Monday, December 31, 2007

Introducing the Ten-Minute Libertarian

I was browsing at Borders last night and found, among lots and lots of other things, a little book called The Ten Minute Activist, which upon examination didn't convince me to buy, but did make me want to steal the concept.

The idea is that working toward whatever your social vision happens to be does not have to start with life-changing involvement. You don't have to give away your possessions, spend Christmas in Iowa bothering people for the candidate of your choice, or load the kids in the van for a family trip to PC World.

You can start to make some difference ten minutes at a time.

So I'm going to run some of these ideas as I find them, and hope some of you will offer some additional suggestions.

Here's the first one:

Libertarians are big on personal privacy, and the government--90% of the time--is not. But the Federal Trade Commission has finally gotten around to extending its "Do Not Call" registry to cell phones, and to setting up a user-friendly website that allows you to register up to three phone numbers at a time. Enter the numbers and you'll get an email with a link to click; that's it.

I'm sure some Libertarians have mixed feelings about this, wondering about the principle of restricting a business's ability to make "cold calls" for new customers. And there is some merit in this reservation, but I personally believe my right NOT to be bothered should trump theirs to troll for new business.

Moreover, the government doesn't get to use coercive force against them unless and until somebody actually complains.

So given that the rest of the State wants to redefine my privacy out of existence, at least the FTC provides a reasonable service to American citizens.

Looking for a couple of Libertarians willing to do thankless unpaid work....

Over on Kilroy's Delaware there is information about how to run for school board this spring in the Red Clay Consolidated School District. The post includes residence maps for the two districts that are open.

If there has ever been a year and a situation wherein an articulate Libertarian advocating for transparency and sound financial management would have a shot at getting elected, this is it.

What about it, LPD? Got anybody in that area?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The premature nature of "Scientific" investigations of Religion

Over the past few years it has become trendy among atheists and other methodological naturalists not just to disagree with religious points of view, but to take the offense. Whether it's Richard Dawkins, about whose The God Delusion the New York Times said:

Despite the many flashes of brilliance in this book, Dawkins’s failure to appreciate just how hard philosophical questions about religion can be makes reading it an intellectually frustrating experience.

And about which fellow evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson said on E-skeptic:

When Dawkins’ The God Delusion was published I naturally assumed that he was basing his critique of religion on the scientific study of religion from an evolutionary perspective. I regret to report otherwise. He has not done any original work on the subject and he has not fairly represented the work of his colleagues.

[You should read the review, and in fairness, Dawkins' reply.]

Then there's Sam Harris with The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, about the first Natalie Angier ended a mostly positive review (also in the New York Times with these paragraphs:

‘’The End of Faith’’ is far from perfect. Harris seems to find ‘’moral relativism’’ as great a sin as religious moderation, and in the end he singles out Islam as the reigning threat to humankind. He likens it to the gruesome, Inquisition-style Christianity of the 13th century, yet he never explains how Christianity became comparatively domesticated. And on reading his insistence that it is ‘’time for us to admit that not all cultures are at the same stage of moral development,’’ I couldn’t help but think of Ann Coulter’s morally developed suggestion that we invade Muslim countries, kill their leaders and convert their citizens to Christianity.

Harris also drifts into arenas of marginal relevance to his main thesis, attacking the war against drugs here, pacificism there, and offering a strained defense for the use of torture in wartime that seems all the less persuasive after Abu Ghraib. Still, this is an important book, on a topic that, for all its inherent difficulty and divisiveness, should not be shielded from the crucible of human reason.

And of Christopher Hitchens, with God is Not Great, the Los Angeles Times commented on his relative lack of sophisticated understanding of the very nature of religion:

Hitchens' book lacks any definition of religion more intellectually ambitious than the just-cited "fear of death, and of the dark," etc.

[I should point out here that I place Hitchens' book in an entirely different category from those of Dawkins and Harris. The latter, I believe, have the virtue of writing about what they strongly believe. I have seen nothing in Hitchens' work that suggests anything more than an Ann Coulter-type huckster looking for the quick buck.]

More ambitiously, scholars like Daniel Dennett and Pascal Boyer have taken a stab at examining the phenomenon of religion itself as a subjective for naturalistic inquiry.

Boyer's Religion Explained is so well-written, in fact, that you can get swept away through the first three or four chapters before the wheels start to come off of his very processual anthropological discussion of primitive beliefs that are later conflated with modern world religions by an incredible sleight of hand. The Los Angeles Times called it, "occasionally illuminating and utterly unconvincing."

Dennett's Breaking the Spell fails to live up to either the literary or logical standards he set for himself in his hugely influential Darwin's Dangerous Idea, as noted by the New York Times: "For a sorry instance of present-day scientism, it would be hard to improve on Daniel C. Dennett's book."

I am fully aware that one could go out and pull glowing reviews from atheist sources for all these works, just as you could hit the religious press and do the opposite. This is almost a test case for post-modernism, with the reviews often telling you more about the reviewers than the book under consideration.

However, there is a point to all this. Somewhere. I had it a minute ago.

Oh, yeah. One of the most intriguing anti-Dennett essays appeared in the conservative Catholic journal First Things, "Daniel Dennett Hunts the Snark" by theologian David Hart. I'm not so interested in the review of the book--which is unsurprisingly hostile--but the comments that Hart makes about the entire enterprise of a scientific study of religion:

[***Warning, warning, Will Robinson, danger, danger, danger, heavy sledding ahead***]

Questions of method, important as they are, need not be raised at all until the researcher can first determine and circumscribe the object of his studies in a convincing way. And here it seems worth mentioning-just for precision’s sake-that religion does not actually exist. Rather there are a great number of traditions of belief and practice that, for the sake of convenience, we call religions but that could scarcely differ from one another more. It might seem sufficient, for the purposes of research, simply to identify general resemblances among these traditions, but even that is notoriously hard to do, since the effort to ascertain what sort of things one is looking at involves an enormous amount of interpretation and no clear criteria for evaluating any of it. One cannot establish where the boundaries lie between religious systems and magic, or folk science, or myth, or social ceremony.

There is not even any compelling reason to assume a genetic continuity or kinship between, say, shamanistic beliefs and developed rituals of sacrifice, or between tribal cults and traditions like Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity, or to assume that these various developed traditions are varieties of the same thing. One may feel that there is a continuity or kinship, or presuppose on the basis of one’s prejudices, inklings, or tastes that the extremely variable and imprecise characteristic of a belief in the supernatural constitutes proof of a common ancestry or type. But all this remains a matter of interpretation, vague morphologies, and personal judgments of value and meaning, and attempting to construct a science around such intuitions amounts to little more than mistaking "all the things I don’t believe in" for a scientific genus. One cannot even demonstrate that apparent similarities of behavior between cultures manifest similar rationales, as human consciousness is so promiscuously volatile a catalyst in social evolution.

Moreover, the task of delineating the phenomenon of religion in the abstract becomes perfectly hopeless as soon as one begins to examine what particular traditions of faith actually claim, believe, or do. It is already difficult enough to define what sort of thing religion is. But what sort of thing is the Buddhist teaching of the Four Noble Truths? What sort of thing is the Vedantic doctrine that Atman and Brahman are one? What sort of thing is the Christian belief in Easter? What is the core and what are the borders of these phenomena? What are their empirical causes? What are their rationales? Grand, empty abstractions about religion are as easy to produce as to ignore. These, by contrast, are questions that touch on what persons actually believe, and to answer them requires an endless hermeneutical labor-an investigation of history, and intellectual traditions, and contemplative lore, and so on and so forth-which ultimately requires a degree of specialization that few can hope to achieve; even then, the specialist’s conclusions must always remain open to doubt and revision.

