Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Abraham Lincoln, Joe Hooker, Barack Obama, America's military

There is bizarre talk these days from the Far Fringes of the Far Right that America's military might find itself tempted to stage a coup against President Obama.

This is not unprecedented in American history, and other presidents have found their own ways to deal with military officers [and those who egg them on] who see themselves as the white knight on horseback ready to save the republic from the dangers of democracy.

Perhaps the most elegant response ever penned to such a potential situation was writer by President Abraham Lincoln to Major General "Fighting Joe" Hooker on January 26, 1863:

GENERAL: I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Of course I have done this upon what appears to me to be sufficient reasons, and yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which I am not satisfied with you. I believe you to be a brave and skilful soldier, which of course I like. I also believe that you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable, if not indispensable, quality. You are ambitious, which, within reason, does good rather than harm; but I think that during General Burnside’s command of the army you have taken counsel of your ambition and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country, and to a most meritorious and honorable brother officer. I have heard, in such a way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the army and the government needed a dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain success can be dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship. The government will support you to the utmost of its ability, which is neither more nor less than it has done and will do for all commanders. I much fear that the spirit you have aimed to infuse into the army, of criticising their commander and withholding confidence from him, will now turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I can to put it down. Neither you, nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army while such a spirit prevails in it. And now, beware of rashness. Beware of rashness, but, with energy and sleepless vigilance, go forward and give us victories.

Contrary to what John Perry may think--

Anyone who imagines that those thoughts are not weighing heavily on the intellect and conscience of America’s military leadership is lost in a fool’s fog.

--America's military leadership has a strong and proud tradition of subordination to civil authority. Men as diverse in outlooks and background [but holding in common the power and prestige from which to be tempted to that dictatorship] have included George Washington, George McClellan, Ulysses Grant, Smedley Butler, and Douglas MacArthur successfully met the challenge to place their own ambition behind their love of the American republic.

Any reader of this blog will know that I do not subscribe to much of the hero worship or positive spin for Admiral Mullen, General Petraeus, General Odierno, or General McChrystal. No matter. They are American officers who have sworn an oath to protect and defend the US Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic. Make no mistake: These men and those men and women who serve with an under them will stand by that oath. If one of them were to receive orders he could not, within his conscience, carry out, then he would resign.

While among hundreds of thousands of people in the military I am statistically positive the individual exception could be found, here is the reality:

The American military will not support, condone, nor participate in a coup against the legal government of the United States of America.

What is most disturbing to me today is the reaction I have not seen to Mr. Perry's lunacy.

I have read dozens of condemnations of his--I will be blunt--chickenshit call for a military coup, and dozens more posts and stories using his idiocy as a talking point in current political battles.

What I have not read are dozens of stories explaining something that is as certain as the law of gravity:

The United States military does not act against the government of the United States.


Note: I will now be besieged with either (a) idiots who think the American Civil War contradicts this statement [it doesn't; with a single exception all Southerners in the US Army who joined the Confederacy resigned their commissions and gave up their citizenship prior to joining the Confederate Army]; or (b) idiots who want to cite vaguely referenced internet black helicopter stories about coups and potential coups, and the ever-present danger of military fascism, or whatever. So be it. You simply do not know what you are talking about.

Note 2: John Perry's words are seditious; they may be idiotic and politically dangerous, but they are covered by the First Amendment--the same amendment that gives me the right to say that anyone who implies that a military coup is either justifiable or positive is an ignorant asshole.

The simplified case against this version of health insurance reform

From Angus at Kids Prefer Cheese:

I actually think we are going to get a reform that is both worse than the status quo and worse than a pure single payer system.

Kudos to our Congress!

As I understand it, insurance companies will not be able to refuse to cover some one, nor will they be able to charge high risk people a premium that reflects their risk. The price won't be uniform, but the maximum variation will be well below what it would take to correctly price the variation in risks.

As I noted before, this will make premiums for healthy people extra high. And as the WSJ pointed out yesterday, at least on the margin, it will make healthy people want to hold off from getting any insurance until they are actually sick.

Problem solved, you say?

Ahh, but now it appears that the third leg of the trinity will be rule that it will be illegal to not have insurance!

So young healthy people will be forced to buy way overpriced (relative to their risk) insurance. Plus if said young healthy people make good money, they can look forward to paying more taxes to subsidize the purchase of said insurance by others.

Guaranteed Issue, Community Rating, Individual Mandate. They sound so reasonable and innocuous, but they are freakin' lethal.

Notice that this is not necessarily an argument against health insurance reform, just an argument that this particular flavor of health insurance reform in ... financially idiotic.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Exporting democracy to Afghanistan: the Obama administration says "No" to a run-off election

OK, I officially never want to hear about the 2000 US Presidential election again from anybody who does not question this decision:

The White House has ended weeks of hesitation over how to respond to the Afghan election by accepting President Karzai as the winner despite evidence that up to 20 per cent of ballots cast may have been fraudulent.

Abandoning its previous policy of not prejudging investigations of vote rigging, the Obama Administration has conceded that Mr Karzai will be President for another five years on the basis that even if he were forced into a second round of voting he would almost certainly win it.

The decision will increase pressure on President Obama to justify further US troop deployments to Afghanistan to prop up a regime now regarded as systemically corrupt.

The acceptance was conveyed by Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, in a meeting with her Afghan counterpart hours before Mr Obama received a formal request from General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, for up to 40,000 more troops.Mrs Clinton told Rangin Dadfar Spanta, the Afghan Foreign Minister, that she and her Nato colleagues — including David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary — had reached a consensus that Mr Karzai would remain President even if investigations now under way cut his share of the first-round vote to below 50 per cent. The meeting took place last Friday but details emerged yesterday.

Now I understand why the administration did not issue a stronger denunciation of Iranian election fraud, and why President Obama continues to support Zelayas in Honduras.

Somebody in the White House has apparently read and digested Jeanne Kirkpatrick's famous 1979 essay Dictators and Double Standards, which became the basis for American foreign policy during the Reagan years.

You have to love the assertions of the Obama administration:

1) NATO and the US arbitrate the legitimacy of Afghan presidential election, based on the fact that a run-off would be inconvenient and the incumbent would probably win anyway.

2) Democracy only matters where we have intervened when the process returns exactly the result we wanted in the first place.

3) The laws of Afghanistan as expressed in the current constitution are of no matter and need not be obeyed or recognized by the international community, because--after all--we are only pretending Afghanistan is a real country, anyway.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Michael Moore's own love story with capitalism

From The Future of Capitalism:

The funniest moments of all in the movie, though, may just be in the opening and closing credits. We see that the movie is presented by "Paramount Vantage" in association with the Weinstein Company. Bob and Harvey Weinstein are listed as executive producers. If Mr. Moore appreciates any of the irony here he sure doesn't share it with viewers, but for those members of the audience who are in on the secret it's all kind of amusing. Paramount Vantage, after all, is controlled by Viacom, on whose board sit none other than Sumner Redstone and former Bear Stearns executive Ace Greenberg, who aren't exactly socialists. The Weinstein Company announced it was funded with a $490 million private placement in which Goldman Sachs advised. The press release announcing the deal quoted a Goldman spokesman saying, "We are very pleased to be a part of this exciting new venture and look forward to an ongoing relationship with The Weinstein Company."

Knowing that background puts the rest of the movie in a different context. Mr. Moore shows Rep. Dennis Kucinich asking rhetorically on the floor of the House of Representatives, "Is this the United States Congress or the board of directors of Goldman Sachs?" Later, Mr. Moore shows up at Goldman Sachs headquarters in Manhattan driving an armored Brinks trunk and announcing, "We're here to get the money back for the American people." Maybe Mr. Moore should look in his own pockets.

Sort of reminds you of ... well, Al Gore, Fisker Automotive, Tesla Motors, and a billion dollars of taxpayer money [WSJ]:

WASHINGTON -- A tiny car company backed by former Vice President Al Gore has just gotten a $529 million U.S. government loan to help build a hybrid sports car in Finland that will sell for about $89,000.

The award this week to California startup Fisker Automotive Inc. follows a $465 million government loan to Tesla Motors Inc., purveyors of a $109,000 British-built electric Roadster. Tesla is a California startup focusing on all-electric vehicles, with a number of celebrity endorsements that is backed by investors that have contributed to Democratic campaigns.

Fortunately, the $14.9 billion that the government could raise from a soda tax, primarily collected from the poor and middle class, will underwrite those loans quite nicely, huh?

Disturbing on so many levels that I cannot even count them

I kept looking for the violence, or even the potential violence.

I kept watching the police move closer and closer.

You have to watch the entire ten or eleven minutes to get the feel of the confrontation unrolling in real time.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

President Obama and the definition of taxation

President Obama insists that mandatory health insurance is not a tax, and compares it to automobile insurance.

But now we also know that, under at least the Baucus bill, if you don't purchase health insurance you may be fined $25,000 and sent to prison for a year.

