Friday, August 29, 2008

Introducing Your 2008 New England Patiots

I'll have what is hopefully a more comprehensive preview next week, but I had so much fun with the football blogging last season, that I can't help but get excited about starting again. After 18 consecutive wins, the Patriots have now lost 5 straight. And sure, maybe 4 of those have been exhibition games that Tom Brady didn't even play in, but come on, we should be worried, right?

Not really. The 2008 version of the Pats may have some wholes, but they still should be the class of the AFC and they still should be one of the top contenders for the Lombardi trophy come January, just as they have been every year for the past 5 years. For now, just a super quick glance at these new Pats.


1- The offensive line, which played horribly in the Super Bowl and now has right guard Stephen Neal on the PUP list to start the season. They were outplayed in the Super Bowl and the line has looked awful in the preseason. Yeah it's preseason, but it's enough to have me concerned. Are they going to be terrible? Of course not, but even a slight drop off hurts a passing game predicated on timing.

2- Brady's foot. I'm 100% certain he's healthy enough to suit up and play week 1. My concern is that this could be the type of injury that lingers all year and hurts his already limited mobility in the pocket.

3- The Wide Receivers. You heard me. I question whether Chad Jackson is any good and I question whether Jabar Gafney can be a solid #2/#3 all season long. If anyone gets hurt, where's the depth?

4- The cornerbacks. I'm not worried about safety, where Meriwether and John Lynch are on the bench. I'm worried about the corners, where one spot will seemingly be Fernando Bryant's and the other will be Ellis "I give up huge plays" Hobbs.

Not Concerns:

1- RB, where Lamont Jordan seems to have been a solid acquisition. That gives us Maroney, Sammy Morris, Jordan, the always versatile Kevin Faulk and Belichick favorite Heath Evans. And in case I'm not being clear, yes I think they'll keep all 5.

2- LB, where the rookies seem to be ready to shine. I still worry about Bruschi having lost a step- or two, but if I can't trust Belichick to not play sentimental favorites, then I can't trust anything at all. He wouldn't leave Bruschi out there if he really had a better option.

3- Rodney Harrison, however old he is. He can still play and will contribute as long as he can stay healthy.

4- Super Bowl hangover. This isn't going to be a Super Bowl loser that just falls apart. Belichick and Brady won't let it happen. They hated- hated- hated how the year ended and know they have to make up for it this year. This is a team that consistently plays to better it's historical legacy and the players and coaches know they're not done yet.

Sarah Palin

For what it's worth, I think McCain's selection of Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate is a home run. She's from outside the beltway, she's big on ethics reforms, and, get this- she's a woman. A friend asked in an e-mail whether she was chosen because she's a woman and the answer to that is both yes and no. Race and gender certainly play into these things, but just like Obama, Palin isn't there solely because she's a member of a certain class. Like all political decisions, this was a calculated one by the McCain campaign, coming immediately after the Democratic convention, at least in part geared toward wooing unsatisfied women voters. At the same time however, Palin is a solid conservative and is a choice that eases the worries of some on the right who may have feared a McCain-Lieberman ticket.

My personal take on Palin? I don't know much about her, but she's a hell of a better pick than Joe Biden. As I blogged earlier, a selection like Palin will at least make me think about throwing some half-hearted support to McCain.

(Although if any one is curious and hasn't been following the whole election discussion, there's probably a 99% chance that I won't vote for either of the major party candidates. This is my third presidential election coming up and I've yet to cast a ballot for a Democrat or a Republican in a presidential election. In 2000, I could care less whether Bush or Gore won and in 2004 I was hoping Bush would win, mainly because John Kerry was such a God awful candidate. This election is closer because McCain isn't the candidate Bush was and Obama is no where near as awful as Kerry. But we'll see yet whether I want to remain 50-50 neutral or whether I'll send some positive vibes one way or the other.)

Obama's Speech

I was out last night and when I got home I was busy playing with my dogs, so I didn't get a chance to watch the Obama speech. I did however, take the time to read a transcript of the whole thing and I have to say I'm not impressed. Criticism of Obama and the Democratic convention in general has been, in part, centered on a perceived lack of substance, and Obama's speech did nothing to allay the fears of those who think he's an empty suit who's a very gifted public speaker.

Other than offering an alternative to Bush/Cheney/McCain, Obama offered little in terms of what an Obama presidency would mean in the policy department. What I took from the speech was that he wants to fund new social programs through increased taxes on corporations that send jobs overseas. Other than that, there were plenty of Kennedy-esque platitudes and promises for a better future, but very little in terms of real policy.

