Wednesday, May 25, 2011

cause and effect: sticking to "rule of law" vs. worrying about various and sundry violations of the Constitution

From my old friend, Andy Horning-- banging on the all-important drum of "rule of law" vs. all of the smaller squabbles that get us excited (e.g., the recent violations of the 4th Amendment in Indiana)...

Today we're mad at some Indiana Supreme Court justices. We want to fight back. That's reasonable.



But what's our goal?


Are we interested in firing a few judges? Reversing a decision? Easing a gun ban or two? Making the Fed show us some numbers? Would that make us happy, prosperous and secure?


As we raise the debt ceiling on our kids before sending them to yet another undeclared war in Pakistan or France or wherever; as we direct ourselves into "Free Speech Zones" and get arrested for selling unpasteurized milk to people who want it...I have to ask a question:


Is this how we want to live? Don't we have any better ideas than to keep nibbling at little abuses here and there? Don't we have a better vision for life than to just keep robbing Peter to pay Paul, and playing Hatfield v McCoy?


I want rule of law under existing constitutions as written. That's all. I want some people to help me ask for it. We've spent the last century asking for, voting for, and getting, the opposite, you know.


The constitutions are proven to work, and they're already law, though we've chosen to ignore and flout them.


Sure, should we actually, finally choose this rule of law we'd still have to keep sharp to make sure that politicians stay on their side of the fence...but it's all black and white and simple. We can read it, tell others about it, paint a picture of how it works, and make others defend the indefensible argument that we can't have laws as written.


Why don't we quit fussing over symptoms and finally cure the disease? We have what we've chosen; we need to choose better. If we want rule of law under existing constitutions as written, we'll have to ask for it. I have a petition, a proposal, and a timeline for compliance here: http://wedeclare.wordpress.com/2011/03/01/713/


Anybody have a better idea?


Of course, we could keep doing what we've been doing…at least for a little while longer. But after decades of trying to attack the symptoms of our growing cancer while ignoring the disease ...we're failing faster and faster every day?


We don't have much time left before we've got no more to lose.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

who wants to be a millionaire? retirees...

That's the expected value of what they'll receive in transfer payments from taxpayers over their lifetimes. Of course, they "contributed" a lot of that-- in paying for previous retirees.

The average rate-of-return on Social Security is really lame. But for Medicare, it's a different story.

Here's John Cogan in the WSJ on this topic, some numbers, and ops for reform...

Monday, May 23, 2011

the perils of direct democracy

In political economy, Public Choice economists point to the foibles and failings of democracy: the disproportionate power of interest groups in some contexts (the tyranny of the minority); the unjust exercise of power by the general public (the tyranny of the majority); the problems caused by any system of government where people are fond of using power to take others' resources; and so on.

There's an old saying that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all of the others. Or putting it another way: the best form of government is the benevolent dictator; the trouble is finding the benevolent ones.

In April, in a special section, The Economist had some really nice articles on the impact of more direct democracy, as exercised (often famously) in California, starting 100 years ago.

Here's a general, introductory article...

as our special report this week argues, the main culprit has been direct democracy: recalls, in which Californians fire elected officials in mid-term; referendums, in which they can reject acts of their legislature; and especially initiatives, in which the voters write their own rules...This citizen legislature has caused chaos. Many initiatives have either limited taxes or mandated spending, making it even harder to balance the budget. Some are so ill-thought-out that they achieve the opposite of their intent...

Here's an essay on the history of California's democratic experiment...

In this [1911] Californian election voters had to decide on three new types of balloting: referendums, recalls and initiatives. They accepted them all with enthusiasm...Californians thus explicitly chose a path that diverged from the one America’s founders had taken...California is also unique, in America and the world, in treating every successful initiative as irreversible (unless the initiative itself says otherwise). The legislature cannot change it. In effect, this makes initiatives a higher class of law...Direct democracy in California is thus an aberration. It has no safeguards against Madison’s tyranny of the majority...it encourages special interests to wage war by ballot measure until one lobby prevails and imposes its will on all. Madison and Hamilton would have been horrified...

