Sunday, July 26, 2015

Anarchism is a Loser's Game

The following is a reply to a member of an anarcho-capitalist group. The response is "in-line" and the portions of the reply which are quoted from the AnCap are presented in italics as well as being enclosed in quotation marks. The illustrations and links are added for color and interest.

"Consider for a moment that the history of government is, what, 10,000 years? How much time does a species need to "fine tune" a class system (that, as a rule, allows some in that species to use violence to enforce their will over others, either through popularity contests or some other means that legitimizes the ruler(s)) so that it works without leading to total collapse?"

I would contend that the complexity of the problem is second only to, if not on par with, the grand question of science. What I mean is that the number of factors which exist to be manipulated and understood, and the measurement of second- and third-order effects from manipulation of the factors, and the fact that oftentimes the manipulation of factors reveals information hitherto not even conceived, is similar to the way that the scientific method tends to raise more questions than it answers. The complexity of the problem is augmented by the fact that the parameters of the experiment are constantly shifting - the human condition is markedly different from what it was even at the beginning of recorded history. Additionally, like science, the systematic analysis of the efficacy of the experiment is a novel development and, like science, the practice and interpretation of the method is subject to significant emotionalism from society.

For a short answer to "How much time?" I offer these two rhetoricals: How much time does a species need to fine tune its understanding of the universe? Would the abandonment of the rigidity of the scientific system be justified due to its failure to thus far produce complete understanding?

"Remember, you're arguing that some people *must* possess the "legal authority" to force their will on others with threats or actual use of violence in order to meet some utilitarian end."

As I've argued elsewhere in these threads, elimination of a legal governing apparatus does not necessarily reduce coercion; nor does it eliminate a class system. Realistically, it only reduces coercion de jure and replaces it with coercion de facto: the claim that a man is free to leave his job, and is therefore not "coerced" or "enslaved" is naive. No economy can be comprised entirely of successful venture capitalists, all economies require the skills of laborers and as such any economy outside of the strictest Planned Economy will have stratification.

The expense of vital services comprises a greater portion of the income of the poor. In an anarcho-capitalist society, where all services are rendered by private (and ostensibly, for-profit) businesses, this means that the poor must either prioritize which services they will pay for - to include vital services - or they must collectivize in order to bargain for them, a practice which has been sneered upon by your associates in other portions of this thread.

Why the freedom to freely associate and form supportive organizations which create bargaining parity is somehow immoral is beyond me. I do not understand why it is necessary for the business owner to hold all the cards if the only requirements for the AnCap model are the right to freely contract as sovereign entities; but it seems that to some, the right of the business owner to dictate wages is more important than the right of the worker to freely form a coalition in order to negotiate.

Returning to the point of the expense of vital service, I would like to comment on the market implications of a game theory model; the first-order effects of which you can yourself observe any time you see, say, two coffee shops on the same block:

Consider a beach of length X. On this beach are two ice cream vendors, selling an identical product at an identical price. The beach is populated evenly along its length by bathers who, realizing that the product is identical, will minimize the effort/time cost of obtaining ice cream by patronizing the nearest vendor. Where do the vendors establish their stands?

The optimal solution is that one vendor (Vendor A) establishes his stand at 1/4x, and the other (Vendor B) at 3/4x. In this arrangement, each vendor has half the beach as clients and client cost is minimized, with no client having to travel more than a quarter of the beach's length to obtain ice cream.

However, once the vendors are imbued with a profit motive, the optimal solution fails: Vendor A realizes that by moving his stand immediately next to Vendor B, he will control three quarters of the beach, even though only one third of his customers enjoy the convenience of having a vendor only .25x away, and some must travel as far as .75x for ice cream. Vendor B then moves his stand to the other side of Vendor A, effectively reversing their positions. This dance continues until a Nash equilibrium is reached with both vendors as close to .5x as possible. Each vendor now serves exactly as many clients, and generates the same revenue, as in the socially optimal solution. However, half the beach is now experiencing an exaggerated cost in obtaining ice cream.

When it's just ice cream on the beach, it's hard to care. When it comes to vital infrastructure, however, the difficulties of this arrangement become clear. Our mixed economy already places a premium on proximity to services such as fire and police departments, hospitals, schools, and commercial districts. The wealthy - who could afford the extra cost in transportation to these areas - instead pay a higher initial cost to station themselves near to them. The poor, who already have difficulty obtaining the services in the first place, now have an additional cost attached to even reaching the services, which exacerbates the stratification of the society.