Whatever you may think Obama's speech should have been, the truth is he really needed to provide some substance, to convince me and to convince voters who actually care about what policies a presidential candidate plans on enacting. We're less than 2&1/2 months out from the election and to still not have been giving anything substantive from the Obama campaign is more than disappointing. Along with the terrible Biden pick, it's enough to make me at least reconsider John McCain.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Joe Biden

I didn't want to blog too much on the subject, but Obama's selection of Joe Biden as his running mate is just a horrible, horrible choice. As Radley Balko noted on his blog, Biden isn't all that good on most of the issues liberals are usually good on. This about kills any chance of the lonely libertarian being even a closet Obama supporter. We'll see who McCain picks.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fat People Charges

Nanny state news out of Alabama: State to charge obese workers who don't slim down. According to the plan scheduled to take effect in 2010, state employees must take part in a required health screening in 2010. If that health screening shows that an employee is obese, efforts must be made to enroll in a wellness program or improve their health. If no progress is made by 2011, such employees will be assessed a $25 a month fee to cover some of the costs of their state provided health insurance.

Now, yeah, yeah, we're only talking about 25 bucks a month and we are talking about health related issues. It's not a terrible idea both in terms of sound fiscal management and encouraging healthy behavior. My real problem is the singling out of certain forms of bad behavior. Too fat? You can pay extra. Smoker? You better believe you're paying extra. But what if the government was to charge state employees for their unsafe sex practices. You better believe we'd have privacy rights organizations and liberal groups up in arms. But the truth is, there are any number of factors in our private and personal lives that affect our health and affect our health costs. So fine, maybe everyone shouldn't be made to cover the medical costs of the overweight, but why is that any different than making everyone cover frequent STD screenings and the cost of STD treatments?

Foreign Endeavors

Last week was a busy week, but I'd like to pick up on an unrelated comment in regards to Georgia, Russia, and American foreign policy. First, that comment, from Mr. Rose,

What is your interpretation of what is happening in Georgia? Why did this happen in the first place? Ummm its pretty obvious. Russia wants to take the breakaway provinces of Georgia back and has been interfering there for some time according to most reports. Also Russia wants to let the former bloc know that they are not to be fucked with. Georgia had every right to impose its own will on its own sovereign land when an aggressive neighbor is interfering there. It's mind boggling that you think that we need a measured response here. Georgia is a pro-west, democratic ally and in that part of the world, we need to protect them.

Here's my problem. As I recall, the hostilities began after Georgia launched a military offensive in an attempt to impose order on it's own province of South Ossetia, which just so happens to have a large Russian population. Russia's military entry in to Georgia was in response to claims that thousands of ethnic Russians had been killed in the Georgian military shellings.

Put simply, this just isn't a black and white case of right and wrong. It seems to me that we have two nations that have used an excessive amount of force in a debate over political influence in which ethnicity plays no small part. Does Russia do plenty of sneaky, underhanded things in their dealings with former Soviet States? Certainly. But a line in the sand response to Russian action literally serves no point whatsoever. We're not going to go to war with Russia over South Ossetia and the Russians full well know this. And more importantly, a strong response by the United States in support of Georgia does nothing to diffuse the underlying situation, which, as I said, at it's heart is a political and ethnic dispute over borders and territories.

You can't whole heartedly support Georgia without at least condoning their initial use of force, which I just can't do. Unless your literally in a state of civil war, military force can not be used justifiably on your own people. Many commentators have made the point that we should have compassion for Georgia because they are a sovereign democracy who's territory has been invaded. That's all good and fine, but it's not as though this is no different than if the Canadians had invaded Buffalo. This is more like the Canadians invaded Buffalo after Buffalo had been shelled by the American government and occupied by the military.

Again, this isn't to say Russia is correct, only to point out the complexity of the situation. A full Russian withdrawal doesn't solve the underlying problems and the American response should at least recognize those problems. This isn't Iraq, and hell, it's not even Iran.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Why Public Financing Of Elections Sucks, Part I

I caught this on the local news this afternoon: Cash slips through public financing reform loophole. And after putting together just what was going on, I had yet another one of those "oh no" moments. Allow me to explain, as briefly as possible.

This primaries this past week were the first under Connecticut's new election laws allowing for public financing of campaigns. Somewhere around 80% of candidates around the state have opted for this funding, which required collection of small contributions ranging from $5 to $100 from a specified number of individuals in order to take part in the program. Candidates in the program can not accept money from business interests or lobbyists. There are specific rules governing how much particular candidates are entitled to receive in public financing and how much they are allowed to spend overall.

Two caveats to this new system were designed in the name of fairness. The first, unsurprisingly, allows candidates in the program to receive additional funds if they are outspent by an opponent not taking part in the program. The second allows candidates in the program to receive additional funds if they are subject to attack ads by independent groups.

The loophole? Candidates receiving public financing receive no additional funding if ads from independent organizations support the election of an opponent. Is it really a loophole? Well it certainly is when you consider the purpose of the program. But personally, I'd say it illustrates much of what's wrong with the program in the first place.

