannie and Freddie that the government is bailing out, with no limits whatsoever on the losses to the American taxpayer.

The Obama administration's decision to cover an unlimited amount of losses at the mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac over the next three years stirred controversy over the holiday.

The Treasury announced Thursday it was removing the caps that limited the amount of available capital to the companies to $200 billion each.

Unlimited access to bailout funds through 2012 was "necessary for preserving the continued strength and stability of the mortgage market," the Treasury said. Fannie and Freddie purchase or guarantee most U.S. home mortgages and have run up huge losses stemming from the worst wave of defaults since the 1930s.

Of course, this is Barney Frank we're talking about here. I shudder to think about what he has in mind to replace Fannie and Freddie. Whatever it is, be sure that you'll be paying for it, not him. You'll probably be paying a lot.

The "bank tax" is unconstitutional and illegal

I listen to the President's Weekly Radio Address every week. It's usually a painful process, since I almost always disagree with the President. (That's been true for both President Bush and President Obama, in case you're wondering.)

Last week's address was particularly painful. It was almost scary to listen to. The President spoke quite passionately about his desire to tax big banks to pay for the assistance they've received over the past 2 years. This is part of what he had to say (emphasis added by me).

Much of the turmoil of this recession was caused by the irresponsibility of banks and financial institutions on Wall Street. These financial firms took huge, reckless risks in pursuit of short-term profits and soaring bonuses. They gambled with borrowed money, without enough oversight or regard for the consequences. And when they lost, they lost big. Little more than a year ago, many of the largest and oldest financial firms in the world teetered on the brink of collapse, overwhelmed by the consequences of their irresponsible decisions. This financial crisis nearly pulled the entire economy into a second Great Depression.

As a result, the American people - struggling in their own right - were placed in a deeply unfair and unsatisfying position. Even though these financial firms were largely facing a crisis of their own creation, their failure could have led to an even greater calamity for the country. That is why the previous administration started a program - the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP - to provide these financial institutions with funds to survive the turmoil they helped unleash. It was a distasteful but necessary thing to do.

Many originally feared that most of the $700 billion in TARP money would be lost. But when my administration came into office, we put in place rigorous rules for accountability and transparency, which cut the cost of the bailout dramatically. We have now recovered most of the money we provided to the banks. That's good news, but as far as I'm concerned, it's not good enough. We want the taxpayers' money back, and we're going to collect every dime.

That is why, this week, I proposed a new fee on major financial firms to compensate the American people for the extraordinary assistance they provided to the financial industry. And the fee would be in place until the American taxpayer is made whole.

Reading the President's address now, it sounds bland and reasonable. But listening to it was a different experience. The President sounded angry and distinctly sounded like he wanted to punish the banks for ever daring to make trouble. He sounded like what he really wanted was to make the banks pay for the entire cost of the stimulus bill. I was deeply disturbed, as I listened to the speech, to the hear the President so angrily attacking and villianizing a specific industry.

Here's the thing. Not all of the banks that received government help wanted government help. Some of them were strong-armed into accepting the help. The President's new "fee" doesn't account for that. Nor does it account for the fact that not all large banks even received help. Nor does it account for the fact that some banks were healthy throughout the crisis and had no rule in causing the crisis. No, the President's "fee" taxes all banks equally, just for the sin of being big.

As I listened to the speech, I wondered if the plan was even Constitutional. As I said, it sounded like he really wanted to lay into the banking industry, to punish it. And the Constitution specifically forbids a "bill of attainder". What's that? It's when Congress passes a bill declaring someone guilty of a crime -- and punishing them -- without giving that person the benefit of a trial. And the President's language and tone sounded dangerously close to someone who wants to declare the entire banking industry guilty of "crimes against America" and then punish them.

It turns out, that I'm not the only person to think this is un-Constitutional. John Carney writes in The Business Insider Law Review that he's recently concluded that the proposed bank tax is an illegal bill of attainder.

