Monday, August 23, 2010

The Culture Wars Have Got to End

Look, I'm pretty socially liberal, and therefore, I have no problem with the right to choose, gay people, voluntary euthanasia, etc.  I'm all about freedom and maximizing individual liberty.  However, a lot of control freaks out there wanna deny that liberty simply because they think those things are "immoral."  That is just laughable, to say the least.

The simple fact of the matter is this: you can't legislate morality!  Yes, I know, a lot of idiot conservatives like to say "But our laws against rape and murder and theft are based on our morals."  Yes, to some extent they are, but they are ALSO in place to protect our rights as individuals, to protect us from aggression.  If they didn't, there'd be no reason for these laws to exist!  There's no reason for putting in place a law that criminalizes something that only a portion of the country or people think is wrong!  It's just not rational, and it's probably unconstitutional.

Having said that, I am so goddamn sick of these culture wars.  We've been bitching and complaining about this for 4 decades now!  Are we any closer to a resolution? Not really.  So how about both sides just declare some kind of truce? Or how about the authoritarian side that wants to shove its beliefs down everyone's throat and make someone's freedom illegal because it's 'immoral' just STFU? Deal with it! Times change, and society changes.  If you can't accept that, then fuck off.  You have no right to try to control people just because you think some individual's actions, which are not harming anyone, will "lead to societal degradation" or whatever you wanna call it.

A big part of it is the fact that we've allowed federalism to die in this country.  Slowly but surely, states are being allowed less and less leeway over what they can and can't do within their own borders.  The feds have taken so much discretion away from them!  To some extent, that is a good thing because the 14th Amendment protects our right NOT to have the states infringe on our rights.  However, federalizing all these issues ensures that it ALWAYS is dealt with at a federal level, rather than various jurisdictions with differing views deciding for themselves how best to deal with them.  States' rights does have some role to play in this, believe it or not.

Besides, as Morris Fiorina and others have already exposed, Americans aren't really all that polarized.  It's just the political climate that makes it so.  Blue states' and red states' residents essentially have the same views on a host of issues.  It's just that blue states are a bit more liberal, and red ones are a bit more conservative.  Americans are not all that different on social issues overall.  Most Americans favor spending on a strong national defense, healthcare, education, and many other programs.  They're not big on welfare, though.  And compared to 50 years ago, race and gay-straight relations are a hell of a lot better, current problems notwithstanding.  As the American National Election Survey also shows, Americans aren't really that divided. "Kerry Country" and "Bush Country" aren't all that different.  Yes, there are big liberal towns and small conservative towns, but the vast majority of the country is moderate, more or less.  The 2-party system and intense election cycles has just made it seem like we're increasingly divided.

So what is the culture war really about?  Are we all just being brainwashed by the media and political leaders to believe that it's all really such a big deal?  So what if some gays get married or old folks who are dying want the plug pulled.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Campaign Finance Deform

Campaign finance reform is a fraud.  It does nothing to stem corruption in our political system (or the appearance thereof) or make things more competitive, and it is based on many faulty notions about politics and the law.  It is just a last-ditch effort by desperate individuals who want to take the easy way out (or so they think), rather than rolling up their sleeves.

First of all, let's get one thing straight: federal campaign finance law is very strict.  Despite what you may hear from fools like Ralph Nader about the two parties being "bought" by corporations, during election time, that simply is not possible.  The fact is, corporate contributions, at least at the federal level, have been banned since the early 1900s.  PACs of all kinds can only give a maximum of $5,000 (primary and general) per candidate.  In order for a corporation to donate money to a candidate, it has to first form a PAC, which must raise funds from individuals and other outside sources.  Individuals can only donate a little over $2,000 per candidate.  Contrary to popular belief, political parties, not corporations, can receive and spend the most, at least until recently (things like McCain-Feingold).  There are, of course, 'special limits' (which are ambiguous), but even those are only about 100 grand or so.  I would assume not just anyone at any time can use those.

