Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Moral Derpitude

Moral Derpitude is a legal concept in the United States and some other countries that refers to conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of intelligence, rationality or good sense.

OK, so I just made that up. But there are plenty of places to apply it. Take, for instance, the case of Mark Weston writing for Time magazine, who ran an op-ed today under the title "65 Million Americans Should Threaten to Not Pay Taxes". His reasoning, such as it is, is that he's very butt-hurt that Hillary Clinton did not win the Presidential election (decided as it has always been, by the Electoral College) and therefore all Hillary voters now find themselves victims of "taxation without representation"[1]. Ignore for a moment that he doesn't know what that phrase means. What he can't get through politics, he would seek through extortion.

Before you ask... why yes... I do believe he drank a large can of dumb-ass this morning.

There is no rational explanation for how such foolishness could make it into Time. I'm not responding here because it needs refutation or any action. I'm only writing so that I have something convenient to point to for those who think he wrote something clever.

Weston is apparently unaware that this is a strategy that has been touted by others, and which has failed every single time it has ever made it into a courtroom. And Lord knows, enough backwoods survivalist log-cabin lawyers have tried it. Perhaps some of them are itching to welcome the citified-tinfoil-hatted-Leftist-suddenly-turned-small-government fanatics into their ranks. Personally, I congratulate Weston on finding yet another way to demonstrate that there is absolutely no conceptual difference between the tribes on the extreme Left and Right of the political spectrum.

I'll give you the punchline and let you read his missive yourself without suspense:
The beauty of a no-taxation pledge is that it almost certainly won’t have to be carried out. The mere threat could be enough to propel a Constitutional amendment. If millions sign now, Republicans will know that a third modern Republican runner-up presidency is impossible; Democrats will not be cooperative again.
What you see while reading through his proposal is that the "mere threat" he poses is as mere as it gets... it's actually a "threat" of nothing. For instance,
  • He ignores that most people who file taxes do so in order to recoup some of the money they've already paid in through payroll deductions. None of them will participate.
  • Likewise, he has hypocritically given no thought to the people served by the government agencies he would attempt to starve of cash. That's hardly a real concern as you'll see, but the fact remains that he's given them no thought. 
  • He suggests that people pay their local and state taxes anyway, which necessarily includes a declaration of income. This makes it a practical impossibility to justify non-payment.
  • He ignores that nearly all taxes are paid by the richest few percent. While there are a great many filthy-rich Democrats as well as Republicans, that kind of big money is what the IRS would target. The low-income blue collar worker will either not participate or cave at the first audit letter. The IRS would not need to audit 65 million people. Just a few would do it. Ask Wesley Snipes how things work out when you get all clever and "outsmart" the IRS.
  • Nevertheless, Weston suggests that millions upon millions of people file taxes and then give the money away to a non-government entity. AS IF THAT MATTERED. He the naive opinion that you can give the "tax money" to a third party to make it untouchable, and that doing so gives you the power to say, "your money is over there... good luck getting it!" It doesn't even slow them down. There is no special "tax money" that the IRS has to go get. If you give your tax payment away, you still owe just as much money to the IRS as before, no excuses. No buts. And the IRS has access to your house, your car, all of your property, and any disposable income you may be using to live on, and they do not need a court order to take it. Lacking anything else, they have access to YOU, and will cheerfully lock you up, as you'd have already provided the ample evidence in the form of a state tax return. In other words, you'd have just given your money away for nothing
  • Considering that your reputation and job will go right along with your conviction, Federal tax evasion is simply stupid... not clever or cute.
  • Weston forgets that you must actually be credible to be threatening.
Weston is fantasizing. Seriously, he's written a government fanfic in which he is Mary Sue. But I'm not going to tell you not to listen to him. On the contrary, I'm just evil enough to want to see you march in his parade if you think he has the slightest thing on the ball. I'm heavily into schadenfreude when it comes to people like this, and it would make my day to see the look on his face when he realizes that today was the day his brain died.