Dennett, incidentally, is conscious of this "herme-neutical objection," but he truculently dismisses it as an expression of territorial anxiety on the part of scholars in the humanities who fear the invasion of their disciplines by little gray men in lab coats. His only actual reply to the objection, in fact, is simply to assert yet more stridently that human culture’s "webs of significance" (in Clifford Geertz’s phrase) "can be analyzed by methods that critically involve experiments and the disciplined methods of the natural sciences."

Well, if Dennett is going to resort to italics (that most devastatingly persuasive weapon in the dialectician’s arsenal), I can do little more than shamelessly lift a page from his rhetorical portfolio and reply: No, they cannot. This is not a matter of territoriality or of resistance to the most recent research but of simple logic. There can be no science of any hard empirical variety when the very act of identifying one’s object of study is already an act of interpretation, contingent on a collection of purely arbitrary reductions, dubious categorizations, and biased observations. There can be no meaningful application of experimental method. There can be no correlation established between biological and cultural data. It will always be impossible to verify either one’s evidence or one’s conclusions-indeed, impossible even to determine what the conditions of verification should be.

What Hart is saying is that the very term "religion," when applied in a generic sense, has little defining value. Yes, sure you can make some generic statements ("religion is a world view inherently focused on the supernatural"), but those are of pretty limited use for the kind of scholarly inquiry that both Dennett and Boyer have in mind.

If the two of them are truly interested scholars (and I have absolutely no reason to believe they are not; Dennett wrote me quite cordially a year or so back when I posed some questions about the book), then this is the first challenge: join with historians, philosophers, and even (!) theologians to produce the world's first working definition of religion before you start trying to perform an autopsy.

Just offered as food (starchy to be sure) for thought.

Speaking of food; here's today's trivia challenge: what the hell has this image got to do with the foregoing?

[No, Dana, you don't get to play, you're a professional.]

Places that will make you think

I've been uncomfortable with blogrolls from the very beginning (which was, by the way, .001667 of a century ago).

Within the DE blogosphere it seems essential to list those blogs you check into or comment upon, and that's OK.

And what criteria do you use for the rest?

Obviously, here at Delaware Libertarian I want to hit the standard Libertarian sites, not that anyone reading this is likely (A) not to have ever visited them if the reader is a libertarian, or (B) to visit them if the reader is not a libertarian. Still, I guess it's expected.

But I also wanted to cast the net a bit wider than that. Just one problem, I thought: will anybody see placing links on these blogs as endorsements?

Then I thought: why the hell should I care? Because placing them here IS an endorsement that you should be aware of what's going on at these places, and if you aren't savvy enough to realize that I don't agree with everything (or anything) running down the left side of the page, then we probably wouldn't get along, anyway.

So while the roll will change from time to time as I stumble into new frontiers, here are some hints as to why you might want to check these out:

Cara's The Curvature: A Feminist Perspective on Politics and Culture is exceptionally well-written, and given her background (from New South Wales), is less myopically focused on American issues than you might think. My favorites from the past month: In 2008 a fresh start for NSW rape laws and Whenever I need a laugh, I just commit sexual assault.

In the category of "if you think libertarians are scary, take a look at the real gone right wing," visit Freedom Fighter, but please, don't tell them I sent you.

You want to know what's scarier than milita wannabes with lots of firepower (who make those of us who believe in the Second Amendment want to slide over on the Group W bench)? What's scarier is the rise of private military companies (read "mercenaries") and their continued large-scale employment by the US government since the early Clinton years and continuing unabated through the Bush administration. For an education that is entirely too intensive and too relevant for comfort, stop by Private, but keep a flak jacket handy.

Gay rights is an issue that I strongly believe Libertarians need to care about, for both ethical and practical reasons. Ethically speaking, the government (as in keeping gay marriage or civil unions outlawed) and employers (who still in Delaware are actually not breaking the law if they discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation) should be some of our best recruiters to a party that stands for individual rights. In practical terms, this is a statewide issue that--should the Libertarian Party of Delaware take it up in a big way--could convince quite a few people that a party stressing individual rights was the correct place for them.

Two approaches here: if you have never visited CAMP Rehoboth, you should: good writing, local relevance, and a chance to see a community of real people, not stereotypes. On the other hand, you should probably also try Phlamer, a Phucking Phabulous Blog. For a walk on the wilder side, be sure to check out Straight man commits hate crime and rapes a gay and Civil Unions begin next week in Uruguay. How does Homer Simpson pronounce that, "You are gay?"

If you thought Libertarian activism was all about stodgy fellows who chortle with the Thurston Howell III accent, maybe a trip to Carol will set you straight. Moore, the organizer of Libertarians for Peace and a firm believer in constitutional secession and community autonomy, is--as her button says, "Pro-Choice on Everything," and it shows. This site is worth visiting just for the photo diaries.

Finally, if you just want to see a blog done in good taste with understated humor (and view local politics that you don't have to care about because you don't even know where it is), visit Waldo Lydecker's Journal.

More next time.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

An exercise in brevity

During late May 1940, as the German Army was overrunning France and the British Expeditionary Force fled home from Dunkirk in an improvised fleet of fishing boats, it looked like Adolph Hitler had successfully redrawn the map of Europe for generations to come. The Third Reich had become the sole superpower of Europe: Italy was a satellite, France defeated, the Soviet Union cowed into a non-aggression pact, and Great Britain's forces expelled from the continent. In the grand, patriotic master narrative of history, the story usually concentrates on the gritty Winston Churchill assuming the reins of power, scowling defiantly across the English Channel (looking over his shoulder for FDR and the USA, to be sure), and proclaiming, "This was our finest hour!" as Great Britain carried on the war, virtually alone.

In the Mediterranean Theater, General (soon to be Field Marshal) Archibald Wavell sat down and reviewed the prospects of his command, which stretched from Gibraltar to Iraq, and which was outnumbered and outgunned by just the Italian armed forces, to say nothing of the Wehrmacht that would soon invade Yugoslavia and Greece, capture Crete in an audacious airborne attack, and send Erwin Rommel, the "Desert Fox," almost as far as the Suez Canal.

Far from gloomy, however, Wavell was optimistic, and he based his optimism on a very simple military "appreciation" that he wrote to put the whole war into perspective. It is such an elegant piece of writing, that at least part of it deserves to be rescued from obscurity.

Remember, as you read this, he was writing at a time when his nation faced total defeat:

1. Oil, shipping, air power, sea power are the keys to this war, and they are interdependent.
Air power and naval power cannot function without oil.
Oil, except very limited quantities, cannot be brought to its destination without shipping.
Shipping requires the protection of naval power and air power.

2. We have access to practically all the world's supply of oil.
We have most of the shipping.
We have naval power.
We have potentially the greatest air power, when fully developed.

Therefore we are bound to win this war.

There was more, details on how to keep Germany from getting access to that oil, but this simple string of declarative sentences has amazing power.

I wonder how it could be applied to something like the war on terror, global warming, or American interventionist foreign policy.

For example:

1. The worst-case scenario for global warming suggests that seas will rise to threaten coastal areas, agricultural yields will decrease, and traditional energy sources will become increasingly unavailable.
Nations with large populations in coastal areas will have to be flexible enough to disperse people, commerce, and industry to safer locations.
Nations whose agricultural production is threatened by increasing aridity must develop new methods of food production in a short period of time.
Nations whose access to fossil fuels is threatened must develop alternative sources of energy.

2. We have a highly mobile population, sufficient inland territory, and the organizational flexibility to move people, commerce, and industry as needed.
We have the most efficient agricultural production methods in the world, and the world's best organized capacity for agricultural research.
We possess sufficient internal reserves of fossil fuels to carry us through a changeover period, the capital to invest in new technologies for energy production, and the research capacity to develop such technologies into feasible, large-scale producers.

Therefore, the United States possesses all the resources necessary to deal with global warming, as long as Americans do not tie themselves up into costly interventionist foreign policies, indulge in "bread and circuses" politics of maintaining the status quo, and avoid tying the hands of the people, institutions, and organizations most capable of meeting these challenges.