Read his full piece for a much better explanation of the concept of a "bill of attainder", as well as some great examples. Here is his conclusion.

The Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee is unconstitutional on its face. It is as if the Obama administration had urged a tax called "The Fee That Violates Nonattainder Principles." Assigning responsibility after the matter and levying penalties is reserved for the judicial branch that is restricted to using already existing laws and treating similarly situated people equally. The Obama administration wants to assign responsibility for the financial crisis and levy a fee, while exempting its favored automakers. This is exactly the sort of thing the Attainder Clause was put in place to prevent.

Re: Fort Hood's Shootings (Joe's Take)

I believe this post finishes our site's libertarian conversion. We now occupy the same portion of the libertarian spectrum that LewRockwell.com occupies.

I don't like America's wars of aggression. The problem, as I see it, is that it can be hard to tell the difference between a war of aggression and a good preemptive defense. For instance, I'm still not convinced that going into Iraq was the right thing to do. I'm not sure what risk we were defending ourselves against.

On the other hand, Afghanistan was a necessary war. You give safe harbor to people who blow up part of a city, you die. It's just that simple. But I think that we should have left a while ago. I'm not sure that we're accomplishing anything worthwhile by propping up a corrupt Karzai government. I know about the fear that that terrorists will get Pakistani nukes and attack us with those. But I'm not sure how likely that scenario is or how fragile Pakistan's own government is. So I'm not sure if what we're doing is preemptive defense against a nuclear scenario or whether we're engaging in blatant imperialism for no good return.

But I am grateful for those who do decide to join the military and protect our borders. I respect their loyalty, their sense of honor, and their dedication. I don't always agree with their mission but I know that I'm not qualified to judge how necessary each mission is. As a result, I do sympathize with them and with their families. For this attack, especially.

The Army, for its own inscrutable reasons decided that stateside military bases should be gun-free zones. That strikes me as absolute lunacy. Had someone removed this nut months ago when it became apparent that he was a nut, soldiers would be alive today. Had someone decided to allow our soldiers to carry the guns that they were trained to carry, more of them would be alive today.

I have a lot of sympathy for people who are hamstrung and betrayed by their own leadership. Incidents like this raise a lot of questions about whether a bureaucratized military is the best way to protect a country. I'm not sure that it is. The institutional Army protects its turf quite fiercely, even when that turf isn't worth protecting. Instead, I'd like to see us get back to the old way of doing things: no standing army and a fully armed citizenry that stands ready to form an ad-hoc army as conditions warrant.

Michael Z. Williamson envisioned a heavily armed libertarian society in his book Freehold. I rather like it. And I can think a large portion of our current military would like it too. I don't think they're in the military because they're thugs. I think they're in the military because it's the only institution we have that will allow them to arm up and stand on the borders, protecting those within. Getting called upon to engage in dubious ventures is an unfortunate cost of being a protector. And that's why I sympathize with them.

And, just for the record, I think this LewRockwell.com post is more than a little nuts itself.

How Much Military Is Enough?

For the past two years, I've been slowly trying to figure out my opinion about U.S. foreign policy and the U.S. military. There are a lot of very bad people in the world. The thuggish mullahs of Iran and the even more thuggish dictator of North Korea jump immediately to mind. But one shouldn't forget about the thugs in Africa (Robert Mugabe and the like), the thugs in Latin America (Hugo Chavez and friends), or the thugs in Europe (Vladimir Putin).

But what should the American response be? Is it our responsibility to throw them out and make the world a better place? Is it our responsibility to protect our friends (Israel, South Korea, Japan, etc) or should we only be concerned with the countries and individuals that pose a legitimate threat to our homeland? How big should the U.S. military be and how should we use it?