This essay applies the discussion to K-12 education...

And this essay lays out the extent to which voter knowledge (specifically in California) is limited or twisted...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

deadly laws vs. deadly liberty

From Michael Gerson in the C-J-- with the charming title, "Ron Paul's deadly liberty"...

It looks like the C-J is not going to print my (shorter) letter, so I'll go ahead and stick this on the blog. (The C-J also printed a cartoon on Ron-- presumably both the article and the cartoon are meant to try to hurt Rand Paul.)

Gerson cites Paul's second-tier status in the GOP Presidential race and wrestles with whether he should be in the first tier, given his poll numbers and fund-raising. Then, he starts poking at Paul's support for drug legalization:

The freedom to use drugs, he argued, is equivalent to the freedom of people to “practice their religion and say their prayers.” Liberty must be defended “across the board.” “It is amazing that we want freedom to pick our future in a spiritual way,” he said, “but not when it comes to our personal habits.”

This argument is strangely framed: If you tolerate Zoroastrianism, you must be able to buy heroin at the quickie mart. But it is an authentic application of libertarianism, which reduces the whole of political philosophy to a single slogan: Do what you will — pray or inject or turn a trick — as long as no one else gets hurt.

First, give Gerson credit for understanding and communicating Libertarian philosophy and application.

Second, Gerson's reference to Zoroastrianism seems strategic. Let's go with Islam instead. For the Christian, which is more "deadly": false religion or hitting a crack pipe? For the neo-conservative (with their belief in Islam as the primary cause of terrorism), which is more dangerous: Islam or smoking weed?

Gerson points to widespread drug use and addiction "in some neighborhoods" and "used needles" in parks. The funny thing? This is what we have under the criminalization of drugs! Gerson points a finger at legalizers. But his real beef is with the government's inability to enforce drug laws and maintain govt-controlled land-- to keep people and public parks clean.

Gerson raises Paul's huge practical question: “How many people here would use heroin if it were legal? I bet nobody would..." Gerson believes that use and addiction would increase by a staggering amount, well beyond what we have now. Perhaps. But Paul is asking the correct question: How many MORE people would use and abuse drugs with legalization?

Gerson also conflates private morality with public policy-- as well as the decision to allow freedom with condoning behavior. Jesus understood the difference-- most poignantly, in the story of "the woman caught in adultery" (Jn 8). He didn't chuck rocks at her, but also encouraged her to leave her life of sin. For Gerson, if you're not chucking rocks, then you just don't care.

Gerson tries to get on a moral high horse about the plight of children in this context. But he fails to consider the impact of drug laws on kids. How many kids are tempted to join gangs to sell cigarettes and alcohol? How many kids are tempted to take drugs because they are easily used to traffic them? And beyond the children, what about the destabilization of foreign countries caused by our drug policies? What about prison over-crowding and the early release of violent offenders to make room for those who use drugs?

At the end of the day, there are trade-offs between "deadly laws" and "deadly liberty". The trade-offs should be discussed heavily not dismissed lightly. For philosophical and practical reasons, which will you choose?

Monday, May 16, 2011

some numbers on PP (and some plagiarism to boot)

Excerpts from Margie Montgomery's letter in the C-J, responding to a letter/op-ed by Kimberly Greene in the C-J. Interestingly, Greene's letter is no longer available on their website, perhaps because it is involved in some form of plagiarism. You can see "her" letter here as well-- in an Anchorage, Alaska newspaper.

Is it possible that one is an “extremist” to resent her tax dollars being used to abort at least 5.3 million babies since 1970; or in 2009, Planned Parenthood's aborting 332,278 babies? Defunding Planned Parenthood (PP) with our tax dollars wouldn't mean denying women cancer screening, contraception and sexually transmitted disease (STD) testing, because in addition to the tens of thousands of U.S. doctors and hospitals that provide these services, there are 1,048 federally qualified health centers in the U.S. doing the same...

