Saturday, March 29, 2014

A reply to Salon's R. J. Eskrow, and his 11 stupid questions about Libertarians

Posts here have been in short supply as I have been living life and trying to get a campaign off the ground.

But "11 questions to see if Libertarians are hypocrites" by R. J. Eskrow, picked up at Salon, was just so freaking lame that I spent half an hour answering them.

In the end (but I'll leave it to your judgment), it is not that Libertarians or Libertarian theory looks hypocritical, but that the best that can be said for Mr. Eskrow is that he doesn't have the faintest clue what he's talking about.

That's ok, because even ill-informed attacks by people like this make an important point:  Libertarian ideas (as opposed to Conservative ideas, which are completely different) are making a comeback as the dynamic counterpoint to "politics as usual," and so every hack you can imagine must be dragged out to refute them.

Ergo:  Mr. Eskrow's 11 questions, with answers:

1.      Are unions, political parties, elections, and social movements like Occupy examples of “spontaneous order”—and if not, why not?

Of course they are, with the exception of elections.  [Elections are very obviously NOT an example of spontaneous order, but the result of conscious, centralized planning. They are also not congruent with the other items on Mr. Eskrow’s list, because an election is a process rather than a group of people.]  Unfortunately Mr. Eskrow starts off with an immediate lack of understanding of any serious Libertarian theory:  people have the right to organize for any peaceful purpose whether I or anybody else agrees with it or not.  It is only when such emergent movements engage in force or fraud that a Libertarian would object to their existence.  That doesn’t, however, mean that I or anybody else has any obligation whatsoever not to criticize them or work against them, likewise without the use of force or fraud.

2.      Is a libertarian willing to admit that production is the result of many forces, each of which should be recognized and rewarded?

Mr. Eskrow loves to create straw men.  Production involves all sorts of forces, from raw materials to workers to distribution networks to investors ad infinitum, ad nauseam.  It’s the second part of his question that becomes more panderingly simplistic than the rest of his article.  Who exactly should be doing the “recognizing” and “rewarding”?  Allowing that markets with their imperfections and externalities haven’t always measured up [especially in cases of crony capitalism, on which more below], it’s really important to notice that governments haven’t consistently done a great job, either.  The implicit assumption underlying Mr. Eskrow’s question is that government must intervene to guarantee that each (presumably human) “force” in production is “recognized and rewarded.”  Market anarchists (a subset of Libertarians that Mr. Eskrow never seems to have encountered) would make strong arguments that without the props provided to corporations by governments, a truly free market would result in a better distribution of profits and rewards.

3.      Is our libertarian willing to acknowledge that workers who bargain for their services, individually and collectively, are also employing market forces?

Gee, I guess so.  This Libertarian was a union president for six years.  Where I think Mr. Eskrow is way the hell out in right field (yes, “right”) is that he apparently doesn’t understand that Libertarians object to such legislation as the National Labor Relations Act and Taft-Hartley because under the guise of providing government supervision of labor relations, what the State really did was eviscerate the power of unions by making many of their most effective tactics against the corporations illegal.  Stop wasting your time reading Ayn Rand and start reading Kevin Carson.

4.      Is our libertarian willing to admit that a “free market” needs regulation?

The key concept of Libertarianism is the avoidance of force and fraud.  Most (excepting true market anarchists/mutualists) would accept the idea that regulation by government or courts to insure those tenets are not violated is completely legitimate, absolutely necessary.  Libertarians would point out, however, that it is often the case that private entities can provide regulation of free market activities just as efficiently (or even more efficiently) than the government [e.g. Underwriter’s Laboratories].

5.      Does our libertarian believe in democracy? If yes, explain what’s wrong with governments that regulate.

Democracy is a great process, but it is not—as the Framers knew—a great way to run a government, at least not via unfettered, direct democracy.  Just because I am able to manage 50% plus one vote does not mean, for example, that the government should be empowered to eliminate somebody’s inherent rights, nor does having a majority agree make any proposition inherently right, only more popular than others among those who do vote.  For example, the US and State governments imposed and enforced segregation laws for decades that were popular with the majority of voters.  Does Mr. Eskrow defend such laws based purely on the fact that the regulations were promulgated and enforced by democratically elected governments?

6.      Does our libertarian use wealth that wouldn’t exist without government in order to preach against the role of government?

Mr. Eskrow prides himself on having developed the “who would build the roads” argument, when he has merely discovered an economic dynamic that’s been understood for a long, long time.  Sophisticated societies at the agricultural, pre-industrial, industrial, or post-industrial levels require a significant infrastructure and protection from external destructive forces to operate.  Gee, even the Romans, the Persians, the Zimbabweans, and the Incas knew that.  The question becomes one of what is the most effective (and just) way to provide that infrastructure?  There, if you’re honest, the question becomes considerably murkier in a world of governments, trans-national corporations, non-governmental organizations, foundations, etc. etc. all pretty much run by an interchangeable class of elites, whose primary function seems to be a collective agreement to protect their wealth and privileges.