The ability of the poor to deal with monetary inconvenience - ill health, temporary unemployment, vehicle breakdown, etc - is greatly reduced. These issues make it such that social mobility is exchanged for economic survival. The poor cannot afford to buy healthy food or buy supplies in bulk, so they purchase cheaper items which provide poorer sustenance or which have lower durability; the net result of which is that the cost of the same necessities which the wealthy buy not only claim a higher percentage of the poor's income, but that they are forced to spend money more often. The percentage of their cost of living isn't simply higher, it is disproportionately so.

The Anarcho Capitalist model of private toll roads, private security, private healthcare, etc. creates additional burdens on the poor. When you say:

"That is, the people who are on the receiving end of those threats or actual violence are, by all accounts, nothing more than drones meant to carry out the will of the rulers."

I see presented as an alternative a method whereby the poor are made drones, kept poor so that they can continue to buy services and cheap products to bolster the accounts of the entrepreneurial class.

Which leads us to the question of violence.

Most anarchist traditions rely on the voluntary participation of people in the social structure. The right-wing variations of them typically hold that private enterprise will provide goods and services through payment and contracts.

The question becomes: in what manner are these transactions and contracts enforced?

It is tempting to model these societies on the assumption of "enlightened self-interest," where the reputation of a company is what keeps it honest, and that companies will cooperate to provide socially optimal solutions. Those who propose this theory posit that the incentive towards profit maximization and rational actors on all sides of the arrangement will ensure the fair, impartial, and optimal distribution of goods and services - to each according to their ability, and assuming that ability is sufficient to match need. As with the ice cream vendor experiment above, the veracity of which can be determined in nearly any shopping center, this is not how human beings operate. And even in cases of game theory where the "winning" move - that is, the one which results in the maximization of profit to the player - assume rational actors on all sides, in many games the winning move is the one which disregards social cooperation.

Take, for instance, the "Centipede Game." As I've rambled on quite a bit already, I will leave it to you to familiarize yourself with the setup in the interest of brevity. There is an article on Wikipedia which does a fine job of discussing moves, payouts, and the empirical data of how people actually play.

In such a game played entirely by rational actors, the Nash equilibrium is reached on the first move, which ensures that the first player wins, though it means a much lower payout than the potential maximum. It is noted "Palacios-Huerta and Volij (2009) find that expert chess players play differently from college students. With a rising Elo, the probability of continuing the game declines; all Grandmasters in the experiment stopped at their first chance." This means that there is real experimental evidence that rational play does not result in the maximum payout. As anarcho-capitalists rely on the assumption of all parties to the social structure to be "rational," it will follow that such elimination of incentive - or requirement - to cooperate is inefficient. However, given the variation of rationality in the human race, various levels of apparent cooperation can be expected, with the various "players" cashing out based on two variables - 1) their individual threshold for a desirable payout, and 2) their assessment of the trustworthiness of the other players. In all cases, "defection" is inevitable as all players seek to maximize their profit and will do so the instant they assess the game is reaching imminence.

When applied to the supply of goods and services, highly rational actors can maximize profits by "playing rationally," that is, by screwing over the other guy as quickly and as often as possible. This does not bode well for the development of trust necessary for "enlightened self-interest" and all that is necessary for "enlightened self-interest" to fail as a social model is that barest bit of self-interest which causes people to "defect"

What this means is that, in the absence of methods which enforce cooperation, theft, fraud, and extortion become widespread. This can be witnessed in Bitcoin markets, where people regularly pay for goods or services which are undelivered. Without any means of enforcement on the trade, there is no recourse. Essentially, the "threat of violence," as AnCaps and libertarians so often put it, is necessary to ensure cooperation.

To tie it all together, let's consider the following scenario, based on the quote "Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins"

I am happily swinging my fist about when it connects with your nose. Whether this meeting was intentional or not is immaterial: You rightly demand an apology, and because in this scenario I am the sort of asshole who will do what he can get away with, I refuse. Not only that, I continue to swing my fist about, with no regard for your nose. You attempt to take responsibility for the well-being of noses everywhere, and attempt to exercise your right to self defense by attacking me. However, it seems I am an experienced fist swinger, and you are beaten. You appeal to your friends for support to deal with the fist swinging threat. As a person of limited means, you are able only to gather a few friends, but because this is a free market society violence is also a commodity for sale, and you pool some funds to retain a small posse in order to come and deal with me. When next you find me, however, you discover that I have not only a physical, but also an economic advantage: I am able to retain in my service a squad of the finest, most aggressive, and best equipped bodyguards.