Planned Parenthood is immensely wealthy in its own right and does not need tax dollars to continue functioning. According to its latest published annual report, PP has nearly $1 billion dollars of net assets (almost$1.2 billion in assets and $202.6 million in liabilities)...

In 2009, the group made only 977 adoption referrals and cared for only 7,021 prenatal clients, but performed a record 332,278 abortions...Planned Parenthood recently made plain the centrality of abortion to its mission by mandating that every one of its affiliates have at least one clinic that does abortions within the next two years...

When women testify in favor of tightening safety standards at clinics, Planned Parenthood fights them. And despite the fact that 88 percent of Americans favor informed-consent laws that provide information about the risks of, and alternatives to, abortion for women, Planned Parenthood opposes these efforts and works to keep women in the dark. And tragically, in some instances, Planned Parenthood has refused to cooperate when law-enforcement officials have sought information to help girls they believed to be victims of child rape or molestation...

regulating and monitoring abortion clinics?

Virginia has decided to regulate abortion providers like hospitals (hat tip: Christianity Today). Especially for fans of business regulation, this would seem to be an appropriate move.

And you'd hope for more from the medical profession in self-policing. But here's the story (from the AP's Kathy Matheson) of Dr. Kermit Gosnell who performed abortions and endangered the lives of many women in a "squalid" Pennsylvania clinic. Bad enough, but worse still: he was not reported by most of the doctors who cared for the patients whose procedures he had botched.

Women went to Dr. Kermit Gosnell to end their pregnancies. Many came away with life-threatening infections and punctured organs; some still had fetal parts inside them when they arrived at nearby hospitals in dire need of emergency care.

Doctors at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which operates two hospitals within a mile of Gosnell's squalid abortion clinic in West Philadelphia, saw at least six of these patients- two of whom died. But they largely failed in their legal and ethical duties to report their peer's incompetence, according to a grand jury report...

Prosecutors described Gosnell's clinic as "a house of horrors," where viable babies were killed with scissors, fetal remains were kept in jars and freezers, and dirty medical equipment was operated by unlicensed, often untrained and unsupervised employees. Gosnell himself was never certified in obstetrics and gynecology, only family practice.

Gosnell, 70, is jailed without bail and charged with eight counts of murder in the deaths of one patient and seven viable babies. Authorities say he also routinely maimed his clients, sometimes leaving them sterile and near death...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

lackluster recovery (cont'd)

When will the Keynesians (and more of the American people) learn?

Here are the WSJ editorialists...

Another week, more evidence of the lackluster economic expansion. This time the message came in yesterday's jobs report for April, which revealed more modest job creation. That's surely better than nothing, but it's well below what you'd expect nearly two years into a recovery after a very deep recession. Americans should not have to accept this as the "new normal."

The good news is that private payrolls jumped by 268,000 jobs, the third month in a row of gains greater than 231,000. The jobs came across a variety of industries...

The private gains offset the loss of 24,000 government jobs, the sixth consecutive month of such declines. This is also good news. Propped up by the Obama stimulus, public payrolls are bloated and unsustainable....

The disappointing increase in the overall jobless rate—to 9% from 8.8%—reflects in part an increase in the number of Americans seeking work, which is a sign of confidence that they believe they may find a job. The real story here is the failure, after 21 months of growth, to cut the jobless rate more rapidly from its 10.1% peak in October 2009.

On the plus side, the number of Americans who are jobless for six months or longer fell by 283,000, though they are a still worrisome 43.4% of all the jobless. More troubling is the big jump in April in the jobless rate for blacks (0.6% to 16.1%), Hispanics (0.5% to 11.8%) and teenagers (0.4% to 24.9%).

As ever, slow growth hurts the least skilled the most, and that usually means the young or least educated. Even as many manufacturers report difficulty finding skilled workers for high-paying jobs, the bottom rung of the economic ladder remains out of reach to hundreds of thousands...