First and foremost there's this issue that independent expenditures are a real political problem in the first place. To that proposition I'd ask, "why?" You can get into debates about the semantics of free speech and whether or not campaign donations of money amount to free speech, but certainly, without a doubt, speech is still speech, and speech by any group, whatever it's purpose, is still speech. Just as newspapers are free to endorse candidates, citizens are free to form their own organizations to support or oppose candidates for office.

Biggest problem with "fixing" this particular loophole? A fix doesn't address a multiple candidate scenario, one not so prevalent in the general election, but certainly a potential issues in primaries. A simple example will demonstrate the problem. Say you have three candidates, A, B, and C. A receives public financing, while B and C do not. B and C both raise X, approximately equal amounts of money, and public funding entitles A to the same amount of cash. Shortly before the election, and independent group airs and ad in support of B. If this "loophole" is fixed so that A gets funds to match the advertisement in support of B, where does that leave C? B got an advertisement from a friendly group of citizens, A got cash from the government, and C's pretty much out of luck. There are always going to be campaign disparities, but the government going out of it's way to create them seems to be particularly egregious if you ask me.

The real issue with the entirety of campaign finance reform and public financing of elections is not that these new laws have loopholes, but why these new laws have loopholes in the first place. You just can't magically make elections fair and even no matter how hard you try, and election laws, like all laws, always have unanticipated side effects.

I think this makes for another good "libertarian discussion, so we'll make this part I. More on campaign finance issues to come.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Why Drugs Should Be Legalized- Part IV

I'll start off this section with a book recommendation, one I've made several times before on this blog. The book is "Saying Yes: In Defense Of Drug Use" by Jacob Sullum (who currently writes at Reason) and I recommend it because it really opened my eyes on the drug issue. The premise of the book is Sullum's rejection of what he calls "voodoo pharmacology," which is, to put it simply, the notion that a drug robs it's users of free will creating a compulsion for use and abuse. Most interestingly, the book highlights the similarity in language used by temperance (anti-alcohol) activists at the turn of the 20th century, anti-marijuana warriors of the 1930's, and modern drug warriors discussing cocaine, methamphetamines, and other supposedly dangerous drugs. Basically, many of the claims made today about harder drugs are the same claims that used to be made about alcohol and pot. Most of us recognize the older claims as just the least bit over the top, yet still regard the warnings about today's "dangerous" drugs as deadly serious.

As Sullum points out in his book, many of the supposed dangers of "hard" drugs have never been substantiated by peer reviewed scientific research. Think about that for a minute- drugs are identified as dangerous not because of their chemical composition or other scientific factors, but because of sociological conclusions about the people who do use "hard" drugs. Functional drug users- the sort with jobs and maybe families- aren't about to advertise their habit or offer their story to researchers or those in the drug field. So who are we left to study- the people with real problems of course, the people that can't keep their lives together, and this is the group that generates most of our assumptions about "hard" drugs. To compare, it's a bit like studying alcohol by relying solely on members of AA. Maybe it'll tell you a lot about people who have or think they have alcohol problems, but it doesn't tell you very much about alcohol itself.

Drug abuse is not a problem created by evil chemicals, drug abuse is an individual problem. In his book, Sullum raises the question of whether the functional addict is really a problem at all. After all, if a person can get up, go to work all day, and do their job without using drugs, but has to come home and drink or get high every night, is that person really a problem for society? The fact that not every drug user becomes unemployed and homeless is an indication that drug abuse is more about personal, individual issues than it is about specific drugs.

The truth about drugs is that drug use is different for each individual. We all know this intuitively when it comes to alcohol, but people have trouble believing the same logic applies to cocaine. Alcohol use ranges from wine at communion to the homeless alcoholic drinking liquor from a bottle in a paper bag to everything in between and the same applies to cocaine, opiates, and every other drug you can think of. The fact that some drugs have the image of being particularly nasty says more about the people (our our perceptions of such people) drawn to make such choices in the first place than it does about any scientific facts about drugs themselves.

I'll conclude by exposing what I believe to be one of the biggest unsubstantiated accusations ever made, which is that marijuana is a so-called "gateway drug." Marijuana is identified as such because survey after survey shows that hard drug users smoked marijuana before trying harder drugs. The gateway drug claim is BS for two reasons. The first is that the same surveys also show that alcohol and tobacco use proceeded hard drug use. Scientifically, I can't see a reason to distinguish marijuana from alcohol and tobacco, particularly in this regard, so unless the argument is that alcohol and tobacco are gateway drugs as well, there is no reason to treat marijuana any differently. (And similar to the fact that many alcohol and tobacco users never go on to try hard drugs, many marijuana users never go on to try hard drugs either.) The second reason the gateway drug claim is BS? Because it equates correlation with causation. There's a difference between a social pattern (kids try beer first, pot second, and then move on to harder drugs) and scientific explanation of why A leads to B.

I end with the gateway drug hypothesis, because it's just another example of how we're continually fed loads of BS when it comes to drugs. There's nothing wrong with telling kids not to do drugs, but the fact that the anti-drug message is so ineffective when it comes to teenagers and young adults is a good indication that the falsehoods perpetuated about drugs and drug use are paper thin in the eyes of curious teens.