Again: The IRS does not need you to give them the money. They can just take it. Hiding it doesn't mean you don't owe it, or that you've cleverly "paid" it with conditions. And no one is interested in your pipe-dreams. Remember, this is a system put in place by big-government Progressives who decry the fat cats and one-percenters who would skip out on "their fair share". It was designed and empowered by people like Weston to be absolutely merciless toward people like Weston. To be completely frank, such a scheme doesn't work because most Americans aren't that stupid.

We have an Electoral College, and part of its purpose is to assert the Federal nature of our government, balancing the influence of the population as a whole against that of the individual States. On several occasions it has done exactly what it was intended to do[2]. When that happens it is simply childish to cry foul. So if you want to not pay taxes, then grow up. Elect people who will lower your taxes. Trust the People with control of their own lives. If you think that taxes should be high or higher, fair enough... stow the hypocrisy and pay them yourself. Then we can have a discussion to determine what's an acceptable balance.

But if you want to use taxes as a weapon, fuck you.  The worst of the slimy politicians think taxes are weapons. When in power, they direct the IRS to target their enemies and tie them up with audits. They control the States with strings-attached Federal funding. They control the populace the same way, with "incentives" that are later deemed "loopholes" when they're used. And when not in power, they want to lazily employ the same weapon in reverse. And they're too stupid to see the problems they incite and perpetuate through their moral derpitude.

[1] Note: I didn't vote for Trump, either. 
[2] In 1800 the election went so far as to be decided by the House of Representatives... one vote per state. Being elected by a decisive majority of electors is nothing by comparison.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

The Perfect Holiday Gift(s)

It's December! As the end of this year approaches we enter the season where generosity and charity prevail. And as you're looking for ways to spend your spare cash this holiday season, I have a few suggestions.

If you're like almost everybody, you've benefited all year long from certain "free" websites. And there are some you've possibly never heard of, and should get to know. Wikipedia, the Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg... these form the backbone of a vast repository of information that has largely supplanted the old-fashioned Public Library. And while there's still a place for the Public Library, these on-line sites are the resources you actually use.

These sites cost millions of dollars to operate, though they cost you nothing to use. And those millions of dollars are donated freely by millions of people who are willing to donate a few bucks each, annually. These are truly public resources, by the people, for the people, without one single coerced dollar spent. This is what it looks like when you set people free.

Give yourself a gift and help them operate for another year.

Here are my top picks. Feel free to throw a few bucks anywhere you like. Click on the site name to go straight to a donation page.

Wikipedia/Wikimedia.  This is the premier reference library of the Internet. It is the 7th most visited web resource in the world. You would think that with traffic like that, the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, would be some Internet multi-billionaire. Nope. Wikipedia doesn't get a dime in advertising, because that would subject them to the control of advertisers. The Wikimedia Foundation is bigger than just Wikipedia, though. It operates the Wikimedia Commons, WikiQuotes, WikiBooks, WikiNews, etc, etc, etc. If that's not worth your support, nothing is. Wikimedia projects are publicly led, which means that you can participate not just with dollars, but with time. They need photos and sounds for the Wikimedia Commons, articles and editors for Wikipedia articles, etc.

Project Gutenberg.  If Wikipedia is the reference library of the Internet, Project Gutenberg is the stacks. Project Gutenberg's mission is to publish Public Domain books in plain-text formats that will outlast current technologies and current generations, and to get them into as many hands as possible. Information so disseminated is effectively immortal. The benefit for you is that you have access to timeless classics in compact compact formats readable on any computer or mobile device. Everything from the Bible to Zen, Astronomy to Zoology, Aristotle to Shakespeare to Zeno. And like Wikipedia, you can help more directly, by scanning, proofreading, correcting, and submitting additional works.

The Internet Archive. This is a truly astonishing site. In addition to millions of books, videos, classic movies, software titles, images and concerts, they back up the Internet. You read that right. Using The Internet Archive's "Wayback Machine" you can view a snapshot of a website as it existed in the past. So even if that "page you liked" has been deleted from the original website, the Internet Archive has it for you. It is effectively the digital memory of this planet. Obviously this takes an insane amount of resources, and they all cost money. And it's all done without ads, without strings, without tax collectors, by generous people operating in their individual and collective best interests.

