Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Moral, logical, and practical arguments against more laws

When I talk to people about being a libertarian, they often think I am an anarchist. It's not true, but it's what they think. When it happens, their brains appear to shut down - they just can't or won't think about any further concepts I try to discuss. Tom Woods' interview with a zombie is a perfect caricature of this behavior.

Here are some things I would like to communicate to anyone who thinks "anarchist" when they hear "libertarian". 
First, repealing some laws does not make one an anarchist.
Second, all people are individuals, so necessarily each libertarian you meet will have a different opinion on which laws should be repealed, and which should be kept.
Third, and this is the big one, there are many arguments against using the force of law to handle a problem.  These arguments are moral, logical, and practical.

Moral arguments follow this line of reasoning: is what the person doing harming someone else? While we certainly have a moral obligation to protect ourselves from harm, it gets less clear when we discuss harm to someone else. It may be that we have a moral obligation to assist others, but we do not have an obligation to intercept harm intended for others - in other words, there is no moral obligation to throw ourselves upon the sword to protect someone else. Since this is the case, how could there be a moral obligation to protect a stranger from himself?  The answer is there is no such obligation.  A person's life is his own, and the risks he takes are his own.  His mistakes, his failures, his successes, are his own. 

Logical arguments are built on the premise that government authority is derived from the people. This form of government consists of various authorities delegated to the few from the many. Logically this means that the authorities being delegated to the few are naturally held by the many - that is to say, in the absence of government, each one of these delegated authorities or powers naturally belongs to the individuals comprising the many. That is what delegation means - you have a responsibility or power, and you authorize someone else to use that power on your behalf. The wonderful thing about logic, what makes it useful, is that it works in both directions. So because authority derives from people, and because all powers of government originally belonged to individuals, there can be no government power that individuals did not once have. Powers cannot come from nowhere - they come from the people.  So logically, if you or I do not have the right, power, or authority to do something, then government simply cannot have such a right either.

Practical arguments are based on the concept of practicality, or workability. Does it work? Is it cost effective? Does it do more harm than good? This argument looks at the real results and costs. If your proposal passes moral and logical arguments, does it still pass practical arguments? Will your proposal solve the problem you want to address? If it will solve it, does it create other problems in doing so? How will you solve those problems? What is the cost of your proposed solution, and what savings does it produce? If your proposal doesn't work, then stop right there. It doesn't matter whether you've got the moral and logical authority to implement it. It is a waste of resources and effort and will not solve a problem. Throw it in the bin!  If your proposal would work, but at great cost, so great that it would impoverish or severely impact the people, stop again. There needs to be an analysis of the effect - a cost-benefit analysis. If the net cost is too high, throw it in the bin. Does your proposal do more harm than good? Are you creating the desired effect, but harming others in doing so? If the harm your proposal causes greater than the benefits produced, throw it in the bin. The bottom line is that not all ideas work, even if you think there is both moral and logical support for them.

You can see how these three arguments can be used against the justifications for various laws. Take the war on drugs. Does personal drug use harm others, or self? It certainly harms the self. It may harm the relationships with others. However by itself, it does not harm others. If you smoke weed in a room by yourself, you are not harming me. I have no right to harm you and claim I and defending myself. This doesn't mean I approve of drug use - only that I see it as a personal mistake, and often a personal illness, not a criminal or aggressive act that harms a second party. Drug use is harmful to one's self, and there is no moral obligation to protect people from themselves

But let us suppose there is such a moral obligation. Let us suppose that the drug war laws fulfill a moral responsibility. Do they pass the logical arguments? If the government has the logical right to bust down someone's door, and arrest them and imprison them for harming themselves, then you and I have the same right. I can kick down my neighbor's front door, knock him to the floor, tie him up and kidnap him or members of his family, and then lock them in my basement for several years. After all, the authority that government has must have come from individuals like me. Does this fly? Does it "pass the smell test"? Of course not. You and I cannot do such things. Breaking and entering, assault and battery, kidnapping, unlawful imprisonment. These are all crimes, and we would end up in jail if we committed them. So logically, there is no government right to enact a war on drugs and imprison drug addicts.

But again, let us suppose that the war on drugs does pass the logical arguments. Does it pass the practical arguments? Does it do what it sets out to do? No, the drug war has not stopped, or even slowed drug abuse. Is the cost of the program less than the benefit produced? We'd need to do a cost/benefit analysis on this. There are costs that are associated with drug addiction, including things like emergency medical care and many others. If the cost goes down more than the cost of the programs, then it would pass this test. I doubt it does though, since these costs are rising with the rising costs of the drug war itself. Does it cause more good than harm? Again, we'd need data. Does the drug war cure drug addicts? If so, how many? How many drug addicts go to prison and become hard core criminals while inside? It is well documented that prison does not reform criminals. Certainly sending non-violent drug addicts to prison doesn't do them any good if they come out still addicted, or with broken families and destroyed lives, though clearly that may have already been the case. This last test possibly is a wash.