The truth about drugs is that drugs aren't bad. People aren't bad either, some people just make bad, self-destructive decisions. And we all know this- we can all spot the difference between the casual user and the problem user, the alcoholic drinking to escape his problems and the guy just looking to get drunk after a stressful week at work. Drugs should be legalized because most drug problems aren't really about drugs, they're about people.

Why Drugs Should Be Legalized- Part III

The war on drugs is a failure. Since the birth of the war on drugs during the Nixon administration, trillions of dollars have been spent in law enforcement efforts geared toward getting drugs off our streets. The war on drugs is a failure because drugs are still available and plenty of people are still using them. To most, it's common sense. Unless you can literally eliminate demand for illegal drugs, there will be a black market to cater to illegal drug users. And given the innocuousness of drug use- one can use them in the privacy of one's own home, and the relative ease with which drugs can be transported, there is literally no way to stop the illegal drug market, short of violating the Constitutional rights of every American citizen.

Not only has the war on drugs been ineffective and expensive, it's also cost countless numbers of innocent Americans their lives and their neighborhoods. Anyone familiar with American history knows about the rise of organized crime during Prohibition in the 1920's, about Al Capone, and about the Chicago gang wars. Black markets create criminals and black markets create violence, as violence is the only way for those engaging in criminal activity to resolve their disputes. In the legal world we have contracts enforced and disputes resolved by our legal system, but the black market provides no such framework.

Drug prohibition has created criminals where there were none before and created violence in neighborhoods that had been peaceful. The escalation of "the war on drugs" with more brazen and militaristic tactics by police has only served to further amplify the violent nature of the drug trade. The drug war has countless innocent victims, victims of both criminals and law enforcement who only happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Radley Balko, through his blog the Agitator has chronicled the rise of paramilitary police culture and the associated collateral damage of mistaken violent raids and innocent victims. Not surprisingly, the growth in the use of SWAT teams and paramilitary tactics has coincided with the escalation of the war on drugs. The war on drugs has turned into a war on the American people, a war where violent tactics are used far too often and a war where civil liberties are not secure and private property can be seized and taken for those merely accused of a drug crime. Under current federal drug laws, property seized in a drug arrest can be kept by law enforcement, even if charges are never filed.

If drugs were legalized, drug dealers would stop selling drugs because illegal sources of drugs would dry up. The business would be legitimate. And criminal gangs can not provide a product as cheaply, as safely, and as efficiently as a large corporation. Street drugs cost a lot because of the dangers of the black market- take away those dangers and legal drugs would not cost nearly as much.

One point I've argued countless times is that true legalization would not result in a continued black market, or at least, not a black market of the sort we see today. The comparable example would be the black market in pharmaceutical drugs, which does currently exist, but is not plagued by violence. Legalized drugs would not mean a utopia or an end to all criminal activity- but it would mean the end of violence associated with the illegal drug trade. Just like with pharmaceuticals, any black market that developed would be non violent and mostly local. Why? Because you'd be talking about legal products manufactured by large corporations.

Whatever one's opinion on drugs, there are several undeniable facts. 1- Legalizing drugs would put an end to drug-related gang violence. No, not the end of all gangs or the end of all criminal violence, but a reduction in violence. 2- Legalizing drugs would put an end to the number of innocent victims who are the collateral damage of militaristic drug war policies. 3- Legalizing drugs would create a legal framework for manufacture, distribution. Criminal activity may still occur, but only as part of the existing structure and not as part of an independently operating black market dependent upon violence. And 4- Previously unmentioned, but equally as important, drug abuse will be far easier to treat and drug users themselves will not become enmeshed in criminal subculture.

Why Drugs Should Be Legalized- Part II

The crux of the libertarian argument for legalization is the individual's right to make choices about one's own body. In this regard, the legal treatment of drugs should be no different than the legal treatment of sex. Like drugs, sexual behavior has health consequences, and like drugs, sex has moral implications. Yet most of us believe that our sex life is our own private business and that the government should never be in the business of restricting our private sexual activity. I say private here because most people do appreciate the role of government in regulating certain activities in public places. We can't have sex in public parks and similarly, there's no reason that drug use can't be similarly restricted if it were to be legalized.

From a purely philosophical standpoint, people need to decide how they feel about this issue. Do people have the right to their own bodies or does the government have an interest in controlling our private activities that don't harm others. And there are other implications here- The libertarian response is simple and doesn't require elaborate justifications for the wrongness of different government restrictions, restrictions which can range from bans on the food we eat to bans on abortion procedures.