Yeah, yeah, so I'm not Wavell. But it's an interesting exercise: can you take a major issue or problem and break it down to a few declarative sentences.

(Note: remember that Wavell, in the midst of a war that seemed to be going quite badly, had no time to indulge himself in cute ideological posturing. Just the facts.)

Try it.

The end of the year and taking stock: all that. What do you want to be when you grow up, Daddy?

Two months into the blogosphere with Delaware Libertarian and I have learned several things, the most important of which is:

Attack health care, debate global warming, talk about gay rights, but never NEVER publish anything that might suggest that circumcision is OK.

If I hadn't decided from the outside not to turn off comments, I'd be tempted by now.

I've also learned that it takes awhile to find your own style and your niche in the blogosphere, and that there are ways you do and do not want to fight about ideas.

As an example, let me reflect for a moment on the health care slugfest that I got involved in with Dana Garrett, noman, Liz Allen and a few others over on First State Politics. I wrote some posts here expressing my profound fears about a single-payer system being adopted in Delaware. (For the record, nothing there has changed, but it's the process I want to talk about.) Dana and I went back and forth a few times in the comment section (each of us actually pasting in full-length articles that nobody else probably ever read), and nobody much noticed because this is a new blog. Then Dave Burris picked it up at FSP, and we went at it again--badly.

The tactics of the back and forth at its almost worst (for worst, so far, I am still reserving the various interchanges between Al Mascitti and Nancy Willing) include (A) clipping segments you think you can parody or rebut, not exactly out of context, but definitely at the expense of dealing with your opponent's main argument; (B) lecturing your opponent on his/her incorrect moral stance for having a different opinion; (C) taking your own analysis of your opponent's deep-seated psychological problems or intellectual shortcomings and then contriving to put it into his/her mouth: (D) battling over sources in a "na-na" way that merely befuddles the overwhelming majority of people who will never access the links; and (my favorite); (E) convincing yourself that in an incredibly complex debate you've found the one-liner from which your opponent will never recover, and instead will come crawling to your door with bleeding palms to request terms of surrender.

That's not the way I want to do business. Yeah, I understand that political commentary and fighting about issues is rough and tumble, but you know what? It doesn't justify the cheap shot.

Don't get me wrong (again): there are plenty of bloggers out there in our local blogosphere who specialize in the cheap shot for the entertainment of us all, and I read them. I just don't want to write them.

Of course, with all year-end resolutions there's a life-span, and we'll just have to see how well I can do, and whether or not your attention can be kept without it.

So, that having been said, what do I want to do with this blog as I grow up?

First off, I started this with the idea of raising consciousness of libertarianism in Delaware, necessarily my own pragmatic brand of it, that says (essentially) the hell with too much theory, libertarianism is about human freedom--economic and social. Libertarianism is about trying to run a society as much as possible without coercion, and with as much decision-making power placed in the hands of the individual as possible.

For libertarians, our biggest nemesis is statism--the idea that the government should be able to tell people what to do in a manner that keeps incrementally increasing until smoking in the house where your family lives can be characterized as child abuse.

This is often a tough sell because many people firmly believe that society has become so complex, and corporations so rapacious that only government can be counted upon to stand up for the people who have no voices. In their view, problems start in the private sector and must be resolved by the public sector. They multiply entitlements into rights, turn civil servants into civil masters, and insist on the state's right to protect us from ourselves.

They see the state as the collective embodiment of the people; we see the state as the unfortunate but necessary mechanism to which the people delegated expressly limited amounts of sovereignty.

And that sounds good, but our critics also have a couple of real good points:

(A) When most of the seminal libertarian thinkers like Mises and Hayek wrote, it was possible to juxtapose the state against the individual, and to see entrepreneurial capitalism as firmly on the side of the individual. Unfortunately, since the end of World War Two and the onset of both de-colonialism and the Cold War, we've seen the rise of two separate sets of entities that make this analysis somewhat dated: the mega-corporations and the non-governmental organizations. Both mega-corps and NGOs have muddied the waters of this pristine libertarian philosophy, because they've proven that the impulse toward aggressive, coercive authoritarianism is not limited to the state. For lack of a better term, there certainly is "corporate statism." So a challenge for libertarians in the 21st century is to defend the economic and social freedom of the individual against not just the state, but against any and all organizations that resort to coercion to achieve their ends.

(B) The second and most damning charge that can be brought against many (but not all) American libertarians is that they made a Faustian bargain with social conservatives in the last half of the 20th Century. And while social conservatives are generally pro-capitalism/free enterprise, they are NOT believers in limited government or, especially, intellectual freedom. More to the point, the social conservatives have proven JUST AS WILLING as the so-called "progressives" or old-fashioned "liberals" to utilize the incredible power of the state to remold society according to their own desires.

If you want a simplistic analysis: when libertarians held the reins in the Republican Party, America ended up with Ronald Reagan. When social conservatives took control, we got George W. Bush.

(C) Libertarians cannot afford to ignore either local/state politics or the challenges ahead of us in the next fifty years. We have to engage openly in the debates over health care (but do it with more class than I have done thus far); global warming; interventionist foreign policy, immigration, education, and so forth. And because libertarians assert the rights of the individual, we must also accept the responsibility of the individual: do your own damn research, and then base your position on facts and not preferences or prejudices. Libertarianism needs to be a political philosophy and not an ideological prism like social conservatism or progressive liberalism that blinds people to the information they don't want to see.

(D) Libertarians have to take a consistent stand for human freedom in all forms, including the freedom of people in other countries to tell us to screw off, the freedom of our neighbors to form the kinds of families that meet their needs, the freedom of people to make their own informed choices (even bad ones).

Libertarians need to think about how we actually get other people to think. For themselves.

So that's what I want this blog to be about.

I have an interest in Delaware politics, in religion, in gay rights, in global warming, in foreign policy, in science fiction, and in science (not necessarily in that order). I'm going to write about those things.

And, oh yes Lin, maybe even occasionally about baking bread.

Friday, December 28, 2007

OK, time to cut the crap: what single-payer advocates won't tell you

Yeah, yeah, the McDowell plan will create instant nirvana in the First State, not only for the 105,000 people lacking insurance coverage right now, but also for all of us who will see the actual cost of health care decline while the quality goes up.

Damn blood-sucking insurance companies, the root of all evil. Let's turn it over the government bureaucrats, whose hearts are pure.

Just like in Canada.

Only not so fast. There is plenty to worry about in Canada, it turns out, where private insurance still pays for 30% of all medical bills, and waiting lists for an electrocardiogram can be so long that one hospital sends out form letters reading, "If the person named on this computer-generated letter is deceased, please accept our sincere apologies."

How about the recent Canadian Supreme Court decision that overturned in Quebec the ban on private medical insurance:

"For our government, it's a very strong indictment of the way they've handled the system," says Dr. Albert Schumacher, president of the Canadian Medical Association. "I hope it will move us forward in the debate. 'Private' has always been used by politicians as a very evil word, associated with America and for-profit. But it's not necessarily so."

Note the perspective of the Canadian Health Care Coalition on the whole thing:

"There is no political support for American-style healthcare," says Michael McBane, coordinator of the Canadian Health Coalition, a healthcare advocacy group. He says he hopes provinces will toughen laws to prevent private insurers from entering the market.

Allowing people to buy private health insurance violates fundamental rights, McBane says , because not everyone will be able to afford it.

"You can't discriminate based on the size of your wallet on something as important as healthcare," McBane says. "I would say this is an aberration and the democratic process will correct it."

So, according to McBane, nobody should get to purchase private health insurance because not everybody can afford it?

Did I forget to mention waiting times and the de facto rationing of treatment, especially surgery?