The necessity for this non-taxation is driven by the President's assertion that we all need to become one big health insurance risk pool:

He noted that consumers currently pay higher health insurance premiums due to the costs run up by hospitals and other facilities providing care to uninsured people.

Those unable to afford health insurance should get government help, Obama said, but others who can afford coverage but choose not to get it should face coverage requirements similar to those for auto insurance.

"What it's saying is ... that we're not going to have other people carrying your burdens for you any more than the fact that right now everybody in America, just about, has to get auto insurance," he said. "Nobody considers that a tax increase. People say to themselves, that is a fair way to make sure that, if you hit my car, that I'm not covering all the costs."

This is, of course, not news: it was first reported a week ago, and I have been mulling it over in my slow-moving brain.

It seems to me that taxes, in the modern world, exist to perform two functions for the State. They either raise revenue or modify behavior. Sometimes both. Requiring all Americans to purchase health insurance--explicitly singling out those who choose not to do so as a financial strategy--seems to meet the test of modifying behavior. It will no longer be an option to pay as you go or take your chances.

This move is also fairly obviously targeted as raising revenue, albeit somewhat indirectly, to defer some of the costs associated with universal coverage.

So why not admit it is a tax?

There are political calculations, certainly, and the White House protecting the more-and-more tattered candidate Obama' pledge that no family making less than $250K would see a penny of their taxes raised at all. But I don't think that's it. Everybody knew, back during the campaign, that he didn't mean it. Every analysis by any think tank--right or left--found that Barack Obama's promised new programs would add hundreds of billions to the deficit, and this before the Great Meltdown occurred. Nobody believed him; the people who voted for Obama either knew that he sort of, kind of, had to say that to get elected. After all, remember what happened to Walter Mondale.

But I don't think that's what is happening here.

I really don't think that President Obama believes that mandatory health insurance is a tax. Or that $.01/gallon on sodas is a tax. Or that cap-and-trade involves a tax.

I think that President Obama really believes that if the State's primary intention is to modify the behavior of American citizens for the better--to make them healthier or environmentally friendlier--then what he is proposing is not taxation.

It's influencing or encouraging people to do the right thing, to take responsibility for themselves.

Only if a tax were to be purely about raising revenue, without any pretense of social engineering, would President Obama consider it to be a tax.

There will be a name for this soon. We will actually see some political theorist write a book [and probably score a good position in the administration] delineating the difference between taxes and social responsibility payments. Or maybe it will be called economic democracy credits.

Think I'm nuts?

Then you don't remember George McGovern's Guaranteed Annual Income.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Pepper spray and high fashion in Pittsburgh: the G-20 protests that only Libertarians put into perspective for you

This is the guy who got everything started with the firearms outside the venue in which President Obama was speaking in New Hampshire.

You recall: the evidence that political violence and intimidation was being initiated by those who openly and peacefully carried handguns legally to demonstrations.

This, on the other hand, is the mass demonstration Thursday in Pittsburgh prepartory to the G-20 Summit, wherein legions of police marched in with smoke and pepper spray to disperse the crowd:

Here's how the Associate Press reported the news:

PITTSBURGH — Police fired canisters of pepper spray and smoke at marchers protesting the Group of 20 summit Thursday after anarchists responded to calls to disperse by rolling trash bins and throwing rocks.

The march turned chaotic at just about the time that President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrived for a meeting with leaders of the world's major economies.

The clashes began after hundreds of protesters, many advocating against capitalism, tried to march from an outlying neighborhood toward the convention center where the summit is being held.

The protesters banged on drums and chanted "Ain't no power like the power of the people, 'cause the power of the people don't stop."

The marchers included small groups of self-described anarchists, some wearing dark clothes and bandanas and carrying black flags. Others wore helmets and safety goggles.

One banner read, "No borders, no thanks," another, "No hope in capitalism." A few minutes into the march, protesters unfurled a large banner reading "NO BAILOUT NO CAPITALISM" with an encircled "A," a recognized sign of anarchists.

The marchers did not have a permit and, after a few blocks, police declared it an unlawful assembly. They played an announcement over a loudspeaker telling people to leave or face arrest and then police in riot gear moved in to break it up.

Protesters split into smaller groups. Some rolled large metal trash bins toward police, and a man in a black hooded sweat shirt threw rocks at a police car, breaking the front windshield. Protesters broke windows in a few businesses, including a bank branch and a Boston Market restaurant.

Officers fired pepper spray and smoke at the protesters. Some of those exposed to the pepper spray coughed and complained that their eyes were watering and stinging.

Here's how HuffPo has so far covered the protests--with [I couldn't make this up if I tried] a photo contest for the most intense image:

Protesters have taken to the streets of Pittsburgh in opposition to the Group of 20 summit taking place Thursday and Friday.

The protests turned violent Thursday, the AP reported, with demonstrators rolling trash bins towards police, and officers firing tear gas back. Read more here. Several thousand demonstrators protested in a more peaceful march on Friday, the New York Times reports.

Check out this slideshow of protesters and vote on the most intense image.

And are you going to any G-20 protests? Send us your G-20 photos and videos! We will publish the best ones of the HuffPost.

What I find ironic is this: Libertarians would mostly find themselves in agreement here with the diaryist at the Daily Kos who wrote:

Tonight in Schenley Plaza a large group of Pitt students and G20 protesters gathered to protest the violent tactics of the law enforcement officials. Hundreds of officers descended onto Pitt's campus, arresting everyone who remained within the vicinity. Countless individuals were arrested merely for standing on their campus, curiously observing the ongoing mele.

Police used tear gas, dogs, a sonic gun, and full riot gear. I myself had an automatic shotgun pointed at my chest and felt as though I was running for my life. I have never been so scared in my own country. We were meant for more than this.

And on the same page:

No permit was obtained for the grassroots protests of the G20 in Pittsburgh. You have to ask your government permission to protest it. This is what Democracy looks like?


Libertarians would point out that the same Bill of Rights is supposed to be issue-neutral in terms of the rights of Americans to protest peacefully, or even openly carry firearms.

Libertarians would point out that this is not the sign of a healthy democracy:

And, finally, Libertarians would point out that we're pretty much the only ones--as a group--willing to stand up for the rights of conservatives protesting the public option in health insurance or anarchists protesting capitalism and bank bail-outs, even when those protests push the edges of what makes people comfortable.

PS: This is how much attention most of the MSM gave to the whole issue, captured in the single image of Michelle Obama and the rest of the G-20 leaders' wives showing off their fashion sense:

Friday, September 25, 2009

Soda tax debate reveals fundamental progressive assertions about your lack of individual rights and the "responsiblities" of the State

I thought it would be at least amusing to use the Delawareliberal comments as sub-headings regarding each category of what is wrong with the proposed tax on sodas and juice drinks. But there are so many different little strands of each comment that it would be impossible to pull them all out. So, instead, I'm going to let you read them in more or less the order they appeared, and note the assumptions.

pandora: I’m perfectly okay with taxing sodas and juice drinks. Mainly because they’re total crap, and one of the main reasons our country’s children are overweight. They are also dirt cheap.

Assumptions here: (1) Because "I" am perfectly okay with a new tax it should be imposed on everybody; (2) it is the government's responsibility to keep children from being obese; (3) the cheapness of the product to be taxed justifies charging people more for it.

John Manifold: Soda fattens your kids [and you and your husband], shortens their lives, costs more than water [and tastes worse]. Soda is a luxury item that is bad for you. It’s a liquid cigarette....

BTW, don’t you love how insecure males toss the term “nanny state” at random? They did it for seat belts, indoor cigs, warning labels, occupational safety, too.

Assumptions here: (1) luxury items are universally acceptable to tax; (2) I get to define what is a luxury item (used to be yachts; now it is $1.35 two-liter soda bottles; (3) anybody who thinks differently than me is insecure...

Unstable Isotope: Most people don’t have a problem with sin taxes. I find Republican rhetoric on obesity & health very strange. They complain about paying for health care for people’s “choices” but are against doing anything to influence people’s choices for the better. I guess they want to go with their tactic of shaming.... I’m OK with taxing – I like libraries, roads, public parks, police departments, fire departments…

Assumptions here: (1) consuming a potentially fattening product constitutes a sin and therefore should be taxable: (2) the word influence has now become a synonym for taxation; (3) government is the appropriate decider of what is better or worse for all individuals and should use the coercive power of taxation to enforce its standards on personal choices

Scott P.: I have no problem with taxing, either, if it raises money for useful ends in a fair manner. Even better if it encourages good, healthy behavior and helps to lower other related costs. The only relevant question here is whether a soda tax will actually accomplish this....