If you believe government should have the power to restrict the right of individuals to decide what they put into their own bodies, you're also bound by the practical implications of that government power. Government is not perfect, nor does democracy always work as cleanly as we'd like it to. If we don't have a fundamental right to make decisions about our bodies, than you have to accept other restrictions on our rights to our body as policy differences. Or in other words, you can't pick and choose, arguing that government has the right to regulate some aspects of our choices about our bodies, but not others. If you accept that government has power over us, than you have to accept that certain "safe" activities will be prohibited by the government for the mere fact that government is imperfect and there is no one perfect way to calculate risk.

The libertarian answer is most simple- we have the right to our own bodies and the right to make decisions about our own bodies. The food we eat and the drugs we take should be no one's business than our own when done in the privacy of one's home.

Why Drugs Should Be Legalized- Part I

The comments from my previous post on drugs have made it crystal clear that it's time for yet another addition of my "legalize drugs!" posts. Drugs are a watermark issue for myself and for most libertarians, not because we want to smoke pot and shoot heroin, but because it's an issue of government control over our freedom of choice and because hundreds of billion of drug enforcement tax dollars are wasted each year, accomplishing nothing.

Before getting into the why, I'd like to take a minute to talk about the law in general from a philosophical standpoint. Regardless of your opinion as to the proper role of government, I'm sure we can all agree that when the government does take action- particularly action designed to restrict one's freedom- that action should be based upon logic and reason. If a law attempts to combat a perceived evil, the law should be tailored toward combating that evil- Or in other words the response should be proportionate to the infraction.

Our system of drug laws is twisted from the get go when you consider the disparate treatment of marijuana and alcohol. It's not science that separates the legal treatment of these two drugs, but tradition, which is a poor excuse for restricting freedom. By implication, the treatment of these two widely used drugs should make you question the assumptions implicit in all drug laws. If the government's policy on various drugs is based upon some calculation of risk, and the government gets the relative risk factors of marijuana and alcohol so wrong, then why should we assume the government's calculations of the risk factors of other illegal drugs are any more accurate?

The argument for prohibition of certain drugs is based not upon science, but on perceptions of danger and risk factors. Some of these perceptions stem from decades of prohibition and some stem from portrayals in the media. But regardless of where these perceptions come from, my only request to anyone consider the issue is that they come at it from an open mind. TV shows are not science. Second hand stories are not science. Knowing someone- or many people- who've had a problem with cocaine shouldn't be any different than knowing someone who's had a problem with alcohol. Yes people have problems with drugs, but statistics about danger and risk factors based upon first hand and media accounts is not science.

Rather than make this post too monstrous, I'm going to divide the drug legalization issue into several different posts. This one here is a basic introduction, a plea to approach the issue free of prejudice. The next post will be on the individual's right to make decisions about one's own body, the third will be about the failure of the war on drugs, and the last will question the drug narrative itself. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Question For Liberals

Name one good thing that the federal Department of Education has ever done.

From the government's own website here are some relevant numbers on Department of Education budgets:

2007- $67.9 billion ($10.4 billion mandatory, $57.5 billion discretionary)
2008- $68.6 billion ($9.4 billion mandatory, $59.2 billion discretionary)
2009 (as requested by the president)- $64.9 billion ($5.7 billion mandatory, $59.2 billion discretionary)

In the grand scheme of things, it is just a drop in the bucket, but hell, it's still a lot of money. So again I ask, what good does the Department of Education actually do?

This Sums It Up Nice and Neat

Reason's Jacob Sullum with a very excellent quote on the drug war (as part of a response to news of a 24-hour curfew in West Helena Arkansas, which itself is a response to recently increased drug violence):

Yet the violence is mostly related to the illegal drug trade. So the government creates a black market that disproportionately hurts poor people, enforces its drug laws in a way that disproportionately hurts poor people, and responds to the resulting violence and disorder with police tactics that disproportionately hurt poor people. When civil libertarians object, they are dismissed as privileged pointy-heads who do not understand the problems of poor people.

Why Smoking Bans Suck

Say our legislature is given three policy choices. Option 1 mandates the preferences of Group A by law. Option 2 mandates the preferences of Group B by law. And option 3 doesn't enforce either preference by law, allowing individuals and institutions the choice of supporting the preferences of either Group A or Group B.

Many of us would chose option 3, as we can see the inherent unfairness of the law coming down strongly in favor of either side. Yet when it comes to smoking, people tend to have their blinders on, or perhaps their nostrils wide open. To hell with everyone else, non-smokers like smoking bans because they're happy to avoid the smell of smoke. But non-smokers have to ask themselves something- is it really okay to allow smoking bans just because a majority of people want them? Would it be okay to force business owners to permit smoking? The libertarian answer is you don't force individuals and businesses to be smoking and you don't force them to be non-smoking.

The truth about tobacco is that most establishments had phased out smoking on their own. Before Connecticut's smoking ban went into effect, you couldn't smoke in just about every single store and business in the state. You couldn't smoke in fast food restaurants and many family oriented restaurants had implemented non-smoking policies. This was all a result of business and individuals making decisions about how to best cater to the needs of consumers. The smoking ban was passed because some do-gooders thought the outliers- mostly bars and more adult restaurants- needed to be pushed to make the "right" decision.