Check out the actual waiting times for procedures according to the Calgary Herald, which include 62 weeks for a hip replacement and 11 weeks for cardiac surgery.

More and more, according to the Toronto Star, people who can afford it are going abroad to have surgery, even if that means mortgaging their homes and risking bankruptcy.

Doctors and dentists in Canada appear to be bailing out, according to MSNBC and The Guardian. Wonder why?

Nor are all of these medical wonders limited to Canada.

How about a list of cutting edge cancer drugs that the British National Health Service won't pay for?

The Scottish Medicine Consortium joined its BIG BROTHER in denying similar drugs to 300 cancer victims.

And then there's Australia, where bureaucratic snafus and bizarre policies often keep hospital operating theaters from being used to capacity even when there are long waiting lists for surgery.

The scary part of this exercise is that I have been cherry-picking only a few of the hundreds of well-documented newspaper and specialist literature articles about what can and does go wrong under single-payer health systems.

These stories are representative, not exceptional.

And that's what Delaware's dedicated cadre of single-payer health care advocates is not telling you.

I am not health care reform: which can also be said of single-payer!

Read it here before the single-payer lobby gets back to it: "I am Not Health Care Reform" by the ubiquitous Drs. David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandlers, whose advocacy research underlies almost all of the nationwide push for single-payer health care.

They start by critiquing a Richard Nixon plan that never passed: "He wanted to combine a mandate, which would require that employers cover their workers, with a Medicaid-like program for poor families, which all Americans would be able to join by paying sliding-scale premiums based on their income."

They next tar all the current Democratic presidential hopefuls (except that pillar of rationality Dennis Kucinch) for attempting to put into place Nixon's plan and that of other states: "Their plans resemble measures that were passed and then failed in several states over the past two decades."

There follow a list of states (Massachusetts, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington) that have instituted plans "similar" to Nixon's, only to see the number of uninsured individuals actually continue to rise. This leads them to their standard conclusion that:

The “mandate model” for reform rests on impeccable political logic: avoid challenging insurance firms’ stranglehold on health care. But it is economic nonsense. The reliance on private insurers makes universal coverage unaffordable.

With the exception of Dennis Kucinich, the Democratic presidential hopefuls sidestep an inconvenient truth: only a single-payer system of national health care can save what we estimate is the $350 billion wasted annually on medical bureaucracy and redirect those funds to expanded coverage.

Now before you get the urge to run out and sign up your DE legislator to support SB 177 for single-payer health care reform, let's unpack this a bit:

Woolhandler and Himmelstein use "negative" statistics, focusing only on the number of uninsured; they don't tell you (nor do they want to tell you) how many people actually received new coverage under all those state plans. Nor do they give you any comparatives for how fast the uninsured population grew in other states without such programs.

It is also a clever (and not uncommon) tactic to ascribe all of the increasing cost of health care to private insurance companies, who must also be to blame for the fact that fuel costs three times what it did ten years ago or that the greater number of high-tech options for treatment now available cost a lot of money.

The last deft touch is the comparison to Canada, where the single-payer system "debate should be over."

Yeah, Canada has been so effective in driving out private insurance that 65% of all Canadians still find it necessary to purchase some form of secondary private health insurance.

Health insurance is a tough question, and it is made tougher by the issues that most single-payer advocates don't want to touch, for example:

How many people who have coverage now will actually stand to lose some benefits?

How will waiting times and de facto rationing of services affect your health care?

How do you tout Medicare as a wonderful, cost-contained program when it has repeatedly broken through the ceiling of every budget projection ever made for it, and now seeks to contain its own costs by (among other neat, humanitarian ideas) refusing lung transplants to senior citizens?

What are the true cost projections for a single-payer plan (not the breezy, "we'll save $350 billion" crap) and how on a national scale do you intend to fund it?

This is a policy debate, not a slam dunk.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Markets and global warming: some heresies, Libertarian and otherwise

OK, I have formally identified myself as a pragmatic libertarian, and I have stated here and elsewhere that my difference with the scientific consensus on global warming is that I think there is adequate evidence to suggest that we are past the "tipping point," and need to become more concerned with adaptations than prevention.

I also pointed out in a comment response elsewhere that "the market" in the larger sense was already moving on to the adaptation phase faster than the government. This was misinterpreted by some as me stating that the market was moving to fix the problem and that we didn't need any governmental or international polcies, interventions, etc.

So let's clear up a few things. First, Nicholas Stern, in The Economics of Climate Change, The Stern Review makes it quite clear why "the market" has not done anything to halt or slow down global warming:

In common with many other environmental problems, human-induced climate change is at its most basic level an externality. Those who produce greenhouse-gas emissions are bringing about climate change, thereby imposing costs on the world and on future generations, but they do not face directly, neither via markets nor in other ways, the full consequences of the costs of their actions.

Much economic activity involves the mession of greenhouse gases (GHGs). As GHGs accumulate in the atmosphere, temperatures increase, and the climatic changes that result impose costs (and some benefits) on society. However, the full costs of GHG emissions, in terms of climate change, are not immediately--indeed they are unlikely ever to be--borne by the emitter, so they face little or no economic incentive to reduce emissions. Similarly, emitters do not have to compensate those who lose out because of climate change. In this sense, human-induced climate change is an externality, one that is not 'corrected' through any institution or market, unless policy intervenes.

The climate is a public good: those who fail to pay for it cannot be excluded from enjoying its benefits and one person's enjoyment of the climate does not diminish the capacity of others to enjoy it too. Markets do not automatically provide the right type and quantity of public goods, because in the absence of public policy there are limited or no returns to private investors for doing so: in this case, markets for relevant goods and services (energy, land use, innovation, etc) do not reflect the consequences of different consumption and investment choices for the climate. Thus, climate change is an example of market failure involving externalities and public goods.

Markets are nothing more and nothing less than complex economic adapting systems that individuals and groups attempt to manipulate to serve their purposes. For many purposes--a great many more than your average liberal or progressive would care to admit--markets work just fine. On the other hand, markets don't stop ethnic cleansing in Kossovo, end starvation or genocide in Darfur, or halt the Chinese invasion/destruction of Tibet.

And on a global scale with a wide mixture of industrialization and development; free market economies and command economies; cultural and religious differences severe enough to overcome all rational thought; and a lot of other issues you could name as well as I, here's an often overlooked truth:

Even if "the market" could solve problems on a global scale, THERE IS NO MARKET OPERATING AT THAT SCALE.

Some other process--some other complex adapting system--has to function at that scale for large changes to be made. The problem is, nobody really knows what that system would be, and even those who visualize stopping global warming through activist government and international action see that process in terms of governmental intervention in, and regulation of markets.

I don't think we have the theory for that yet, which scares the hell out of me.

But I do know some things about what such a theory would look like (in sort of the same way cosmologists who don't have a Grand Unifying Theory at least know the questions it must answer).

A global complex adapting economic/political system will have to take into account the following:

1. Political and economic manipulations will always create at least as many externalities (unanticipated consequences) as they resolve, and some (if not many) of these externalities will rival the original problem in terms of potential danger.

2. Predictive models that DO NOT allow for a huge factor of such emerging externalities in terms of higher costs, lower success rates, managerial crises, or unanticipated changes in technology will be WORSE THAN USELESS because they will provide false comfort.

3. Either policies or predictive models that DO NOT take into account that the vast majority of social, political, and economic activity is DRIVEN FROM BELOW regardless of the formal rules of the system will INEVITABLY FAIL.

4. No climate change mediation policy or program, no matter how draconian it is in execution, can succeed in mitigating the impact of global climate change unless and until such policies or programs take into account unrestricted population growth. (If industrialized nations are culpable for their GHG emissions, the developing world is equally culpable for failure to take action on population control.)

