Saturday, November 26, 2011

Why Every Capitalist Should Think Like a Lefty

So I recently lost my job, and wound up getting one in L.A., rather than staying in Vegas.  The funny part is, I got really, really excited about my new job, my new company, and everything it stands for, even though it is usually pretty associated with the left.

My new job is at a craft beer bar and restaurant with a very local, sustainable focus.  All but five of our 72 beers are CA craft beers.  All of them are on draft.  Even our wine comes in kegs, to reduce waste.  Our entire menu is locally sourced, with an emphasis on local, small, sustainable farmers.  This is like a hippy's wet dream.

Thinking  about it, though, it should also be every Libertarian, economic conservative, or free market Republican's wet dream too.  Part of the reason we should not feel bad about deregulating, or about cutting social services is that we should insist that the free market is capable of "doing the right thing," without regulation and over-taxation.  That is, we would wind up donating more to charity if so much of our hard-earned income didn't get taken away for welfare and social security programs.  Businesses would have an incentive to protect the environment, and the rights of workers, especially in today's world of free flowing information, if the government let competition take its toll.

My question is this, though.  How many Republicans or Libertarians have made a conscious choice to buy responsibly, or to help a charity, recently?  Let's put our money where our mouth is.

I'm not really huge on the environment, or on animal rights.  So why is local, sustainable, vegan-friendly dining such a big deal to me?  The human rights aspect.  Last time I took a class on this, the world produces enough food to feed its population three times The issue is not a lack of resources.  It is an uneven distribution and supply chain.  The vast majority of food produced in "developing" nations (poor places), goes to the U.S. market.  Moreover, a lot of it is not consumed by humans as food.  Instead, it goes into gasoline as ethanol, or gets fed to our  livestock in factory-scaled farms.  By buying locally sourced, grass-fed food, we leave more grain in those poor countries to support their populations.  I guess it is also more humane, and more green, but more importantly, it is a good step toward basic human rights.

Prove the left wrong and prove that the free market can be green, humane, and compassionate.  Donate some time or money this holiday season, do your Christmas shopping at a local small business, or eat a meal you know was sourced locally.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Occupy Oakland and Wells Fargo

So this story really cracked me up the other day when I saw it.  But when I thought about it, it made me sad and mad, more than anything.  Occupy Oakland's depositing their money at a large, "Wall Street" bank highlights three major problems, two with the movement, and one with our society.
First, the movement doesn't really seem to be asking for anything, or protesting anything in particular.  It's really very interesting.  There are thousands of people across the country camping out in intersections, parks, and empty lots, and nobody is quite sure why.  They're protesting Wall Street and the big corporations (especially the banks).  Well, what exactly are they protesting?  And when exactly are they going to leave?  When Wall Street or its banks cease to exist?  When they lose control over the U.S. and global economy?  Is there an official measurement for how much influence a particular group of companies has on our economy and politics?  Is it going to end when everybody is happy?  My guess is people will be camping for a while.  The movement is so un-focused that the closest thing that they have to a clear target was just given a large deposit by one of its "chapters."  With no focus, and with so many people unemployed (and therefor otherwise un-comitted), plan on being Occcupied for a while.

The second problem is another problem with the movement.  There is no real action involved.  If every single person who is currently parked on their ass in an intersection or a park, or who is donating money, or posting supportive comments on Facebook, Twitter, or a blog right now, or is otherwise involved in Occupying Wall Street, L.A., Chicago, or Lincoln, Nebraska, would get up and do two things, we could effect real change.  First, vote for someone other than a Democrat or Republican for at least a state-wide office.  Second, close your accounts with Wells Fargo, Chase, Citi, U.S. Bank, etc.  Open accounts at a local credit union.  Get your loans through microlending sites like  The amount of money that would leave the big system, and the amount of votes that could collectively be sent just to send a message, would be a real force for change.  Although, one wonders what the bank account of someone who has been sitting in a park for three months looks like.

Finally, this is irritating because of what it says about our society.  Even these protesters went straight to a major bank to drop off their check.  I feel like our society has become one where morally, socially, politically, and environmentally responsible choices are more plentiful and more convenient each and every day.  Yet we are part of a generation that thinks only about what's easiest and works best in the moment.  Depositing this money with a credit union could not possibly have taken that much longer than finding the nearest unoccupied Wells Fargo.  Even those who are supposedly more politically and socially conscious couldn't be bothered though.  They found somewhere "easy" to put the money until they figured it out.  We're a generation that does what's easy, and then when we get caught, or it catches up to us, go back and fix it later.

This maneuver was both amusing and a little depressing.  Thanks a bunch, Occupy Oakland.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Free Trade Agreements and Libertarianism

So this is an issue that I think all Libertarians should consider (along with targeted tax breaks).  I guess it comes down to how idealistic we are versus how pragmatic we are as Libertarians.

I saw this link, but the speech itself is not really what poses the question.

The question is, from a Libertarian perspective, are free trade agreements a good or a bad thing?  The good side is fairly obvious.  Free trade is a good thing.  It encourages competition, and reinforces the rights of business owners (both here and abroad) to practice their business as they wish to.

The bad side is a little more complex.  Yes, free trade is a good thing.  Financially, and for the individuals in the countries involved, or American businesspeople who do business with them, this is obviously a very Libertarian step.

On the other hand, the idea of individual bilateral free trade agreements is very anti-Libertarian, anti-free market, and anti-capitalistic.  Instead of removing regulation and leveling the playing field, it creates an even more stark, government-induced contrast between the restrictions different sets of business owners face.

It creates two classes of international countries, and with them, two classes of American businesses.  That is, those businesses who choose to do business with countries we have free trade with, and businesses who choose to do business with other countries.

In short, if lower government regulation is what we think of as Libertarian ideals, then I guess these agreements are a gift.

If, on the other hand, less government involvement in our individual and business lives is what we see as Libertarian, this is terrible.  I would rather have more regulations, but have them be simple, and consistent, than have no restrictions for some countries, but a government web of individualized agreements with other nations.  Am I a bad Libertarian?

Another Reason to Support Ron Paul

I saw this video the other day.  Now, I know only Ron Paul was given the opportunity to answer this question, so it may seem unfair to use his answer as a reason to support him.  But ask yourself, what would the other candidates have said?

Paul is the only candidate, from either party, who seems to have a really firm grasp on the whole Constitution and Bill of Rights, and a genuine interest in enforcing it.  If we want a return to a free country, made up of united states, not one big state, Ron Paul is the best candidate for our country.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Asthmatics vs. The Ozone

This was shocking to me.  Our government, and apparently the international community, value the ozone over the lives of asthmatics.  This is what happens when a society becomes over regulated.  There is no effective, OTC alternative to this medication, yet our government has decided that asthmatics should not have access to it.

The only non-CFC-containing alternative medication is not approved for market yet, which is a whole different issue with over-regulation of the pharmaceutical industry.

Imagine that someone is traveling.  They are away from their regular doctor, and their insurance company (through a local company) charges huge prices for visits to out-of-network doctors and clinics.  The airline loses their son's bag, which has his inhaler.  The family now has to put their vacation on hold, find a doctor, pay huge doctor's bills, and wait for a scrip to be filled, because we were worried about the small effect that an OTC inhaler has on the ozone.