You are clearly wronged, but due to the total privatization of all commodities, and the inherent stratification of wealth, you have no recourse in this scenario. The only possible way to deal with me would be to entreat an equally advantaged person to spend their wealth in support of your cause. Because of the security forces each party is able to hire, this results in some small-scale warfare which does not necessarily result in a just outcome, and which causes danger to innocent bystanders.

Government is an administrative apparatus, which exists primarily to deal with the affairs of those it governs in a way which minimizes expressed violence through the threat of violence. It is capable of enforcing contracts and ensuring the equitable distribution of goods and services by pooling resources and making them commonly available. One of these resources is justice.

You said:
"I think you're conflating what you have with why you have it. Those things exist and increased once people became freer."

Those things I mentioned which exist certainly have an aspect of freedom to their proliferation, but they have far more an aspect of planning to them. The light-socialism of Scandinavia is empirically responsible for the ascendancy of the people therein - by many metrics, they are among the happiest, most equitable, best educated, most mobile, and least stratified people on the planet. If their wealthy suffer for their tax rates, it is incomparable to the suffering of the poor who live paycheck to paycheck, living in constant dread of the next calamity.

Someone else in these threads stated something to the effect that the sole commandment of the human condition is "to survive". I call bullshit. Beasts just survive. We have reached our place on this planet through two things: social cooperation, from the human hunter-gatherer herds to the modern corporations or Scandinavian light-socialist governments; and the ability to modify our surroundings.

Any method which reduces the human condition to "survival" is a backwards step, sociologically, morally, and evolutionarily.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Morality of a Living Wage

Los Angeles County, a region with which I am well familiar, recently approved a minimum wage hike to $15 an hour over the next several years.

I'll admit that when the $15 an hour minimum wage was initially being discussed - towards the tail end of the Occupy movement and shortly before a measure to establish the wage appeared on a Seattle ballot - I was skeptical of the idea and disposed to oppose it on the typical economic alarmism and sneering at the demographic stereotypically assigned to such jobs.

After having the discussion over and over again, and researching the issue, I eventually came around. By the time the LA County bill passed, I was getting pissed off by short sighted and flawed macros such as this one, which was running the conservative circuit on my Facebook feed today:

Besides the fact that this seems to think that the minimum wage would only apply to fast food workers, rather than raising everyone's wages; it also ignores the critical fact that the emergency personnel (as well as many retail clerks, military personnel, office professionals, manual laborers, and professional artists) are in fact also severely underpaid. It suffers from an elitist conceit that appears to argue that, because a person is new to the workforce, or performs a menial task, they are not permitted to make enough money.

I entered into an argument over a similar graphic to this one and was so put off by my opponent's cavalier dismissal of basic human dignity (complaining that such dignity comes at the expense of making him pay a marginal increase in his cost of living) that I collected the various data that had informed my reformed opinion.

Society is a cooperative enterprise. In the various liberal traditions, including democratic ones such as our republic, that enterprise further becomes collaborative. The system exists for the benefit of everyone, not simply to prop up the lifestyles of a few elite. We are remiss if we do not maintain this cooperation or advance the enterprise in a way that at is at least as beneficial to subsequent generations, and we ought to strive to constantly improve. To promote a paradigm in which entire segments of society are impoverished is antithetical to the entire premise. This is the gestalt behind the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which established that workers will receive wages sufficient to maintain “the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency, and general well-being.” These words, appear to me to establish that there is a legal requirement that the minimum wage be a living wage.

An easy way to check the level "necessary for health, efficiency, and general well-being" is to examine the welfare system. This system, established as a safety net, is designed to meet the needs of a person and their dependents in a manner consistent with basic human dignity. A 2013 study by the CATO institute concluded that 34 states and the District of Columbia pay welfare benefits with a value above the minimum wage. Of the 16 other states, 10 of them are among the states with the lowest cost of living in the nation and 6 of them - Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Idaho, Florida, and Kentucky - are in the bottom quartile of national average income. And a recent DoD review found that record numbers of soldiers were on supplemental income - primarily food stamps - in 2014. 

The fact that the economic safety net is set at a level above the minimum amount of money we agree can be paid to a person is the clearest possible indicator that the minimum wage is too low.