5. Any predictive model or policy that purports to operate on a global scale will necessarily violate the fundamental rights and freedoms of millions and millions of people in exact proportion to its effectiveness.

In other words, what I am saying is that we are facing a global problem of unprecedented proportions, and nobody has a functioning political/economic model for meeting that challenge. Worse, nobody seems that interested in developing one; at best you find hucksters dusting off their old solutions to smaller problems and hawking them as the utopian savior.

The scientists who have described and verified global warming have no more clue how to actually manage a political/ecnomic solution to it than anyone else.

What can you do about this?

In a book that I have recently lost my copy of--Larry Niven's N-Space--there is an article called something like "How wars are stopped and what you can do about it." Niven's thesis is that while most wars are fought amidst great suffering and dying, most peace talks and negotiations take place in placid, neutral surroundings, conducted on all sides by men who have never missed a meal. Therefore, while those in the trenches feel a great deal of urgency about stopping the war, these men (like the US and Vietnam in Paris) think nothing of spending a number of hours arguing over the shape of the conference table. They don't have any great impetus to actually end a war until it starts to exact a personal or political price on them (Which, if you think about it, is Stern's point above), and that will necessarily take a long time.

Then Niven closes by saying, that's the way it is, and:

"What you can do about it: nothing!"

Global warming prevention strategies will come from above, and not being driven by any sound political/economic theoretical basis, the unfortunate fact is that they'll probably fail (not, I emphasize, a reason NOT to try).

Global warming adaptations will come from below, and will be primarily technology and market-driven, and will largely be independent of those larger strategies.

That's where you and I can truly make a difference.

So buy flourescents (I started four years ago) and high MPG cars (two years ago), but realize that your children if not you are going to inhabit a fundamentally different world.

Start preparing them now.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The most recent research: Single-payer plans will not fix our health care system

A big, serious, wonkish book you need to read:

Michael E Porter (Harvard) and Elizabeth Olmsted Teisberg (UVa), "Redefining Heatlh Care, Creating Value-based Competition on Results"

This is NOT a defense of the current healthcare system nor a hit job by social conservatives; it in fact argues that we should dump our current health care system.

But NOT for a single-payer system. From pages 88-91 (I am shortening some of the quotes to avoid copyright problems; please feel free to check for yourself that I am not distorting what they said:

A single-payer system would have some benefits, especially in the area of insurance coverage. Notably, it would end the practice of excluding high-risk subscriberss from health plans.... In theory, a single-payer could simplify paperwork, because there would be only one health plan and thus one set of forms.... A single-payer could limit price discrimination....

However, a single-payer system would create serious, and in our view, fatal, problems for health care value. It would eliminate indpendent health plans, and thereby eliminate competition among health plans to add value by serving subscribers in their quest for excellent care.... [because] competing health plans can play crucial roles in value-based competition that are inconceivable from a monolithic government entity.

A single-payer system would create a government monopoly with absolute bargainin power relative to other participants.... In time, rationing of services and deterrents to the adoption of innovative new approaches to care would seem inevitable, as we have seen in other countries.

Goverment efforts to oversee practice and to micromanage health care would be launched with the best of intentions. However, as we have already know from the experience with managed health systems such as HMOs, top-down administrative control of medical decisions often compromises patient care, retards improvements and innovation, and limits patient rights....

While it is theoretically possible for a single-payer to make consistently good decisions above services, treatments, processes, and reimbursement rates, this is unlikely, especially in what would be a very large system. And when questionable choices are made, the checks and balances of competing health plans would be absent. Providers and patients would have no recorse except the legal system and political pressure, both of which are slow [and] expensive....

It simply strains credulity to imagine that a large government entity would streamline administratio, simplify prices, set precies according to true costs, help patients make choices based on excellence and value, establish value-based competition at the provider level, and make politically neutral and tough choices to deny patients and reimbursements to substandard providers....

Note that I am quoting the summary section; but there are hundreds of pages of data here that you need to read and evaluate for yourself.

That's the key, by the way: fear anyone who won't show you his or her sources, or who maintains that to ask questions or argue policy somehow favors keeping people uninsured or putting huge bonuses in corporate pockets.

There is a HUGE potential downside to single-payer; to point this out is not to shil for anyone, but to provide all sides in a critical debate.

After all: remember this. Adopting single-payer in Delaware is essentially a one-way proposition. Doing so will effectively change the pre-existing health care structure in such a way that we can't go back.

Common sense suggests that you check (A) the depth of the water and (B) your ability to swim before you make that irrevocable decision to jump off the diving board because "everybody else" thinks it is the thing to do.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Only here: Answering the Judas question at Christmas

From the land of intermittent internet service and in-laws, I suppose I should do a Christmas post. While I try to not to make it a habit to pull deep intellectual questions out of rock operas, the Judas question in Jesus Christ Superstar has always niggled the back of my brain:

Every time I look at you
I don't understand
Why you let the things you did
Get so out of hand
You'd have managed better
If you'd had it planned
Now why'd you choose such a backward time
And such a strange land?
If you'd come today
You could have reached the whole nation
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication

The believer asking why God picked exactly that moment in human history to send his Son to Earth for the redemption of sins, and the non-theist wondering why this one movement that began in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire took off when so many others didn't are both asking the same question.

Why Jesus in Galilee and Judea just then?

Curiously, I think both questions have the same answer, which is--more or less--Roman roads and the Hellenization of Asia Minor.

The Hellenization process that followed in the two centuries after Alexander the Great created an overlay of cultural unification that spread Greek language, ideas, and city-states from southern Italy as far as the Indus River valley. The Romans then moved in on the western part of that Hellenized world and enforced a political unity forged with the pilum and cemented with a network of military roads.

It does not do to forget that the lingua franca of the eastern Roman Empire was always Greek, not Latin.

It is also critical to recall that, in an imperial population of 60 million, about ten percent were Jews, many of them Hellenized (Greek-speaking) and spread out of Judea in the diaspora.

There is considerable evidence within the New Testament (excavated by such critical historians as John Dominic Crossan) that Hellenized Jews were among Jesus' early followers and Christianity's earliest evangelists.

Hellenized Jewish and Gentile culture provided a sufficiently uniform context in which to spread a radically modified Jewish belief system, while the Pax Romanum and those wonderful military roads created both the international stability and the certainty of travel necessary to spread the creed.

For all that, it was a narrow window. Two great modern religions--Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism--originated in the brief interim between the death of Herod the Great and the Jewish Rebellion that ended in 70 AD--during the stable Augustinian peace that people foolishly thought might last forever.

So back to my question (because I could go on for far too long, as it is an interesting subject that has given rise to many quality books):

Why Jesus, then, in Judea under Roman rule?

The answer: that is the earliest possible point in western world history when the necessary matrix of dependable communications, political stability, and widespread cultural coherence existed to allow such movement to spread and institutionalize.

If you're Christian: God sent Jesus into human history at the first moment at which the structure of society would allow the Word to spread.

If you're not: The first global evangelical religion appeared just as soon as the cultural, political, and economic situation permitted it: Jesus (and Paul) just happened to be the lucky beneficiaries of timing.

And what's that all got to do with Christmas, anyway?

Probably not much.

But, hey, I'm a semi-devout Catholic pragmatist Libertarian. What did you expect?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Not at all about politics, but about a man

Today's Snooze J has one of those human interest stories on the front page that they run in the alternate weeks when nobody related to a state legislator is stealing the state blind. You can be jaded on these "feel good" pieces, but I'd really like you to give this one a chance.

Family rearranges star's priorities is about DSU basketball player Roy Bright. Roy happens to be my academic advisee, and I have known him for two years. If anything, the article understates the admirable qualities of this young man, and the challenges he continues to face.