This is another example of our government's harmful effects, especially when they put being "green" over the interests of our people.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Obama Encouraging Union Harrassment

I saw this the other day, and although the public comment period is now closed, I found it important enough that I had to share it, so that we can at least be aware of what's going on in our government.

First of all, it's very scary that the DoL is collecting this information about replacement workers and making it available to the unions.  Although, in reality, most unions, especially in right to work states, have clauses in their CBAs requiring employers to give up names, addresses, and other personal information, of anyone hired to work in a CBA-covered position.

The scarier part to me is that we have just raised the debt ceiling, and given a very unclear, non-specific, almost certainly doomed-for-failure mandate to reduce government spending.  Our national debt and deficit problem is growing.  Why are we paying government officials to due unions' dirty work, and collect the names and information of scabs to pass along to the unions?

Oh wait, more government jobs.  That's just what the economy needs.  Hire more useless, pointless, government employees paid on taxpayers' dimes to work.  But make it better.  Their job is actually to make it more difficult and scary for people to go to work in the private sector.  That's right.  A strike or lockout is a huge opportunity for the millions of unemployed people in this country who are desperate to feed their families to cross the lines and actually earn (read, not be entitled to because of Union membership or seniority, but EARN) a living.  We now want to help the unions discourage them from doing just that.  This is absurd.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Surveillence State

I saw this a few days ago, and it really hit me.  This is a big part of why I am a Libertarian.  Although our current government may not be out to harm us, the technology available to it is scary.  All it would take would be one individual in the White House, Congress, or any of an ever-growing number of arms of the federal bureaucracy with less than kind intentions to turn this technology against us.

A state, or, for that matter, any other organization, which has the ability to monitor someone's every moves is only one short step away from controlling that individual.  Especially in our technology-driven world, where blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, and texting are such large parts of our lives, this is scary.  The government can literally see where any American is planning on meeting their friends later this evening, what they had for dinner, who they took a photo with at the bar last night.  They can see your personal conflicts with friends, family, or your boss.  They can even tell whether you liked last night's episode of Glee.

Almost as concerning as the government's ability to collect this information is the fact that with our benevolent government, this is all useless information.  A true conspiracy theorist, or a pessimist, might fear that our government has sinister motives for wanting this information.  As an optimist, I believe that our government has no intention of misusing this information.  Why, then, are we paying thousands of people to collect and sift through it?  Why are we spending millions of dollars developing the technology to assist in this task?  As government debt and deficit rises, why are we wasting this money?

Just as importantly, there are actually bad people out there (within the U.S. and abroad).  As a highly trained, highly educated specialist sifts through my personal life via Facebook, this blog, Twitter, and my texts, how many of those bad people and their bad plans are slipping through the cracks?  As our government collects massive amounts of voice and text data from millions of American citizens, how many phone calls or messages planning the next major attack on America are sitting in a backlog of data somewhere?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Obama on the Seals and Seal Team 6

I saw this the other day and found it interesting.  Just some more examples of "candidate" Obama differing dramatically from President Obama.  It will be interesting if he starts to switch back into candidate mode now.

It's interesting because to the extent that his administration has been successful, it has been largely by not following through on his own campaign promises.  Guantanamo was not closed.  We got valuable information out of Guantanamo.  Obamacare is a reality.  Because he did not work across the aisle to achieve consensus, and because he did not bring "change" to the political system.  Change would have been a common sense, plain English bill that legislators on both sides had carefully considered, and had come to a consensus on.  Instead, you have leading Democratic lawmakers saying that they will find out what's in the bill once it is passed.  You have the President posing for "bi-partisan" photo ops with Republican lawmakers, telling them his plans, and refusing to consider their suggested changes.

We are still in the recession, and the two wars in the Middle East.  We have also gotten involved in Libya.  Guantanamo is still operational.  Politics in America is still a game of partisan chicken now that one house is controlled by the GOP.  Has Obama fulfilled any of his campaign promises?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Why the Libertarian Party Should Nominate Ron Paul

Alright.  So, as a card carrying member of the Libertarian Party, here's my plan and advice for 2012.

Keep in mind I live in a closed primary state.  I cannot caucus as a Republican unless I officially change my party affiliation before the caucus, which I might actually do.

The Libertarian party should nominate Ron Paul.  Why nominate a traitor, you ask?

Well, there's a few reasons.  First, the matter of principles.  Although Ron Paul may have left the Libertarian Party, he still holds firm in many Libertarian beliefs.  Best example?  Ron Paul has been an outspoken opponent of the U.S.'s Middle Eastern wars since 2001.

There is nothing in either law or the LP bylaws which states that  candidate must actually be a party member in order to be nominated on the Libertarian ticket.

Second of all, practicality.

Best case scenario for Libertarians (and small "l" libertarians as well) is Ron Paul actually wins the Republican nomination.  A candidate can appear on the ballot with multiple nominations.  If this happens, one of two things happens, depending on each individual state's election laws.  Either the candidate appears twice on the ballot, with each party's name, or the candidate appears once with both parties.

Scenario a) the candidate still gets the votes from both names.  We could actually have a Liberty minded president in 2013.  More importantly, the LP could leverage these states to show how popular Libertarian ideas actually are.  Although Ron Paul, Libertarian, would appear below Ron Paul, Republican, on the ballot, both votes count the same (for who wins the office).  On the other hand, the total per party is calculated separately.  In this case, the Libertarians could appeal to Republican voters to choose the Libertarian Ron Paul if they hold Libertarian values.  Without the risk of them "wasting votes" or "stealing votes" from Obama's opponent, they could still vote for the same candidate but express their true, Liberty-minded, political opinion at the same time.  Since Ron Paul's own campaign, and the Republican Party, would likely be paying most of his campaign expenses, Republicans could focus on these states and voter education to encourage voters to vote for Ron Paul, Libertarian.

In Scenario b), the candidate only appears once.  Sharing a nominee with a major party would mean a lot of "Libertarian" votes.  Which could potentially help with ballot access issues, as well as raise general awareness.  Just seeing the name of our party next to one of the two real contenders in a presidential election will arouse a lot of curiosity.

Now, the other possibility is that Ron Paul loses the Republican nomination and wins the Libertarian nomination.  Should Paul have a strong showing in the Republican primaries, but not win, he might choose to actively campaign as an independent, or, more to the point, Third Party, candidate.  With the huge amount of fundraising he is sure to do leading up to the primaries, this could provide the LP with significant sources of campaign funding.  Moreover, as shown by the whole Ron Paul rEVOLUTION thing, he has many, many, very devoted followers.  Although most will surely vote for the "lesser of two evils," some are actually Democrats or Independents, and some are hardcore liberty-minded Republicans, all of who might very well choose to support Ron Paul over the Republican nominee.  It is doubtful this would be enough votes to win the election.  But it might very well be enough to get the Libertarian Party some attention, and, more importantly, to have the "largest third party in America," be viewed as a viable political force and option.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Is our government addicted to spending?

I saw this article by former Libertarian VP nominee Wayne Allyn Root and it raised an interesting prospect.  Is our nation's spending problem the national version of an addiction?

Let's look at it.  Like the alcoholic who takes the first sip, we started collecting taxes to build roads, schools, etc.  Then, when our nation hit hard times (like the Great Depression), we needed more.  The government "needed" to help the unemployed.  We started giving out welfare.  Which required more taxes.  We started government-funded infrastructure projects to both employee people and improve our economic infrastructure.  We needed more taxes.  Maybe it started off as an addiction.