7.      Does our libertarian reject any and all government protection for his intellectual property?

This is really Mr. Eskrow’s only decent question, and it is already outmoded.  Writers like Kevin Carson and Thomas Knapp have changed my own thinking on this, to the point where I do reject government protection for my intellectual property.  Part of the reason for this shift is my understanding of how intellectual property protections are actually (a) exploited by large corporations using government force to lock other people out of the market; and (b) growing increasingly useless in an information age where the very definition of intellectual property is changing more rapidly than the most officious of governments can keep up.  Get into the digital age, Mr. Eskrow, and actually prove you’ve got an understanding of the issue before you start trying to score cheap points.

8.      Does our libertarian recognize that democracy is a form of marketplace?

Back to this one again.  Democracy is a “marketplace” of ideas, but the popularity of an idea does not give it moral force or justify the use of force or fraud against people who have not violated the same principles.  No vote by the American people should be able to remove my freedom of speech or freedom of religion, for example, because those areas have been declared off-limits to democracy as basic rights.  Again:  if a majority of people in the US voted to deny citizenship to children born in country due to the immigration status of their parents (“anchor babies”) would the popularity of that idea give it moral force?

9.      Does our libertarian recognize that large corporations are a threat to our freedoms?

More clearly, apparently, than Mr. Eskrow does.  Large corporations in their metastasized modern form are the creation of the government, specifically in a series of Supreme Court decisions in the 1870s-1880s, authored by Associate Justice Stephen J. Field, that extended 14th Amendment protections to “artificial persons” and declared them to be effectively immortal.  Corporations exist as tax farmers for the State, in return for which they received protectionist legislation at the expense of small businesses, individual entrepreneurs, workers, and consumers.  Moreover, the corporate elites move seamlessly into and out of government (hello, Goldmann Sachs, hello Treasury Department).  Mr. Eskrow, real Libertarians have been talking about this a lot longer than you have.

10.   Does he think that Rand was off the mark on this one, or does he agree that historical figures like King and Gandhi were “parasites”?

Ayn Rand, Mr. Eskrow, was an Objectivist who actually detested Libertarians.  The fact that many Libertarians and others inaccurately characterize her as the prime intellectual authority of Libertarian ideas has little or nothing to do with two centuries of Libertarian-oriented intellectual, social, and cultural thought that you are apparently wholly ignorant of.  Exactly what part of admiration for two social reformers who preached non-violence on the part of people whose guiding creed is “no force, no fraud” don’t you get?

11.   If you believe in the free market, why weren’t you willing to accept as final the judgment against libertarianism rendered decades ago in the free and unfettered marketplace of ideas?

And when would that have been, Mr. Eskrow?  Since you don’t actually have any understanding of Libertarian thought beyond saying, “Nyah, nyah, Ayn Rand was a selfish bitch,” then how would we expect you to understand that Libertarian ideals of a non-violent, non-coercive society don’t go out of style simply because your preferred crony capitalist state likes to distort them?  Marriage equality?  Advocated by Libertarians for many years.  Likewise marijuana legalization.  Non-interventionist foreign policy.  Limits on police powers of surveillance and arrest.  Libertarians have had an enormous impact on the social and political discussions of the past three decades, but you haven’t noticed, apparently because you were too busy decided which plutocrat (Democrat or Republican) to vote for.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Freedom, cheap buses, journalism

Yesterday's WNJ carried a story entitled Stopping 'Chameleon' Bus Lines is No Easy Task.

Notice first, the assumption inherent in the title:  somebody in authority is trying to look out for you.

Here are the first several paragraphs:  
At the end of 2011, federal regulators slapped a shutdown order on Double Happyness, a private, super-low-cost bus line running from Wilmington to New York’s Chinatown, for what they called “a management philosophy indifferent to motor carrier safety.”
But buses kept running from the station, a spartan storefront at 3 W. Fourth St., under the name New Everyday Bus Tour, a company owned by the brother of Double Happyness’ owner.
Last month, after racking up a long list of violations of its own, New Everyday’s authority, too, was revoked by the U.S. Department of Transportation after it did not provide proof of insurance. And, once again, buses are still running from in front of the station, to the same terminal in New York that both New Everyday Bus and Double Happyness used.
They are now operating under a separate company named Rockledge Bus Tour, which also has a long list of safety citations by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, including failure to make repairs. Although it is still authorized to run, the administration has ranked Rockledge in the bottom 5 percent of U.S. bus carriers for driver safety and fitness.
So what's happening here?  Are doughty, committed regulators attempting to save unwitting passengers from an unsafe experience?  Are we looking at a couple of sleazebags attempting to rip off the public?

Or is something completely different occurring, both in real life and in this story?

The answer is far more complex than that, so if you read on, prepare for a longer ride than usual . . .

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Talking about pollution in Delaware without the lies and evasions

Like the Vichy French police official Louis in Casablanca who was "Shocked! I tell you, shocked!" to discover gambling at Rick's Place (while pocketing his winnings), the strategy of Governor Jack Markell, the rest of Delaware's "major party" politicians, the Editorial Board of the Wilmington News Journal, and our so-called "corporate leadership" has been to pretend that the discovery of pollution in the First State is the fault of . . . Delaware citizens.