I still don't know what my opinion is. It vacillates between "nuke 'em all" and "let the world take care of itself", depending on the day and how recently I've read about foreign atrocities. So I was interested to read Jerry Pournelle's take on the question:

The British at one time had a naval policy of having a fleet able to defeat the next two fleets in the world; but at that time Britain had an Empire and relied on it for a number of things. The US is not an empire, and we don't seem to be learning how to be one. The question becomes.; how large a force does the US need to defend our legitimate foreign policy goals We already spend more on the military than the rest of the world combined. This may be excessive, depending on what we think we must do with that military.

I'm not at all convinced that we need NATO now that the USSR is gone. I am not sure what good it does us to have pledges from Germany to go to war if someone attacks us. I am thoroughly unaware of why we might need the Georgian army to help us if we are invaded. I can see that our commitment to them is valuable to them, but I am not certain I understand the value to the US of the US guarantee to Germany and potentially to Georgia.

I know that such guarantees are hideously expensive. And I'm inclined to make the snotty Europeans bear the cost of their own military defense. Overall, I think I favor downsizing the American military and getting out of Germany, South Korea, Japan, etc. But I'm not sure what the long term consequences of that would be. In 50 years, would we be facing a threat from a much larger and more expansionist Chinese or Russian military? It gives me pause.

Update (5:39PM): Via NRO, I see that, unless things change, China may not be too worrisome in the future.

China's Population Policy, and Ours - John Derbyshire - The Corner on National Review Online

China is not far behind Japan on the path to the demographic cliff edge. Fertility figures are no more dependable than any other Chinese statistics, but there seems to be general agreement that the current TFR is in the 1.7 to 1.8 range, somewhere between Sweden and Belgium in the international rankings.

For China, still a poor country with a huge peasant population, this is starting to throw up problems. With the one-child policy entering its fourth decade, the typical Chinese in his prime productive years now has two elderly parents to support. Elderly, and likely penniless, since those parents left their productive years without ever having had the opportunity to accumulate much.

The Mainstreaming of Demographic Alarmism (Cont.) - Mark Steyn - The Corner on National Review Online

On page 5 of my notoriously "alarmist" book, I asked, "Will China be the hyperpower of the 21st century?", and answered no: It will get old before it's got rich.

These opinions make me even more likely to take an isolationist approach.

Ah'm ah Bubba?

confederate-flag

Are you tired of politics?

God knows, I am. As big a politics junkie as I used to be - in my time as a flag-wavin', God-fearin' Republican there wasn't a Townhall.com update I didn't read, nor an issue of _The Economist _I didn't completely consume for more general news before moving on to a host of blogs - these days I can barely finish a simple newspaper article without feeling that despicable strain that comes from forcing my poor brain to endure the consumption of totally repetitive and irrelevant information (for those of you who aren't Bible geeks like me, think of how you feel when reading the Book of Leviticus). Unless that newspaper article details the sexual exploits of one of our holders of higher office, anyway, because at least the secret life of Mark Sanford appeals to the voyeur in me.

But what the heck am I supposed to find interesting about Washington today - or indeed the world? No thoughtful debate of current issues exists within the federal and state levels of U.S. authority. Bills are written at absurd length and then submitted to the floor for approval on days when reading them, much less discussing them is impossible - and often include "blank checks", entire sections which are simply to be "filled in later" without returning for reconsideration. Which might be averted had our so-called representatives the huevos to simply vote down bills they've only just learned about, but Congress is utterly beholden to the unions, corporations, foreign governments, and associations which purchase its members' elections - the work of passing a bill doesn't really have anything to do with what's in it, so much as who is for it and who is against it. Indeed, at least in many sessions the leader of a party has simply informed his party's other members how they are to vote using hand signals - one for "yes", another for "no", an occasional third for "vote your conscience".