The talk is about placing a small tax, not outlawing them.... You can still drink all you want. And the point is not so much about stopping you from doing something that’s bad for you. The point is about believing that society has a responsibility to try to prevent people from doing things that are bad for others. The downside to excess sugar consumption is not that you get fat — I don’t give a damn how fat and disgusting you get. The downside is that being obese makes you much more likely to develop major (read: expensive) health issues that I and everyone else will have to pay for.

Assumptions here: (1) a small tax should not be a source for argument; (2) government (which is a synonym for society here) is supposed to stop people from doing anything that might be bad for others, no matter how indirect that connection might be; (3) regressive taxes that target poor people [who buy a disproportionate amount of soda] are fair; (4) government should be responsible for paying for the health care of people who make poor lifestyle choices

cassandra: We’re currently subsidizing this behavior now. We control sugar prices and we subsidize corn which is used to make high fructose corn syrup. I see that as government encouraging the wrong behavior. Consumers aren’t stupid – they definitely know they get more bang for their bucks with high calorie food, and fruits and vegetables are more expensive. Plus, we add lots of fats and things to make junk taste good – the food industry is way out in front in the science.

Remember though, I think humans are short term thinkers rather than long term thinkers. It’s not that people don’t recognize that junk food makes them fat, it’s just that they have to make decisions in the now and junk food is cheaper. If we want to encourage people to eat more healthy we need a way to make healthy eating more cost effective and not so much like swimming upstream....

Soda and juice drinks are luxury items — you don’t pay taxes on what you don’t consume in this case, so what you pay for is still under your control.

But cigarettes are luxury items too — and the lesson from taxing them is one of diminishing returns. As cigs got more expensive, people started quitting meaning that tax revenues started not meeting expectations. I don’t think it will be the end of the world to tax sugared sodas and juice drinks, but counting on these taxes as a persistent source of revenue to pay for health care seems short-sighted.

Assumptions here: (1) encourage is a new synonym for taxation; (2) all luxury items [and the government will define what is a luxury] are fair game to tax; (3) it is clearly OK to tax in order to coerce people into changing behaviors rather than to raise revenue

a. price: I dont mind these types of taxes, and long as there is a plan for the revenues. I, for example, with my just scrappin’ by lifestyle wouldn’t mind a 2 dollar a gallon gas tax… $2 extra per gallon whatever the regular price is, as long as all that money went to developing alternative energy sources. First of all, it would raise a ton of money because people need gas, but it would cause the market to demand private companies also use their 11 billion quarterly profits to fix the oil dependency.

By taxing things like sodas, and sugary juices we have the opportunity to use that money to…. help pay for health care maybe? People who buy soda all the time will be buying into to their long term diabeties treatment.

There is nothing wrong with a vice tax. We are allowed to do things that are bad for us.. sugar, smoking, alcohol… if in Vegas.. other things etc. But, if they are going to negatively effect our health, and that will later have to be paid for, why not start building that coffer now?

Assumptions here: (1) Any tax I personally favor is good for the country as long as the money is used for causes I support; (2) the government has the direct ability to make the market perform specific actions through taxation; (3) we do not have a right to our "vices," they are only allowed to us by a benevolent government; (4) but government should tax us to protect us from the negative consequences of our own actions

Thus the three most prevalent liberal/progressive assumptions about the soda tax and the State in general:

1. The government has the responsibility to save us from ourselves, down to the choices we make in the foods and beverages we purchase to put on our tables, either because (a) we are too stupid to choose for ourselves, or (b) any action we ever take might conceivably indirectly raise a cost to somebody else years from now, which effectively justifies anything the government ever chooses to do.

2. Words can be redefined to suit today's political needs. I'm talking basic nouns and verbs here. Taxes are encouragement or influence; there is no coercion involved because you can just decide to give up whatever we are trying to tax. Anything the State does not approve of, in terms of personal conduct, is either a sin, a vice, or a luxury, none of which we have any rights to partake in; instead, we are conditionally allowed under State supervision.

3. Regressive taxes are fair as long as we are proposing them for causes that we declare to be socially acceptable.

Ironically, there is only conflicting rather than conclusive evidence that such a tax would even work to reduce consumption, a sophisticated examination of the market suggests that it would adapt and work around such a tax, and even the Center for Science in the Public Interest admits that the primary result of such a tax would be raising revenue rather than significantly curbing consumption.

There is, of course, the larger issue here that our friends who advocate an increasingly intrusive State never want to talk about straight up: Where is the line that they will not cross? At what point, for those individuals, should the power of the State be reined in by the rights of the individual?

You won't get a straight answer to that question ... ever.

Because just as badly as the religious right wants to police my bedroom and my libraries in the name of saving my soul, the progressive left wants to restrict my food choices and my recreational activities in the name of saving from myself.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Throw us a bone--or just thirty pieces of silver will do

From Jumping in Pools:

Eric Dondero, is the founder & editor of the "Libertarian Republican", a blog which features a Libertarian view, but is strong on national defense and on other issues which Conservatives can agree on, Mr.Dondero had the time to answer some questions for the twentieth interview in the Jumping in Pools series.

Tim K - Mr.Dondero, you are a self proclaimed Libertarian Republican, while I am a self avowed Conservative Republican, how can we work together to build a stronger Republican party?

Eric Dondero - We need to start by recognizing that we are ideological cousins and have far more in common than we have that separates us.

That said, Conservatives have to give a little. We we Libertarians mostly ask, is throw us some bones on some civil liberties issues. And no, I'm not talking tough issues like Abortion or Gay Marriage (actually we Libertarians ourselves are divided on these two issues.) I'm talking easy civil liberties issues that Conservatives can support like: Repeal of Seat Belt Laws!, Stopping Smoking Bans, Lowering the Drinking Age to 18, Gambling, Medical Marijuana and maybe even limited Decriminalization of Prostitution.

If Conservatives recognize that these issues are fundamentally important to us Libertarians, and stop pooh-poohing them as "extreme" or "out of the mainstream," than maybe we Libertarians will be much more motivated to assist Conservatives with their efforts.

Glad to know that you have defined the issues that are fundamentally important to Libertarians while you are there on your knees, Eric.

Corporations and the Constitution: A rare disagreement with Coyote

Coyote Blog is one of my favorites: driven by critical thinking and hard data.

Nonetheless, I disagree with the Coyote on this one:

Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech. Doesn’t say by whom or for what. There are no modifiers. Doesn’t say “except when individuals organize themselves into a corporation.”

My disagreement comes from the fact that free of speech does not mean freedom from consequences for speech. Freedom of speech, as it was intended by the Framers, meant freedom from prior restraint. I cannot be stopped from speaking about you, but if I threaten you, libel you, slander you, or engage in fighting words, then you have recourse against me.

If a normal business partnership does that, I have recourse against the business and the individuals who organized that speech.

But the individuals who have organized themselves into a corporation have done so, at least in part, for the purpose of avoiding personal liability for their actions. That means that a specific individual with power within a corporation may, if acting in his/her official capacity, threaten me, libel me, slander me, and even issue fighting words, and I have no recourse against that individual, but only the assets of the corporation.

I have a distinct problem with people using a state-supported business structure to avoid the consequences of their individual actions.

Corporations are as much if not more creatures of the state than creatures of market forces. You cannot have a limited liabiity business model without the power of the State to enforce those limitations.

Moreover, corporations in practice serve as tax farmers for the State.

Sorry: I don't buy State-award artificial personhood, and I do not buy corporations rather than individuals being protected by the Bill of Rights.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Teacher! Frank Rich stole my answer...

... and didn't you hate that?

I've been trying (in my usual long-winded way) from time to time to explain why GOP bashing is not quite the Democratic answer to tea-baggers and other protesters out there these days.

Frank Rich gets it in one sentence [although I had to suffer through an article about Glenn Beck to find it]:

Many of those Americans may hate Obama, but they don’t love the Republican establishment either.

As a political observer [and not as a shill for libertarianism] I think the mood of the public is increasingly populist, while the leadership of Democrats is increasingly progressive, and what's left of the leadership of the GOP is increasingly reactionary.

Despite the fact that populists and progressives both generally share a sense of the necessity for government activism, very little else actually unites them in terms of policy prescriptions, and some of the antipathy toward Barack Obama is as much anti-intellectual as it is racist.

Steve's five rules for successful negotiations

Some readers know that I am also a union president. Right now I am involved in contract negotiations, which is stressful at the best of times. Even though I am president, I am not chief negotiator, because I have an officer who is better at that, with loads more experience. I generally sit in the second chair, and it is often my role to be "bad cop."

Nonetheless, in participating in these kinds of negotiations now for the better part of a decade, I have learned some rules of thumg that serve me well, particularly when you know that you have to work with the people on the other side of the table before, during, and after the negotiations process.

Rule One: Know what you need, what you want, and what you'd just like to have--and understand that it will often be necessary to give away things you like or want to get what you need. Novice negotiators decide on their priorities during negotiations; experienced and successful pros sit down with their teams and rank order the importance of each item at issue. Although your priorities may change during negotiations, it is a guaranteed sure loser to wait until you're actually sitting there to decide which of your proposals is worth drawing a line in the sand and which is not.