So what about bars? As I insinuated earlier, many people who support smoking bans do so under the assumption that "other people don't have the right to pollute the air we share with their tobacco smoke." It's not a bad argument for public spaces like city halls and local parks, where everyone has a right to be, but it's a bad argument for indoor businesses. After all, most of us would agree that it's one thing to ban nude dancing and lap dances in city hall and public parks, but quite another to ban it in private businesses. And here's where the arguments of the moderate anti-smokers fall apart- Most people would not have a problem with a smoker's club, a place where smokers can go and smoke. The problem is, except for specifically private clubs, anti-smoking laws tend not to allow these sorts of exceptions, because the exceptions would overwhelm the law. If a smoking club open to the public is okay, than why not a smoking club that serves alcohol, like a bar- and if bars could obtain an exemption from the law, they would, because plenty of bar patrons like to smoke, which is why before the anti-smoking laws were enacted, bars were the one locale where the anti-smoking crusade saw no leeway.

Ultimately, this issue is really about forcing businesses to do what they would not have done voluntarily. I don't believe there were any non-smoking bars around before the law existed, but that was a result of market factors and individual choices, not a government mandate. Any entrepreneur could have started a non-smoking bar and anyone would have been free to go there. The fact that there weren't any such bars says a great deal about the market.

Do people have the right to avoid breathing in other people's smoke? Sure, to an extent. You can't come to my house and tell me not to smoke. So why should you be able to come to my bar and tell me the exact same thing? I personally find that the music at bars can be far too loud and gets in the way of conversation- should the government regulate noise levels as well because some of us are bothered by them? It's not like non-smokers have a god-given right to some particular non-smoky bar experience. People make choices for themselves and the sum of the choices made by individuals is how the market functions.

Why do I rant so much? Because this is an issue that really gets to me, an issue where people tend to excuse their Nazi-like behavior because of some perceived public health benefit or just because of what they want. Comments welcome.

Libertarian Issues

I'm going to try something a little different the next few weeks, in an attempt to cure the dullness of the election news cycle. My nanny state post got me thinking about nanny issues and other issues related to liberty that tend to fall off the radar during the election cycle (particularly when we have two big government candidates).

The first issue I wanted to get into was smoking bans, of the sort which we currently have in Connecticut. I'm always intrigued by smoking bans because plenty of people who agree with me on other issues are at odds with me on this one. For the record, I'm opposed to smoking bans that are enforced againast private businesses. I'll have a bit more later, but as always, comments are welcome.

Nanny State

Radley Balko notes the left-of-center nanny state criticism from the New York Times' Timothy Egan, but as Balko notes the comments are disappointing. Egan defends recycling while only criticizing recycling inspectors who literally inspect your garbage, yet the do-gooders are still up in arms.

One commenter accuses Egan of opposing abortion rights, because, apparently, opposing fast food bans and garbage inspectors must mean you oppose abortion rights.

Another commenter questions why anyone would eat junk food, while opining that "This world holds no future for libertarians." What's scary is that last part just might be true.

Then there's this gem:

The difference between rules about sex and liquor consumption and the rules about garbage and smoking lies in the following: giant landfills of garbage and smoking affect the health of everyone around far more than say, premarital sex or 18 year old college students drinking beer.

Because recycling is a health issue? And sex and alcohol don't have health consequences? I suppose in liberal nanny world, the answers are yes, and no.

A bit further down, another commenter showcases the absolutist morality of the do-gooders.

It does seem overbearing all these rules that our lawmakers keep passing. However, I believe government in many of the instances mentioned above provide a crucial role in changing peoples behavior. Portland in my opinion is a fairly progressive city where recycling and other civic goodness was already commonplace. However in the rest of the country we aren’t as fortunate to have progressive thinkers. Sometimes a rule or regulation teaches people how easy compliance can be. Can you imagine the physical and mental condition of our youth if McDonald’s was granted the contract from the US Department of Education for providing school meals across the country? Ouch.

Sometimes a rule or regulation teaches people how easy compliance can be? Not really, seeing as without a rule or regulation, there's no nothing to comply with. And just look at the language here- "the government can play a crucial role in changing people's behavior" - it reflects a overwhelming desire to make people do the right thing and make the right decisions. There's a tremendous arrogance in "knowing" how other people should live their lives and conduct themselves, particularly when coming from those on the left who frown on the right's efforts to enforce sexual moral standards.

And finally, I'll end with this one, basically saying that poor people are too stupid to make the right eating decisions.

I live in the South Bronx and witness on a daily basis some of the worst eating habits imaginable. FAST FATTY PROCESSED FOOD as a families main meals. Bad food pushed by misleading advertising. Even the fast giants are seeing the light and are slowly changing their menus. The effort to inform people at the point of purchase just might help many people live healthier lives. Not so bad for a very minor effort.