Oh, I suppose there is a little bit of discussion about the choices before us, now and then. Remember the most recent presidential debates? When an Ordinary Citizen would ask a pointed question and both Obama and McCain would simply ignore it, just make a vague statement about the economy or the Earth or Change instead? Just like their campaign managers demanded, I'm sure, because being boring and non-specific is how Poli-Sci wizards have determined one wins elections. There's a reason no president of our country has delivered a speech worthy of the Gettysburg Address in a very, very long time.

What is the American government that I am supposed to want to engage in it? Let's momentarily push past the oft-quoted reminder that "Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch" (Benjamin Franklin is often incorrectly cited as the author, but in fact nobody can find evidence of the observation been written prior to '92). Let's note instead the unchallengeable fact that even the laws established both by the Unites States Constitution and our government are ignored whenever they get in the state's way. The government has a "compelling interest" in ignoring our property rights. It prosecutes people and expressly denies them the right to raise funds for their own defense. It goes to war without declaring war. It spies on us. It imprisons people indefinitely after they are found innocent of the crimes with which they were charged. It takes my money and gives it to the people who voted for and contributed to whoever is in office.

So I should work to change all that, right? I should start a movement. I should convince others of my position. That's what Democracy is all about.

Sure. That's the ticket. I'll just convince a bunch of first-class thieves to pass a bill which forbids them from stealing. Perhaps something along the lines of what Dan Carlin repeatedly suggests: a bill that requires a politician to excuse himself or herself from voting on any bill that affects an industry from which he or she has taken donations. If I campaign tirelessly for its passage, I'm sure it will only be a matter of time. Say, the rest of my life.

And really, that's a point I think needs to be brought up more often: the unknown amount of time I have on this planet and how much I can do with it. I have so many dreams. How much of this surely limited lifespan I have am I supposed to use up defending myself against these politicians and their supporters? These people hell-bent on owning me because they've bought into a utopian religion.

No, I really want nothing to do with any of it. I don't want to read another lie on the front page - and there is always a lie on the front page. I don't want to waste an hour or more of my day voting so that the next thief-in-chief to come along can say he has a mandate from me (or alternatively that he does not, but too bad).

But what options does rejecting this political arena, this total lie, leave me? Two, really: one is to resign myself to being at the mercy of whatever greedy power possesses the military might to hurt me and try to live my life as best I can anyway. The second is to succumb to what some commentators are snidely calling "the Bubba Effect" because they envision white rednecks from the South when they think of it (and incidentally, um, they're spot-on, 'cuz I am one). According to Glenn Beck's definition of the term (there seems to be disagreement), communities of like-minded individuals tend to form when citizens become disillusioned with the idea they are going to be able to live decent lives under their out-of-control government. Militias, for example. Or Christian Exoduses. Or Free State Projects.

I ask myself on a fairly regular basis these days if I have the courage to choose the latter and live a life of civil disobedience, as well as at what point the former would become unbearable (after Hate Speech Legislation? After socialized medicine? When my taxes reach a certain level?). Fortunately for me it's an academic question for now. I've the next several years of my life planned out and they mainly involve overseas work, living as a guest in other countries. My decision will remain deferred 'til my return.

And then, what?

Tactics for Liberty: How Libertarians Can Struggle

liberty-bell-atrophy

Liberty activist Sam Dodson's recent victory over the Cheshire County government in New Hampshire has inspired our own Webmaster Joe - but like many family men, he feels he hasn't the right to jeopardize his wife and two daughters' security by committing civil disobedience.

I'm not sure I agree with his description of illegal activism as "self-indulgent". Most of the men and women who have previously liberated American society from various evils had families; most of the Iranians currently protesting in Tehran's streets and opposing Ahmadenijad at risk to life and limb (God bless them all) likely have them. That they were and are still willing to engage the enemies of freedom underscores their commitment against injustice - and if we all felt such conviction, the injustices of today would likely never have been allowed to take root in the first place.

Which is not to downplay Joe's concerns regarding how civil disobedience might affect his family or to suggest he needs to "man up" and get to chaining himself to fences. No, no - the point deserved to be made, now has been, and I'd prefer to suggest methods by which citizens like Joe might contribute without undue risk to their livelihoods.