Rule Two: Be civil, even collegial. Taking time for the opening/closing pleasantries, being a generous host when the talks take place in your venue, not jerking the other team around over meeting times or even over legitimate mistakes is not merely pro forma, it is crtical to successful negotiations--no matter how big an asshole you think the person across the table is in real life. This may seem awfully simplistic, but you would be amazed how many people cannot or do not do it. An example: two years ago I was scheduled to represent a grievant at a hearing in front of a vice-president. We have ten days to hear these issues, or it is supposed to default to the next level; on this particular occasion the VP and I could not schedule the hearing until the tenth day at 2pm. That morning at 11am he called me up and told me his son had been in an accident at school and he needed to go to the ER. I waived the timing immediately. The next day when I brought my unit member into his office for the hearing, I started by asking how his son was, and wishing him well. My unit member later went off on me both for the schedule change and for "sucking up" by asking about the boy's broken leg. My unit member, ironically, had gotten everything he asked for in his grievance, in part because I had taken the time to develop a cordial working relationship with the VP. Yes, sometimes we had an adversarial relationship, but we never had a rude relationship. There is a critical difference.

Rule Three: Listen to what the people on the other side of the table are saying--and are not saying. Sometimes, if you actually listen to those folks, you will find out that there are compromises to be made that they could agree to, but cannot propose. That's because the negotiators on both sides of the table are rarely the final authority. In my case we have to sell our end product to an Executive Committee and then to a full vote of our membership. The university team has to get the approval of both the President and Board of Trustees. There are some issues that a university negotiator might be able to concede, if we brought them up, but he could not go back to his Board and tell them he offered. Good negotiators learn to communicate with each other by being very precise in their language. If Proposal One has three parts (A, B, and C), and the other side tells you, "We can't accept Proposal One; "A" as it is written is out of the question," he is telling you that B and C will probably fly, but that you need to offer him alternative language on "A". It's that "as written" which then becomes the key. Too many negotiators with whom I work (on both sides) do not really listen to what is being said.

Rule Four: Respect the confidentiality of negotiations. What should matter to your team and your side is the ultimate product you can deliver, not the details of the haggling and horse-trading that got you there. Sometimes the other side--if they trust that you will keep information confidential--will confide the real reasons why they cannot do X or Y, and those reasons will make sense to you. At other times, the final deals are literally made, not for reasons of policy, but to get the overall deal done. If both sides have correctly prioritized their issues, and you are coming to the end of negotiations, you can often outright swap items. Say there are four items left: two of yours and two of theirs. Somebody eventually says, "OK, we're not going to take your issue A and you're not going to take our issue B, so we'll agree to both withdraw them. Then we will hold our nose and give you issue C in exchange for you looking the other way and giving us issue D. Deal?" This is the way that successful agreements get concluded; but nobody outside the room should actually be privy to nitty gritty details of the negotiation, or you will make it impossible to ever deal with these people again. I repeat: your ratifying body has the right to know the final outcome upon which they will vote, but they selected you to go into the room, and the details of the conversation need to stay there.

Rule Five: Be prepared to accept "Yes" for an answer. NEVER put anything into your proposal that you don't really want them to accept. And recognize that when you put something in, and they agree to it, you've exhausted your options on that issue. Possibly you could have asked for more, and that knowledge will guide your proposal next time. But if you say, "This is what we want," and they say, "That's fine with us," then the ONLY response is, "Thanks." Example: If you want a travel stipend increased from $1,000 to $1,500, it is OK to ask for $2,000 and allow yourself to be bargained down. But if you ask for $1,500, and they give it to you, you don't get to say, "Wait a minute, since you're willing to give me $1,500, I want $1,800." You can say it, I guess, but if you do you will find that future negotiations get tougher and tougher for no apparent reason. Take what you wanted originally and don't get greedy.

No: I didn't write a book and I didn't get a shot on The Apprentice. But these five rules have served me, and those to whom I am responsible, well over the past several years.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Short Ron Paul Interview With Newsweek

How appropriate it was on Constitution Day.

Notably, this Friday 9/25/2009 @ 9 AM the House Financial Services Committee is scheduled to hold a full committee hearing on Ron Paul’s HR 1207 to audit the Federal Reserve.

The proposal now has 291 House co-sponsors.

Debunking the Cash 4 Clunkers success myth

From AOL Auto, a thorough debunking of the myth of Cash for Clunkers (C4C) success finally begins to hit selected parts of the MSM:

Myth One: C4C was environmentally friendly

Quicker than you can say, “Holy statistics, Mr. Wizard,” the numbers nerds ascertained that the new vehicles sold under C4C will use more—not less—fuel than the beaters that were turned in and destroyed.

How can that be? Think of it on a personal level. Suppose you had a 10-year-old particulate belcher that, as the euphemism goes, needed work. Even if you lived in an Orlando suburb, you’d still be less than excited at the idea of piling the kids into it and lighting out for Disney World. But that new Malibu that gets a hell of a lot better mileage is a different kettle of green. You trust it; it’s economical; you drive it more. A lot more, according to another piece of research.

CNW surveyed drivers involved in the purchase of the first 239,000 C4C vehicles. The average intended annual mileage was 10,894, up from the actual clunker mileage of 6,162. For those of you without a calculator falling readily to hand, that’s nearly double.

But what about that miles-per-gallon improvement we were promised? Well, we got it. The average fuel economy reported by C4C buyers rose from 16.3 mpg for Old Dobbin to 24.8 for the new carriage. A monster step in the right direction. Add to that the over-90-percent reduction in tailpipe excretions and we’re still looking good, right?

Not as good as we might. The new car, because it’s new and fun and green and clean and smells good, will be given some 61 additional gallons each year by its grateful owner. For those first 239,000 C4C vehicles, that’s 14.6 million gallons that the clunkers wouldn’t have gobbled up. The approximately 700,000 total vehicles moved under the program will therefore use an additional 42 million gallons of fuel annually during the first years of ownership.

OK, but what about Myth Two--the effective stimulation of the economy? Turns out that a lot of those enthusiastic buyers are now beginning to realize they've been had:

Twice as many C4C participants as normal buyers are worried about the negative impact a brand spanking new payment book with $275 printed on each of its 72 pages might have on rent and Hamburger Helper expenditures. (The actual C4C numbers were an average loan length of 49 months and an average payment of $317.) No wonder. I’m surprised that the survey didn’t find half of the C4C spenders sitting up nights watching Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey re-runs.

If you are someone other than the owner of a Treasury Department printing press, you might be allowed a mild case of regret over adding $20,000 or $30,000 to your household debt during what can be called a time of economic uncertainty.

Three revealing line items in a separate CNW survey noted that the drain on the family coffers would be offset by reducing the pay-down of credit card debt, deferring home improvement and removing money from non-targeted savings. About one-fifth of buyers surveyed cited each of these categories as the number one source of their car payment bucks.

Leaving aside the prospects of leaking roofs or empty savings accounts, just consider the act of slowing up on reducing those credit card balances on which you are paying 19 percent interest or worse. Thinking about that in the cold light of early dawn could do more than induce buyer’s remorse; in a clear-thinking head of household able to do basic arithmetic, it could result in thoughts of panic.

Myth Number Three--that this was a good use of Federal tax dollars, is now finally being exploded in parts of the MSM as it has been by Libertarians since day one:

Cars for Clunkers took $2.8 billion from the general roster of 300 million citizens and handed it tax-free to a small group of 700,000 citizens.

Not quite right there: a lot of those folks with $20-30,000 of new car debt are now discovering the dirty little secret that their rebates are taxable, but the point remains:

Cash for Clunkers--without either making a significant environmental impact--managed to achieve the following

1) Transfer $2.8 billion of taxpayer money into the hands of 700,000 Americans for a consumer spending binge that many of them couldn't actually afford

2) Created hundreds of billions of dollars in new consumer debt in the middle of a deep recession; and

3) Failed to succor the automobile industry for even ten minutes longer than the massive cash giveaway lasted.

Change we can go to the poorhouse with.

With Bubba, nothing is ever simple, so you always have to ask...

... is this what he really thinks, or is this the first step in either setting up Hillary for a primary challenge in 2010 or insulating himself from the new interview tapes?

Whichever it happens to be, former President Bill Clinton draws a distinctive line between himself and Jimmy Carter on CNN:

(CNN) – Former President Bill Clinton told CNN Monday that he thinks some of the criticism directed at President Obama is racially motivated, but added that not all of Obama’s detractors are racist and urged his fellow Democrats to remain focused on trying to enact health care reform.

“I believe that some of the right-wing extremists which oppose President Obama are also racially prejudiced and would prefer not to have an African-American president,” Clinton told CNN’s Larry King in an interview to air Monday evening. “But I don’t believe that all the people who oppose him on health care – and all the conservatives – are racists. And I believe if he were white, every single person who opposes him now, would be opposing him then. Therefore, while I have devoted my life to getting rid of racism, I think this is a fight that my president and our party – this is one we need to win on the merits.”