OK, one more.

Libertarianism is NOT so tedious. The problem is that libertarians choose the wrong battles. I don’t think John Locke would recognize a natural right to either plastic bags in the grocery stores, which seems to really get Egan’s goat, or to having junk food in public schools (incidentally, I agree with Elsie that the potential health benefits of banning junk food far outweigh the drawbacks . . . wait, there aren’t ANY drawbacks to banning junk food in the schools).

But I think Egan’s just picking on what’s common; he’d find a better target in Flint, Michigan. Up until the ACLU threatened the city with a lawsuit, police officers were ticketing people for sagging their pants. That’s right, Flint made it illegal to wear your pants low on the hips. Now that’s Nanny Nation.

Got it? Being a libertarian means thinking low-riding pants laws and plastic bag bans are stupid. Being a liberal means thinking the plastic bag bans are OK and that we libertarians shouldn't worry about them because it's just not that big of a deal. But if it's not that big of the deal, why id the government passing a law on it in the first place.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Drug War Update

Radley Balko was the latest update on last week's drug raid gone wrong when the mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland had both of his black labs shot and killed in what certainly seems to be an unjustified use of police force. From the developing story, it appears that the mayor and his family really were just in the wrong place at the wrong time- the real criminals authorities are looking for are men involved in a scheme to ship marijuana across the country using innocent people's names and addresses. But still, the Prince George county police (who had conducted the raid) have still refused to apologize. And now Berwyn Heights mayor Cheye Calvo is calling for a federal investigation.

Anytime these sorts of stories break, there are always those who rush to defend the police. But the truth is that the problems with these stories are not the individual officers who've been put into bad situations, but the literal use of this sort of force in circumstances that don't require it.

It's really a shame, but maybe it takes a white, middle class, politician victim for these sort of tactics to receive national attention.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Corruption is the Nature of Politics, Not Political Philosophy

More insanity from the Nation, who wants you to believe that corruption is the end result of the conservative philosophy.

It is just this: Fantastic misgovernment of the kind we have seen is not an accident, nor is it the work of a few bad individuals. It is the consequence of triumph by a particular philosophy of government, by a movement that understands the liberal state as a perversion and considers the market the ideal nexus of human society. This movement is friendly to industry not just by force of campaign contributions but by conviction; it believes in entrepreneurship not merely in commerce but in politics; and the inevitable results of its ascendance are, first, the capture of the state by business and, second, all that follows: incompetence, graft, and all the other wretched flotsam that we've come to expect from Washington.

But put conservatism in charge of the state, and it behaves very differently. Now the "values" that rightist politicians eulogize on the stump disappear, and in their place we can discern an entirely different set of priorities--priorities that reveal more about the unchanging historical essence of American conservatism than do its fleeting campaigns against gay marriage or secular humanism. The conservatism that speaks to us through its actions in Washington is institutionally opposed to those baseline good intentions we learned about in elementary school.

Its leaders laugh off the idea of the public interest as airy-fairy nonsense; they caution against bringing top-notch talent into government service; they declare war on public workers. They have made a cult of outsourcing and privatizing, they have wrecked established federal operations because they disagree with them, and they have deliberately piled up an Everest of debt in order to force the government into crisis. The ruination they have wrought has been thorough; it has been a professional job. Repairing it will require years of political action.

Reason's Hit and Run blog took note of a similar trend earlier in the week, noting a trend in leftists stories that propose Republicans are losing because limited government ideas don't work and aren't popular. Missing in both cases is even the slightest bit of understanding that at no point in time did George Bush or his Republican Congress govern as limited government conservatives. (Also missing is the honest understanding that scandal and corruption are part and parcel of big government politics, regardless of political affiliation.)

Like Naomi Klein's absurd proposition that free market ideology led us to war in Iraq, the real problem here is the broad-brushed tar and feathering of all non-leftists. Arguments about limited government and free markets need not be given the full intellectual treatment so to speak, if they can be dismissed as impractical notions that only lead to corruption when implemented in the real world. It's a shame because the ignorant lap this all up- capable people continue to believe this nonsense, rather than grappling with the underlying philosophy. It's sad, and it's scary, particularly given the twists and turns of politics over the last decade.

Obama or McCain?

Try as I might, I just can't get a good grasp on this election. My gut told me Bush was going to win in 2000 and in 2004, particularly in 2004, when Bush was straightforward about Iraq and Kerry couldn't stake out a cohesive position between anti-war and Bush. But truth be told, Iraq doesn't seem to matter much this election. Nor does it seem to matter what Obama or McCain actually say on Iraq, as partisans read what they want to hear into what the candidates actually say.