More to the point, it is Delaware citizens who are going to be hit with a $700,000,000 bill for a multi-year clean-up--the overwhelming majority of which will find its way into the hands of the same corporations who dumped toxic chemicals into our air and water for years.

THIS is the famed "Delaware Way."

I'm going to lay it out for you.  It will be long and it will be unlovely, and I will take no prisoners.

I'm not ready to get into finding (and funding) the solutions yet, because we cannot do either until we are honest about who caused the problems and we get those responsible away from the decision-making process for the clean-up.

If we don't, the state's major polluters (which include, by the way, both our major corporations AND our state/local governments) will simply pocket hundreds of millions more of our tax dollars without ever dealing with the problem.

So here goes.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Helping Delaware (and Joe Miro) solve the Medicaid conundrum

Two months ago, in a post covering the Delaware government's immense surprise at rising Medicaid costs, I quoted this from the WNJ:
Officials in Markell’s administration say they were surprised this fall when the federal government signaled it would shift some Medicaid costs back to the state. The move was triggered by a technical change in the way federal economists calculate personal income, and could cost the state an unexpected $25 million.
And I said this:
I'm not sure who really believed that (A) adding 20,000-30,000 people to the 215,000 people in Delaware already on Medicaid wasn't going to cost more; or that (B) the cash-strapped Feds weren't going to look for a way to shift more of the expense downward.  Nobody's repealed the law of gravity recently. 
Last week the WNJ reported that the General Assembly's budget committee and the 22nd State Representative District's own incumbent Joe Miro are now getting around to grappling with this issue:  
Lawmakers on the General Assembly's budget committee wrestled Wednesday with the rising costs of Medicaid, the state-federal health program for the poor that will cost state taxpayers an additional $25.6 million next year.
The program is now projected to consume about $700 million of Gov. Jack Markell's proposed $3.8 billion operating budget proposal under consideration in the General Assembly.
"We cannot sustain the expenditures that we have with the income that we're generating," said Rep. Joe Miro, R-Pike Creek Valley. "Everybody on this committee realizes we need to do something." 
It is important to understand, no matter how you feel about Medicaid, that this is not something that our legislators can walk away from:  with the new Medicaid expansion one of every four Delaware citizens will be receiving his or her health insurance from the program.

Why is it that our legislators believe that the $3.8 BILLION dollars of tax revenue Delaware collects each year is inadequate to perform the essential tasks of government?

This is only a complex question to answer because our current crop of lawmakers starts with certain assumptions about what they need to do with our tax money, assumptions that are apparently driven more by who donated to their campaigns than by any sense of fiduciary responsibility.

You see, Medicaid (state subsidized health insurance for primarily the working poor) is something we can't afford to spend $700 million on (at least not without raising taxes, they tell us), but . . . .

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Delaware's war on poverty is a war on poor people!?

With today's WNJ story about the fact that Delaware flunks any reasonable standard of effective Public Defenders for our poorer citizens, we come full circle to discover the Democrats' and Republicans' plan for eliminating poverty in Delaware . . .

. . . which is to convict and incarcerate poor people.

Remember 2001, when Delaware was criticized by the ACLU for cutting the budget of the Delaware Parole Board?  More than likely you don't, because I can't find evidence that any news organization in the State picked up the story.

Remember "bail reform" last year?  It's really important to note exactly who the State bragged about as the support for this bill:
Reform efforts led by Attorney General, Rep. Keeley, Senator Henry [and] . . . the Wilmington Mayor’s Office, the Wilmington City Council, Wilmington PD, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Delaware Police Chiefs Council.
I'm sure you saw this hailed as a major "anti-violent crime" measure, but probably did not see the Delaware Center for Justice's report regarding our State's horrible record when it comes to pre-trial confinement, which is--unsurprisingly--heavily weighted toward the poor:
Pretrial detainees comprise nearly 25% of the inmates at the Howard Young Correctional Institution (also known as Gander Hill) and 40% of the inmates at the Baylor’s Women’s Correctional Institution. 
Let's not forget which groups oppose death penalty repeal in Delaware:  the Delaware Attorney General and the Delaware Police Chiefs Council.

This is followed, this year, by the adoption of a new "lax standard" by Delaware Courts regarding the use of social media as evidence in both criminal and civil trials because prosecutors whined that
This is a difficult standard because it requires much more time, effort and money ...
In all of these cases, ironically, we find that the Delaware General Assembly and the Governor have simply brushed aside the objections and reservations of the Delaware Public Defenders' Office, the Delaware ACLU, the Delaware Center for Justice, and the Delaware Death Penalty Repeal Project.

Sensing a pattern yet?