What does the social safety net say a dignified wage is? In California, the maximum welfare benefit is equivalent to a pre-tax income of $37,160/year, or $17.87/hour. This benefit includes support for dependents, as the MIT calculator for a single person living in LA county with no dependents needs to make $12.44/hour - an increase of 38% over the current state minimum wage and 24.4% over the state minimum wage in January of 2016. A couple with one person working needs to make $19.53/hour. A single parent needs to make over $25/hour. 

The California minimum wage in 2016, $10/hr, will still fail to match the highest buying power the minimum wage has had - the minimum wage in 1968 had an inflation-adjusted purchasing power of $10.51 in 2012.

In the post-recession economy, we are not just talking about 16 year old kids starting their first jobs when we talk about the minimum wage. We are talking about people re-entering the workplace. We are talking about people who had to accept any job they could find after layoffs. In 2013, Pew estimated that as many as half of minimum wage workers were adults. The 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows 49.6% of workers making minimum wage or lower were over the age of 25. The economic policy institute shows that the average age of a minimum wage worker is 35. 88% of them are over 20 and 28% have children. 55% work full-time.

This means that when we talk about keeping the minimum wage too low to make a living, we are impoverishing people who are trying to support families and in many cases find a way back to a job they lost circa 2008 through no fault of their own. We are additionally impoverishing people who, without additional income, are likely to become saddled with student debt, if they can pursue an education at all. These same people are increasingly likely to return to live at home, if they can ever reach a financial position to leave in the first place.

So in 34 states and the District of Columbia, the social safety net is not simply helping people "get back on their feet". The social safety net is practically a part of the wage structure. In nearly 75% of the nation, business is allowed to operate with increased overhead because the government is subsidizing wages for them. In cases where workers are holding two or three part-time jobs which are not required to provide any benefits, the government is also subsidizing the benefits.

It's time to adjust the wage.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

On riding the Congressional Red Wave

I'm not entirely hostile to the Republican Party, though for all that I malign democracy, the Democratic Party promotes a platform to which I am more sympathetic. This is due to two factors: First, I am an advocate for active social change rather than passive, laissez-faire methods. Second, I am actively opposed to religion and theocracy in all its forms and as such the coalition between the Republican Party and the politicized Christianity in America make it impossible for me to support any high-profile Republican in any capacity whatsoever.

So it should come as little surprise that I am less than pleased with the results of the midterm elections. It may be simple, stupid optimism, but I don't think that these results necessarily forebode a swing back towards the right wing in the 2016 presidential season. The next two years will constitute a trial period for the Republican Party, and the performance of Congress during this trial will have considerable impact on that election.

There are a few things that are going to influence this:

1) Repeal of the ACA - This could go either way. The Republicans have been after this since before it even passed, and so it is now one of the "big ticket" items on their agenda. This is something that will be used as a benchmark of their success, like getting out of Iraq and closing Guantanamo have been for Obama.

These benchmarks, of course, have very little to do with any actual effectiveness or competency, but because of their high profile and binary nature they are easy for voters to understand and rally behind. For this reason, the GOP essentially must pursue repeal of the ACA, despite what Mitch McConnell has promised in post-election interviews. To fail to do so is, in the mind of the voter, a failure of the GOP. The Republicans may expect that they can spin it as their efforts being blocked by the Democrats, but that spin is unlikely to hold up while they hold a majority. If it does, then the repeal of ACA gets to be a talking point for their next Presidential candidate. It's a tough tradeoff to measure.

Obviously, the greatest contributors to the enrollment numbers are the poor, who have seen an overall 9% decrease in uninsured people under the ACA. The kicker is that a higher percentage of Republicans gained insurance under the ACA than Democrats, so by repealing it Republicans will be hurting their own constituents, such as those in historically poor and republican areas such as Kentucky, Alabama, and Mississippi; and the deep south remains the most uninsured part of America.

Image Source: The New York Times
This does not indicate a large shift in votes, unfortunately, because voters tend to vote with ideology and not their brains. In Kentucky, for example, the ACA was a huge success. But despite high participation and a lack of an informed populace - who do not understand that the state franchise "Kynect" is an ACA program - voters in that state remain likely to support a repeal of the ACA and will probably blame Obama when their newly gained health insurance melts into the ether.

On the other side of the coin, young people (18-34), Hispanics, Blacks, and women all had significantly greater levels of enrollment than old white men. These are groups which tend to vote Democrat, and so will be fighting to keep the ACA on the books in two years' time.