But to me, our government's spending problem is more like methadone treatment for a heroine addict.  We are in an economic crisis.  Instead of cutting off our spending, we redirect it.  The government is about to hit its debt ceiling.  The private market has stopped creating new American jobs.  We borrowed too much money, and now our economy is on the verge of collapse, largely because we borrowed too much.  Well, what do our elected officials do?  Do they stop spending?  No, they continue spending.  They redirect their spending to more "healthy" and "productive" outlets, like... extending unemployment benefits.  Continuing to hire more "czars" and "advisers" to build our President's national monument to the Chicago Democratic machine.  Giving cash to first time home buyers.  Giving cash to people to buy "greener" cars.  Giving cash to companies that create "greener" jobs.  Where has it gotten us?

Just like a junky who is in the hospital for heroin use, and leaves just as stoned (although perhaps less at risk for diseases, ODs, and antisocial behavior) on methadone, our economy is still screwed.  We are in the hospital for debt, overspending, and economic restrictions which make us uncompetitive in the labor and industrial market places.  We are leaving with more debt, but this time it is debt in the service of "sustainability" "redistribution of wealth," and "social justice."

The solution is not to spend on different things.  The solution is to stop using.  For our government, that means stop spending.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

American Animal Farm?

I read this post the other day, and it really got me thinking.  I like to think that I am less biased and right-wing than a lot of other bloggers out there, even the ones I sometimes agree with.  This particular post reinforces those thoughts.  Although I think this is a little bit too far on the anti-Communist scale for the 21st century, the overall message is one I agree with.

Let's be honest.  The President and Democrats acted as if the debt crisis was a must-be-avoided situation.  As if, on August 2nd, if the debt ceiling was not raised, our entire country would collapse.  Obviously, social security and medicare recipients, as well as veterans, might not get their checks if the debt ceiling wasn't raised.

Instead of refuting these scare tactics, the Republicans we elected to office agreed.  Their point was not that any of these "inevitable" tragedies were not really inevitable.  Their argument was that they were, in fact, inevitable, and that the Republican-majority House would block any efforts to avoid them that did not include significant spending cuts.

Now let's look at the reality.  There is, in fact, an alternative to the "inevitable" tragedies quoted by the Obama administration.  4 out of every 10 dollars we spend are borrowed.  Which means that the government could continue to operate with 60% of its funding.  Do we really think that social security, medicare, and active duty and veteran pay and benefits add up to more than 60% of government spending?

What if, instead, extended unemployment benefits were cut off, retired Congressional pension payments were suspended, or Congressmen got paid 10% less or temporarily worked without pay?  What if federal bureaucrats were laid off or asked to work temporarily without pay?  Unfathomable?  FAA inspectors and air traffic controllers are already doing it!  If the people responsible for the safety of every person to fly in American airspace can work without pay, surely the people we elected to make tough choices, who have caused the enormous deficit which causes this problem, could do the same?  After all, can anyone argue that FAA inspectors and controllers caused the debt crisis?  How about Congressmen?  Can anyone argue that retirees, who faithfully paid into social security out of every paycheck for the last 40+ years of their adult life caused our bankruptcy?  How about the legislators who have resisted social security reform, even though we have known for decades that the system would eventually run out of money?

Democrats threatened inevitable tragedies to the most vulnerable and/or deserving people in our country.  Republicans agreed and used this as leverage.  In the end, we have just extended our credit limit without cutting back our spending.  In reality, neither side grew a pair large enough to make the tough choices necessary to fix the long term problems of our debt and deficit economy.

Were the veterans, the retired, and the disabled really saved?  Or were the elected representatives, making their livings and receiving health and retirement packages most of us could only dream of at our expense, saved?  Maybe it's time for a bigger change and more hope than Obama, or the Republicans, ever asked or hoped for.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Obama's Stance on Libya

This is a few days old, and I'm going to be very brief here, but does this remind anyone else of the start of the Vietnam War?

What starts as a non-combat role soon turns into a few dozen military advisers, and then thousands.  This is wrong.  The idea behind the lag between authorizing military force and declaring actual war is to allow the military to respond swiftly to a direct, time sensitive threat on our national security, not to allow the POTUS to impose his/our political goals on the rest of the world without Congressional approval.  Shame on you, Obama.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On bin Laden's killing

This subject, as well as this post  are somewhat old now, but important enough that I still feel I should comment on them.

Let me preface this by saying that I don't miss bin Laden's life at all.  I am perfectly content that he is no longer with us.

I do, however, agree with some of the points Ron Paul made, as well as have some of my own as to why this was carried out incorrectly.

First of all, there are international norms.  First and foremost is sovereignty.  We had no business sending military and intelligence personnel inside of another country and essentially assassinating someone without at least asking for the host country to arrest him first.  Unless there was a credible reason to believe that the security of the information would have been threatened by involving Pakistan, that country's government should have been involved.

Second, from a norms and moral standpoint, capturing an enemy is always preferable to killing an enemy.  Osama should have been arrested, not shot.

On the same note, Osama lead a movement based on a religion (radical Islam, not all Islam) which still believes in martyrs.  The men bin Laden funded and trained to carry out the 9/11 attacks gave up their lives fighting for their cause.  They are considered heros by radical Muslims.  By killing bin Laden in a military attack, we have made him a martyr.  By capturing him and putting him on trial in a U.S., Western style court, we would have brought about his end through the very system he has spent his whole life fighting.  This would have been a much more clear message to terrorists around the world.

Quite frankly, between the anger over his death and our blatant disregard for the sovereignty of the Pakistani government, and the fact that he died a martyr, I am a little surprised that nobody has stepped up and publicly claimed the leadership of al Qaeda yet.  I also doubt that we will see the anniversary of bin Laden's death without another major terrorist attack.  We have enraged radical Muslims, and given bin Laden the hero's death so many of his followers actively seek.  Do we really think this was the best way to handle the situation?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

General Criticism of Moral Politics

So far, I've discussed in my last two posts my issues with Moral Politics and its handling of Libertarianism.  There is a far more general, larger problem with the book, however.  Although the author exposes his political bias both at the beginning and at the end of his work, even without his explicit acknowledgement, it would be fairly obvious.

He is right to repeatedly use the disclaimer that he is speaking of "central" cases, and that there is such a thing as an "ideal case."  His bias, however, clearly affects what he views as both the central and ideal cases of the Strict Father and Nurturant Parent models of family values, which lead to certain moral worldviews, and thus, certain political worldviews.

In particular, his view of the nurturant parent model seems much more central, and ideal, than what he points to as the real, central case of the strict father parenting model.

The style of parenting which he calls strict father parenting, and which he points to as a large part of his reasoning for being liberal, would seem extreme to many strict parents.  In fact, he debunks with the idea of strict father parenting (and thus, conservative politics) largely by quoting the religious right in their parenting manuals which support physical punishment, often extreme physical punishment, and then citing research which shows the negative long term affects of physical punishment.