Today we discover that not only is the Public Defender's office lacking independence and unable to mount successful defenses for poor and indigent defendants, but that the Delaware Attorney General's Office routinely takes advantage of this weakness to gain convictions and incarcerations: 
The report found that though defendants are advised of their right to an attorney at their initial appearance, they often do not get to talk to an attorney unless they are incarcerated before trial.
As a result, many misdemeanor criminal defendants often appear at court proceedings without an attorney.
"There they face subtle, and often overt, pressure to discuss potential plea arrangements with the prosecution or to waive due process rights," wrote the report's authors.
The report also cited a similar failure to have adequate representation for children in delinquency proceedings in Family Court, leaving children and their parents to fare for themselves early in the process. 
What do all of these measures and deficiencies have in common (and keep this in mind as the shooting and death toll in Wilmington proves the basic inability of our law enforcement agencies to deal with violent crime)?

These are measures that are implicitly designed to increase the conviction, incarceration, and (inevitably) execution rates of Delaware's poorest citizens at the behest of the "law and order" lobby controlling not just the state government but most of the news coverage.

Individually you might be drawn into believing that the State is simply trying to keep order, but viewed collectively (along with burgeoning budgets for law enforcement and increasing surveillance of EVERYONE) you discover a pattern:

Delaware's strategy for eliminating poverty appears to hinge on eliminating them from our streets and housing them in Gander Hill.

Time to rethink this, except, uh, gee, how's that going to happen if you keep electing the same people?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Delaware public education: you are getting what you voted for

There is an old saying, "The beatings will continue until morale improves."

This is pretty similar to what various Delaware educrats and (unfortunately) union leaders are saying about the new Smarter Balanced Assessment and Common Core Standards.

To wit:
"The reality is that our 15-year-olds are below average on mathematics, and they're average in reading," Michael Watson, the state's chief academic officer, told a gathering of school leaders last week. "These higher standards mean our students will be more competitive, and it means they will be more ready for college and careers."
This is in fact such an idiotic argument that in an culture run by common sense (as opposed to Common Core), Mr. Watson would have been required to quit his position in abject shame.

Think about this:  "Higher standards mean our students will be more competitive."

What they don't want you to look behind the curtain and see is that this is the old "standards drive instruction" mantra that has failed miserably since the 1990s to improve American public education, especially for students from poorer areas of the country.

This is the bizarre idea that writing harder tests will result in teachers teaching "better," and that those who can't move their students toward "better" will be removed and replaced with others who can.

Forget for a moment that the Common Core standards have absolutely nothing exceptionally meritorious about them to distinguish them from any of the other standards that have come into existence since the early 1990s, and will themselves be replaced in about five years when this current reform fad doesn't pan out.

Forget for a moment that the "getting better teachers" meme is a ridiculous delusion.  Like desegregation in Delaware, the high-stakes testing movement is forcing a whole generation of experienced teachers out of public education, and the people who are replacing them are less well-qualified and unlikely to stay in the field.

Forget for a moment that the Delaware State Education Association at the state level has completely lost all moral authority to even pretend to be representing the interests of public school teachers, which is pretty much to be expected when your state president is a full-time employee of the Delaware Department of Education.

Here's what you need to remember:  our legislators have a twenty-year history (that's 20 YEARS) of simply signing the checks for the ponzi scheme that has been high-stakes testing in Delaware.  They allocated millions to designing "world-class" standards between 1992-1995; TENS of millions to design, field-test, and administer the DSTP for about 12 years; additional TENS of millions to replace the DSTP with DCAS just 5 years ago; and now the Governor (who is, after all, functionally the Secretary of Education) wants to dump DCAS and spend TENS of millions more on Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Because doing this the first two times worked so well . . .

Here's what you need to remember:  by my best rough count going back to look through Delaware budgets during that time, taxpayers (many of whom are parents) have been asked to cough up as much as ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS just to pay for state testing during the last decade.  That's direct expenditure, and doesn't count the salaries of teachers giving the tests, or the cost of lost instructional time.

And it has all been--just ask Governor Markell or any of the flaks from DOE--a failure to this point.

A failure, by the way, that has to be blamed NOT on the people who came up with one ill-conceived reform after another and conned the willing patsies in the General Assembly to vote for it, but a failure that has to be blamed on Delaware teachers who have been asked to shoot at a moving target for two decades without any demonstrable increase in resources in their classrooms.

Can you imagine how that money could have transformed Delaware education had it been placed directly under the control of schools and teachers.

Yeah, Jack, you're right.  They'd probably have bought cakes and cookies and just put the kids on a sugar high as an excuse not to teach them.  And the DSEA President wouldn't have a cushy job in Dover from which she could pretend to be looking out for those same teachers while assuring everyone in Washington and Dover that they won't get any serious pushback from the teachers as they funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars into campaign contributions for rubber-stamp politicians.

Reality check:  Tens of millions of tax dollars have been allocated and spent over the past decade not to teach children but to test them.

Because testing.

Time for some change.  Oh, wait, Democrats--as they have for years--control the State government, and Republicans vote with them on education about 90% of the time.

Never mind.  Walt Kelly (revised):  "We have met the enemy and he is who we keep voting for."

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Senator Carper takes a stand . . . and Delaware Democrats need to do the same

A lot of people have asked me why, if I intended to be a serious candidate for the Delaware General Assembly, I didn't bite the bullet and run as a Democrat.