Clinton later added, “I really think that we should disaggregate lingering problems of discrimination from the attacks to which the president is subject.”

Monday, September 21, 2009

Truth in advertising: not everybody who tried to sting ACORN ended up with what they thought....

... and this story is actually about ACORN Delaware.

Nancy Armstrong is a disabled USN vet and a blogger out of Wichita KS, who is interested in investigating ACORN's funding sources. She is far less sensational than most, and--a pleasant rarity in the world today--actually reports factual information that would run counter to her original thesis.

Armstrong recently published an investigative post about where ACORN is finding the money to do foreclosure counseling, and she lays out the organization's profit or potential profit from a number of lawsuits, including actions acainst HSBC and Sherwin Williams. That's interesting, but not germane to my point today.

Armstrong apparentely attempted her own sting operation in June 2009 to discover what kind of response people who turn to ACORN for mortgage foreclosure help get.

What drew me to this post is that her target was ACORN Delaware. [Who knows why a woman in Kansas calls ACORN Delaware?]

Here's what she writes:

ACORN has become directly involved in stopping foreclosures by doing foreclosure counseling with “housing experts.” Recently I spoke with the ACORN Delaware office purposely representing myself as a person who is in foreclosure in the State of Delaware to elicit details of the counseling. The polite and knowledgeable representative in the ACORN Delaware office answered my questions in full.

I told her that I needed to forestall a foreclosure. She informed me there were documents that I need to provide to the ACORN office to go “through the foreclosure counseling process.”

Here is a list of those items I needed to provide at “my appointment”:

1. Current mortgage statement
2. 2008 Federal Tax Return
3. Sheriff’s Sale Date
4. Current W-2
5. If you are disabled they require the follwing documents:
a. Current VA Award Letter
b. Current SSI award Statement

Uh, gee--the polite and knowledgeable representative in the ACORN Delaware office?

And for an intake interview, look at the documents required. Precisely what you would expect for somebody to make an initial determination of whether they could help you.

But, strangely enough, no major blogs or outlets for the MSM have ever picked up Ms. Armstrong's post.

Sometimes that can be written off to the fact that there is no news when things go the way they are supposed to go, but in this case it is also possible that ACORN has simply become to radioactive for the MSM to handle in any objective fashion. It's not middle class. It's pretty radical in its approach to a lot of issues. It has ugly corners while it is arguably doing some good work.

Easier to go with the pimp and the prostitute who were no more real than Ms. Armstrong's fictive Delaware citizen in foreclosure.

Here's my challenge for the members of our local blogosphere: if you are going to write about ACORN, write [as pretty much only Nancy Willing has heretofore done] about what's going on at ACORN Delaware. What are they doing and how well are they doing it?

What's fascinating is that the entire WNJ piece on the ACORN imbroglio last week only really covered comments positive [John Kowalko] or negative [Wayne Smith] on ACORN, without actually providing any independently garnered information on what ACORN Delaware does.

[If, like me, you can't read a quote in which Wayne Smith accuses someone else of having politicized issues without smiling, you may not have noticed the WNJ oversight in this regard.]

We have already failed in Afghanistan....

... which is something we need to admit before too many more young Americans, Brits, Canadians, Germans, and Italians die to prove it to our military and political leadership.

Yes, with the 40-45,000 additional troops that General McChrystal wants, we could win a short-term victory against the Taliban, at the cost of several thousand casualties over the next three years. But what then? Exactly how long is the United States willing to leave a garrison force of 50-100,000 in Afghanistan to enforce the so-called peace? Five years? Twenty?

Nor can we depend on the Afghan security forces, whose budget will be nearly four times the GDP of the entire country.

The Canadians, it seems, are being much more honest about this than the Americans, as The Independent reports:

It is instructive to turn at this moment to the Canadian army, which has in Afghanistan fewer troops than the Brits but who have suffered just as ferociously; their 130th soldier was killed near Kandahar this week. Every three months, the Canadian authorities publish a scorecard on their military "progress" in Afghanistan – a document that is infinitely more honest and detailed than anything put out by the Pentagon or the Ministry of Defence – which proves beyond peradventure (as Enoch Powell would have said) that this is Mission Impossible or, as Toronto's National Post put it in an admirable headline three days' ago, "Operation Sleepwalk". The latest report, revealed this week, proves that Kandahar province is becoming more violent, less stable and less secure – and attacks across the country more frequent – than at any time since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. There was an "exceptionally high" frequency of attacks this spring compared with 2008.

There was a 108 per cent increase in roadside bombs. Afghans are reporting that they are less satisfied with education and employment levels, primarily because of poor or non-existent security. Canada is now concentrating only on the security of Kandahar city, abandoning any real attempt to control the province.

Canada's army will be leaving Afghanistan in 2011, but so far only five of the 50 schools in its school-building project have been completed. Just 28 more are "under construction". But of Kandahar province's existing 364 schools, 180 have been forced to close. Of progress in "democratic governance" in Kandahar, the Canadian report states that the capacity of the Afghan government is "chronically weak and undermined by widespread corruption". Of "reconciliation" – whatever that means these days – "the onset of the summer fighting season and the concentration of politicians and activists for the August elections discouraged expectations of noteworthy initiatives...".

Even the primary aim of polio eradication – Ottawa's most favoured civilian project in Afghanistan – has defeated the Canadian International Development Agency, although this admission is cloaked in truly Blair-like (or Brown-like) mendacity. As the Toronto Star revealed in a serious bit of investigative journalism this week, the aim to "eradicate" polio with the help of UN and World Health Organisation money has been quietly changed to the "prevention of transmission" of polio. Instead of measuring the number of children "immunised" against polio, the target was altered to refer only to the number of children "vaccinated". But of course, children have to be vaccinated several times before they are actually immune.

The Independent also captures the change in NATO [which means "America"] policy in Afghanistan, which has gone from the traditional mission creep toward downright mission vacillation or even mission du jeur:

Colin Kenny, chair of Canada's senate committee on national security and defence, said this week that "what we hoped to accomplish in Afghanistan has proved to be impossible. We are hurtling towards a Vietnam ending"....

Only Obama, it seems, fails to get the message. Afghanistan remains for him the "war of necessity". Send yet more troops, his generals plead. And we are supposed to follow the logic of this nonsense. The Taliban lost in 2001. Then they started winning again. Then we had to preserve Afghan democracy. Then our soldiers had to protect – and die – for a second round of democratic elections. Then they protected – and died – for fraudulent elections. Afghanistan is not Vietnam, Obama assures us. And then the good old German army calls up an air strike – and zaps yet more Afghan civilians.

But perhaps President Obama is beginning to realize the depth of the hole he has dug for himself.

He is now vacillating on the commitment of additional troops for Afghanistan, with the White House refusing to say when he will make a final decision, while at the same time our Bush-era military leaders [SecDef Gates, Admiral Mullen, Generals Petraeus and McChrystal] are growing increasingly impatient.

Meanwhile, NATO troops [most of whom are Americans] and Afghan civilians continue to die.

I understand the calls that will come from my friends on the right, not to abandon our troops, not to make vain the sacrifices already made, not to cut and run.

But here's the unpalatable truth: even if we give McChrystal 45,000 more American troops, and he executes his plan to perfection, thousands more Americans will be killed or wounded over the next three years, and within a decade the situation in Afghanistan will be back to where it was before 2001. Afghanistan is not a failed state, it is a non-state. Since World War Two we have operated under the delusion that the only possible social organization in the modern world is the nation-state with a strong central government. It's not, and in many cultures it is not even the preference of the people.

Outsiders since Alexander the Great have been trying to change that reality in Afghanistan for over 2,000 years, with a uniform lack of success.

It is not worth another American of Afghan life to discover we are not exempt from the major rules and forces of history.

It is not morally acceptable to remain quiet while President Obama vacillates and more Americans die in a war where even winning will not mean winning.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Why some days I really hate the internet

This excerpt from Max Blumenthal's new book Republican Gomorrah has gone damn-near viral on the web:

At the Charter School for Excellence, a school in South Florida inspired by Gothard's draconian principles that receives $800,000 in state funds each year, children are indoctrinated into a culture of absolute submission to authority almost as soon as they learn to speak. A song that the school's first-graders are required to recite goes as follows:

Obedience is listening attentively,
Obedience will take instructions joyfully,
Obedience heeds wishes of authorities,
Obedience will follow orders instantly.
For when I am busy at my work or play,
And someone calls my name, I'll answer right away!
I'll be ready with a smile to go the extra mile
As soon as I can say "Yes, sir!" "Yes ma am!"
Hup, two, three!