Many conservative, traditional, or otherwise strict families believe in and use strict parenting, without physical contact, and certainly without abusive physical contact.  Many strict families also do not value the maintenance of moral order over all other values.  The most obvious example that came to mind reading this section is a severe, and troubling one.  Would most traditional families really punish a female child for accusing an older male relative of molesting and/or raping her?  While this is a common fear of many victims, that they will be accused of lying, or blamed for the attack, very few parents, if they believed their daughters, would punish her for speaking out.  According to the image painted in Moral Politics all strict father parents would.

Moreover, I can tell you, that while there were certainly nurturant aspects of my upbringing, being raised by my mother who worked a lot of hours, in a big city, it was mostly strict parent child rearing.  I was spanked once, when I was three.  But I was punished for breaking the rules.  I was allowed to debate with my mother, and to ask questions, or ask for exceptions to rules.  But, for example, when I was in high school, my curfew was generally 10 p.m.  If I wanted to go to a concert that didn't end until 12, meaning I would get home at around 1 a.m., I could ask my mother.  I could explain it was a band I really wanted to see.  I could tell her I would be right home after the concert.  Sometimes she would agree, sometimes she wouldn't.  When she didn't, 10 p.m. it was.  I was home at 10, and I knew that there would be consequences to my actions if I was not.  Never physical violence, but punishment.

Although I was only spanked once, I was often disciplined, even in public.  I was taught manners very early.  Keep in mind that I did not grow up in Las Vegas, but in the more temperate Midwest.  If I misbehaved at a restaurants, my parents would warn me once.  If I couldn't behave appropriately for a restaurant, I wouldn't eat in a restaurant.  If I continued fidgeting, running around, crying, playing with my food, throwing a tantrum, or whatever other inappropriate behavior I had engaged in, they would take me to the car, roll down the windows a bit, and lock me in until our food came.  They would then ask for the food to go, and we would eat it at home.  This was obviously a punishment for disobeying them, as well as disobeying society's norms, or "the moral order."  It was not physical agression.

I was not allowed to eat dessert if I didn't finish my main meal.  If I was bad, I went to bed early and without watching TV.  If I broke something at school, I paid for it out of my allowance and was not allowed to go out and use my allowance for anything fun until it was paid for.  None of these sound like nurturant parent parenting to me.  Yet, only once was a finger lifted in disciplining me.  And it was not by the more active parent in my childhood.

I would argue that most conservatives, or even liberals and moderates who believe in strict father child raising, had similar experiences.  We were respected, and allowed a voice in the family discussion.  But when our parents made up their minds, we knew they meant it.  They were the boss.  And we knew there would be immediate, non-negotiable punishment for disobeying them.  A strict parent can be strict without being physically violent.  This simple reality invalidates most of the author's arguments in favor of liberalism.

Finally, to look at the biased and unfair treatment of these two systems by the author, we need only look at the titles he has given the two models.  They are loaded with moral judgment for the liberal, or even modern, reader.  The idea of a "Strict Father" parenting model screams sexism.  "Nurturant Parent" on the other hand points toward an egalitarian, PC, modern-style family arrangement.  The reality is that "parents" can be strict, and "fathers" can be nurturant.

Lakoff presents an interesting way of looking at politics, but perhaps because politics and political science are not his specialty, his bias is obvious throughout the book, inhibiting him from providing a truly balanced view using his paradigm.

Friday, April 29, 2011

More on Moral Politics and Libertarians

So, having re-read all of Moral Politics, the author actually specifically addresses Libertarians within his frame of thought.  And it is even more irritating than what I thought was his total emission.

First of all, he covers Libertarianism in all of one page.  Second, he uses that page to basically say, "Libertarians won't admit it, but they are Conservatives at heart."  His argument is lacking in several aspects.

First, he defeats it with his own arguments.  His explanation of Libertarianism is that inherent with "Strict Father" (i.e. Conservative) morality and politics is the inherent reality that a) a strict father raises his children that way so that once they are mature, they can be self reliant, and b) there is resentment from an adult child whose father is overly intrusive and does not allow him to "sink or swim" in adulthood.  Libertarians focus, rather than on other aspects of Strict Father morality, on this resentment of the overly-intrusive father figure (i.e. the government).  Well, that would seem to make sense, except for a couple things.  First, this is a side effect of the Strict Father morality and politics, not a central issue of it.  Focusing on a side effect of the system does not mean Libertarians buy into the system.  Second of all, according to his own explanation of Strict Father morality, and why Conservatives can support policies that don't seem to actually achieve their ends, he brushes this off, as saying that, in Strict Father morality, preservation of Strict Father morality is always priority number one.  So, if his explanation of the priorities of Strict Father morality is true, then Libertarians cannot truly be a part of this, if their emphasis is on removing an overly-strict father from the picture, rather than on preserving absolute adherence to Strict Father values.

Although he does not address it in his discussion of Libertarians specifically, the author dismisses the idea that Libertarians, or anyone else, could have a political theory based on something other than either "Strict Father" or "Nurturant Parent" family-based morality.  He argues that because the family is biologically and socially our primary point of reference, it is impossible to look at morality without considering the family.  And, because politics is necessarily moral, it is therefor impossible to have a political theory not based on morality, and thus on the family.  This argument looks bullet proof at first glance.  Upon a closer look, however, it is faulty.  This would be equivalent to saying that because physical nutrition is our foremost requirement, everything we do, think, or say, must be based on food.  Just because something ranks high on our ladder of priorities as individuals and a society does not mean everything below it must be based on it.  It just means that, at the end of the day, if it comes down to food or family, we take food.  If it comes down to our family's survival or our moral values, we choose family.  Look, for instance, at conservative families who embrace their gay and lesbian children.  They place their family over their personal moral values.

Yes, our political discourse is filled with references to the family.  It is also filled with references to  money, war, sex, relationships, geography, death, survival and dozens of other things.  This does not mean it is based on any one of these things.  It means that either a) they are all factors, b) our politicians are skilled at using terminology that will pull at people's deepest instinctual and emotional strings, or c) some combination of the two.  In sciences, and even in social sciences, there are two questions too often overlooked by people trying (consciously or subconsciously) to prove a point.  First, is the relationship causal, and second, which direction does the causation run?  While Moral Politics lays out a relationship between family values, morality, and politics, it does not answer either of these questions.  Are the three linked by a causal relationship?  Do family values lead to morality to politics, or some combination of them?  Or are they all just such large factors of our lives that they inherently cross paths and influence each other?  If we accept that there is, in fact, a causal relationship, which way does that run.  Do people hold the values they hold because of their family values?  Or do we raise our children a certain way because of our political and/or moral outlook?  The book does not adequately answer any of these questions.

Finally, even if we accept that Conservatives are Conservative and Liberals are Liberal because of their respective systems of child-rearing and the moral values those systems instill, it does not mean that every political ideology will necessarily be based on a family-based moral outlook.  Even if we accept that they all are, however, there is no evidence to support the idea that these are the only two ways of raising children, or the only two systems of moral values that guide child-rearing.

In short, the author has laid out a wonderful hypothesis.  It's time to prove it.  Using links and value hierarchies, however, does not prove a causal, much less an exclusive causal relationship.