2) Filibusters and Shutdowns - Unfortunately, the filibuster is a fact of life in Congress now - the commonly cited figure is that 70% of all bills before the Congress will be filibustered and only 2-3% of them will ultimately pass. The desirability of that latter point is a debate outside the scope of this discussion; it does, however, give an indication of the ability of our Congress to actually accomplish anything. As an organization tasked with running the nation and fixing its problems, a 2-3% implementation rate is eyebrow raising to say the least.

Abuse of this procedural artifact has been brought to light recently but it will make no real difference in the perception of either party. I assess that the minority party - which is the one with the most to gain from a filibuster - will suffer slightly more blame; on the other hand the mechanism is now identified in the public consciousness as a Republican strategy. At best, it comes out as a wash.

Speaking of Republican strategy, however, leads us into something which explicitly IS a Republican strategy: Holding the nation hostage via the Government Shutdown.

The shutdowns in recent years reflected extremely poorly on the Republicans, as the nation overwhelmingly (and rightly) viewed the loss of services as a dangerous and irresponsible act of political brinksmanship, rather than - as the GOP had hoped - as the inevitable results of a failure of the reigning Democrats to negotiate.

The voter has a short memory, as it turns out, and they decided that the solution was more Republicans. During the campaign season, Sen. Mitch McConnell threatened to use government shutdowns as a strongarm method to get their way. He quickly waffled on that point - presumably after an aide showed him the polls from the last shutdown - and has vowed "no shutdown, no repeal [of the ACA]" in the post-election interviews. At least one of those points is disingenuous, and the fact remains that the cat is out of the bag now. Congressional Republicans - who have to deal with not only Democrats, but the rogue and extremist Tea Party members - have historically demonstrated their willingness to shut the government down and it remains a threat that they can continue to employ. If the extremist elements within the GOP do not fall in line, the fallout from even the threat of a shutdown will reflect very poorly on a Republican Congress, who will be seen not only as disruptive as ever, but also as unable to control a congress in which they hold a majority.

Therefore, filibusters and shutdowns will inevitably end poorly for the Republicans in 2016, forcing them to take a less rigid, more ecumenical position in order to market themselves as a party that can solve problems.

3) Vetoes - There is really not much relevant data on veto-heavy terms. The Reconstruction era Presidency of Andrew Johnson, while culminating in an impeachment attempt, is not analogous because Congress had the votes to override a veto.

I expect, however, that a high number of vetoes is likely to go in favor of the GOP. Americans prefer an ecumenical government and the veto counteracts this idea in two ways.

First, it has the President throwing out the orders of our democratically elected Congress. Despite being democratically elected himself, there is simply no way to avoid the spin on this.

Second, while the Republicans hold a majority in Congress, they lack the supermajority necessary to override a veto. Once again, rather than being seen as the essence of republicanism in action, where our representatives have a balance of power which prevents a runaway Congress, this will be spun as a Democrat minority exercising a disruptive power to prevent the "will of the people". By passing laws that they expect to be vetoed, especially with the congressional tendency to attach emotionally charged titles to bills, the GOP can counteract at least some of the bad press from the above point by casting the democrats in an uncooperative and heartless light.

Expect the number of idiotic bills with emotional names and causes to increase as the election season picks up. The Republicans may also, in the spirit of Congress under Andrew Johnson, use a series of vetoes to pursue their OTHER high profile key agenda item: Impeachment of the President.

4) Impeachment of the President - This is the "Big Ticket" which the GOP has been pursuing for six years for no reason whatsoever. Mitch McConnell made assurances that his Congress would not shut down the government and that they would not fully repeal the ACA, but the impeachment of President Obama is still on the table.

This is a losing move for the Republicans and I hope they make it.

As above, they must pursue this point as a matter of public perception. Unlike with the ACA, however, there is a time limit. They cannot let this sit idle until they are in a better position to move - they must act in less than two years or they have failed.

Contrary to GOP hysteria, Obama has not committed any "Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors" and therefore is not subject to impeachment - or to be more precise, there is nothing to convict the President of in the event that impeachment proceeds to a trial before the Senate. Impeachment proceedings are a high profile case which would force the issue - Republicans would have to present their evidence and have it weighed. The failure of their case will be a high profile stain on years of campaigning, and the distraction of the case from other matters of national import will become a burden on the GOP for pursuing a petty political agenda at their expense.