Having said that, my first suggestion will probably seem strange: cheat on your taxes. Starve the beast of government by denying it the funds with which to finance its clearly immoral and illegal programs. For the time being this is actually very safe, according to BookKeeperList.com, which writes that in in one recent year "only 2,472 Americans were convicted of tax crimes — .0022 percent of all taxpayers." That's despite the fact that the IRS believes 17% of Americans are not compliant. The IRS just doesn't have the manpower or data-mining equipment to inspect everybody and when it does find suspicious claims it rarely prosecutes. So really, what's the worst that can happen? Paying back-taxes? A penalty, maybe?

But I am am addressing at least one (and probably several, statistics tell me) Christians, so the question naturally arises: isn't that unethical? I've recently reached the decision that it is not. Even if you believe that every government which obtains power over you is legitimate by divine decree (which is stupid - does that mean African-Americans were wrong to protest in the '60's?), to "render unto Caesar" is one thing, especially in a country in which we have a deal with our Caesar; to render unto a known embezzler is another - and it is now undeniable from public information that we Americans are being taken for a financial ride. Even if you accept the idea that they have the right to take money from some people and give it to others, they're not doing that with the money you give them. They're just thieves.

Take for example John Stossel's investigation into the government agency meant to assist Native-Americans in poverty. He's found that $40,000 is purportedly spent on each Native-American purportedly being helped - an amount which obviously would put them all in the middle-class if we simply cut each of them a check for the amount.

Obviously, that money isn't going to those tribes. The government tells us it is, but it isn't - and even the government isn't so incompetent as to mismanage that much moolah. People aren't that stupid, Folks. It's being stolen from you - just as it's being stolen from you inside the Department of Defense (they've been trying to produce a credible financial statement for approximately a decade now), inside the Fed (which hasn't been audited in nearly a century), and doubtlessly inside many other departments.

I'm not saying it's necessarily being stolen from you without being accounted for. I'm sure most of the money that our government officials give to their friends is accounted for on their budget and rationalized, if poorly. But it's still being stolen. The intent of these people is not to help Native-Americans.

A second argument against faithfully paying taxes: I won't declare paying your taxes to be sinful (after all, it's basically the equivalent of handing your wallet to a robber - "Give us the money or else!"), but through your taxes you are funding programs you know to be morally wrong. I can't see that failing to assist evil men in their evil actions can be wrong.

(I wish this conversation was more than academic for me. In my life, the metaphor of the government as highway robber takes on a light-hearted tone. Thumbing through my wallet, the masked menace's eyebrows rise. "Really? This is all you have? Dude, tell you what - just keep it.")

Let's move on to another idea: If you can't be disobedient, fund people who are. The CD Evolution Fund is a charity which financially supports liberty activists in New Hampshire, usually by paying for their legal aid. The fund was instrumental in supplying Sam Dodson with representation during his two-month incarceration.

Obviously, you can also support other liberty-oriented projects. In fact we may want to discuss a libertarian tract of the sort produced by Mr. Ditko; I have $250 in my "Time for another project" account and am currently considering what might eventually pay for itself.

Finally, don't cooperate in your victimization to the extent the law allows. This will still make your life more difficult, as police and government officials don't like it when citizens remind them of their limitations, but freedoms are like muscles - if you don't exercise them, they waste away. Never let a government agent or policeman inside your house without a warrant. Don't tell traffic cops where you're going or where you're coming from if all they stopped you for was speeding.

A number of Free Staters and general libertarians take this tactic to daring levels, openly carrying firearms in areas legal to do so.