You may still be asking, "But what about those reports of various industries giving hundreds of thousands to certain candidates?"  Well, there are one of two possibilities (or both in the same election cycle).  The first is bundling, whereby a supporter of a particular candidate for office asks his friends, neighbors, colleagues, etc., for campaign contributions to that particular candidate.  The contributions are bundled (hence the term) into one lump sum and given to the campaign.  Sometimes, when a person gives a contribution a bundler within his place of employment, it is officially registered as having been "from such-and-such company" or other organization.  However, don't let this fool you.  The second possibility is simply corporate PACs in a single industry all giving donations of thousands of dollars to particular candidates.  Keep in mind that every industry, especially in a large economy like the United States, has 100s or thousands of firms with large profits individually.  Each one donating at least $1,000 can add up quickly.  But it is simply not possible for a corporation to donate directly to a candidate.  You really think the election- and contribution-monitoring officials wouldn't notice that?  The FEC fucking got on Citizens United's case about Hillary the Movie, for christ sake!

While there are rare cases of bribery, most contributions are investments.  People give money to interests, causes and candidates they agree with, not those they think can be bought.  If contributors honestly believed that they could bribe a politician with a big enough donation, why would they stop at donating people they agree with? Why not have a corporation buy someone like Dennis Kucinich or Bernie Sanders and give millions to their campaigns?

The sad truth is that money is speech.  What campaign finance reform proponents fail to realize is that it costs a lot of money to campaign, take out ads, hold rallies, etc.  This stuff ain't cheap.  To get your views out there and try to convince your fellow Americans or leaders to see things your way requires funding!  So in that sense, yes, you are stifling free speech by limiting donations and the amounts people can spend on various "electioneering communications."  And besides, we don't even spend that much on elections, relatively speaking.  We spend more as a nation on things like advertising and Wal-Mart.  Besides, isn't a few billion dollars raised during a presidential election a small price to pay to oversee and submit budgets worth trillions?  A few billion dollars isn't even 1% of the federal budget these days!

Countless studies by economists such as John Lott and Jeff Milyo and scholars such as John Samples as well as former FEC Chairman Bradley Smith all ponit to the plain truth that campaign finance reform doesn't work.  Much of what people think happens regarding contributions and political behavior post-election doesn't.  In fact, Ansolabehere, Figueiredo, and Snyder, Jr. (2002) dispel a whole host of myths regarding campaign finance and repeatedly drive home the point that most contributions are from individuals, not "special interests."  People still vote their conscience regardless of whether they got donations from BP or AFL-CIO.  Correlation is not causation.  People have got to stop assuming the worst just because someone voted a certain way and received contributions from specific interests favoring that vote.  What does pointing that out prove?

And now there is the insane DISCLOSE Act, which will just make things even harder.  We don't need this shit !  Barack Obama and countless Dems say that it is a response to the recent Citizens United case (which did not, btw, repeal current limits on corporate contributions), but it is reckless, nonetheless.  In addition to a bunch of new regulations on business, which won't make a difference, it will make regular campaigning, speaking out and contributing even harder, as if it weren't hard enough.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pro-Israel or Pro-Palestine? Why Not Pro-Peace?

Whenever I hear about some new big incident or catastrophe in the Israel-Palestine area, I cringe.  I cringe not only because of what happened but because of the political and media fallout that will ensue.  Like clockwork, the anti-Israel folks will blame The Jewish State and say that it's acting like Nazis or something similar, and the pro-Israel folks will blame 'terrorists' and/or the Palestinians themselves.  It's the same old formula over and over.  It's so fucking predictable

The real problem is trying to find objective analysis of the situation.  It seems like almost all of it is slanted or comes from a slanted source.  For example, when researching the history of the founding of the state of Israel, pro-Israel folks will claim they inhabited "deserted land" inside Palestine, while the pro-Palestine side will claim that the future Israelis, like classic racist conquerors, drove the Arabs from their land and stole it.  The pro-Israel side claims that terrorism is the reason they need all those checkpoints and occupation, while the pro-Palestine side claims the terrorism only started after the Six-Day War and that it wouldn't happen if Israel had "treated Palestinians fairly."