The larger excerpt is actually about the impact of Christian right self-help guru Bill Gothard, and don't get me wrong, Gothard and his devotees [who apparently include Mike Huckabee] are dangerous loons.

So much so that I wanted to find out more about this whack-a-doodle Charter School for Excellence in Florida.

There may be a footnote in Blumenthal's book, but there is not a note or a link in any of the excerpts I could find. So I went searching. Doing "Charter School for Excellence" Florida Gothard will only bring up multiple copies of the same excerpt at leftist blogs around the net. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them.

So I decided to leave Gothard's name out of it, figuring that the school might not reference him on its website. For "Charter School for Excellence" Florida you end up with The Charter Schools OF [not "for"] Excellence in Ft. Lauderdale FL. This is definitely NOT a Christian front school, as anybody with educational experience can tell. They use the Core Knowledge approach pioneered by E D Hirsch of Cultural Literacy fame, including the same literature series currently in use in Red Clay, as well as Saxon Math.

Could it possibly be the same school Blumenthal mentions?

Careful searching led me back to this May 1999 entry at AANews [an atheist watch organization]:

In our AANEWS for April 28, 1999 we profiled a "character education" program in Florida head by an evangelical extremist. Children at the Charter School of Excellence were being trained in this program, which included the mindless and repetitive recitation of the following frightening ditty...

"Obedience is listening attentively,
Obedience will take instructions joyfully,
Obedience heeds wishes of authorities,
Obedience will follow orders instantly,
For when I am busy at work or play,
And somebody calls my name, I'll answer right away!
I'll be ready with a smile to go the extra mile
As soon as I can say 'Yes, Sir!' 'Yes ma'am!'
Hup, two, three!"

I have been diligently trying to track down the original April 28, 1999 post, but it does not appear to exist on the net [although it may still be lurking in some archive accessible in search terms I have not discovered yet].

I have, however, found this February 1999 article with all the same information in the Broward/Palm Beach Herald.

From that story I found another potential link between the current Charter School OF Excellence and the 1999 Charter School FOR Excellence: the current school, which was founded in 1997, utilizes as one part of its curriculum the Character First! program, which was, if you look really really far down the page, at least partly inspired by Bill Gothard. However, and it is a pretty big however, lots of public school districts and schools across the nation use Character First!, without knowing [I suspect] that this program has any connection to a Christian self-help huckster.

But that 1997 date was troubling: could the two schools be the same? Turns out they are, or maybe they once were. You decide.

On the list of the Board of Directors is one "Hamilton C. Forman, Secretary."

This is what the Broward/Palm Beach Herald reveals in its 1999 story: Forman is a liberal Democrat with deep pockets for political donations who was in fact on the board of the school that Blumenthal described, and even at one point tried to push the adoption of Character First! statewide. Then he fould out where it came from and what was in it--to include the songs being sung. This was his reaction:

Howard Forman now says he doesn't believe Character First! should be put in Florida's public schools. "I never heard of Gothard, and I think his ideas sound kind of screwy," Forman says. "I don't support the kind of character training where people sing songs about discipline. I don't support religious extremists of any kind."

Character First! is still around, and if you look at the Character Qualities and Leadership Perspectives documents you may agree that while they seem to harbor many pieces of modern education-speak they can also be a little creepy, and definitely more than a bit authoritarian.

On the other hand, The Charter School of Excellence is both a US DOE Blue Ribbon school and an Excellence Award Winner from EPIC, both of which are highly prized by virtually every school in the nation and usually considered to indicate extremely high standards.

And Character First! is carried among the approved links of the Character Education Project, whose national boards of directors and advisors read like a Who's Who in American Education. Junior Achievement of Delaware aligned with the program in 2005-2006.

The true story, I believe, is that this particular Charter School in Broward/Fort Lauderdale FL probably was engaging in these pretty extreme practices ... before 1999. But it has obviously been cleaned up and is nationally recognized as a mainstream leader in charter school education. The bona fides of Character First! probably need some serious examination, given the wide and uncritical use of the program around the country.

But Blumenthal discusses none of this in his side-swipe which makes it appear as if little kids are still singing the Obedience Song in today's Charter School of Excellence.

If I'm right [and I have laid out all the evidence for you to make your own judgment], this means that Blumenthal is at best guilty of shoddy journalism/research, and--at worst--is fully aware that the practice he cites no longer exists, was denounced by the supporters who originally bought into it, and that his paragraph does a severe injustice to what appears today to be an outstanding school.

Yet how long will it be before the uncritical begin citing this anecdote as evidence in public policy debates?

It's already running at The Nation, and given Blumenthal's close association with HuffPo I will not be surprised to see it there.

Why this is so dangerous is illustrated by the flap that President Obama got himself into on September 9, when he cited what turned out to be a BS story about a man who died after being dropped from his health insurance during chemotherapy.

Note what the White House said about the story:

I raised questions about the Obama claim with the White House on Sept 10. The White House told me that Obama's speechwriters picked up the story from Slate and never vetted the facts independently. If they had, they would have realized that the Slate report was erroneous.

And it is damn difficult, in many cases, to vet such facts independently [although I would think the White House should be able to do so if anyone could], so what are we left with?

Repeat anything enough on the net and people who are prepared to believe it will believe it without really questioning.

Which raises the interesting question: How much of the rest of Mr. Blumenthal's work on this occasion is equally questionable?

This post is not intended as a shot at liberals, just because the source and content it attempts to debunk was a liberal author and a liberal talking point in the making.

It is, however, intended pretty much as a warning for anybody who actually cares about the truth not to take things at face value just because they seem to align with what you already believe. God [or the Flying Spaghetti Monster] knows that I have been taken in on numerous occasions, despite my best efforts.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

OK, this headline is just too good to pass up

Via Alphecca from other places:

Insane killer escapes on field trip to county fair

A criminally insane killer from eastern Washington is on the run after escaping during a field trip to the county fair that his mental hospital organized.

Pretty much leaves no room for additional comment, does it?

And by the way, Hube, I think you're right

Solitary blogging leaves one vulnerable to lapses in inspiration, getting caught in ruts, and unconsciously bringing here the frame of mind you get into when things aren't going all that well in the rest of your life.

I've taken a look back over the past few weeks and you've got a point.

Working on it.

[This will only make sense to anybody else if you are a truly devoted follower and read every single comment.]

The new talking point: you're a hypocrite if you use the services your taxes paid for

Some of my (Delaware)Liberal friends think that the Kos-generated Teabagger Pledge is sort of the ultimate Gotcha for those who fervently believe in limited government. I'm not a Teabagger, but Libertarians are often attacked with the smug If you don't believe in government services, don't use them (asshole) [implied--unless donviti wrote it, in which case he is man enough to say what he's really thinking]. So cassandra, for example, appears to believe the following list is something like the final word [I have cut in my comments in bold:

I pledge to eliminate all government intervention in my life. I will abstain from the use of and participation in any socialist goods and services including but not limited to the following:

Note that this pledge says nothing of being able to avoid paying the taxes for those services I pledge not to use. So cassandra now wants to take my money AND argue that because I disagree with my money being taken I should deny myself access to these services.

Social Security

I'd love to sign this pledge, and I will on the first day the US government offers the option to stop having money withheld from my paycheck, and gives me back what I have already donated. As far as I am concerned, I will sign the "living will" right now that says the government can let me starve. Until that day, however, participating in the program is the only way to get back any of the money they took from me.

State Children’s Health Insurance Programs (SCHIP)

Tough ones for me, as I have never argued against various forms of medical assistance, only disagreed with the forms we have. To date, however, I can say I have never used either of these services, and if the present government plans go through, with the burgeoning deficit, it may become a moot point by the time I would qualify for Medicare, anyway.

Police, Fire, and Emergency Services

I pay for those services, cassandra. I also generously support volunteer fire and emergency medical services.

US Postal Service

Mandated in the US Constitution, you know. And I don't use it to send packages or any form of paperwork that I can email; I use private services instead. Unfortunately, I don't have the ability to impose such usage on my creditors, so I have to be able to get those of my bills they will not send me electronically. I'd love to be able to send first-class letters through a private contractor via my mailbox, but the government made that illegal.

Roads and Highways

Again, I pay for those services, cassandra, every time I pay for a gallon of gas, just like you. The fact that the government decided to subsidize the automobile industry by building major trunk-line highways and forcing private railroads out of the passenger hauling business is not something I have the ability to affect.

Air Travel (regulated by the socialist FAA)

Don't forget the TSA Gestapo here. Ah, here we again have the conundrum: the government has made it illegal for me to fly any other way. As a matter of fact, think about it: the government has made it illegal to travel long distances via ANY mechanical means of conveyance without using tax-subsidized transit. There is no free market remaining in passenger travel because the government ate it.

The US Railway System

Don't use it as a passenger--ever. But I pay for it every time somebody else does. As far as rail freight, I don't have any control over how the businesses I patronize move their products, and I don't ask.