Entirely too much of the news about DSU often focuses on the Loyer Bradens of the world, so it is refreshing to see a positive story occasionally.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Why it is often difficult for me to be Catholic

"Whereas almighty God has created the mind free...."--Thomas Jefferson

The Delaware blogosphere is not always an easy place if you happen to be religious, although I'm not usually religious enough for it to matter. I disdain the uber-conservative fundamentalists of any religion (and especially Christianity) who want to send anybody who offends to hell, or to proclaim Katrina, 9/11, and HIV as God's judgment on our nation for Darwin in the classrooms and queers out of the closets.

But sometimes you get less help from your friends than from your enemies.

Consider the now-flopping $200 million film "The Golden Compass," based on the fantasy works of avowed atheist Philip Pullman. (Poor Pullman is trying to subvert Christianity, and there they go in the movie and water it all down.) The Catholic film reviewers first gave it a reasonably good review (which in itself causes me to question their acumen; it's tedious at best), then had their review unceremoniously yanked by the church hierarchy.

This sent bishops all over the country scrambling to tell the faithful not to watch the movie. In the local Catholic newspaper ofr the Diocese of Wilmington, Dialog, Bishop Michael Saltarelli concludes,

I encourage all Catholic parents to cultivate their children’s imagination not with the fantasy works of Mr. Pullman but the works of Tolkien and Lewis. I cannot recommend “The Golden Compass” to Catholic and Christian parents in either its film or literary form.

This is disappointing, but not surprising. The only reason that Catholic reviewers didn't jump even more heavily on Harry Potter than they did was because I don't think any of them figured out that Dumbledore was gay until J. K. Rowling told them.

I comfort myself, however, with the knowledge that wanting to build walls around the minds of not just our children but ourselves is not even a particularly religious failing of humanity. Proscribed book lists and disfavored literature are issues that often have as much to do with totalitarian politics and social conservatism as with worship.

Then, unfortunately, while pulling up Catholic reviews of "The Golden Compass," I found "Why gays don't get it (it's our fault)" at Inside, in which author Todd M. Aglialoro explains patiently to Margaret that Catholic homosexuals are confused because the church sometimes lacks clarity in its explanation of why it's ungodly to be gay, lesbian, or transgender:

The main problem, as Catholic journalist Dale O'Leary so skilfully explains in her various writings and speeches, including her recent book One Man, One Woman, is that so many Catholics implicitly accept the assertion that homosexuality is an ontological category: a way of being into which some people are hard-wired at birth. To big-hearted Catholics, even those who officially hew to Church teaching on the matter, it just seems cruel and unjust to censure people for trying to be who they were created to be. You're left with a Catholic moral teaching against homosexuality delivered (when it is delivered) without much conviction.

The solution, incidentally, is to view same-sex attraction correctly: as a psychosexual disorder rooted in early childhood development. Only from this perspective can we understand it rightly within the context of a Christian understanding of sexuality and the human person, and only from this perspective can we adopt a posture towards homosexuals that combines in right proportion mercy, compassion, moral witness, and call to conversion.

This last paragraph sources that "psychosexual disorder rooted in early childhood development" to The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, which sees its mission as "Helping clients bring their desires and behaviors into harmony with their values." In other words, they cure queers of their queerness.

I prefer to get my science from actual researchers. The Real Story on Gay Genes in the June 2007 issue of Discover is a pretty good summary of what scientists know, hypothesize, and expect to prove about the genetic propensity toward homosexuality. It's definitely worth reading, and thoroughly debunks the NARTH quacks no matter what Dr Laura thinks.

I'm rambling, but this is all so infuriating. The purpose of religion (at least one of the purposes that I teach my own children) is to open us up to the greater possibilities of the spirit in viewing the world around us, and to maintain contact with not just the sense of the divine, but also our common humanity.

That doesn't mean hiding from books or movies because they might contain objectionable content. If not now, when am I supposed to get my kids ready to read material critically that might run counter to their upbringing?

That doesn't mean ignoring sound research because it fits your political or dogmatic agenda to follow pseudo-scientific quacks who say what you want to hear. How do I teach my children to make informed judgments if they are to discount any information that doesn't confirm to their pre-existing prejudices?

I want to ask all my narrow-minded, self-righteous religious brethren and cistern [sic] who are so sure they've got the right answers and that them what don't are going to hell if they really comprehend the term "infinite mercy" as applied to God.

Curiously, one of the few things that continues to give me hope for the future of Christianity is an answer that Pope Benedict gave (about ten years before he became pope and he was still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger), to a journalist named Peter Seewald when the two of them were discussing salvation. Their dialogue takes place in a remarkable book entitled God and the World that unfortunately lacks an index for its 460 pages, so I wll have to paraphrase until I find the exact quote.

The journalist wanted to know if those who lived and died in other faiths, rejecting Christianity (or even Catholicism if they were Protestants) had any hope of salvation. Ratzinger replied that only those who failed to understand just how large "infinite mercy" could be had any room to doubt that God could very well save anyone, everyone, regardless of our pedestrian differences here on Earth.

Of course, truth in advertising forces me to admit that this was the same individual who dealt with the scandal of pedophile priests (99.5% heterosexual) by banning gay men from seminaries.

So why do I remain a believing Catholic? Because ultimately I believe in that God of infinite mercy and not the men who invoke Her name for their purposes.

Demopublicans out of the closet in Iowa

Check out Democrats and Republicans mind-meld in Iowa over at Delaware Curmudgeon.

Obviously living a life of lying to your parents about your statist ideology has become two painful for the Demopubs, and they have begun the healty process of accepting their Big Government orientation.

To those who have always thought statism was a life-style choice, we ask you to wait patiently for the genetic evidence to come in. We really don't think that we should jump to conclusions.

On the other hand, just to be prudent, let's practice "safe" politics and keep them from marrying, entering the priesthood, becoming teachers, or joining the military until we've had the opportunity to insure that they won't violate our children or hurt the troops' morale.

We do know one symbol that won't be get frisky outside its species:

SB 156: Dinosaurs still rule (and they hate leather)

I hesitate to characterize Senators John Still III (R-Dover North) and Robert Venables (D-Laurel) as dinosaurs, because my children like dinosaurs.

But this, folks, is absolutely ridiculous.

Here’s the synopsis of SB 156:

This is the first leg of a constitutional amendment to prohibit recognition of same sex marriages or other same gender legal relationships – whether originally created in Delaware or elsewhere.

And here’s the proposed amendment:

Marriage is prohibited and void between persons of the same gender. A marriage obtained or recognized outside this State between persons of the same gender shall not constitute a legal or valid marriage within this State. The uniting of two persons of the same gender in a civil union, domestic partnership, or other similar same gender legal relationship shall not be valid or recognized in this State.

(Note, by the way, that that Still and Venables don’t even seem to have the slightest idea that there are transgendered people out there, who might be able to marry under this law. I won’t tell them if you don’t.)

This is whole-hog, outright state interference in the lives of real people. Not content to outlaw gay marriage inside Delaware, Senators Still and Venables have taken it upon themselves to erase Article 1, Section IV of the US Constitution at the state line. This is the part that, you know, says if you get married or divorced in one state you’re married in another because of that pesky “full faith and credit” nonsense; to wit:

“Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof.”

Moreover, Still and Venables don’t stop with marriage. Let another state dare to legislate domestic partnerships with dual access to health insurance or give partners some say in medical decisions, and the doughty First State shall rise up and say, “Not here in Delaware, you unnatural perverts!”

Seriously, I don’t really care if you approve of homosexuals or not; this is just bad (and shockingly unconstitutional) law that represents nothing less than a 21st Century attempt at Nullification. (You might want to check your history books to see how well that worked out for South Carolina in the 1830s.)

This also explains why Libertarians see marriage as a private contract, as laid out in the national party platform. This is one of the sections good enough to quote in its entirety:

The Issue: Politicians use popular fears and taboos to legally impose a particular code of moral and social values. Government regularly denies rights and privileges on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Principle: Consenting adults should be free to choose their own sexual practices and personal relationships. Government does not have legitimate authority to define or license personal relationships. Sexuality or gender should have no impact on the rights of individuals.