Here's a major reason why I can't do that:

Senator Thomas Carper (D-Fortune 500) has taken a firm stand as one of only three US Senators voting against the restoration of Cost of Living Allowances for retired military veterans.

Senator Carper is, of course, a former Naval aviator, who receives $1,400/month in retirement pay.

He says,
“We‘re making some progress on def­icit reduction in this country, but our def­icit is still a half-trillion dollars this year, and that's huge," he said.  "If we are serious about making progress, all of us who are able to do something to help out need to do that.  I think Americans are willing to do their part if asked, and I think they look to people like me to try to provide some leadership and set an example."
No, Senator Carper, we're not looking to you for any sort of leadership any more, unless we happen to work in the executive offices of a bank or a Fortune 500 company.

Despite being able to find a trio of retired general officers to call the military pension system "over-generous"--the reality is that military retirement is one of the fundamental agreements that the United States government makes on behalf of its citizenry with the people who bear arms in our defense.

Perhaps "people like me [Senator Carper]"--former officers who have led privileged careers as well-paid politicians with cadillac State and Federal benefits--cannot understand the future facing the men and women who volunteer for military service in this country today.

They face multiple overseas deployments into active combat, with all the included stresses of rampant sexual assault, Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, military suicides, divorce, depression, family stresses, life-altering wounds, and the ever-present possibility of a nasty death alone in a ditch somewhere in a foreign land.  When they get home, they find that the part of the deal that included things like Veterans benefits in education or medical care is far too often not what they were promised.  They have difficulty finding jobs, finding counseling, finishing their education, or breaking out of the nightmares and drug habits acquired in service.

For far too many retirees (especially enlisted), that military pension is the difference between making it (just barely) and not making it at all.  You may not know, Senator Carper, about all the military retirees who are also on the SNAP benefits you voted to cut, or who rely on the stateside commissaries (that the Pentagon is contemplating closing) to feed their families.

Senator Carper has portrayed this as a vote of principle and leadership.

Principle and leadership would be demanding that our imperialistic military structure, bloated Pentagon budget, and militarized foreign policy be rethought.

So here's the deal:  as long as Delaware Democrats continue to support a man who thinks that military retirement benefits are overly generous, who won't challenge the defense contractors and financial institutions that fund his campaigns, and who believes that "people like me" (which means other Democrats, apparently) support cutting benefits for the junior officers and enlisted people who put their lives and body parts on the line . . . .

. . . you won't find me calling myself a Democrat.

Tell me, somewhere, that there's an elected Democrat in Delaware willing to challenge this man's callous grandstanding . . .

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Democrat and Republican parties owe Delaware over $288,000 for 2012 alone

Every two years the citizens of Delaware take part in taxpayer-funded elections, choosing between the ballot-qualified candidates of two "major" and three "alternate" or "minor" parties.

In many cases there clashes within the Democratic and Republican parties--primaries--to determine who will be the candidate in the General Election.  These are purely partisan contests that benefit only the parties themselves, and yet taxpayers--including non-affiliated and alternate party voters who comprise about 35% of the electorate--pay for them.

Moreover, these primary elections are expensive.  A recent Pew study concluded in March 2013 that, across the nation, Democratic and Republican primaries cost American taxpayers over $400 million.  The "per voter" cost of such elections varies wildly, from $1,57/voter in Tennessee and Texas to over $11/voter in New York.  A reasonable average cost (since I cannot find specifics on Delaware costs) would be about $3.93/voter.

Given that statistic, we can determine that at least 73,400 people voted in the Delaware 2012 primaries for Statewide and local offices (probably the number was at least 25% higher, but I can't break it down in individual races without spending about six hours in calculations).

At $3.93/voter, that means our primaries costs the Delaware Department of Elections over $288,000 in 2012.

This is not inconsequential, as the entire budget for the Department of Elections is just a hair over $4 million annually, meaning that our partisan primaries account for about 7% of that budget.

You have to ask yourself:  we can't, apparently, afford door locks for schools, or infrastructure spending, or to clean up our polluted waterways . . . but we can afford--year in and year out--to subsidize partisan primaries for Democrats and Republicans!?

Ironically, we already have a mechanism in place that could easily pay for said primaries.

The Democratic and Republican parties are allowed to set filing fees (up to 1% of the total compensation for the office under consideration) for all candidates.  Of course, while the Delaware Department of Elections collects these fees, it sees none of the money--the checks are even required by statute to be made out to the parties themselves.

How much are these fees?  How about $10,440 for US Senator, $4,124 for Insurance Commissioner, $1,744 for State Senator, $872 for State Representative.

By my (very rough) count, the filing fees paid by the 100 candidates who ran in primaries in 2012 would have covered the cost of the primaries about twice over . . . had the money stayed in the Department of Elections.

So it's real simple:  let's just change Title 15 Section 3103 of the Delaware Code to mandate that checks for filing fees shall be made out to the Delaware Department of Elections, and that the Department of Elections will remit the balance to each party organization after deducting the actual costs of conducting the primary elections.

Simple?  Saves the State an easy quarter million without raising anybody's taxes.  Requires about two lines to be changed in the Delaware Code.