Public Subways and Metro Systems
Public Bus and Lightrail Systems

Last I checked, I have to pay for my ticket every time I ride, and I have to pay taxes to support these institutions even if I don't. So the first part is voluntary, but I pay my own way. On the second part I have no choice.

Rest Areas on Highways

I'd love to frequent privately owned rest areas, but the government has made them illegal.


The sidewalks in my development were paid for by the people who live here; many sidewalks around shopping centers and the like are often paid for by the developers or the merchant tenants. Again, within cities, they are paid for by the businesses and the users, through involuntary taxation. So I will decide to get off the sidewalks when you figure out a way I can quit paying for them without going to jail.

All Government-Funded Local/State Projects (e.g., see Iowa 2009 federal senate appropriations)

The trick here is for you to imply that these projects fall at my feet like Manna from Heaven, free money and new runways or new beach sand that is delivered to me gratis. Not quite, cassandra. These projects are completed--at least partly using my tax dollars--whether I like them or not. My only recourse is to vote against the people who voted for them. I do: on a regular basis.

Public Water and Sewer Services (goodbye socialist toilet, shower, dishwasher, kitchen sink, outdoor hose!)

Uh, my water company is a privately owned utility. They exist where the government has not made it illegal and imposed a State monopoly. Sewer services? In some places handled by private companies, in some places by the government. In neither place do I as the property owner generally get an option. There is no competition; the government has decided one way or another for me before I purchase the property.

Public and State Universities and Colleges
Public Primary and Secondary Schools

To use private schools K-12 now requires that an individual pay both for the cost of public school and then additionally for the privilege of not using it. As for higher-level education, the State has now made it virtually impossible to borrow the money necessary to attend a school without using the government as the lender or at least the broker for the money. Moreover, government subsidies and regulatory requirements have been the primary drivers that have insured that college costs have risen far faster than inflation over the past three decades.

Sesame Street

Sesame Street is actually self-funding. The millions that toys and other merchandising has brought in over the years have more than covered the cost of the program.

Publicly Funded Anti-Drug Use Education for Children

Most reputable studies have concluded that DARE programs don't work. That point aside, the government regularly uses them to provide outright propaganda [medical marijuana is bad and will lead to drug abuse] to the extent that I am just fine with being responsible for my children's drug-use or non-drug-use education, thanks.

Public Museums

Show me many significant public museums that are not massively [usually in the majority of their funding] by corporate and private donors and we'll talk.

Public Parks and Beaches
State and National Parks
Public Zoos

These all exist and I helped pay for them--voluntary or not--just as much as you did. I pay all user fees and often contribute to the organizations I frequent. I don't agree with many of the funding decisions, but I have been provided absolutely no ability to withhold my taxes from any of them.

Unemployment Insurance

I pay for this, just like everyone else who works, because my employer writes off mandatory taxes against my compensation package. I personally agree with the idea, but I'd like to see an individual be able to opt out of the benefit, keep his money, and agree that government owes me nothing if I lose my job.

Municipal Garbage and Recycling Services

My garbage hauler is private; he also subcontracts my recycling. I pay for both: fees for use and taxes. Sometimes I haul my garbage to a private dump and pay for that. I turn as much as possible into compost.

Treatment at Any Hospital or Clinic That Ever Received Funding From Local, State or Federal Government (pretty much all of them)

Ah, the formulation itself admits that the government has pretty much established a regulatory and funding monopoly. I would love to be able to see an RN or PA in a "Wal-Mart clinic" for minor ailments and pay cash. Generally the State won't let me. It's busy protecting me from myself.

Medical Services and Medications That Were Created or Derived From Any Government Grant or Research Funding (again, pretty much all of them)

Curious. If the government controls the creation or derivation of new drugs, then why do the private companies who create them get patents of exclusivity? Just because big corporations and the State are in bed together does not make me a hypocrite for taking modern anti-depressents or beta-blockers. Nor have those government grants or research funding programs exactly reduced my costs, have they?

Socialist Byproducts of Government Investment Such as Duct Tape and Velcro (Nazi-NASA Inventions)

Ironically, there would have probably been far more spin-offs from the space program had it been privatized, instead of being conducted as a crash military program. The State made it virtually illegal for private companies to get into space by denying them access to, or use of, technologies created by other private companies and then declared "Top Secret."

Use of the Internets, email, and networked computers, as the DoD’s ARPANET was the basis for subsequent computer networking

Moronic argument. ARPANET was, as noted, a military development. The use of the military for defending the country has never been in question by those who advocate limited government. But primarily people who make this argument have never studied the role of the free market in taking that very limited protocol system and turning it into a world-wide communications net. If that net were not so completely and wonderfull chaotic, and still remained under government control, President Obama would not currently be pushing legislation to empower the State to take it over in the event of "emergencies."

Foodstuffs, Meats, Produce and Crops That Were Grown With, Fed With, Raised With or That Contain Inputs From Crops Grown With Government Subsidies

Brought to you by the same government that wants me to quit smoking and still subisidies tobacco farms. Brought to you by the same government that places artificial floors on the prices of milk and cheese products, uses protectionist taxation to keep cheap, high-quality foreign foodstuffs out of the country, and has addicted whole generations of Americans to high-fructose corn syrup via sugar tariffs.

Clothing Made from Crops (e.g. cotton) That Were Grown With or That Contain Inputs From Government Subsidies

Interesting question: why are there cotton subsidies in the first place? Because American cotton farms cannot compete effectively with foreign growers. So the State refuses to let me select the cheaper product at a competitive price.

If a veteran of the government-run socialist US military, I will forego my VA benefits and insist on paying for my own medical care.

Veterans paid for those benefits. While you were sleeping, they volunteered to take the low-paying shit job of risking getting their asses shot off to keep you safe. Ironically, more and more services for veterans and their families are being privatized by the Federal government with great success, the point being: just because we have an obligation to pay for veterans' health and medical services doesn't mean that the government had to become a single-payer.

Here's the bottom line: Folks who believe in cradle-to-grave government programs to cover virtually every aspect of life not only demand that everybody else pay for them, but they also demand that we publicly pretend we agree with them.

Then they call us hypocrites when, most of the time, the government has made it either illegal or impossible to avoid using those services, which we have paid for just as well as them.

It makes for cute blogging inside a self-referential community where everybody agrees with everybody else that it is immature, improper, or inappropriate to raise the issue of what the government should or should not be paying for, but it is in fact a cheap, lying talking point on the level with death panels or doctors performing amputations because they will make more money that way that by treating their patients.

In other words, the people promulgating this bullshit know it is bullshit, but they throw it against the wall just to see where it will stick.

ACORN affair gives the lie to Glenn Beck's ridiculous claim to being a Libertarian

First I read this at Kids Prefer Cheese, and it started me thinking:

"Beck is 45, tireless, funny, self-deprecating, a recovering alcoholic, a convert to Mormonism, a libertarian and living with ADHD. He is a gifted storyteller with a knack for stitching seemingly unrelated data points into possible conspiracies - IF he believed in conspiracies, which he doesn't, necessarily; he's just asking questions. He's just sayin'." [TIME]

I assume that Mr. Beck is not really a Mormon, either. Both Libertarians and Mormons expect people to have a consistent set of beliefs.

Exactly how does Glenn Beck the Libertarian get all upset at ACORN representatives for (1) helping a prostitute find some way to launder her money so she can buy a house; or (2) helping said prostitute rip off the IRS?

Think about it: Libertarians generally hold that women own their own bodies, and that charging people for sex [as long as neither party is coerced] is their business and not the State's. Since the State insists on the same moralistic, coercive high-ground as Beck, there is no moral or ethical reason not to lie to the State in order to avoid its involvement in your life.

Likewise: since when did it become a no-no for Libertarians to want to reduce or avoid taxation?

Ah, but Beck--who is fully willing to use the power of the State to prevent same-sex marriage or enforce any law whatever consistent with his recently adopted Mormon social ethic, as well as willing to support US military interventionism anywhere in the world for pretty much any purpose--has been calling out ACORN in terms that only a good social conservative, authoritarian, State-loving Republican could do.

Which none of Eric Dondero's spin can fix.

Note to Anonone: feel free to explain once again how you--as an individual with no discernable ideology (your claim, not mine)--find it implausible that there are varieties of Libertarianism at the same time there can be boundaries between Libertarians and conservatives or liberals. The day would not be complete without it.

Friday, September 18, 2009

UPDATED and corrected: The Usual Suspects: ACORN and the Delaware blogosphere

The ACORN scandal has appeared pretty much everywhere but here in the Delaware blogosphere, so I thought it might be interesting to do a round-up.

From the Right:

Cato, at Delmarva Dealings, seems to be channeling Glenn Beck:

While Barack Obama’s former employer is using YOUR tax dollars to assist child prostitution rings, YOUR representatives in Congress are doing all that they can to make sure that these criminals stay on the Federal Gravy Train.