Ultimately, I expect that it is safer for the Republicans to avoid the issue of impeachment overall so that they may maintain their theatrics, rather than suffer the much worse failure to convict the President. This puts them in a bind: as I've repeatedly said throughout this post, they must pursue impeachment now that they have a majority and the must do it within a set time limit.

It is possible that the GOP expects the payoff for repealing the ACA to be higher than that of even a half successful impeachment. Repeal of the ACA is high profile and the fallout from its removal lacks the immediacy necessary for the voters to attribute the cause of their ire appropriately. Should this be the case, it works against the Democrats in 2016 as well. Candidates can proudly say that they supported and defended the ACA should it survive a Republican assault; on the other hand,
failure of the GOP to impeach the President is not something which a Democratic candidate can mention without tying together the ideas of impeachment and the Democratic administration.

Ultimately, I don't expect either plan to come to fruition, but the GOP is likely to stage a big show of assaulting the ACA while letting their plans for impeachment fall by the wayside. This will give them contentious and ideologically charged fodder to ride in the 2016 presidential season. What remains is whether or not two years of a Republican Congress will convince the swing voters that the GOP is reactionary and dangerous, or if it will convince them that the GOP needs more rope to pursue its agenda.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Shrine of an Idiot God

While I am sympathetic for many reasons, I am increasingly of the opinion that one of the greatest recommendations of the monarchic system is that it has as an effect the disenfranchisement of essentially the entirety of a societies many, many idiots.

This has no bearing on the actual quantity of idiots present, or their vociferousness, but so long as the particular idiot that you hear is not the monarch, you can take comfort in the absolute knowledge that this idiot is not, and never will be, dictating policy. In this day and age I think nobody can deny the appeal of that sort of assured impotence in ones ideological opposition.

Imagine what changes there would be in our approach to discourse, which in the internet age is more prolific than ever, if it were known by both parties that their discussions are nothing but the exploration of hypotheticals? Without the illusion that anything said by any pundit has the slightest influence on policy, what good could getting worked up possibly do? From whence would come vitriol? Perhaps it is out of the habit of a lifetimes under a crown that gave our forefathers their seemingly effortless ability to discuss passionately matters of state, then just as quickly turn from them to more mundane subjects: a deeply ingrained belief that nothing they wrote actually had import or impact.

So what if the monarch is not brilliant, a master statesman? So what if now and again the monarch is one of the idiots? That is actually another upside which is critical to the contentment of the populace: Someone concrete to blame.

The monarch, as the State incarnate, literally is responsible personally for the well-being or otherwise of their subjects. If there is one thing that can be proven by the rantings of the people - of their blame casting and religious fervor and conspiracy theorizing and appeals to the state to intervene somehow - it is that the people above all want to know that someone is ultimately in charge. Not some amorphous, intangible Congress or Parliament. One solitary individual. Human nature all but demands a king.

And why not? Better to have one person in charge than this Byzantine mess of shifting allegiances and untraceable accountabilities. One person under whom we all thrive together or not; one person who is trained in the art of statecraft and who may even excel in it, potentially to bring us to new heights.

Let's not forget that the vast majority of governments have been some form of autocracy. The bulk of human achievement - art, technology, civics, literature, philosophy - has been accomplished under these conditions. The greatest and widest and longest lived empires the world has seen were united under a crown. Let's stop pretending that this is an accident.

Let's stop pretending that populist doublethink has truly improved upon tried and true methods. Let's abandon the idea that democracy and republicanism are new developments and logical progressions of autocratic government, when in fact these institutions date back to the ancient world. Let's stop pretending that by forcing politicians to pander to the populace for votes that we have attained greater transparency or accountability in our government; or that the plebians are even entitled to a hand at statecraft. Let's abandon that notion that says that all of us are better than some of us. Let's stop pretending that it isn't stupid to believe that democracy isn't mediocrity enshrined: that the law of averages somehow works in our favor in the long run.