Except, uh, there are only Democrats and Republicans in the Delaware General Assembly, and if you expect any of them to even talk about this, much less introduce and enact legislation (which would have to be gotten past a gubernatorial veto) you're delusional.

Unless, of course, there happened to be a Libertarian sitting in the General Assembly to at least bring up uncomfortable questions like this.  Hint, hint.

Look to the far right and contribute today.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Idiotic statist comment of the day

“The wireless industry must take action to end the victimization of its customers.”
This moron is San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, who wants the law to require cell phone producers to incorporate a "kill switch" for lost/stolen phones.

The smartphone industry, you see, has been victimizing its customers by producing and marketing devices that are so desirable that 1 out of 3 robberies nationwide now involves smartphone theft.

And that's the manufacturer's problem, exactly how?

Let's also note that this requirement would make it possible both for hackers and law enforcement to access your phone.

Now it may be a quite salable item, this phone with a kill switch, and I'm certainly not against anybody who wants to pay for such a device in his or her phone.

But I don't happen to want one, so why the hell should I be paying increased prices because the only solutions that DA Gascon can think up are authoritarian?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

It's official: the News Journal thinks you're stupid

In today's editorial about Governor Jack Markell's "realistic" plan to fix Delaware's infrastructure via $250 million in new taxes (highlighted by 10 cents per gallon gas tax increase) and $250 million in borrowing, the WNJ editorial board finds four reasons that such a plan is probably going nowhere.

And, guess what?

All four reasons boil down to the idea that YOU--the voter--are too stupid to support a plan that's good for you.

Lest you think I'm making this up, let's look:
Guess what? That realistic plan appears to be going nowhere. 
There are four reasons the proposal is in trouble: 
First, this is an election year and members of the Legislature are afraid of raising taxes in an election year.
Translation:  Delaware legislators believe that Delaware voters are too stupid to ever vote for them again after they voted for a tax increase, no matter how necessary.

Unfortunately, this flies in the face of the facts.  It would be difficult to find a Democratic lawmaker whose seat would be seriously jeopardized by voting for this tax, because it would be difficult to find too many Democratic lawmakers facing credible challenges from Republicans anywhere.  Moreover, the track record of Delaware voters punishing politicians for their transgressions--real or perceived--is damn near non-existent.  Delaware state employee unions continued to support the Democrats even after a pay cut and the repeated year-by-year refusal of Democratic politicians to vote them pay raises.

So the idea that Delaware voters--especially Democratic voters--are going to punish their politicians for a gas tax hike is so much pandering on the News Journal's part to the whining of the politicians.

How about this one?
Second, much of the public believes roads come with no cost. They don’t care about future projections of need. They want the service without the cost.
Aside from the fact that this is an assertion without evidence (you get to do that on an editorial page), it amounts to an assertion that the people of Delaware are TOO STUPID to believe that roads and bridges cost money, and that they--not a state government that has squandered an mismanaged their tax money for years--are responsible for the present state of our infrastructure.

After all, it was apparently (just ask the News Journal) the voters and not the politicians who "invested" in Fisker and Bloom; who routinely throw away tens of millions in corporate welfare; who fund pet projects at the expense of the general good . . . .

In fact, I routinely hear motorists (with their windows open and seat belts off) shouting into their cell phones as they drive through the toll booth:  "Thank God I live in Delaware where the roads are free!"

Or this one:
Third, the public is suspicious of government in general and the Department of Transportation in particular. Not too many months ago Delawareans were fed up with election campaign “play-for-pay” schemes that involved special favors through DelDOT. They also remember the enormous and costly screw-ups with the Indian River Bridge. And, going back further, they remember the cozy deals some landlords cooked up with DelDOT to buy excess land. Current DelDOT officials deserve credit for working hard to clean up the problems and to reduce the department’s enormous debt.
In other words, we are all stupid because we don't think a decade's worth of corruption, malfeasance, and incompetence in DelDOT has disappeared overnight?

As to why we're suspicious of government in general, let's not forget the Veasey report, the Treasurer's office, secret AG opinions, government trying to "out" bloggers/social media writers via subpoena, a shredded Coastal Zone Act, Fisker, Bloom, the charter school slush fund . . .

I could go on, but it seems to me that if we are suspicious of government in Delaware it's not because we're stupid, but because the government in Delaware is corrupt, inept, and totally consumed with "Delaware Way" party politics instead of looking out for the interests of our citizens.

To the extent that we keep voting these people in--guilty as charged.

And the final WNJ argument that we're stupid?
Finally, the governor’s plan is weak because he actually did what politicians are supposed to do, but rarely do. He told the truth. He put a price tag on the proposal. 
It is at that point the public debate should begin. Do we really need these repairs? Does the governor have the projects in the right order? Should he have included all of them? Are some weaker than others? Is borrowing $250 million the right thing to do? Can we afford the tax? Are there alternatives? Is the governor right? Or is he wrong?
Uh, hello?  Some of us out there have been trying to do exactly that--have a debate over the merits of the policy, over the priorities, and over the funding mechanisms.

But not the News Journal.