I still am not sure how to judge the Gaza flotilla raid.  While it is true that Israel killed 9 people on it, it is also true that the IHH (the organization behind it) does have connections to terrorist groups, in one way or another, so it's not entirely unrealistic to assume that at least some of the folks on the flotilla were terrorists or had terrorist sympathies.  Also, while the Israelis did have powerful guns, it seems possible and probable that at least a few of the folks on the flotilla also had deadly weapons like knives.  If you were in that situation, you probably would've reacted very suddenly, too, with a gun in your hand.  However, I think we can all agree that the raid was a bit premature, to say the least.  The flotilla was clearly still in international waters when the raid started, and Israel has one of the most powerful militaries in the world!  They could've easily disabled the flotilla with their navy if it got close enough to Israeli shores.

Why there is such a lack of continuity or agreement between various news sources on what really happened with regard to incidents like this is beyond me.  It seems the only possible explanation is that at least a good portion of the commentators and reporters have some sort of axe to grind.  They lean toward one side, so they're afraid that reporting something that reflects badly on their favorite, even if it is the truth, will give it less legitimacy.  But isn't telling the truth always better than lying for political gain?  Shouldn't we support policies that make sense rather than simply favor one side or the other?

How about we admit that both sides are to blame? The Palestinians are to blame for not going after terrorists more aggressively (or, in some cases, supporting them), and the Israelis are to blame for acting like the Palestinians have got it made and sentiments like, "What have they got to whine about?"  Israel is to blame for using the full force of their actions and then acting like it's always a surprise that anyone's outraged, and Palestine is to blame for justifying terrorism by calling it "resistance."  I'm sorry, but "resistance" to a militarist state by attacking innocents is just downright murder.

Until both sides admit that they're in the wrong to some extent, no peace will be had.  People need to quit playing the blame game!  When one side makes a mistake, they should be called on it, but don't act like they just blatantly murdered people for fun or love destruction.  This situation is a lot more complex than I think a lot of people assume.  I can't even begin to imagine how it must feel to be an Israeli or Palestinian over there.  No one except residents can truly understand.  So for anyone, especially an outsider who's never even been there, to judge is just the height of absurdity.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Anti-Smoking Nuts are Pansies and Control Freaks

I'm not a smoker.  However, I do believe in freedom, even for habits I don't agree with or enjoy myself.  That freedom can and should extend even to smokers who are hurting no one.  That's why this anti-smoking movement is just nutty.

Why should we allow public smoking? Well, first off, these people are bitching about something that's really not such a big deal.  So what if someone smokes around you? As long as there's plenty of space to get away from them, it seems like a no-brainer to move.  These anti-smoking nuts seem to forget that there's a thing called mobility which would allow them to get away from the smoke.  They pretend like they can't move away from a smoker at all.  Now, I understand enacting smoking restrictions in places like airplanes. ...But in a bar or restaurant? In a public park or beach? That's just insane!

Secondly, the case for "secondhand smoke" is murky at best.  Even though they claim there are loads of studies 'proving' that secondhand smoke causes all these problems, it's not so cut-and-dried.  Those who do studies on the subject are not always that credible.  The fact is, secondhand smoke does not "cause 50,000 deaths" per year!  50,000 is over 10% of all those who die from cigarette smoking annually (450,000).  I'm supposed to believe that 10% of that number die from simply being around smokers? Get real.  Economists like W. Kip Viscusi who have done great research on this issue have found that the case for "secondhand smoke" is wildly exaggerated.  Smoking and inhaling a little smoke from a smoker's mouth are two very different things and to make some kind of equivalence is just ridiculous.

Even if secondhand smoke did cause all these terrible diseases and deaths, so WHAT.  It's not like we don't have methods of mitigating the smoke.  The first method is always to move somewhere else.  Another important method is to allow business owners to install ventilation systems and non-smoking sections.  Let the market work; people will figure out for themselves if smoking is bad enough not to patronize certain businesses.  That's worked pretty well, if you ask me.  The anti-smoking crowd is simply overstating the "problem" here for political correctness.

These anti-smoking freaks are just pansies and douchebags who want to impose their will on the rest of us and hate the smell of smoke or whatever.  They're a larger part of the nanny-state movement.  They don't want to accept the fact that some people do things we don't like.  They're just like the moralists on the Right with their "family values" bullshit.  Instead of moving away from smokers, like any sensible person would do, they'd rather say "Smoking is bad! You can't do that!  My 'right' to be away from smoke is more important than your right to consume."  I'm sick of it!  Let adults eat and consume whatever the hell they want!  This is my right as an American.  You have no right to judge us and impose bullshit legal restrictions, esp. on business owners who have property rights.  Don't like how a business owner allows smoking? Get the fuck out and patronize elsewhere! It really is that simple.