This election is supposedly about the economy, but I don't get a sense that voters are really connecting with what either candidate has to say. The Obama cult seems to be as much about personality than anything else, while the right seems to have coalesced, not in support of McCain, but as a blunt instrument to be wielded againast the Obama cult. I have no love for the Obama cult of personality, but at the same time, the constant bludgeoning of Obama has approached epic proportions. I've enjoyed listening to Rush Limbaugh, on and off, for over a decade, but I've literally had enough over the past few months. Rather than illustrations of the particulars of Obama's bad ideas, we're given the politics of Reverend Wright, questions about Obama's patriotism and how much he loves America, and the preposterous scandal over properly inflated tires.

The tire issue, in particular, has been an irritation of late. For those unfamiliar, in the discussion over domestic drilling for oil, Obama made a comment that properly inflating tires would make more of a difference in gas prices than would any new drilling. What Obama meant- what I'm sure he meant- was that any domestic drilling is not likely to have any impact in oil prices until years down the road. The little comment blew up when McCain picked up on it, and the right wing media joined in the cacophony of criticism.

The thing is, domestic drilling will help reduce oil prices in the long run and the legislation that currently exists to prevent such drilling is a mish-mash of environmental nonsense. But none of that means Obama's comment was worth the controversy. Personally, I'm not sure what Obama's policy on drilling is, nor am I certain what he would do as President. But regardless, as many liberal commenters have pointed out, there currently are existing sources of domestic oil that are not being drilled. And more importantly, we're talking about an issue where where the rhetoric severely out matches the reality.

At this point, I don't trust Obama, but I really don't McCain. And my gut instinct to lean Republican is being suppressed by the nature of the campaign againast Obama. So what's a libertarian to do?

Friday, August 01, 2008

Obama the Teacher

Law prof Ann Althouse has what I think is probably the best take on this New York Times story from earlier in the week on Barack Obama's record as a law school prof himself. Althouse points out that:

I would assume that colleagues strongly approved of "evenhandedness" in the classroom — which is the conventional pose, even among lawprofs who are politically engaged outside of class. The key piece of information here is that Obama either sought to avoid making a record of what he thought or he actually lacked opinions.

Or in other words, Obama's evenhanded treatment of ideas in the classroom proved good fodder for his future forays into politics. Althouse convincingly makes the point that Obama is not a closet conservative, which the Times article raises the possibility of. Regardless of Obama's reasoning for evenhandedness in the classroom, for my money it certainly makes him far less of an ideologue than any number of other professors I've had over the years. It's very easy for a classroom to become a political soapbox, particularly in an area as highly charged as the Constitutional law class Obama taught. Even for the profs who really want to bring a sense of balance and debate to class, it's hard to imagine not putting personal views out there at some point or another.

Maybe it means nothing, but it's a good indication of an open mind and a good indication that a President Obama would not be limited by idealogical blinders.

Truth be told, the same argument could be made for McCain, at least in part- But this is where running mates and advisor's come in- who will be in the candidates inner circles and who will they be relying upon for policy advice. As always, a lot left to learn.

Vote or Die

Via Reason comes this washington Post story on the curious mind of John McCain. The frightening part for libertarians:

McCain has acknowledged that modern conservatives have been more hostile to government than he. "Many contemporary conservatives have let their healthy skepticism about government sink into something unhealthy, an embittered loathing of the federal government," McCain and Salter wrote in "Worth the Fighting For." A good government "must not shrink from its duty to be the highest expression of the national will and the last bulwark against all assaults on our founding ideals," which include liberty and opportunity.

In last week's interview, McCain recalled and embraced another TR quotation: "Unfettered capitalism leads to corruption. We are seeing that with the subprime lending crisis."

What's frightening is that there's been no seeming limit to what John McCain has seen to be the federal government's duty. Conservatives, libertarians, and proponents of small government have every right to be upset about a bloated and inefficient federal government that has seeped it's way into more and more aspects of our everyday lives. John McCain is such a troubling figure to me because not only can he not be bothered to pay lip service to those very real concerns, he goes out of his way to criticize those of us who have them. Throw in the ridiculous notion that the market (and not government) is what's to blame for the subprime mortgage crisis and ... well ... it's not just that it's hard to support the guy, but it's hard to think the country will be better off with him in the White House.

I've got a bit of Barack news to get to later (if I have time before the weekend), but to keep it brief for now, I'm beginning to wonder whether McCain is really the more frightening prospect of the two major party candidates in terms of domestic policy. Obama's rhetoric is grandiose, but at the same time is not loaded with notions of duty in the manner of McCain. From what my ears have heard, I hear more about the positives of government from McCain than I do Obama. Maybe when Obama tells us, "Yes we can," he's talking about government, but maybe that ambiguity is what gives libertarians some hope- At least we can hope and wish Obama will take government in a different direction. McCain offers nothing new to our ears, except perhaps that the government has a duty and a responsibility to do all sorts of things it has no business doing.

As always, this is not an endorsement either way, only thoughts on the rhetoric you hear from candidates. It's just interesting that thus far, McCain has done more to go out of his way to alienate small government types than has Obama.