Creative Commons. The Creative Commons Corporation provides legal research, advice, advocacy, and activism around the world to encourage the use of simple, commonsense open licenses. Copyright can stifle creativity, and smart creators know that just as any society is built on the sum of its previous efforts, their own work does not suffer from being shared. Creativity is not a zero-sum game where the creator is diminished when his efforts are multiplied. Unfortunately our existing copyright laws are based on this flawed assumption, ignoring the original intent of limited exclusivity for a reasonable and finite time. Creative Commons' legal efforts allow those who know better to contribute their efforts to the world with minimal restrictions. Well worth a couple of bucks if you appreciate anything else on this list... they're all efforts in that direction.

This image is in
the public domain
Individual Content Creators.  Unlike the resources above, YouTube (a child of Google) does operate with deep pockets from advertising revenue. That's not true of many of the content providers, though. For every "YouTube star" there are many thousands of people uploading and creating original content without tangible reward. Many of them deserve fame, but they will never get it unless they can get over the hurdles of production costs and sustaining their art until they find an audience. If you have found a creator who entertains you and who brings you back time and again, donate. They should have set up a Patreon account or some other donation method (Paypal, etc.) If they haven't, suggest it. The same goes for musicians and filmmakers. Help Kickstart a movie, project, or product. Buy Indie music or finance an album for an up-and-coming artist.

And More.  Help a teacher. Feed hungry people. Buy a toy for a child. Invite someone into your home for the holidays. Remember, 'charity' literally means 'love', so you decide. Do some of these, or do them all. You don't have to do it all at once, you know... there are 365 days in a year. Use them wisely.

Just remember, whatever you're celebrating this season, be it Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, something else, or just the advent of longer days; when you celebrate by making the world better for others, it's the world you live in, too.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

What's Broken, and What Works.

In my last post, A Victory for Ranked-Choice Voting, I pointed out that ignorant people "don't know how the system is supposed to work, so they opt to perpetuate a broken system." But not all of the people who perpetuate that system are ignorant, and not all educated people recognize which part of the system is broken. On this Veteran's Day, I think it's worthwhile to keep an eye on that which those of us who have defended the Constitution swore to defend.

For the record, I think the broken part is the two-party hammerlock on the political system at practically every level. There is nothing in the Constitution formalizing such a thing, and it has done nothing but cause grief and dissent. Ever.

What is NOT broken is the Electoral College. It is formalized in the Constitution, it is very carefully constructed after much deliberation, and does its job extremely well. Yet, periodically we hear calls to abolish the Electoral College. These calls always come from liberal Democrats, and always come after they've lost an election. The reasons will become clear.

Liberals don't like to think about this, so what you've probably heard only from conservative voices is that we do not live in a pure democracy. We live in a representative republic, and this is by design. Liberals like to think of themselves as champions of minorities, while simultaneously demanding a system of pure majority rule. If they thought about it they might recognize the cognitive dissonance, but they rarely think about it seriously. Instead they "feel" about it... it's an emotional response. The Founding Fathers, on the other hand, thought about it. They wrote all those thoughts down, too. And what they concluded was that was that pure majority rule, of the type you find in a pure democracy, is fatal to the rights of the minority. Whatever the majority wants, the majority gets, and the minority may as well get used to oppression. That is always the result of a pure democratic system, and that is what the Electoral College avoids. Here's how:

It's not that liberals are ignorant of this... they know it. It just doesn't matter to them, because they're voting with their "feels", and not with their "thinks". It "feels" fair to imagine that all votes are evenly distributed and that voters of various parties are evenly co-mingled, even though they're not. So although they know about "red states" and "blue states", they pointedly ignore any such thing in their push for the national popular vote.