It's funny how the anti-smoking and nanny-state crowd bitch about "increased healthcare costs" because of things like obesity and smoking (although the latter actually cost less net dollars because they tend to live shorter lives).  Yet they never complain about cheats and dirtbags gaming the welfare state.  They rarely complain about increased regulatory burdens on the economy, especially for regulations that don't have much of a net benefit to society.  This is pure politics, as usual.  The anti-smoking crowd only cares about control, not health.  The "public health" reason for their campaigning is just a smokescreen (all pun intended).

No one has a right to tell us what's best for us or deny us the ability to take some risks; we make those decisions for ourselves.  It is the American way, after all.

Friday, August 13, 2010

6 Simple Steps That Could Go a Long Way toward Fixing Our Immigration Problem

Despite what the immigration hawks that demonize all "illegals" say, most of them are good, hard-working people who shouldn't be punished for the actions of a few troublemakers.  The fact is, whether they realize it or not, the immigration problem in the U.S. is actually pretty complex.  However, that doesn't mean there aren't any good, no-brainer solutions.

1. Secure the border!  This is first and foremost.  As a libertarian, I know I'm "outside the mainstream" when it comes to folks who share my ideology, but the fact is, open borders is just not realistic.  Yes, most illegal aliens are hard-working folks, but there is still a good number of them who do nothing but cause chaos. This includes but is not limited to: common criminals, terrorists and drug traffickers.  It's better to be safe than sorry.  We should also be cautious about letting in people with contagious illnesses with full rights to move around the U.S. 

2. Reinstate the guest-worker program (expanded to all Hispanic migrants, though).  The Bracero Program was killed in the mid-1960s (after 20 years of success) thanks to farm unions, but there's little evidence that it didn't work or that it had huge negative consequences.  It was great for the United States and terrific for those Mexican workers, despite any alleged 'exploitation' that folks like Cesar Chavez railed against, who were able to make many times the income that they could've made back home.  The fact is, if Hispanic immigrants could actually come here just to work in a regulated, well-maintained program, they wouldn't have to cross the border and act like citizens, hiding in the shadows for fear of deportation or workplace raids.  Why should anyone have to become a citizen just to work somewhere?  Low-skill or high-skill, it makes no sense.

3. Make legal immigration easier.  The fact is, much of the reason Hispanics cross the border is because it's much cheaper and easier!  There's no incentive to "go to the back of the line" and become legal when you have to jump through so many hoops. Why??  As long as they don't have an extensive criminal record and aren't a threat to the country, and the immigrant assimilates, why should they have to go through all this crap?  2 or 4 years to become a naturalized citizen is nonsense.  It shouldn't take much more than a year, at the most.  And while I'm on the subject, either extend the visas for Hispanic immigrants, or eliminate them entirely.  No, there won't be some massive wave of immigrants that will "overtake the country" if we do that.  The market will sort this stuff out.

4.  Make the welfare state (as much as I dislike it in general) off-limits to illegal immigrants.  No ifs ands or buts about it.  Make it easier to detect records fraud so that an illegal immigrant cannot easily pretend to be a citizen and take advantage of things like food stamps, unemployment, etc.  If they want these benefits, they will have to become citizens.  I'm not saying most or all illegal aliens come here just for benefits, but I'm sure at least a few of them out there do come here just to mooch.  If they're not paying into the system through taxes, they should receive zero benefits.

5.  The U.S. gov't should start a program with at least Mexico, if not all the other Hispanic nations, to share information about known criminals and/or those with criminal records.  That way, we can make sure that all those who are trying to become citizens or guest workers are not the kind of people we don't want.  This will take a lot of effort, but I'm sure it can be done.  

And finally, 

6. Deport all known criminal, terrorist and drug-trafficking aliens (although the traffickers are actually fueled by drug prohibition itself; more on that later) caught by U.S. law enforcement ASAP.  Why should they be adding to the already overcrowded prisons? If they came here just to fuck things up, they shouldn't be here in the first place.  Their home nations' prison systems should deal with them.