In my examples I've made moral, logical, and practical arguments against the drug war, but again, I am vehemently against the use of drugs, and certainly not an anarchist.

If you read up to this point you know a bit more about how I think, so when you discuss government and law with me, these will help you start to understand why I think the way I do. There is more, much more, as there is with every person, but that can wait for some other post.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

University offers female students extra credit for hairy pits

The Captain's favorite major - Women and Gender Studies - has once again proven how useful it is to society! Arizona State University offers female students extra credit for not shaving their armpits:

Women and Gender Studies Professor Breanne Fahs, encourages her female students to cease shaving their underarms and legs during the semester and document their experiences in a journal. 

"One guy did his shaving with a buck knife."    

Student Stephanie Robinson said it was a “life changing experience.”

“Many of my friends didn’t want to work out next to me or hear about the assignment, and my mother was distraught at the idea that I would be getting married in a white dress with armpit hair,” Robinson told ASU news.

Men are also allowed to receive extra credit, as long as they shave their bodies from the neck down.

As the Director of the Center for Feminist Research on Gender and Sexuality Group at ASU, Fahs has been very active in women’s issues. Her academic journals have been published in outlets such as Feminism & Psychology, Psychology of Women Quarterly and Gender and Society. She has also authored books including Performing Sex, Moral Panics of Sexuality and her newest biography on the life of radical feminist and attempted assassin, Valerie Solonas. Participant and student Jaqueline Gonzalez said the experience allowed her to start on a path of activism.
It's so nice that kids can go to university today, even one funded by taxpayers, in order to learn how to have hairy pits and become community activists.  They should change the school name to occupy armpits university.

Fucking hell.  If I had a say in how my tax dollars were spent they would only go to engineering scholarships.

Oh boy, it get's better.  What are Professor Breanne Fahs' qualifications? She's a specialist in radical feminism and political activism, and the author of a book on Valerie Solanas, another radical feminist who is best known for her assassination attempt on Andy Warhol.
Breanne Fahs is an associate professor of women and gender studies at Arizona State University, where she specializes in studying women's sexuality, critical embodiment studies, radical feminism, and political activism.  She has a B.A. in women's studies/gender studies and psychology from Occidental College and a Ph.D. in women's studies and clinical psychology from the University of Michigan.  She has published widely in feminist, social science, and humanities journals and has authored three books: Performing Sex (SUNY Press, 2011), an analysis of the paradoxes of women's "sexual liberation," The Moral Panics of Sexuality (Palgrave, 2013), an edited collection that examines cultural anxieties of "scary sex," and Valerie Solanas (Feminist Press, 2014), a biography about the controversial and politically significant life of author/would-be assassin Valerie Solanas. She is the director of the Feminist Research on Gender and Sexuality Group at Arizona State University, a group that engages students and faculty to fuse activism and rabble-rousing scholarship, and she also works as a private practice clinical psychologist specializing in sexuality, couples work, and trauma recovery.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The economy has finally recovered all jobs lost during the recession...

Or has it?

True, the number of employed persons is now equal to what it was back when the recession started in 2007, and that is good news, but does that tell us the whole picture?

Take a look at the Civilian Employment to Population ratio.

This graph seems to tell us that the employment situation hasn't improved at all!

What about the loafers?  And I do mean loafers - those who have given up, not those who have successfully retired.

Am I right that 13.5 Million working aged Americans have completely given up looking for work and are living on the dole?  Well, if we assume most true retirees come from a pool of people over 55, we should see a large portion of people over 65 retiring.  Do we?

About half.  So 3 million people who joined the 55-64 age group decided not to work.  If we choose to believe that all of those are happily retired, there are still 10.5 million more people who aren't working.  How many are 65 and over?

From BLS data here and here, we know that we've gained 8.364 million people over 65. We also know that 2.2 million of these people have joined the labor force.  That may mean that the other 6.164 million are happily retired.

It is true that labor force participation rates are growing for the 55 and over crowd - they are the only group that is growing.  So it very well may be true that no one over the age of 54 is discouraged from working, they are happily retired.

We still have 4.336 million people of working age who are considered "long term discouraged" or perhaps disabled, but in any case, not working but not counted as unemployed.

Although I find it personally heartening that most people over 55 who are retiring are probably doing so intentionally, the numbers still mean that in the best scenario, we should add several million to the number of unemployed people. Even so, scenarios are models of reality, not reality itself.  In reality, it doesn't matter if people are happily retired or not.  If they aren't working, they must live off of savings or someone else's labor.

The bottom line is that while we have just returned to the same number of producers that we saw in 2007, those producers have to work harder to take care of those additional 15 million people that have joined the population who aren't able - or willing - to produce.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The EPA has a problem: employees are shitting in the hallways

If there was no other reason than this, it should be enough.  Just shut them down already.