The News Journal has only been interested in sound-byte coverage of politicians weighing in on the gasoline tax.  The News Journal has not run an article on the relative merits of the proposed infrastructure projects, has not consulted experts about their execution, has not stimulated a dialogue about possible funding strategies.

That's because the News Journal editorial staff apparently thinks you are too stupid to deal with all that.

Cue Jack Nicholson:  "You can't handle the truth!"

That's what the News Journal--and most Delaware politicians--think of you.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The simplest question of the day to answer . . .

Bloom surcharge tops $5; lawmakers ask why
Now, of course you can read this question two ways--but either way it is still simple to answer:

Reading ONE:  Lawmakers ask why the Bloom surcharge has risen so high?

Simple answer:  Because, like Nancy Pelosi, they apparently weren't paying attention when the original deal went through.

Reading TWO:  Lawmakers ask why Delaware's government was stupid enough to buy a pig in this particular poke?

Simple answer:  Because no matter what stupid stuff they do, people are still convinced that voting for Democrats and Republicans actually represents a choice, so there is no real electoral accountability for our politicians.

Here:  think about this--

If a similar surcharge, averaging say $2.5 million per month since mid-2011 had been in place, we'd have already raised $75 million of the $100 million that Governor Markell claims is necessary to clean up pollution in Delaware's waterways instead of funding a plant that might might MIGHT someday employ 80 people.

I'm not necessarily advocating such a surcharge or tax, because, as I have written before, there are other ways to find the money for critical environmental and infrastructure projects.

What I am pointing out is that our legislators and our Governor and our "economic development" people NEVER EVEN HAD THE CONVERSATION about whether or not this was the right priority to make you spend millions of your own money on before they did it.

And now, like they aren't culpable for these inane decisions, they're asking why.

You could save a lot A LOT A LOT of money and still get things done if you just help me get to Dover to change this particular conversation.

Feel free to donate at right--or settle back this November and vote the same people back in to do the same stupid stuff next time.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Just put me down on the "doggone . . . road to perdition"

If we cannot be proud enough as a country to sing “American the Beautiful” in English in a commercial during the Super Bowl, by a company as American as they come — doggone we are on the road to perdition. This was a truly disturbing commercial for me, what say you?
Let's parse this--and in the process provide an example of Libertarian thought applicable to Delaware.

First, the idea of ascribing social inferiority based on language, and the idea of using the power of the government to try to restrict or channel the languages that people can speak (the allusion to TR) is pretty much anathema to libertarians.

Then I note that those who argue that neither businesses nor the government should have to treat with people who don't speak English are allowing their jingoism to get in the way of perfectly good (and profitable) free-market solutions to their "problem."  As Dr. Vince Schaller (former owner of Hockessin Walk-In) told me, it cost him only a couple bucks a day to have an on-call, multi-language translation service available by telephone during his business hours.  Those few dollars were more than recovered by the fact that Spanish, Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese-speaking individuals made his their medical aid unit of choice, and brought him their business.

I also would remind former Congressman West and his followers that it is ideas and ideals, not language that makes up American culture.  The French-speaking immigrants to Louisiana gave us the rich Creole culture; the German Moravians and other similar immigrants joined in creating the whole ethic of self-reliance; many elderly Italian, German, Polish, Hungarian, and Russian immigrants came to America in the early part of the 20th Century and never learned very much English, but were among the staunchest American patriots our nation has ever known.

More amusing, perhaps, is Congressman West's casual acceptance of the Coca Cola transnational corporation as being "a company as American as they come."  What a hoot, Alan.  Have you ever examined the multinational holdings of your favorite company?
The Company manufactures, markets and sells Leao / Matte Leao teas in Brazil through a joint venture with its bottling partners. During 2011, the Company introduced a variety of brands, brand extensions and beverage products: the Latin America group launched Frugos Sabores Caseros; in the Pacific group, Fanta, a fruit-flavored sparkling beverage, was relaunched in Singapore and Malaysia; Real Leaf, a green tea-based beverage, launched two varieties in Vietnam; and in South Korea it introduced three flavor variants of the Georgia Emerald Mountain Blend ready-to-drink coffee beverage and Burn Intense, an energy drink; the Europe group launched Powerade ION4 in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and France, France launched Powerade Zero; in the Eurasia and Africa group, Turkey launched Cappy Pulpy, and India launched Fanta Powder, an orange-flavored powder formulation; Schweppes Novida, a sparkling malt drink, was launched in Kenya and Uganda; and in Uganda Coca-Cola Zero was launched; in Egypt, it launched Cappy Fruitbite; and Schweppes Gold, a sparkling flavored malt drink, and in Ghana, it launched Schweppes Malt, a dark malt drink. During 2011, the Company sold approximately 26.7 billion unit cases of its products.
 If you want to find something offensive about Coca Cola's overtly cute "America the Beautiful" ad, then consider the unlovely aspects of the company itself, or its monopolistic business practices, or its political contributions to Congressman John Carney, Senator Tom Carper, Senator Chris Coons, and . . . yes . . . . former Congressman Alan West.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

There are numbers between Zero and 500 million

Today's WNJ highlights what most people already knew:  there aren't enough votes in the Democratically controlled General Assembly to pass a ten-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase in order to raise $500 million and borrow another $500 million for a massive infrastructure improvement plan.