The Founding Fathers knew that the rights of rural people would be perpetually trampled by urbanites. So each individual state holds a popular election. The candidate that wins gets to send a certain number of delegates to vote in the Electoral College. The number of delegates is determined by the number of Senators (2) a state has, plus the number of Representatives (determined by population). So a populous state like New York or California gets a LOT more delegates than a sparsely populated state like North Dakota, but if very many sparsely populated states vote the same way, they could overcome the advantage of the urban centers. The end result is that a Presidential candidate cannot get by with appealing to one kind of voter in one area. He or she has to appeal to a broad variety of voters... a plurality of the voters in each state, considered individually. We are after all, the united STATES. We're not a monolithic entity.

So occasionally we'll elect someone who did not win the popular vote. This isn't a flaw of the system, it's exactly what it is deliberately designed to do. The liberals know that. They just don't care, which is why they don't mention it, or mis-characterize this benefit as a flaw.


I'm going to take a short aside to answer a question I was asked offline last night: Why are the urban centers so liberal?  I surmise that it's a natural consequence of being urban. A person in New York City does not experience the same degree of autonomy as someone in Georgia. In rural areas, property ownership and self-reliance are survival skills. In NYC, the same is practically impossible, at least in the same way. Most people can not buy a home there. They can't really raise their own food, arrange their own transportation. You are exceptionally privileged and fortunate if you can. Instead you're dependent on public transportation. You rent. You're naturally dependent on others, to a far greater degree than those who live in the rest of the country. Socialism is a natural way of thinking in a city. You would expect to find the political Left in urban areas just as you would expect to find fish in water. It is their environment.

In rural areas, even when people choose to live much as they would if they lived in a city, it is their option, not their necessity. So even if they don't exercise their autonomy, they have an expectation that the option always exists. Hence, "red states" are mostly rural.

This isn't news. It's not some radical theory. It's the way it has always been, and the Founding Fathers knew it and built it into the structure of the electoral process.


Now the Daily Kos is serving up the fiction of "fairness" once again. Although they know that the system is deliberately intended to balance representation, they deliberately characterize it as "rigged". And although they know that the popular vote would hand over control of every election to Democrats in perpetuity, that doesn't matter, because it's what they want. And although they know that their proposal isn't actually to abolish the Electoral College, that's what they titled it. Honesty has never actually been their polity (see what I did there?).

Instead of abolishing the Electoral College, they would further break the system in order to maintain and perpetuate the broken aspects of it (party rule) that should be the part we abolish. In arguing deceptively as they do, they take on the role of the disingenuous leading the ignorant down a path to certain destruction. Rather than actually abolish the Electoral College with a Constitutional amendment (which they know they have exactly zero chance of doing under any circumstances whatsoever), they would circumvent the electoral college by having states collude to appoint only faithless electors, who would ignore their own states' popular votes, casting their presidential ballots instead for the candidate who won the national popular vote. In other words, were they to vote faithlessly, these electors would represent everyone except the people who elected them.

THAT is what a great many Democrats think is "fair".

It's a terrible idea, destructive at its core. To buy into it requires you to be largely ignorant of civics, or to be both knowledgeable and choose to ignore the reasons for our system's construction.


Once again I refer you to FairVote.org for a description of ranked-choice voting, which is a moral and scrupulous method by which citizens can ensure that the person most amenable to the most voters is elected within their state; which increases representation by encouraging participation of more diverse points of view, and which is not intended to wrest power by force or deception... rather, it is intended to grant power to those most acceptable to the broadest spectrum of voters.

The Electoral College is good.
The Electoral College plus ranked-choice voting is BETTER.



A friend of mine recently opined as follows in a discussion on my Facebook wall:
If the Electoral College does not reject Trump, then it has no purpose and should be eliminated. All other Western democratic republics do fine without one.
I can't really agree with either part of that. For the first part, one of the purposes of the Electoral College is to distribute the influence of the electorate. It balances centers of population against regional differences. It did exactly that, this time, and served its intended purpose. I did not back their chosen candidate... but then again, I didn't back the Democrat either. The fact that they didn't pick MY candidate doesn't mean they're not doing their job.