Environmental Protection Agency workers have done some odd things recently. Contractors built secret man caves in an EPA warehouse, an employee pretended to work for the CIA to get unlimited vacations and one worker even spent most of his time on the clock looking at pornography. It appears, however, that a regional office has reached a new low: Management for Region 8 in Denver, Colo., wrote an email earlier this year to all staff in the area pleading with them to stop inappropriate bathroom behavior, including defecating in the hallway.
This rampant decadence reminds me of the drugs and sex scandal that rocked the Minerals Management Service before it was shut down and it's directives rolled into other departments.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

150,000 Detroit residents delinquent on their water bills

Detroit Water & Sewage is threatening to cut off the water to one hundred and fifty thousand dead-beat customers.  I say it's about damned time!  On average these customers owe about $800 for water they've already used.  That comes out to 10 months for me, and I live in Texas! 

Of course, the local politicians are decrying the move as a human rights violation and asking the United Nations (!!!!!!) to intervene.  Can you believe that? 
A coalition of activist groups took the rare step Monday and appealed to the United Nations over reports that cash-strapped residents in Detroit are being left without access to water. 
The appeal to the U.N.’s special rapporteur comes after reports that nearly half of the Detroit Water and Sewerage customers are delinquent on their bills and owe the department about $118 million. The department has reportedly started shutting off water to these delinquent customers.
It's clear that some people want services for nothing.  They want to make virtual slaves out of working folk. I hope honest folk don't put up with it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

They want this woman to be President

In Hillary Clinton's own words, the family arrived at the White House without a cent to their name, and left it with $12 million in debt.  Factoring in Bill's $200,000/yr ($100k after taxes, approximately) salary, the Clintons spent nearly $13 million in just 8 years.  That's a hell of a lot of spending.  Even more so when your recall that their primary and secondary residences are paid for by us, as is all of their transportation, security, food, utilities, phone bills, etc.. I'd be willing to bet their vacations were all on the tax-payer's time as well.

Just how many mansions and Prada purses did Mrs. Clinton buy?
As I recall, we were something like $12 million in debt. 
We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt. We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea’s education. You know, it was not easy.
And they want her to be President?  When she outspends her household income by almost 1600%?   Will she propose a $40 trillion budget for FY 2017?

California Teacher Tenure Found to Violate Student Rights

First shall issue, and now this.  Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu sided with students in finding that tenure is unconstitutional.
California's teacher tenure statutes are unconstitutional and shouldn't be enforced, a judge said in handing a victory to a group of students in the broadest legal challenge to date against laws that guarantee public school teachers' jobs.  
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu, who heard two months of evidence, agreed in a tentative ruling today with the nine students who brought the lawsuit that the statutes violate their right to equal educational opportunity under the California constitution.
The ruling, when final, will prohibit the state from enforcing a law that gives teachers permanent employment after less than two years on the job, as well as laws that the students say make it too expensive and too time-consuming to dismiss ineffective teachers. Treu put the order on hold until any possible appeals are resolved.  
"Both students and teachers are unfairly, unnecessarily, and for no legally cognizable reason, let alone a compelling one, disadvantaged by the current permanent employment statute," the judge said.  
Perhaps this will open the door to some serious reform, such as I discussed two years ago in my San Diego school post. Lord knows California needs it! If we ever want a good and efficient school system, free market ideas, such as performance based hiring and advancement, must be allowed to permeate through them.
Here is how I would change the school system in order to evaluate instructors' abilities:
  1. K-12 changes to year round quarter system with no elevator (Students must take a comprehensive test to pass each grade).
  2. Test the students at the start of the quarter. No curves.
  3. Test the students at the end of the quarter. No curves.
  4. Evaluate their degree of improvement.
  5. Rank instructors from A to F.
  6. Send D instructors to retrain for a weekend every month of the quarter.
  7. Send F instructors to retrain for an entire quarter.
  8. Fire FF (2 Fs in a row) instructors. (No more tenure.)
  9. Send DF (D followed by F) instructors to retrain for an entire quarter.
  10. Rotate classes so all instructors are tested with all students.
  11. Repeat.
1 would prevent students who didn't know earlier material from being pushed into material they won't understand. 2 gets a baseline for every student. 3 establishes their new level of knowledge, and 4 documents their improvement during their studies. 5 ranks the net improvement of each instructor's students against the other instructor's statistics, while 6 & 7 try to salvage failing instructors. 8 eliminates bad instructors and 9 gives failing instructors one last chance to be salvaged. 10 and 11 ensure "good instructors" won't be "stuck with crap students." 
You could also sweeten the deal by giving bonuses to AA instructors. This would take time, but continual review on a quarterly basis like this might work.
I'll bet the Captain will be ecstatic; I know I am.