As an aside, if someone is here illegally but is hurting no one else and is not mooching off taxpayers, why should I care?? Why should anyone care?  The only difference between them and American natives is this "illegal" technicality.  Why should anyone be punished for a stupid technicality? 

Furthermore, why shouldn't a business owner or manager be able to hire whoever he wants, as long as that person is not a threat?  E-verify is the biggest scam in the world!  We shouldn't punish people by raiding their businesses and detaining employees who just happen to not be citizens but are working hard and contributing economic growth.

The sad thing about this issue in the United States is that so much of the debate is led by fear, misinformation and ignorance.  People just blindly accept the idea that being "illegal" is somehow a sin or morally reprehensible, no matter what the immigrant's situation is.  They just blindly accept this ridiculous idea that jobs within the United States are somehow inherently "American" just because they're within our borders and that we should punish those who hire illegal aliens, even though from their standpoint, it's a pretty good business decision.  Actually, no one is entitled to a job!  Whoever is most qualified for the job should get it.  End of story.  

The simple fact is, the economy is not a zero-sum game.  No one "steals" a job from someone else by accepting one.  If you can't even compete with illegal aliens applying for jobs, you might have something wrong, not the alien.  Maybe you should up your skills a little and give the employer an incentive to hire you.

Don't listen to the far left or far right on this issue.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Global Warming Deniers Are NOT Real Skeptics

A conservative 'skeptic' of anthropogenic global warming recently replied to one of my comments on a video about global warming as such,

   ‎"We don't produce enough to actually harm the ozone because THE TREES BREATHE IT ALL. Hello? Have you been paying attention in Biology class?? Plus, there's no actual evidence in the first place. It's just cherry-picked info from bad sources, and there is NO real threat concerning our Co2 releases. Please, check your sources again, and again, and again, until it's CONFIRMED."

As idiotic as that comment sounds, unfortunately, it is endemic of a larger problem on the American Right- denialism.  
Look, I have no problem with healthy skepticism.  Science and innovation are driven by a healthy dose of skepticism. But these people are not skeptics! They're deniers! Skeptics keep an open mind and look at all the available data and evidence; deniers are never satisfied, no matter how much evidence you put in front of them.  

Whoever said that just because you acknowledge a problem, the solutions are predetermined, and you can't change it?
Saying that anthropogenic global warming exists does not mean, as some right-wingers love to frame the argument, that one is blaming capitalism or the free market for all the world's ills. They are simply saying that, given the evidence, we humans kind of have fucked up the environment. And we do have some responsibility, at least for our species' health and safety, to do something about it. The global warming deniers, for whatever reason, seem to assume that if they admit that there is anthropogenic global warming, instead of it being 100% "natural", they'll somehow legitimize policies they disagree with. But that's absurd.  

We have to move on from bitching about how it's "not real" and start trying to figure out a sensible solution, if the effects will in fact be even 1/5th or 1/10th as bad as the catastrophists predict. I'm sorry, denier conservatives, but the debate is over. It ended a long time ago when scientists around the world found the evidence, evidence that has been obtained over the last 20-30 years! You can go around denying it in your think-tanks and political interest groups all you want, but that doesn't mean we don't have a problem. You people remind me of an alcoholic who won't go to rehab or admit he has a problem: "I can get off beer if I want to. I'm just not ready yet."

The far-right will never concede the facts and at least try to formulate a comprehensive policy to fight global warming. They even oppose cap-and-trade, for god sakes! The CBO has said that, even with some of the potential job losses over the next 5 or 10 years as a result of the Waxman-Markey bill, because of all the refunds, deductions and tax credits in the bill (among other things), we'd actually have a net gain. And did a recent article on cap-and-trade as well and found that all those groups that claim it will "screw everything up" in our economy were basing their predictions on worst-case scenarios, which are certainly not likely to happen. I mean, cap-and-trade is a market-based program! A vast array of economists agree that if we should use any approach to regulate properly, this is probably the most efficient. Experts agree the world over that the SO2 cap-and-trade program in the 90s worked pretty damn well. So why not for CO2? Sure, the current bill may not be perfect, but cap-and-trade will not be the apocalypse!