Sara Murray in the WSJ on the growth in payrolls, despite the higher unemployment rate...

So far this year, the economy has added 768,000 jobs and the Labor Department revised up the prior two months to show job gains were stronger by a total of 46,000.

Still, the economy has a massive jobs hole to fill. As of April, there were 13.7 million Americans out of work and another 8.6 million who wanted to work full-time but could only find part-time jobs...


And Sara Murray again in the WSJ on gender-specific aspects of the recession and now the recovery-- in a word, men struggled more but are recovering quicker...

The recent recession was labeled by some a "man-cession," because of sharp employment cuts in male-dominated fields...

The unemployment rate for men, on average, was 10.5% last year. By April it had declined 1.1 points to 9.4%...Joblessness among women was less common: Their unemployment rate was 8.6% on average last year. But...by April, the unemployment rate for women had fallen just 0.2 points to 8.4%.

A large part of the problem is that women are disproportionately represented in state and local governments—and that is where many jobs are being cut now....

About 18.2% of employed women work in the public sector. They are nearly 50% more likely to hold public-sector positions than men, according to the Labor Department....

deadly laws vs. deadly liberty

From Michael Gerson in the C-J-- with the charming title, Ron Paul's deadly liberty...

Gerson cites Paul's second-tier status in the GOP Presidential race and wrestles with whether he should be in the first tier, given his poll numbers and fund-raising. Then, he starts poking at Paul's support for drug legalization:

The freedom to use drugs, he argued, is equivalent to the freedom of people to “practice their religion and say their prayers.” Liberty must be defended “across the board.” “It is amazing that we want freedom to pick our future in a spiritual way,” he said, “but not when it comes to our personal habits.”

This argument is strangely framed: If you tolerate Zoroastrianism, you must be able to buy heroin at the quickie mart. But it is an authentic application of libertarianism, which reduces the whole of political philosophy to a single slogan: Do what you will — pray or inject or turn a trick — as long as no one else gets hurt.

First, give Gerson credit for understanding and communicating Libertarian philosophy and application.

Second, Gerson's reference to Zoroastrianism seems strategic. Let's go with Islam instead. For the Christian, which is more "deadly": false religion or hitting a crack pipe? For the neo-conservative (with their belief in Islam as the primary cause of terrorism), which is more dangerous: Islam or smoking weed?

Gerson points to widespread drug use and addiction "in some neighborhoods" and "used needles" in parks. The funny thing? This is what we have under the criminalization of drugs! Gerson points a finger at legalizers. But his real beef is with the government's inability to enforce drug laws and maintain govt-controlled land-- to keep people and public parks clean.

Gerson raises Paul's huge practical question: “How many people here would use heroin if it were legal? I bet nobody would..." Gerson believes that use and addiction would increase by a staggering amount, well beyond what we have now. Perhaps. But Paul is asking the correct question: How many MORE people would use and abuse drugs with legalization?

Gerson also conflates private morality with public policy-- as well as the decision to allow freedom with condoning behavior. Jesus understood the difference-- most poignantly, in the story of "the woman caught in adultery" (Jn 8). He didn't chuck rocks at her, but also encouraged her to leave her life of sin. For Gerson, if you're not chucking rocks, then you just don't care.

Gerson tries to get on a moral high horse about the plight of children in this context. But he fails to consider the impact of drug laws on kids. How many kids are tempted to join gangs to sell cigarettes and alcohol? How many kids are tempted to take drugs because they are easily used to traffic them? And beyond the children, what about the destabilization of foreign countries caused by our drug policies? What about prison over-crowding and the early release of violent offenders to make room for those who use drugs?

At the end of the day, there are trade-offs between "deadly laws" and "deadly liberty". The trade-offs should be discussed heavily not dismissed lightly. For philosophical and practical reasons, which will you choose?


Update: A nice article by Jack Hunter in American Conservative Magazine, drawing an analogy between drug legalization and abolishing the minimum wage (hat tip: Darrell Dow)