Uh, not so much actually. The fact that some ACORN employees pronounced themselves willing to assist the child prostitution ring [singular; note to Cato: watches those pesky plurals], is not quite the same thing as using YOUR tax dollars to assist child prostitution rings, since no such ring ever existed and no money was ever spent supporting it.

David, at Delaware Politics, is a little more circumspect in that he says this of ACORN:

I am not contesting that ACORN has done some good work. I am questioning whether or not the government system of grants which favors the politically connected charities like ACORN over more effective local ones is a good one. ACORN skims money off the top which then goes to local organizations who would do the good work anyway.

Which kind of belies the title he gave the post:

Casey stands with Far Left Socialist Bernie Sanders in Defense of ACORN

Hube, at Colossus, is interested in equivalencies:

'Ya got that? "Being poor and minority in urban America" means ... enabling illegal immigration and child prostitution? Breaking tax laws? And since this is "just part" of being poor and minority in urban America, we should just continue to throw taxpayer money at it? Can you imagine the MSM outcry if a conservative had made such an ... insinuation as to why ACORN acted as it did on the sting videos? Then it would be the "most virulent form of racial stereotyping" in which people can possibly engage.

Resolute Determination, at [where else?] Resolute Determination, wants to know when Governor Markell is going to distance himself from ACORN:

Governor Jack Markell is an ACORN supporter. Governor Markell’s Political Action Committee, The Committee For A Better Future, paid ACORN over $14,000 in his 2008 Primary win over former Lt. Gov. Carney. Technically, he sent the money to “Citizens Services, Inc.” But, Citizens Services, Inc. has the exact same New Orleans street address as… ACORN. On primary day, it was widely rumored within Wilmington that Markell was paying ACORN “volunteers” twice the daily rate of $100 per canvasser. Now we know where the money was coming from – ACORN.

Will Markell publicly distance himself from a group that he paid $14,000 to to help him get elected?

The part I really love is where RD says

This organization needs to be investigated and shut down.

Notice that we don't actually have to worry about what the investigation finds; RD just wants it shut down.

Further left:

Nancy Willing, at Delaware Way had previous to the breaking of this story run a piece regarding John Kowalko's support for the work of Delaware ACORN:

And last but not least, this program would not exist today, serving all of the people of Delaware from Wilmington to Dover to Georgetown and all points in between, if not for the dedication and persistence of that often unfairly maligned group that I am a proud member and ally of, Delaware ACORN. Angela Walker and Darlene Battle and this magnificent group of community activists contacted a wide range of people in October and asked, begged and insisted that we had to save people’s homes. It was a simple message but displayed with such passion and insistence by ACORN that you couldn’t help but feel a sense of obligation and compassion that would lead to a successful conclusion. With a vast knowledge of other programs existing in Philadelphia and being constructed elsewhere, with a statistical accumulation of the horrors of the foreclosure crisis couched in real human terms and with a driven personality of compassion for the community, ACORN and its leaders would not allow us to fail in our efforts.

Today, Nancy has up a post regarding Media Matters' response to the issue:

Fox was running so wild with the story that they were willing to lower their already dubious standards. The first problem was one of logic. Four videos were being promoted as unimpeachable proof that all of ACORN is equally corrupt -- all 1,200 chapters and hundreds of ACORN employees. It was the opposite of how a credible investigation is supposed to function, in which conclusions are withheld until after all the facts are in. By comparison, here, the conservative media had a few isolated facts but were willing to extrapolate an entire thesis from them.

More important, Fox News failed to vet the tapes. This was made painfully clear with the case of the San Bernardino ACORN office, which was featured in the fourth video to be released. In the footage, ACORN employee Tresa Kaelke claimed that she had murdered her former husband following a period of domestic abuse. On September 15, Beck and Sean Hannity both broadcast Kaelke's assertion. Beck, who had reported on the supposed confession during his radio program, added on Fox, "She never spanked her kids, but she did shoot her husband dead." Later that night, Hannity played the same clip, and in a rare moment of intellectual curiosity, asked about the veracity of the murder claim. "We're working on it," Giles said, which was enough for Hannity. The following morning, on September 16, Fox News' Gretchen Carlson repeated the allegation, saying, "She killed somebody? Despite this, some lawmakers want to keep funding the group."

Meanwhile, in a post intended to be reflective, but perhaps representing one of his weakest efforts, Liberalgeek, at Delaware Liberal, pulls out the equivalency card from the other direction:

I guess that the question in my mind is whether these are bad apples in ACORN or a systemic problem. Apparently, ACORN is conducting staff training to fix the problems in the next few days. But certainly the damage has been done.

Also, I wonder if the ACORN issue is a bit overblown. We are disturbed by the fact that a pimp and his prostitute would be helped to evade the tax law and make their activities look legitimate. But are we equally disturbed that there are many more multi-millionaires that are hiding their profits in off-shore tax havens with the help of accountants and lawyers at their beck and call.

ACORN does get dinged because they receive some federal funding whereas those lawyers are privately funded, but is that really what bothers us? I think that we have come to expect the rich to avoid taxes by any means necessary. Hell, I know people that have owned restaurants that avoided taxes as a part of their day-to-day operations.

All of these are distasteful, but now that ACORN has been tagged for it, real people are going to suffer. ACORN along with CLASI worked with the State of Delaware to ensure that people that are falling behind in their mortgages are able to get legal counseling to keep them in their home and to negotiate with lenders. That just happened this week, but things like this get overshadowed by the conservative witch hunt to find bad ACORN employees.

Usual suspects without a major post/comment on ACORN thus far: Tommywonk, kavips, Delaware Curmudgeon, Kilroy's Delaware, The Mourning Constitution, and Redwaterlilly.

What strikes me most about all of these responses is that they were all predictable. Nobody surprised me, with the possible mild exception of David Anderson's, I am not contesting that ACORN has done some good work.

In this we have apparently become a local microcosm of the national political faux debate.

For pretty much everybody on the right, ACORN is a rogue organization that has to held to account, and they have been exposed by intrepid crusaders for justice, and continue to be supported by dangerously left-wing politicians.

For the dwindling number of Delaware blogs on the left [more on that in a moment], ACORN is an organization that is doing the Lord's work in helping poor people, and is the victim of a witch hunt, the ferocity of which has scared away the organization's fair-weather friends in Congress.

[That left-blog thing: Dana Garrett's decision to fold up his tent--at least for now--at Delaware Watch has given us a seriously unbalanced blogosphere. Tommywonk, kavips, and Redwaterlilly all have thoughtful, interesting blogs, but they not really prolific--with the exception of kavips hatching new policy proposals, which gets encyclopedic. Delaware Way is far more policy oriented and less interactive; I would love to see Nancy promoting more of an on-line community, but so far have not seen it. Moreover, even though Delawareliberal arguably receives more hits per day than Delaware Politics and Resolute Determination combined, it is astounding to discover that such a Democratically controlled state really only has one major liberal/progressive blog left. Granted, Delawareliberal has a large cast and throws a wide net, but it's still only one blog. There have got to be some other First State liberals out there with keyboards and too much time on their hands.]

Here's what I think of ACORN, by the way: the organization is the early 21st Century edition of urban community organizing in the tradition of the original 1960s Black Panthers. I don't think that's an insult: I have a lot of respect for what the Black Panthers attempted to accomplish, even if I never ascribed to their politics. ACORN is multi-layered, committed to social revolution, and makes a hell of a lot of people very uncomfortable while attempting to work in areas of the country that everybody else has pretty much written off.

More importantly, it belongs to an even longer American tradition reaching back past the Panthers through Marcus Garvey, Father Divine, and their contemporaries, all the way to the burial societies and secret fraternal organizations among African-Americans in pre-Civil War era Southern cities.

Political power among the poor and minority populations of this country has always been constructed differently, expressed differently, and always manifests itself at the fringes of the system. It is almost invariably marked by what the more genteel would consider graft and corruption, because organizations like that necessarily parcel out power and influence differently.

What is significant about ACORN is that the organization has mastered a trick to make Marcus Garvey turn green with envy: getting millions of Federal dollars funneled to it by sympathetic legislators and political machines. In the hands of people not experienced with the rules of the game (e.g., which kinds of corruption are politically correct and which are not), it was inevitable that ACORN would fall afoul of some public relations disaster.

By the way--and I seem to be writing truly disjointed posts this week--it doesn't offend me in the slightest that ACORN was willing to help a pimp and a prostitute evade the IRS or get a real estate loan, and I have no problem with them helping send the money into a political campaign. The whole underaged hookers from Latin America thing crosses a line, but when you watched the videos in which the ACORN woman smiles and goes along, I'm not thinking demented political genius, I'm thinking dumb as a post.

At least, after perusing the Usual Suspects and their entirely-too-predictable reactions to this story, maybe my reaction jostled you just a bit.

If so, you may deposit quarters in the hat on the ground.