I can assure Americans that cap-and-trade will not raise our energy costs by two or three grand a year.  That is pure propaganda.  Besides, isn't the program designed so that corporations that can afford to innovate and reduce emissions will do so and then sell their credits to less-wealthy businesses that can't afford it, in order to reduce the regulatory burden?  Do conservatives forget about this part, or are they willingly ignoring it?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Fourteenth Amendment-Phobes

Although most conservatives (and libertarians) seem to have celebrated the recent gun rights victories in McDonald v. Chicago and D.C. v. Heller, there is still a lesser-known minority within this camp that is not so enthusiastic.  They claim that because the Fourteenth Amendment was originally designed to protect former slaves by law in a rather limited way, rather than turn into an end-all be-all way to strike down state laws you don't like, it is a bad idea to use the Fourteenth Amendment for lots of other issues.  Their arguments (detailed below) do make some sense, but I still am not a total skeptic.

For those who aren't aware, the part of the 14th Amendment that some conservatives, libertarians and constitutionalists take issue with is called the "Incorporation Doctrine."  Basically, incorporation means that the Bill of Rights applies to the states.  As many experts have already explained (and I, sadly, discovered), the Bill of Rights did not originally apply to the states.  The Bill of Rights originally was designed as a check by states on federal power; in other words, the B.O.R. was meant to protect states from federal encroachment.  Others have explained how, even though the B.O.R. did not originally apply to the states, state constitutions tend to be rather comprehensive in their descriptions of what natural rights residents have.  According to many constitutionalists, this makes applying the B.O.R. to the states (or at least did in 1789).

Western Connecticut State University History Professor Kevin Gutzman is one current proponent of the anti-incorporation view.  He authored The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution, among other works.  In personal exchanges I have had with him on Facebook recently, whenever I asked him about the Fourteenth Amendment, he usually referred to Former Harvard Law Professor Raoul Berger's 1975 title Government by Judiciary: The Transformation of the Fourteenth Amendment.  From what I've heard, Berger has certainly done his research.  While I'm sure this book presents an excellent case for why the Fourteenth Amendment was not originally intended to be used as it is now, I'm still not entirely convinced that we should use a minimalist approach.

Gutzman also uses the argument that, if we use the Fourteenth Amendment as a reason to overturn what we see as bad state laws that infringe on liberty, that can be eventually used against us to take away liberty, expand government or to enshrine new rights the Founders would never have dreamed of, such as a right to free healthcare or housing. While I understand this concern, I'm just not so sure it's that valid today.  After all, today's Roberts court has been described by many liberals as pretty activist (in a conservative way).  Why the court today or in the near future would use the Fourteenth Amendment to add a whole bunch of fictional rights like a "Second New Deal" is beyond me.  I don't mean to insult Gutzman or his character, but his approach seems a little wimpy.

After all, without incorporation, can any of us imagine all the ridiculous laws that would still be on the books?  We might not even be able to buy contraception in certain states, or get married to folks of other races!  With any judicial approach, there are pluses and minuses.  The key is to make sure the court minimizes the minuses and expands the pluses.  Plus, who knows how long it would have taken states to repeal silly laws like anti-sodomy statutes if Lawrence v. Texas had never been a case.  I think Gutzman's concern is a risk we must take in order to defend liberty across this great nation.  No one ever said a "right" to free healthcare couldn't be overturned by Congress and the president, did they?

A pro-incorporation approach may seem like a "big government" way to deal with the Supreme Court, but I think it's the best we've got.  After all, why should states be exempt from the Bill of Rights?  I'm all about maximizing individual freedom (within reason), so I see no reason why the B.O.R. should not apply to the states, at least in principle.  If a state is violating someone's inalienable rights, and he can't get the law overturned by the legislature or state Supreme Court, why not allow him that final outlet with the federal court process?  A good number of chances to earn your freedom from tyrannical governments to me seems pretty damn reasonable.  If someone can't use the state government to get rid of a tyrannical law that violates the B.O.R., under Gutzman's philosophy, he's pretty much screwed!