Before I close, a note on one tactic you haven't yet heard me mention: voting. To vote for a Libertarian is a harmless enough act, I suppose - and sure, it registers disapproval with the system as it stands - but like Ian on Free Talk Live I'm now wondering if it wouldn't be more productive to deny the legitimacy to our government granted by the electoral process. One of the reasons so few people offer more than token resistance to any government program is that the government is still considered to some extent "all of us", even if it's doing something illegal. But it's not. And perhaps ceasing to play into the pretense that it is would help bring light to that fact.

I think I'm done for now. One thing's for sure, Joe... With people like Sam Dodson doing as much as they are, there's one tactic we can't choose: getting along to get along.

American vs Canadian Healthcare

Everyone "knows" that Canadian's get better healthcare than Americans do. After all, not only do Canadians live longer but their healthcare is free too!

Recently, June O'Neill and Dave O'Neill submitted a new working paper to NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research), comparing the U.S. and Canadian healthcare systems. Their results may surprise you.

First,

It turns out that once we condition on infant birth weight -- a significant predictor of infant health -- the U.S. has equivalent infant mortality rates. In fact U.S. infant mortality is lower for low-birthweight babies than Canadian infant mortality for low birthweight babies. Overall infant mortality, however, is higher in the U.S. because the incidence of babies with low birthweight is higher than in Canada. This may be due to demographic or epidemiological factors, or it may be the case that the U.S. is better at having a live birth for a low birthweight baby.

Second,

Why do Canadians live longer? One reason is due to the excess number of accidents and homicides in the U.S. compared to Canada. In fact 50%-85% of the mortality gap between American and Canadian adults in their twenties can be explained by the increased American accident/homicide rates. For people over 50, 30-50% of the difference in age-specific mortality rates can be attributed to the excess number of heart disease patients in the U.S. These heart disease findings are more likely driven by American lifestyle choices rather than the efficacy of the U.S. medical system.

Moving to Canada won't increase the quality of your healthcare nearly as much as you think it will.

This entry was tagged. America Canada

Thinking About Patriotism

Over at Winds of Change, the Armed Liberal posts some reflections on patriotism. What does it mean in a post-modern world? Is it worthwhile? Is it distinguishable from mere nationalism? What does American patriotism mean, in a nation that has been formed from one ethnicity after another (and continues to be reformed and remodeled each year)?

Now I've argued on and on that we need an anticosmopolitan liberalism, one rooted firmly in the American Founding if liberalism is going to get any traction here in US politics. I've slagged and been slagged by the usual cast of Netroots characters over this issue, and I'll point out that the Netroots liberalism for all the sound and fury hasn't signified much in the political scene except to - almost certainly - hand the nomination to the least liberal candidate running, Hillary Clinton.

The basis for much of my argument has been the work of John Schaar, a little-known political theorist who happened to be one of my professors. Who I admit I should have paid more attention to back then.

The work I keep pointing to is his work, 'The Case for Patriotism' (excerpted here).

Abraham Lincoln, the supreme authority on this subject, thought there was a patriotism unique to America. Americans, a motley gathering of various races and cultures, were bonded together not by blood or religion, not by tradition or territory, not by the calls and traditions of a city, but by a political idea. We are a nation formed by a covenant, by dedication to a set of principles, and by an exchange of promises to uphold and advance certain commitments among ourselves and throughout the world. Those principles and commitments are the core of American identity, the soul of the body politic. They make the American nation unique, and uniquely valuable among and to the other nations. But the other side of this conception contains a warning very like the warnings spoken by the prophets to Israel: if we fail in our promises to each other, and lose the principles of the covenant, then we lose everything, for they are we." [emphasis added]

This sounds right to me. It's the idea I struggled to articulate last summer, in my posts about immigration.

This, then, is the challenge for America. How do we change -- culturally, demographically, and ethnically -- while still retaining that political idea, that commitment to a set of principles that make America, America?

Furthermore, what, exactly, are those principles? What is that idea? What set of principles are we committed to? For that, I think we need to go back to principles set out in the Declaration of Independence and the framework established in the Constitution of the United States.

More on that, in the future.