I would argue that Libertarianism could just as (if not more) easily be viewed as a Nurturant political system as a Strict political system.  In fact, it is based on the (according to the work Nurturant) idea that we should be able to make our own choices, and choose to be creative, to express ourselves, etc. There is also another factor.  Libertarians believe that perhaps the government is not the best at nurturing its citizens.  Libertarians support private charity, small businesses creating jobs, freedom of expression to express ideas and educate each other through art, etc.  Perhaps, then, Libertarians fit within our own family values system.  Perhaps it is the Nurturant Sibling, or Orphan, family morality which guides Libertarians.  Like families who have been neglected by parents, where an older sibling supports and raises a younger sibling, Libertarians may feel our government has not been there to provide the nurturing "upbringing" it was supposed to.  Despite years of over-regulation, social welfare programs, public education, arts education, etc. look at where we are?  We are soon to be overtaken as the world's largest economy.  A (relatively) small dip in the world markets has left millions unemployed and kicked out of their homes.  The poverty rate in our country is still abysmal for a country which consumes so much.  Perhaps the Libertarian philosophy is that our parents (the federal government), our foster parents (local governments and government subsidized big business), and the system have let us down.  It's time for them to back off and let the big siblings, who have done well, create jobs, education, and other infrastructure, and nurture our "younger siblings" who need a little extra help.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Truth About Education and Teachers' Unions

This is an old article, but important enough that I'm still going to write on it.  Basically, it goes into the numbers and debunks the myth that teachers' unions lead to better schools.  More interestingly, it uses statistics and facts usually hailed by liberal and progressive groups to do so.

In short, liberals are claiming that unionized teachers create better schools.  The argument debunks this, pointing out that, in fact, what makes a lot of the model states for this argument either rank well or poorly on education is actually socioeconomic makeup.

Again, to me, the most interesting part of this is that this is a typically liberal argument about education and equality, particularly racial equality.  Statistically speaking, poor and minority students don't do as well, and their school districts don't rank as well.  The states at the bottom end of the achievement scale have largely poor or minority students, while those at the top have largely middle and upper class white students.

The blogger actually goes a step further and breaks down test scores within each state by race.  In fact, many of the non-union states' white students do quite well.  It is the effect of combining these scores with the larger minority populations which make the overall state averages lower.

As the author points out, there are several reasons minority students don't do as well.  They tend to come from less wealthy, and less educated families, who have survived without the benefit of a college education.  They are less likely, therefore, to think that a college degree, and the success it requires in high school to get one, are entirely necessary to survive in today's economy.  They also likely come from communities without a lot of well-educated role models.  They are less likely to know that if they do well in high school, they will be able to afford to go to college, or to a top tier college.

Many minority groups (with the exclusion of black and Native American groups), also face the increased challenge of many of their members not living in English as a first language households.  Not being raised in an English-speaking home can negatively affect performance both in school and on standardized tests.

Finally, there has long been an argument that standardized tests themselves contain a racial bias.  While this may be hard to believe, it is quite plausible.  Much of these tests revolves around reading comprehension, mathematical word problems, etc.  While these are noble attempts to allow students to apply their knowledge in a real world setting, for those who grew up in less affluent areas, or in an ethnic enclave, these backgrounds can be anything but "real world."

Let's not get started on the issue of school funding.  The schools most in need of help often receive the least funding, as they are in poorer neighborhoods.

All of these issues add up to explain why minorities don't do as well on standardized tests.  This explains far more about nationwide education rankings than the presence or absence of teachers' unions.  Instead of trying to fight for or against teachers' unions to improve student performance, perhaps we should focus on making real changes in our education system.  Offering school vouchers to allow students and parents to choose the best school for their child.  Improving inner city and minority-populated schools.  Rewriting standardized tests to be a fair representation of a student's knowledge and intelligence, rather than biased toward those with a fortunate upbringing.  Allowing non-traditional teaching methods into the classroom.  Rewarding teachers for their performance, not their length of service.  All of these are issues which will close the achievement gap, and raise the bottom-ranked states up the national education ladder.  Coincidentally, many of these are ideas which teachers' unions oppose.

Monday, March 28, 2011

How Libertarians are Different

So every once in a while, I like to reread my college books.  One that I just started to reread is Moral Politics : How Liberals and Conservatives Think.  It's interesting, because now with my own political views more shaped, even just from the introductory chapter, a lot makes sense.

The basic premise of the book explains why both of the major parties are so similar on so many major issues, and why their basic philosophical stances are so similar.  It also explains why the Libertarian party is so different from the Republicans and Democrats.

The basic premise of the book is that our political thoughts are shaped by a series of metaphors based on morality, and, particularly, family morality.  According to the author, Republicans believe in a strict father family model, and the Democrats believe in a nurturing parent model.  Nevermind the obvious bias in implying that the Republican view is inherently more sexist than the Democratic view.

The key is that both of these thoughts are based on the premise of our nation as a child, and the government as its parent.  This view, according to Libertarians is flawed.  We are not one child.  We are a collection of millions of individual adults.  Who should be free to make our own decisions without being concerned about what our government thinks.  Moreover, as the author of the book points out, the words for parents have multiple connotations.  One is the figure that raises and nurtures a child, another is the genetic figure.

This last explanation provides further support to the idea that the Republican and Democratic models are fundamentally flawed. Our government did not sire, birth, parent, or otherwise create us.  We created it.  If anything, we should be the strict father or nurturing parent to our government, not the other way around.

The alarming part of my thoughts on this book as it relates to Libertarianism is that it also explains why we will probably never be as successful as the major parties have been in mainstream politics.  The author of the book is not a political scientist, but a cognitive linguist.  This field concerns itself with explaining the basic functioning of the human mind.  The author's argument is that everything we do, think, and say, is based in a metaphorical relationship between that action or thought (in this case politics), our moral values, and our experiential well-being.

The concerning part is that even if we can recognize that the Libertarian view is more emotionally detached, logical, and reason-based than the major political systems, this is not how an election is won.  The metaphorical and emotional ties are what win votes.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

More On Walker's Union Busting

Alright.  So here's another reason that I strongly oppose Governor Scott Walker's anti-Union "Budget Repair Bill" in Wisconsin.

The poor targeting of state employees.

To start with, let's stick to the assumption that collective bargaining unit-represented state employees really are the problem.  Let's look at the two glaring exceptions to the now collective bargaining except for wages proposal.  Police and firefighters.  Who happen to be the highest paid Union-represented public employees.  If the bill is really about the budget, these should be the first employees targeted.  Yes, their jobs are essential to the basic operations of a state or local government, even by the most Libertarian standards.  Yes, their jobs are incredibly dangerous (some of them).  In fact, many police and firefighters put their lives on the line, literally, every day, in order to ensure the security of ours.  This post does not mean I do not appreciate or support those efforts.  But let's look at the numbers.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, police, detective, and firefighter base pay ranges in the high 50's to high 70's, without longevity adjustments.  This is not counting benefits.  Teachers, on the other hand, with the exception of higher education, range in the mid 30's.  Also, benefits, understandably, are considerably more expensive for police and firefighters.  In fact, many police and fire fighters are eligible for retirement after 20 years of service.  Yes, that's right.  For a 21 year old entering the field, that means that they are eligible for retirement at age 41.  Fair enough, given the physically strenuous nature of their jobs.  Unlike most non-union, private sector jobs, however, which are fixed contribution plans, these retirement plans are generally fixed benefit plans.  Which means that these employees, regardless of length of service, amount contributed by them, their Union, or their employer, will receive a fixed monthly amount for the remainder of their lives.  Regardless of how long that may be.  How much is this fixed amount?  Often 50% of their pay as of retirement.  Yes, that is correct.  A 41 year old police or firefighter can be making $60,000+ a year (ignoring the raises they get for longevity, so more likely in the $80,000 range), retire, never work another day again, and make $30,000 a year (again, more likely $40,000+) until they die at the ripe old age of 112.  Moreover, union employees are almost universally eligible for overtime pay.  Teachers tend to work on annual salaries (not eligible for overtime), and with the exception of special circumstances (special events, weather or illness related issues), teachers, public transit workers, administrative workers, etc. should not be regularly getting overtime, unless it is due to poor management.  Police and firefighters, on the other hand, are eligible for overtime pay, and, due to the nature of their jobs, can reasonably be expected to receive that overtime.  If this bill is really about repairing the budget, and not about sticking it to unions, why are the most costly union workers being left untouched?