Blame it on an election year if you want to, but the reality is that with about 27% of all Delawareans living in poverty, and probably another 30-35% on the edge of teetering into home loss or bankruptcy producing debt with some major unexpected illness or expense, the idea that "it's just a dime" or "it's just $5 per car each week" is simply not salable.

What is truly ironic is that Governor Markell spends 98% of his time governing like the corporate, laisse faire capitalist that he is, and then can't quite figure out why his more liberal/progressive-sounding budget ideas meet opposition.  With the exception of a handful of legislators, the Democrats who run the General Assembly belong to the same party as their leader:  the wing of the Delaware GOP that favors marriage equality.

Last year they were able to paper over this fact--the idea that most of Delaware's voters are Mike Castle Demopublicans and Republicrats--with a heavy emphasis on socially liberal legislation, a strategy that--while beneficial to Delaware's LGBT community--amounted to fiddling while Rome burned.

So now we're facing scare talk from a Governor who never made serious efforts to fix the Transportation Fund in his first five years in office . . .

Part of me believes that this is just the opening shot in a two-year campaign to raise the money for infrastructure.  Everybody in Delaware knows that you can't usually get significant legislation passed in an election year, so you introduce it the first time in an even-numbered year and pass it in one of those safer, odd-numbered years . . .

All of which ignores the opportunity to change the way we do government in Delaware.

You see, in Delaware we don't like, first of all, to prioritize our priorities.

Included in Governor Markell's massive, pie-in-the-sky, union and corporate driven agenda are quite a few smaller items that have considerable merit.

For example (and some of these are only broken out in the print version of the WNJ article):

$100 million for stormwater and run-off projects;
$75 million for cleaning up toxic waterways
$7.3 million for the Christina River Bridge
$1.9 million for Rt 141 improvements
$1.1 million for Tybout's Corner widening

That's $185.3 million in improvements.  You'll notice that (a) I left out the improvements that are in there for little or no other reason than to spread some of the largesse to Kent and Sussex County; and that (b) in the first round I accepted the full amount for the run-off and pollution clean-up projects.  I also, quite intentionally, left out the $9.9 million for "improving" Plantations Road in Lewes, which has nothing to recommend it except the potential for spreading the Route 1 bottleneck into Rehoboth further into the countryside without addressing any of the real, underlying design issues.  The last thing that the State needs to do is create a second commercial corridor into the resort area.

Now, let's take a sharper pencil to these for a minute.  Let's assume that we fund the stormwater and run-off projects to the 80% level by some making some tough decisions about priorities, and that all of this work on the list be spread over a four year period (2015-2019).

That gives us $150.3 million, which I'm going to call an even $150 million by canceling all contractor lunches and reducing the number of photo-ops for the Governor and associated politicians to one per week.

Let's see, at $150 million over four years, that's $37.5 million per year, and that's assuming that this all new funding (which it isn't).

Where would we find $37.5 million this year in the Governor's budget without raising taxes?

Pretty simple, actually.  We're going to take $12 million out of the bloated budget for Public Safety and Homeland Security, which is less than a 10% cut in a budget that has enjoyed significant growth over the past five years.  We're going to take $5 million out of the Delaware Department of Education budget, including cuts from personnel, "educator accountability," state testing computers, and the charter school performance fund.  We're going to take $5 million out of the University of Delaware's appropriation--when you've got one of the largest endowments and highest paid presidents of any public university in the country, you'll never miss it.  That's $22 million right there.

Add to that the $18 million Governor Markell expects to get from raising the incorporation fee, and--guess what!--we're there.  [If you wonder why I'm OK with that increase, it's pretty simple:  corporations are creations of the government, and given our current secret corporate court thing, they're paying us for the privilege of being able to sue each other behind closed doors.  To qualify for a service like that I'm all for letting them pay everything the traffic will bear--at least until we can end secret courts.]

So let's see what we've done here, at least notionally.

1.  We've funded 80% of the stormwater and pollution projects.
2.  We've funded three major transportation projects.
3.  We haven't raised new taxes on Delaware citizens (except as corporate officers).
4.  We've cut some fat from the budget.  (In a future post I'll expand on exactly where you can find the necessary money from these organizations and why it won't hurt anybody.)

Of course there's one problem:  none of my plan could ever be enacted by the current General Assembly.

The State Police lobby, the UD lobby, and the corporate education reform lobby all have their hooks so tightly into various key legislators that you can't even talk about the reforms in spending that I've just told you about.

And the only way you will ever get to hear about real alternatives to the Delaware Way crap that keeps rolling down the path is to do something different, and elect somebody new.

If you live in the 22nd State Representative District you can do something about it personally, by remembering to vote for me in November.

If not, and you still want to help make conversations--truly new conversations about how to fix our State's problems--then you can go over to the right side of this page and make even a very small contribution.

$5 is not too little to help me make a difference; anything under $601 is not too much.

You help send me to Dover and I'll give you a new voice.