For the second part, they do things a bit differently all over. Canada, for instance, doesn't directly elect their Prime Minister any more than we do (and this is usual for parliamentary systems). Rather, the leader of the party winning the most seats simply becomes PM. If we had a parliamentary system, Trump probably wouldn't be the choice, but it would still be a Republican... probably Paul Ryan.

Though people tend to complain about "gridlock", I call it by its proper name: "checks and balances". Our system maintains the possibility that the Congress can have a majority that opposes the President, and that can change in as little as two years. You don't get that in a parliamentary system, and though some might count that as a positive, I don't. Our system deliberately allows us to indicate our choice for President separately from our choices for Congressional representation. Although under the Electoral College system the number of votes per district is exactly the same as it would be under a parliamentary system, we the People get to indicate where we think those votes should be cast.

Governing people SHOULD be hard, because free people should for the most part be governing themselves. It's a distinctly American point of view, and that's not just my opinion... it's woven into the fabric of our political system.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

A Victory for Ranked-Choice Voting

Ranked-choice voting has passed in Maine.

Had ranked-choice voting been in effect generally, across the Union, the results of this election might have been very different, as the second choices of Libertarian, Green, and other third-party voters would have been invoked. Then again, the results might NOT have been different; but they would have been more palatable to voters, as the winner of each state would always be chosen by simple majority and the method itself would have had a strong influence on the campaign.

We have never seen a more divisive campaign. Rather than vote their consciences, for a candidate that most accurately reflects their views, people voted "strategically", to place a winner. This is never... and I repeat, never... the most satisfactory way to select a candidate.

Quick review: We currently have "first past the post" elections in 50 states. You simply say, "I want X," and if X has the more votes than the other candidates, X wins. That doesn't mean that X had the majority of the votes. If there are one or more third parties in a contentious campaign, he likely didn't. The result is that "first past the post" often selects a candidate by plurality that most voters didn't want.

In ranked-choice voting, you rank the candidates in order of preference. You essentially say, "I want X. But if X doesn't win, I can live with Y. If neither of them wins, then Z. But W is my least favorite." Then if nobody has a majority (51%), then the candidate with the least number of votes gives up his votes to his voters' second choices, and so on, until someone has a clear majority. This is explained in detail at FairVote.org.

The point is, with ranked choice voting we'd always wind up with a candidate that most Americans said they could at least live with, and that person would always be elected by a clear majority.

Also, people would be more inclined to vote their conscience rather than vote strategically. You'll always get a better choice because people would not be pressured into voting for a giant douche simply because they don't want a shit sandwich in office. Candidates would be forced to focus on issues, because those are what would make or break an election. And that's not just applicable to the general election. You can be absolutely sure that had ranked-choice voting been in effect in the primaries, we would not have been faced with this choice.

Furthermore, it would be the end of the ridiculous claim that voting your conscience is "a vote for the other side". This particular claim is incalculably stupid. The problem is never, never, never that the voter expressed his honest opinion at the polls. That's what voters are supposed to do. The problem is that we have a system that actively discourages voters from doing what they're supposed to do. As Maine proved last night, you can do something about that.

There was a lot of media talk about ignorant voters last night. Some have said they despise third-party choices. Let's be clear. The ignorant voters are the ones who didn't go out there and do what they were supposed to do and vote their conscience. They're ignorant because they don't know how the system is supposed to work, so they opt to perpetuate a broken system. A candidate should never be despised for offering an alternative, whether you agree with it or not. And voters should never be despised for choosing someone who fairly represents them. If you're blaming them, you're the problem. You.

If you're in any way dissatisfied with this election, whether at the nation, state, or local level -- if you feel the wrong candidates won, or the results were artificially tight -- then do something about it. Press your state legislature or back a citizen's initiative to get ranked-choice voting on the ballot in your state. In the long term, this is the most important issue we face. It can prevent this country from tearing itself in half. It is more important than a wall, or free "stuff", or any issue that was hotly debated in this election. It is literally the best thing you can do for your country, and the most effective way of keeping America's "Great Experiment" alive.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Doing Peace Wrong

Seen in chat:

"What you permit, you promote."