Let's give monarchy another go of it.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

My Final Correspondence with the Libertarian Party

Dear "Chair"
I will not be renewing my membership at any level of the Libertarian Party. Frankly, I'm a little embarrassed that my membership took so long to lapse.
There are a variety of reasons for this.
First and foremost, as you may or may not be aware, the LPC is incapable of culling felons from its membership. Any political organization such as yours, which intends to break into the "two-party" paradigm, must be able to present a spotless face. That incidents such as those surrounding Matthew Barnes, a convicted child molester, should even be an issue within the organization is unacceptable. Violent crime is unacceptable to libertarians. Felons are unacceptable to voters. That the issue of such persons being members of the Party was even a debated subject is deplorable and comments rather strongly against the intention of the LPC to conduct itself with principle and with an intent to succeed. My dollars are better spent elsewhere and my integrity demands I associate myself with better people than the LPC sees fit to include.
Second, the LP as a whole seems to suffer from an exclusionary, extremist, fundamentalist mentality that may not be representative of the Party but is its most vocal component. The conspiracy theorists, the anarchists, the potheads and the racists have only grown more vocal and more powerful within the party since the death of founder, guide, and voice of reason, David Nolan. To be associated with the likes of Starchild at the state level and Jim Davidson at the national level is an embarrassment and a risk to me professionally.
I do not require a reply to this. There is nothing that can be said or done to regain my membership. It is due to the several years spent attempting to improve the Party that I have even dignified your letter from "Chair" with a response. Please remove me from your lists and do not contact me further.

Friday, October 17, 2014

On Iraqi WMD and the Justification for War

It is becoming public knowledge that there were chemical weapons found in Iraq during the 2003-2011 Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. On its face this contradicts the long-running script that "we were lied to" about the pretenses for the war.

As usual, the truth is not so pure and simple.

I heard about these a few years back from a couple different Iraq vets. I mentioned it in passing when ISIS overtook an old chemical weapons plant this spring. We had captured the same plant in 2003 when we first swept through.

There is a key point th
at needs to be made: The difference between "Saddam's WMD program poses a threat" and "Saddam has old, leaky, improperly stored and probably inert WMD from the 1980's" is not a small difference.

What many people fail to realize is that hindsight is 20/20. They think that the indicators are obvious, when in fact they aren't. We "should have known" the Japanese were going to attack Pearl Harbor. We "should have known" about the 9/11 attacks. We "should have known" that Saddam's WMD programs were in a sorry state.

Saddam was surrounded by enemies and fickle allies who would happily turn on him if they sensed weakness. His regime HAD to create the impression that they had WMD as a deterrent. It worked on Iran, it worked on Israel, it worked on Syria and Jordan and Egypt, and it nearly worked on us.

As Sun Tzu said, "All warfare is based on deception". It is the function of Intelligence to try and peel back the layers of deception, and sometimes Intelligence fails. Critics of the war conveniently forget the way that Saddam blocked and delayed inspectors and rattled his saber in the days leading up to the war.

These revelations do not fully vindicate the Iraq invasion, but it does lend credit to the posturing that Saddam did in 2002-2003. We did go to war in Iraq because we were fed falsehoods, but it looks more and more like those falsehoods were fed to us by Saddam, not by George W. Bush

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Aborting Jesus

In Freakonomics, Steven Levitt makes one of the most controversial claims I've ever seen: that legal and accessible abortion makes a better world. The data makes a compelling argument and if you would like to examine it and his arguments I urge you to pick up a copy of his incredibly interesting book.
The pro-life contingent is fond of asking "What if the baby was the cure for cancer?" or other such inane questions. It is inane because any problem has a solution which may be derived by anyone with the proper intelligence. New problems, on the other hand ...well, let's just say that the drop in crime rates observed two decades after Roe v. Wade wasn't attributable to the "cure for crime" being allowed to come to term.

Jesus is a great example of just such a situation. Imagine how much better the world might be if Joseph had done what he was supposed to do? (Hint: Deuteronomy 22:20-21; Numbers 5:11-31) There would be only one basic cult of Jehovah on the planet. The Dark Ages, the Crusades, the Inquisition, Sharia ...and likewise, the reactions to those forces: communism, the French Reign of Terror, the Holocaust, Pogroms. Lesser banes like Intelligent Design would also be absent from the world today.

In the void left by Jesus' absence there would be new atrocities, for sure. Humans are atrocious, and religions are made by humans. But what if three quarters of the world's population wasn't all devoting their bloodshed to the same God, whose cults have written into their texts the world's most reassuring excuses for horror yet devised? Mind that even the religious wars in Hindu and Buddhist areas in the modern day are fought against one sect of the cult of Jehova.

Perhaps this is the key to Christopher Hitchens' note of the correlation between Women's Rights (and reproductive freedom) and the quality of life and freedom of an area. Perhaps the causal relationship is not only direct; but it is as Hitchens suggest, that women's rights and reproductive freedom create conditions for a better world.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Thin Blue Lifeline.