Solutions: Culture wars, social friction and prejudice will fade when marriage and other personal relationships are treated as private contracts, solely defined by the individuals involved, and government discrimination is not allowed.

This bill is in the Senate Executive Committee; I hope they wash their hands a lot. That injunction includes Senator Colin Bonini, who often claims Libertarian leanings, as well as co-sponsoring Representatives Ewing, Hocker, and Thornburg. (Nor should we pass this legislation without noting the Gubernatorial candidate Mike Protack made a statement supporting it here on Delaware Libertarian.)

On the other hand, Senator Dave Sokola’s (D-Newark) SB 141, the perennial attempt to “prohibit discrimination against persons on the basis of sexual orientation,” is in the Insurance and Elections Committee, where we can only hope it won’t die as all previous efforts have.

This does raise an interesting question. Considering that in Delaware the Demopublicans (Still, a Republican, and Venables, a Democrat) can unite to put forth such a noxious proposal and not totally destroy their own credibility, you have to wonder why all gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Delaware citizens are not Libertarians.

Maybe I’ll shoot this post down to CAMP Rehoboth and ask.

(Meanwhile, for some lighter reading, check out Ten Reasons Gay Marriage is Unamerican on Phlamer, for an intimate look at such weighty issues as gay marriage and polyester.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

SB 177: Delaware Single-Payer healthcare reform to be funded by regressive tax hikes!

Among the dirty little secrets hidden away in Senate Bill 177, which would establish a single-payer healthcare system in Delaware is the manner in which it is to be funded.

They've got to raise a lot of money to have the government take over approximately 11% of the state's economy.

In 2003 the total health care expenditures by Delaware citizens, according the UD's Center for Applied Demography and Survey Research was $5.044 BILLION, a figure that has arguably risen to at least $5.45 billion today. (This is a low figure, by the way, as it does not completely capture the money Delaware citizens spend for healthcare out-of-state at places like Temple, Penn, Johns Hopkins, or Sloan-Kettering.)

Of that, again according to the Center for Applied Demography and Survery Research, Delaware citizens paid an average of $2,310 out-of-pocket costs for health care in 2003. Most of this went to premiums, co-pays, pharmaceuticals, and dental services (which are reimbursed by insurance at a much lower rate than health insurance).

One of the funding mechanisms that the authors of SB 177 intend to use to fund a single-payer healthcare system is:

All head of households and persons subject to Delaware's income tax shall pay a Health Security income tax of 2.5 percent of taxable income.

Delaware's current state income tax is a progressive structure with rates that begin at 2.2% and rise to 5.5% for income under $60,000, and 5.95% for income over that level.

An across-the-board 2.5% income tax rate increase to pay for this reform will MORE THAN DOUBLE the tax rate paid by our poorest tax-paying citizens.

Ironically, this is not only unfair but actually gratuitous.

Go back to that $5.45 BILLION dollar tab for health care in Delaware. In 2005 the state income tax only raised a grand total of $882,472,000 (link). So that 2.5% increase in the tax rate will bring in (very roughly) another $290 million--about 5.3% of the funds necessary to run this socialized nightmare system. Only about 10% of that will actually be brought in by the new regressive taxes on our poorest 20% of state taxpayers.

So the insult added to the injury is that single-payer advocates intend to dramatically raise taxes on the poorest of our tax-paying citizens only to raise a statistically insignificant amount of money.

This is fiscally sound statist government at its best, hey?

Who owns your children? A Libertarian conundrum

First off--nobody does. Children are people; ownership is slavery. I was just trying to get your attention.

I thought about starting this off by citing some of the many negative references to circumcision as a possible HIV transmission reduction agent, but Duffie and "um,no" have done that quite thoroughly in the comments section. So I'll just bleed there for awhile, thanks rabbi.

I was more struck by Um's comment that

Libertarianism is about Liberty. Circumcising an infant removes the fundamental liberty of maintaining bodily integrity. Depriving a child of part of his penis... Depriving him of the right to make that choice, when there's no medical need... Well, that doesn't sound very Libertarian to me!

While I'm still not sure about circumcision and "bodily integrity," this response made me think about who gets to make decisions for children and why. Um,no strongly believes that "depriving a child of part of his penis" is a bad thing, an anti-Libertarian action. Atheist Richard Dawkins has maintained that baptizing a baby is equally bad (he wants Britain to change its legal reference of "Jewish children" (and etc) to "children of Jewish parents," so that the kids will not be forever marked by a religious identity they did not chose. Senator Margaret Rose Henry believes that "children" old enough to have drivers' licenses should be required by the state to wear bicycle helmets. Children are sometimes tried for crimes as minors, and Christian Scientists have been hauled into court for refusing to allow appendectomies for minor children.

Start with the concept that I think Libertarians would share: children, however young, are people and have fundamental (property) rights.

Second concept (a little shakier, perhaps, but still generally acknowledged): At early stages of development, children are not competent to judge risks or make certain decisions on their own (which is why my 4 1/2 year old grandson is required to hold my hand when we cross the street together). The issues regarding which children are competent to make decisions expands until, at some roughly defined point (usually 18 or 21 depending upon whether you want to dodge shrapnel or drink a beer) the child becomes considered a full-fledged adult, with all the rights of acquiring and disposing of property thereto apertaining.

So here's the tough third concept: at various developmental levels, then, someone else must make decisions for children (with or without their input, and certainly without requiring their approval); the tough question is "Who?"

I think (with the certainty that I will be corrected if I am wrong) that while um,no finds male circumcision appalling, s/he would stick with advocating against it rather than enforcing a ban via statist coercion. Part of me can imagine Delaware Penis Inspector Number 9 checking each newborn boy released from Christiana Care for the presence of a foreskin. I don't think I want to empower an already statist government to start directly overseeing my family's health care. (Is that in the DE Single-Payer plan proposal? Probably.)

But I have no problem (and this might be my failing as a pragmatic Libertarian) with parents refusing life-saving treatment to a minor child on religious grounds being overruled by the State. (Yet I don't want the State to be able to overrule the decision of parents who have a comatose, terminally ill child to refuse "heroic" life-saving measures, either.)

Where's the boundary between a legitimate, compelling State interest and unwarrented Statist interference in the life of my family?

I personally want it set as much in favor of the parents (as opposed to the government) even if it means the exposure of their offspring to second-hand smoke or trimming the end of the penis like a cheap cigar, because--on balance--I trust parents more, and if and when mistakes ae made I would rather parents make them than the State.

My idea is that the onus should always be on the government to prove an immiment danger of immediate, significant physical or mental harm before it overrules parental decisions. I will agree that, in some cases time being of the essence, the government should have a limited ability to take emergency measures to stabilize a situation (i.e., temporarily removing a child from a household while investigating credible charges of sexual abuse), but that standards of indirect harm (second-hand smoke), incidental harm (falling off a bike with no helmet), or potential harm (letting the rug rats watch too much TV and not read) are not justifiable.

The burden of proof, in such cases, should always lay upon the State.

The problem is that we now have such an intrusive nanny state, and so many people convinced they know better than me how to raise my kids, that they recognize no such boundary and no such burden.

Are we finally in view of some see-through government?

Over on First State Politics, Dave Burris announces a package of government transparency reform bills that should get everyone's attention

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Rabbi had it right: circumcision helps prevent HIV

I love Discover Magazine's Top 100 Science Stories of the Year. Unfortunately, that's the geek in me looking for clips on dark matter and soil problems causing the fall of ancient civilizations. But every so often you find news you can use.

Top story number 15 is Male Circumcision: A New Defense Against HIV, which documents the fact having your newborn baby boy visited by a mohel can actually reduce his risk of transmitted HIV by a whopping 60%!!!