Let's now look at teachers.  No, their jobs are not particularly dangerous.  They also are not particularly rewarding from an economic standpoint.  Low incomes, little career advancement opportunity, etc.  Many people argue that paying teachers what we do, when they only work 9 months a year, is unreasonable.  How many companies do you know of that will hire a grown adult for seasonal employment at a reasonable wage?  Many teachers would be more than willing to work 12 years, if the work were available.  It is a decision of the school boards (mind you, school boards controlled by their employers) to run a 9-month school system.  Through no fault of their own, teachers have been restricted to doing their chosen work (except for a few offered pennies to instruct summer school classes) 9 months a year.  Unlike bears, teachers do not hibernate.  Especially during the summer.  Just because we have determined that vacationing, camp, and little league are more important uses of the nice summer weather than education our children does not mean teachers stop paying rent, eating, or paying off their student loans.  Moreover, if the argument behind excluding firefighters and police is that they fulfill an essential government function, after police and fire protection, I believe even most hardcore Libertarians would agree that at least a minimal public education is an essential government function.

My guess, were you to ask Walker supporters these tough questions, would be that they would argue that the danger of inflaming the police and firefighters unions is higher than that in inflaming teachers and other public employee unions.  My response would be twofold.  First of all, from an immediate safety standpoint, that may be true.  From a long-term economic effect standpoint, this is utterly false.  One year, or even one semester, without public schools could set Wisconsin's education system, and economy, back for years.  Moreover, the economic effect of having hundreds of thousands of children at home without school to go to for a semester or a year would be huge.  Second, this argument is all the more reason that police and firefighter unions should at least be considered eligible to have collective bargaining rights stricken.  Without a union, if police and firefighters were upset with their working conditions, what are the chances of a work stoppage that actually affected operations of their departments?  Yes, most union contracts include no-strike clauses, and I would wager that labor stoppages by public employees are illegal in the state of Wisconsin.  This has not, however, stopped Unions before.  When contracts expire, the no-strike clauses go with them.  Given the physical, mental, and training requirements for police and firefighters, the prospects of firing any unionized, striking employees before a new CBA was negotiated are slim to none (that is typically the threat employers use to prevent work stoppages during CBA negotiation lapses).  Moreover, the law against public employee strikes has proven ineffective in the state of Wisconsin before.  How many times have Teachers Assistants and other UW System employees gone on strike, and not been punished by either the University or the State?  I tend to think that a strike of police and firefighters is a highly, highly unlikely scenario.  If, however, even the threat of this is a factor in their exclusion from the "budgetary microscope," the reality needs to be re-evaluated.

Now, let's stop taking for granted that Unions are the problem here.  Let's question that basic assumption of Walker's bills.  Yes, there are non-teacher, non-police, and non-firefighting union employees working for the State of Wisconsin, and its local and municipal governments.  But there are countless more non-Union employees.  From a Libertarian perspective, and from the perspective traditionally flaunted by Republicans, big government is a problem.  This is supported by simple business management and economic knowledge as well.  A 3% pay cut for all employees in the state will not have the same long term benefits as a 3% cut to the number of employees.  It's just that simple.  Take a department.  We'll call it Local School District X.  When we cut the pay, the pension contributions, or the health insurance requirements for all 100 employees of School District X by, say $300, we have saved $30,000.  The savings are only $30,000.  We still have to pay insurance, licensing, basic benefits, etc. for all 100 employees.  Next year, we will likely give all employees a cost of living increase of 2.5%, plus some performance based increases, etc.  If, on the other hand, we realize that there are 2 employees whose only job is to photocopy homework assignments for teachers, and we can eliminate one of those positions, we can save $30,000 in pay.  We can also save 33% of that, or about another $10,000, in benefits.  This is a conservative estimate, as it is the standard used in the more efficient, less worker friendly private sector.  We can also save on a phone line, office supplies, physical plant and maintenance costs for one office.  Next year, we will continue to see the savings, as we are not paying this employee, or giving them performance or inflation based raises.  We have also actually increased the efficiency of Local School District X, and forced them to work with 99 employees, rather than 100.  These employees all still make the same amount of money as they were before, and generally their morale will be only slightly less than what it was before.

The reality of it is that the cost of running our government is not mostly due to teachers, firefighters, police officers, or even bus drivers.  The cost is mostly due to a bloated bureaucracy.  Moreover, an even larger majority of what most Republicans, Libertarians and fiscal conservatives would consider wasteful government spending comes from this bureaucracy and the non-transparent financial situation it creates.  It does not come from overpaying people in admittedly needed, typically unionized, public service positions.  It comes from paying people (even if it is less than their organized counterparts) to do things that either don't need to be done, or don't need to be done by the government.

Having worked with financial and personnel decisions while on the UW Campus, I've seen first hand what positions are "classified" (i.e. bargaining unit) and "unclassified."  From janitors to TAs, to research assistants, classified positions all due things clearly essential to the operation of the University.  Unclassified staff do such things as photocopy, answer phones, schedule meetings for other people, etc.  Often these people's workloads could easily be increased through more efficient operation.  Other unclassified staff include administrators.  How many deans, assistant principles, etc. does one school or University need?  If anything, because the positions must generally go through both Union and employer approvals, bargaining unit positions are more carefully vetted than their non-union equivalents.  Sure, there is fat that could be trimmed from Union positions as well.  But "big government" (which the Republicans stand up against in campaigns, but rarely in office) is not really a problem of union employees doing the dirty work (whether it's driving a bus, putting out fires, patrolling the streets, cleaning a toilet, or teaching a class).  It's a problem of the paper pushers (some of whom are covered by CBAs, but many of whom are not).  In fact, even when pay and benefits are being compared between public and private sectors, the only employees who it can accurately be compared for tend to be non-union, or at least not part of the four big unionized areas which seem to receive the most media attention (police, firefighters, teachers, and public transit).  Police officers may make more than the average private sector employee with a comparable (often high school or Associates degree) education.  Do they make more than someone professionally trained in criminal investigation, physical fitness, first aid and lifesaving, dangerous and defensive driving, and firearms safety and usage?  Is there a comparable profession which requires the extensive, although perhaps not University-provided, training that police officers go through?  Or which requires one to put their life on the line, entering unknown and potentially dangerous situations as a daily routine?  In fact, many police officers, military members, fire fighters, etc.  can find jobs in the private sector.  And if these jobs involve the same risk that their old professions did (think private military companies, etc.) they are often much better compensated than they were as public employees.