I saw one of those uplifting, good news type stories in my news feed today:

Police officer picks up tab for the groceries a desperate mother tried to STEAL to feed her struggling family

I re-shared it for a couple reasons.

First, it's awfully popular to hate on the police. I understand that what they do is often unpopular, and very few of us ever have or take the opportunity to have a pleasant encounter with the thin blue line. In a larger sense, this is true of everything we do. We can be model employees, but a single fuckup is what our bosses will tend to remember. So it is important that we take time to remember that these individuals have taken a job that they know is unpopular, that doesn't pay well, and is dangerous, almost universally out of a sense of service. It is also important to remember that most of them retain that sense of service and community; and to remind ourselves in positive ways why it is that such a profession exists. The watchman doesn't just repel dangers, but checks in to ensure our well being. Which leads to my second reason:

This is exactly what the police ought to do.

I'm not saying buy groceries for folk, that was an act of charity above and beyond the duties of an officer. But it is an indicator of how the officer ought to view their role and act within that role, and that role is as a member of the community.

I've heard people wax nostalgic about the days when the cops that walked a beat in your neighborhood knew your name. I am wary of nostalgia, but this is a worthwhile goal. It fosters a sense of connection between the officers and their charges. It enhances community appreciation of the police. It means that there are enough police to have them walking about and knowing their areas and the people within them.

I'm writing about this news item here for a third reason. A while ago I opined on nullification, and made the point that while the police ought not to have de jure powers of nullification, the realities of law enforcement give them such powers de facto. This good news story is an example of this de facto nullification: the law requires that the woman, a thief, should be arrested and punished; in most cases the law is perfectly logical and therefore should remain standing. However, the officer took the time to consider the situation and chose not to enforce the law, because in this specific situation the effect of doing so would have been beyond negative. This officer, rather than act without imagination, did the right thing without the waste of time, money, and paper that would go into legislating every conceivable exception that can or ought to be made to the law.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Spy Games

If you asked me what the most myopic thing in the news today is, I'd give the outrage over this as an answer:

US coping with furious allies as NSA spying revelations grow
US should accept limits on spying on allies
Spying on Allies Fits President Obama's Standoffish Profile

The majority of news sources are treating the "revelations" that the US spies on its allies as some sort of bombshell, as though international relations were conducted between preteens who still get shocked when they find out their friends talk about them behind their backs.

And so, in this "Hollywood Tonite" approach to International Relations, we are treated to surprise when it is revealed that Germany is still talking to us and has a delegation of intelligence professionals en route to the US.

They speculate, in their ignorance, that it is to discuss getting the US to knock it the hell off.

That is total bullshit, and I think any reasonable adult who steps outside, gets a breath of fresh air, and forgets the hype, can understand why.

NPR gets it:
4 Things To Know About Spying On Allies

Everyone spies on everyone. It's an accepted and expected aspect of international relations. Society is a bit weird, though, and holds a bit of a double standard. So while Barack Obama and Angela Merkel may have assumed (or even explicitly known) that they were being spied on, there has to be a bit of a public shit-show for the plebes when "embarrassing" revelations are made.

Chancellor Merkel shakes a finger at President Obama, and in a few weeks, everything quiets down and the world moves on.

At least, that would be the case if it wasn't for some very REAL embarrassments that didn't change the situation slightly.

Embarrassments like these assholes:

The US spying on allied countries is no big deal until the very instant the US starts having problems containing its classified information, because information taken by spies tends to be of a classified nature - that is, it's not just American secrets that are at risk.

So this hubbub over American indiscretion is not entirely disingenuous. There IS a big problem with the US spying on our allies. But it has nothing to do with Chancellor Merkel feeling invaded. It has to do with feeling exposed.

My guess is that the German intelligence envoy is not going to spend most of their time discussing how much less spying the US can do on Germany - though in a grand scheme of things it would be advantageous to do so - but rather inspecting US security protocols to ensure that German secrets are adequately protected.

They will also likely take some time to work out what German secrets have already been compromised so that the German government can get a head start on some PR and damage control. The French, and any other allies, would be smart to make similar assurances for themselves. Given the close-knit nature of Europe, they may be piggy-backing on the German mission. It would be more prudent for them to see to their own business, though, and I expect visits from our NATO partners will be coming soon. Once everybody's asses are sufficiently covered, this little debacle will simply fade from public consciousness.