"Circumcision is thought to prevent infection because the underside of the foreskin is rich in immune cells that are particularly vulnerable to HIV. Small tears in the foreskin during intercourse can also allow the virus to slip into the body."

What's really interesting (and dismaying) about this story is that apparently this 2006 study only reinforces a 1999 study done in Great Britain that has been studiously and intentionally ignored by the World Health Organization. The study estimates that implementing a policy of recommending universal male circumcision in Africa could "6 million HIV infections and 3 million deaths over 20 years."

****[Correction]****As an alert reader pointed out, I got the part about a Brit study wrong. It has been an ongoing debate, not a study.****[Correction]****

Hey, just another reason why we should turn our medical decisions over to a bureaucracy!

Where's Waldo? Does Ron Paul pander, and no homos in helmets!

From one of my favorite blogs, Waldo Lydecker's Journal, two very timely posts:

Daily Dish Finally Drinks the Kool-aid covers Andrew Sullivan's endorsement of Ron Paul, and why this could be problematic.

Can't cohese, can't win presents the most recent, really dumb arguments being used to keep gays and lesbians out of the military.

Check them both out.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Libertarian = Fringe?

The fact that it's becoming harder to ignore the Ron Paul phenomenon ($18 million and counting raised in the 4th quarter, half of it in two explosive bursts) doesn't mean that anybody actually understands what it means. People who have quietly been becoming more depressed that the Demopublican monopoly on big-government politics feel like they've found a voice, and it is their hope rather than their logic that forecasts a dramatic, overnight revolution in American politics. They are busy building upset scenarios in which the Congressman marches on to the Republican nomination, and then the presidency (ignoring the fact that, at best 7-8% of likely voters in any of the primaries seems interested).

And if Paul did win the nomination, it might prove the abrupt deathknell to their hopes. Novelist and social critic Upton Sinclair stunned the Democratic Party in 1934 by winning the California primary of a populist wave. What happened next is fully chronicled in Greg Mitchell's The Campaign of the Century, Upton Sinclair's Race for Governor of California and the Birth of Media Politics:

Terrified by the prospect of a Socialist reformer running the state, Republican forces responded with unprecedented measures to ensure Sinclair's defeat in the November election. They hired, for the first time anywhere, political consultants and advertising specialists to manage the campaign against him. Newspapers, radio dramas, and even movie shorts were used to discredit Sinclair. Hollywood plunged full tilt into politics for the first time. It was one of the dirtiest campaigns ever waged against a candidate, and one that would transform America's electoral process forever.

I think it very likely that something similar (but more 21st century high-tech) would happen to Paul, because his very existence threatens the Demopublican monopoly in a way that no one else (not even Ross Perot) has done in the past several decades.

Of course, they won't see it this way. Anyone who steps so far out of line with the delicate ballet of perks, power, and omnibus spending bills is due to be labeled the way Al Mascitti labeled Paul over at DWA:

Ron Paul is like a dog whistle — only crackpots can hear him. And the money will actually hurt him if he spends it, because the more people know about his positions beyond Iraq, the more they’ll dismiss him as exactly what he is — an arrogant old crank who thinks medical school made him God.

There follows a lengthy debate on Paul and the nature of Libertarianism as well as the gold standard and (I really could not make this up) the foreskins of the participants at the Constitutional Convention.

A couple of snippets are worth quoting for flavor (but you should read the whole thing. Ron Paul in Delaware stirs up almost as many people as Mike Protack, except that Paul actually has some defenders who don't apparently purchase their internet access at Kinko's.):

From Dana Garrett:

The truth is it is hard to find anyone these days who doesn’t have a moral and ethical IQ that far exceeds the moral & ethical IQs of the founders. That’s because progress nearly always proceeds forwards and rarely backwards. That’s one thing I don’t like about Paul. He is an antiquarian. He wants to move America back to an 18th century politics that not even his most argent supporters could stand for more than 6 months. That frightens me about him. It makes me think that his moral and ethical IQ isn’t sufficiently advanced beyond the founders. So since I don’t share the Edenic conception of the USA’s founding or its founders, since I know something about what some of the important ones were really like, I can easily joke and call them foreskins. It’s easy for me to do because compared to me they are primitives and (now you’ll probably find this contradictory but is isn’t) I’m grateful that they helped to bring about a set of circumstances that eventuated in making me a better person than them.

From Al Downs:

Ron Paul is more of an ideologue than a politician and his 200-proof Libertarianism may appeal to the same sort of folks who see the writings of Ayn Rand as a blueprint for a new and exciting world.

And again, from Al Mascitti:

Why not simplify...: “Libertarianism.” Fringe.

And the unfortuante part in all this, especially for believers in human freedom and limited government, is that these commentators have some truth to back up their views.

Ron Paul is a phenomenon, but he will only be a transient one if Libertarians all over the country don't realize two key truths:

1) You cannot start a revolution against a bloated, dysfunctional systems from the top down. The bureaucrats, the toadies, the recipients of state largess, and the professional politics will simply drag you down with inertia and unite around candidates to throw you out of office.
The only legitimate, national, third party in recent history to come even close to denting the system and achieving permance was the Populists, and they did it from the bottom up. (And, oh, by the way, they also got killed during the 1890s with fusion; remember that.) Read Lawrence Goodwin's The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America.

2) Starting from the bottom up means, necessarily getting into the down-and-dirty, rough-and-tumble of local and state politics. Delaware Libertarians actually have to get out there--as Libertarians--and take on issues like eminent domain abuse in Wilmington, the idiotic but dangerous single-payer health care proposal, out-of-control public education spending, and transparent government. Libertarians have to earn the respect of their adversaries (however grudging) for doing their homework on these issues and making meaningful contributions to public discourse.

Why is this so critical? Because Libertarians, like conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats, have their own utopian visions of how America should be. Libertarians spend as much time dreaming about the end of the drug war, a return to the gold standard, and the death of the income tax as Republicans fantasize about prayer in public schools and no abortions and Democrats covet socialized medicine and a minimum wage of $42/hour.

The difference: Republicans and Democrats have something else to talk about. I mean it. Demopublicans may have their own visions for a future America, but they make their living in the "now," fighting and achieving real, incremental steps toward their goals. Liberal Democrats spend far more time talking to today's voters about expanding the parameters of Medicaid than they do about single-payer health care, because they know something Libertarians en mass never seem to have mastered:

You have to get there from here.

Standing up to announce that you favor legalizing marijuana, abolishing the FBI, and returning to the gold standard will get you fervent supporters who send money like desperately sick people praying for miracles from Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker in the 1790s. (The PTL Club was the first cable TV show I ever watched in the late '70s; probably explains why most nights the boob tube is off at home.)

What it will not get you is an entree at the state and local level of politics. And that's where--not in Congress--the first foundational work of saving the Republic will have to be done.

That's why some Libertarian state organizations--Indiana and Michigan come immediately to mind--are gaining traction. They emphasize local and state issues, and they run candidates for the "working" offices like school board, city council, and judgeships. Two months ago the Indiana Libertarians ran 31 candidates statewide, winning one, but--more impressively--polling 10-35% in most races. The Michigan Libertarians ran five candidates for city council positions across the state, and won four of them. You don't win elections at the local level by talking about the gold standard or social security privatization, not because you need to hide those views, but because they ARE NOT RELEVANT to local politics.

What's relevant to local politics is being able to make the school system operate more effectively or fighting for sunshine laws in the legislature.

Which is where the real value of the Ron Paul Revolution needs to be captured (and since the national Libertarian Party ain't doing it, I guess it's up to us): we've got to grab the people in the Ron Paul meet-ups and the people on the internet, and get them involved in Delaware politics.

And for that, we've got to have an active, activist, participating Libertarian Party of Delaware.