Public sector teachers may make more than their private sector equivalents.  Are the jobs really comparable?  Can a public school say, "no, this person is not entering with high enough test scores, we don't want them?"  By taking every student in a district, are public school teachers given a pass on the expectation that their students do well at the end of the day?  Can a public school refuse to take more students simply because the average class size has risen above 15?  Can a public school expel a child whose behavior makes them a distraction, or even a threat, to the other students, themselves, or their teachers?  Do public schools do extensive background checks on their students and their families, providing some measure of safety and security for their teachers?

Do city bus drivers make more than cab drivers?

The four most-attacked public service professions do jobs that we cannot possibly compare to any private sector equivalent.  So comparing their compensation is also unreasonable.

The bottom line is this.  The problem with the state budget in Wisconsin (and everywhere else) is not union wages.  It is an inflated government bureaucracy.  It is a bureaucracy that pays people to "regulate," "observe" and evaluate every minute aspect of people's business and personal lives.  It is a bureaucracy that has more people sitting behind desks pushing paper than actually out interacting with the public they are paid to serve.  It is a bureaucracy which, partly due to unions, and partly due to the nature of politics, tends to be eager to add new functions and departments, but rarely evaluates if those departments are still needed, running efficiently, or worth the money spent on them.  It is a bureaucracy which uses the prior year's budget as a starting point, and builds (almost always up) off of that for each department.  The solution is not to limit wages and benefits of all state employees, union or not.  It is to get rid of some state employees entirely, mainly the ones that provide little or no tangible benefits to the citizens of the state of Wisconsin.

Let's just briefly point out one example of exactly the kind of thing which causes government budget problems.  Conveniently, this is a proposal of the very same Governor who is "repairing" the state budget.  In fact, this proposal was worked into the very same budget "repair" bill.  Any guesses?  Yes, that's right.  The proposal to separate UW-Madison from the UW System.  I haven't read the details of this.  Even if we give Walker the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he put this on paper in a way that would remain budget neutral, long term, that's not going to happen.  The reason that government agencies (including colleges and universities) that serve similar purposes are often consolidated is because of a duplication of services.  And the idea of "shared services."  For instance, state fleet vehicles.  Yes, the system and UW-Madison will probably need the same number of vehicles, regardless of whether they are one system or two.  On the other hand, insurance rates are likely to go up when the risk pool gets split in two.  The people who account for the location, condition, and maintenance of these vehicles will now be working for two different employers.  Which most likely means that the UW System will keep their current employees and Madison will hire more.  The regents who oversee the system will all still be in place, compensation, travel reimbursements, support staff in all.  A new board of regents will also need to be added to oversee Madison's operations.  Likely, somebody will need to step back and look at the bigger higher education picture in the state of Wisconsin.  These studies and evaluations will have to be done by some statewide body, whether an actual department, or a legislature committee (complete with staffers, of course).  The bottom line, this proposal does anything but repair the Wisconsin state budget.  Notice I have not touched on the merits of the idea itself.

But while Walker is proposing limiting the rights of the employees who few, if any, of even the most conservative or Libertarian Wisconsinites would argue are not needed, he is asking the legislature to turn the page and approve a split in a statewide system that would create many more taxpayer-paid jobs, and create countless duplications of service.  My guess, however, is that as long as we can keep the number of TAs, PAs, custodians, campus bus drivers, campus security guards, and other unionized employees the same, Walker's okay with that.

Walker has gotten national media attention with his plan to "fix" Wisconsin's budget.  Now, if only he would focus on fixing the budget problem that Republicans claim to see (i.e. big government) instead of expanding the government and paying the most essential state workers less, and removing their rights to collective bargaining, he might be able to set a positive example for the rest of the country.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Walker's Anti-Union Plan

Alright.  I am most certainly not pro Union.  But the proposal by new Wisconsin governor Scott Walker disgusts me.  As a Libertarian, I believe that in the areas where government does need to be involved (police and fire protection, education, infrastructure, etc.) it needs to be run like a business.  Most Republicans, I'm sure, would spout that line as well.  They point to the fact that the government must be fiscally responsible.  I would also argue that beyond fiscal responsibility, this means that they must find the most effective way to provide services, and treat their employees with the same dignity and respect that they expect private businesses to.

On that note, I have two major issues with what little I have read about Walker's proposal.  First, the issue of not forcing public employees to pay union dues, and requiring a vote every year to keep these jobs represented by a Collective Bargaining Agreement.  In principal, I am all for both of these options.  I believe in right to work states, and I believe that they ensure that a) union dues are kept reasonable and affordable, b) that unions continue to represent their constituents, and c), coming out of a and b, that unions are serving their actual purpose, rather than being corrupt bastions of the Democratic political machine, kept in place because people (both employers and employees) have no other options.  I do not, however, believe that it is fair to make Wisconsin a right to work state for public employees, and continue to allow other unions to compel membership due payment.  Similarly, I am all for requiring an affirmative action on the part of employees to maintain a CBA.  It reduces complacency, and ensures that unions are actually acting as unions, rather than as campaign fundraisers for Chicago and New York Democrats.  It holds unions accountable to their membership.  Again, however, this criteria should be applied to all unions, not just those representing public employees.

My second issue is the idea of a law limiting the positions public service unions are allowed to push for in CBA negotiations.  This is ridiculous.  This is akin to two teams playing football, and one team deciding that the other team is no longer allowed to use their fourth down, but must punt it.  Negotiations are a game, albeit an important one that affects people's livelihood.  One side cannot unilaterally change the rules of the game.  Unions should not be statutorily limited in the pay increases or other concessions they seek.  I do believe that union, especially government union, wages should be kept in line with non-union wage increase rates.  But I believe that negotiations are the outlet to express this, not by limiting what options are even on the table.

Not only is this an issue of taking away the rights of unions and their employees, it is also an issue of taking away legal authority granted to other parts of the State and Local governments in Wisconsin.  The right to negotiate teachers' contracts is given to the Boards of Education, or, in the case of higher education, the Board of Regents.  By limiting the options that are even up for negotiation, Walker and his allies seek to take away the authority of these bodies, as well as the bodies which govern police and fire protection throughout the state.

This is a slap in the face to voters and politicians throughout the state.  Walker is essentially saying, "I don't trust you to do your jobs, so I'm going to make it easy to do it the way that I would."

The answer to out of control public services unions is not to limit what they can and can't ask for.  It's to elect and appoint responsible people to the positions which are responsible for negotiating CBAs on behalf of the state.  Elect and appoint regents, councilmen, and board members who know the word "no," and aren't afraid to use it.  Elect and appoint people with the same fiscal viewpoints as the majority of Wisconsinites that elected Walker.  Drive a hard line in negotiations, but make sure those negotiations are fair.

Just like private businesses, state agencies should have to deal with absurd Union demands in negotiations.  And just like private businesses, those agencies should be willing and able to put their feet down, and say "No," even if that means risking a walkout or a strike.  Just like private sector union employees, public employees have medical concerns, children to feed, and mortgages to pay.  The state has to have the confidence to essentially dare them to give that up for an indefinite amount of time, rather than receive outrageous pay increases or pension payments.  But, the state should not stop them from even asking for those raises.

An anti-union governor?  All for it.  An anti-union, anti-process, back alley governor?  No thanks.

Organizing America a History of Trade Unions

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Throw Those Hands Up Already

So tonight I watched a CNBC documentary on Mexico's drug wars.  Not really a lot of new information in there for me, but one thing really got my blood boiling.  A Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security from the U.S. said that legalization was not an option, because "it would be like throwing our hands up and saying nothing can be done."

First, let's assume that that is actually the only message that legalizing marijuana on the federal level could send.  Alright.  So what?  Didn't we learn from Vietnam that sometimes, there is a point at which nothing can be done?  We are throwing good money after bad, and good lives after lives already lost in the war on drugs.  It has been about 30 years since Reagan and his wife began this war, and all we have seen is a steady rotation of the "in" drugs, a shift in production, processing and transit routes.  We show images of eggs that are supposed to be our brains, and fried eggs that are supposed to be our brains on drugs; we arrest kingpins.  We burn fields of coca and marijuana.  We destroy indigenous traditions in South American countries.  And what happens?  Drugs become more expensive as they become harder to get onto America's streets, the drug trade becomes more lucrative for those at the top of the pyramid, and they become more willing to do whatever it takes to make that money, leading to more lives lost.  The international drug trade and the organized crime it supports is the original multi-level marketing scheme, and it is not easily brought down.  These are like Avon or Mary Kay ladies with guns.  Is it such a bad thing to throw our hands up and say there's nothing that can be done?  If we spent that money on education about drugs, job creation, and fixing America's problems, maybe people would not be so desperate to escape their daily lives that they would do anything to get high.

Moreover, though, is the fact that the message sent by legalization would not necessarily be that we were giving up.  The message could, and should, be that after a lot of research and calculated thought, we realized that the policies pursued by our government, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, were wrong.  We've realized that while eradicating narcotics and their trafficking was a noble goal, it is simply too costly to do so.  Literally thousands of lives are lost each year on the streets of America, and in the streets of Latin America, because of our war on drugs.  How many lives has marijuana prohibition saved?  The argument most often used by those who acknowledge marijuana's relatively low health risks is that it is a gateway drug.  Why, though, is marijuana a gateway drug?  Probably because once people have started using marijuana, they are more inclined to go the next step.  After all, they already know dealers, and thus have access to hard drugs.  And they've already crossed the line of breaking the law.  So what's one step further into the realm of illegal drug use?  Well, legalization actually would eliminate both of these factors.  By outlawing pot, we are forcing people who are using a harmless substance (at least relative to alcohol, tobacco, and countless other legal and illegal substances) into a dark, underground world.  We are forcing them to make a choice to break the law, as well as to associate with potentially dangerous criminals.

If (or when) marijuana is legalized, potheads will be going to the corner store to get their fix, not to the corner where they will meet a dealer who also peddles crack, heroin, or meth.  They will have to make a conscious choice to cross the path of the law when progressing from marijuana to more serious, dangerous drugs.

If the government marketing/propaganda machine could convince us that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, certainly they could convince us of the more accurate, and demonstrable, fact that our drug policies are costing more lives than they are saving.  Market it correctly and legalization doesn't have to be  a white flag of shameful surrender.

Either way, are our politicians and old-guard citizens allowing our pride to get in the way of smart decision making?  It's okay to admit that while we may be winning the battles, we are losing the war, and cut our losses.  It's also okay to admit that our policies were more harmful than they were helpful, and our costing our children, and the people of our "allies" lives every day.

Some people argue that marijuana legalization is a slippery slope.  Perhaps they're right.  Gay marriage, the repeal of DADT, and legalization may be the beginning of a slippery slope.  But hey, if we can all live happily doped up on heroin and marrying our donkeys, but still be alive, and know that innocent children are not being gunned down in Juarez or Bogota, maybe it's a slope we should be a little more open to sliding down.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Travis Corcoran and his right to bear arms

Alright.  A 39 year old blogger named Travis Corcoran just had his gun license suspended after he posted "1 down 354 to go" on his blog, following the Giffords shooting.  This goes back to a basic theoretical question of political science, or does it?

The concept of positive liberty is that we are granted liberty by our governments, and that the only liberties we are entitled to are those specifically granted to us by our governing bodies.  Negative liberty, on the other hand, postulates that we are naturally intended to be free, and that the only rights and liberties we don't have are those specifically removed from us by our governments.

Either way, this is a transgression against liberty.  If we take the negative liberty view, Corcoran should have had the liberty to bear arms, as well as to say whatever he felt like, simply because there is no law which proscribes either behavior.

On the other hand, even if we take the positive liberty view, the U.S. Constitution, the highest "Law of the Land," granted him the right to do both.  Even our Constitution, which grants specific rights, granted Mr. Corcoran the right to bear arms and the freedom of speech.  Thus, regardless of whether we believe in positive or negative liberty, this case is a case of rights encroached upon.  Until Mr. Corcoran went out and tried to make it 2 down, 533 to go, his right to bear arms should not have been taken away, or even suspended.

He is (as far as I know) a law abiding citizen, and this attempt to take away one Constitutionally-guaranteed right (the right to bear arms) for the exercise of another (freedom of speech) is absurd.

Personal Autonomy: Beyond Negative and Positive Liberty

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Giffords Shooting and Violent Political Rhetoric

What happened in Arizona last week was a tragedy.  There is no doubt.  But what has happened in the media and on the internet, at the hands of the Left, is even more tragic, and worse yet, hypocritical.

A man with a history of unstable behavior shot at a politician.  The immediate reaction of the Left was to blame the Right, and, in particular, the Tea Party movement and Sarah Palin, for the shooting.  This is so far off base, and so hypocritical, it is not even funny.

In a country that has one of the most liberal democracies in the world, but very low voter turnout, politicians have long sought to inspire passion about politics and political beliefs in constituents' minds.  They use rhetoric of "revolt," revolution, and yes, occasionally violence, to support this passion-building goal.  Even the term "campaign" is a military (thus inherently violent) term.

It is not right to blame a politician or a media figure for a deranged individuals' actions simply because they continue this long-standing American political tradition.

On the other hand, these same individuals, who now so easily point the finger, mostly voted our current President into office.  Let's look at some of the people our President has associated with, and evaluate their role in creating political violence.

The first, and most obvious of my three examples, is Reverend Jeremiah Wright.  If hateful or violent speech is a political sin, Obama's minister is long past political purgatory.

Second, William Ayers, and other members of the Weather Underground.  Many politicians use violent images in their speech to wrestle up passion in voters.  Yet, while an entire generation peacefully and non-violently protested the draft and the Vietnam War, some individuals took it upon themselves to do so violently, using terrorist violence to prove an overtly political point.  Obama is close friends and business associates with Ayers, as well, I'm surge, given his Hyde Park connections, other members of this small group.

Finally, the Black Panther Party, which practiced voter intimidation on behalf of our current President.  This is a direct form of political violence, and one which undermines the very core of our political system, our right to elect our political leadership.

I am not saying that Obama is a terrible person, or that he should be crucified for the sins of those around him (although from the cult worship he receives from many on the Left, we might wonder if they have him confused with someone else).  I am, however, saying that before we begin to critique the words of those on the Right, we should take a good look at the ACTIONS of those on the Left.  We are Constitutionally guaranteed a freedom of speech.  We are not guaranteed a right to fire bomb, or a right to intimidate voters.