I couldn't agree less. Where you permit censorship, you promote tyranny. But when you permit diversity of opinion, you promote freedom of thought. That does not mean you promote the content of those opinions.

Remember this:
"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" 
-- Evelyn Beatrice Hall, summarizing Voltaire

It's perfectly fine to be a tyrant or dictator in one's own house. I certainly am. If your house is your castle, then you are king or queen. And if someone doesn't like your rules, then they can get the f*** out and there's nothing wrong with that. You're maintaining a household, not a society, and surely they'll have more fun elsewhere.

But within that household you may be training people to live in a society.

As a general rule, "What you permit you promote" doesn't pass the smell test, not in public; and not even in private. For instance, we all put up with some little thing that we find distasteful when saying "hit the road" would deprive us of other things unrelated to the thing we find distasteful and discourage. For instance, being too dictatorial towards your children may mean you'll never see them again once they're adults. You have do decide whether that's what you want.

Tolerance is not promotion. Tolerance is not acceptance. Tolerance is Tolerance. We don't have a First Amendment to defend agreeable speech. It doesn't need defending. Likewise, there's no need for tolerance for the things we enjoy, accept and promote. It's strictly reserved for those things we don't. It's how a country of millions can get along, and sadly people have forgotten all about that, thinking instead that "tolerance" means "say what I want to hear or STFU", giving us the discord we see every day in the evening news.

On the flip side is consideration. If someone says, "This is my space; I don't want [this] here," then you first check to make sure it IS their space, and then don't bring [this] here. That's just the basic politeness that comes along with "their house, their rules." That's 100% entirely OK, as we all have our space. If you want that for yourself, you have to allow it for others. You deserve what you give.

But in public, in the commons, outside the home and "private" spaces, I go entirely with free expression and the above phrase with which E. B. Hall concisely summed up Voltaire. In the end, tyranny works in a household only because people have somewhere else to go.

Censorship is no way to spread virtue. Virtue comes from someone's own accord, and never from the restrictions that are placed upon him. Tie someone to a pole and he won't do much of anything you don't want him to. Leave him there long enough and you won't have created an obedient person... you'll have created one who will wring your neck the moment he's free.

Withholding permission to dissent from a general populace on the grounds that you don't want to "promote" their opinions only builds pressure and resentment. It creates enemies. It tells them, "You're not entitled to an opinion," and they know this to be a lie. Nothing good ever comes from it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Second Presidential Debate: What I Wish They Said

It's an old adage that in the United States of America, anyone could be President, This has rarely been so clear as it has become after the first two Presidential debates, in which we are reminded that it's not hard to find a better Presidential candidate than either of the two current front-runners.

I didn't watch the second Presidential debate Sunday night... I was returning my young cousin to Fort Bragg after he had waited out Hurricane Matthew at my house. But I did listen to it in the car on my ride home from work today. Although I'm sure many Americans heard what they wanted to hear, I wasn't one of them. I was one of the ones shouting back at the recording. [transcript] [video]

So here, with no small bit of hubris, I'm sure, is how my "perfect candidate"[1] would have responded had he been there:

QUESTION (Patrice Brock): Thank you, and good evening. The last debate could have been rated as MA, mature audiences, per TV parental guidelines. Knowing that educators assign viewing the presidential debates as students’ homework, do you feel you’re modeling appropriate and positive behavior for today’s youth?
Just to shake things up, Patrice, I'd like to start by answering the question you actually asked instead of replacing it with irrelevant talking points. As you say, the last debate could have been rated for Mature Audiences only. I'm saddened to point out that the campaigns themselves have only gone downhill since. And what I'd like encourage you in the audience, as teachers, and parents, and guardians of impressionable young people to do is to not let this teaching moment pass. Our young people can recognize bad behavior, even when it's committed in public by "important" people.

What our students should be reminded of, Patrice, is the nature of our government. Something baked into our Constitution which we have forgotten for far too long is that our country was never designed to have rulers. It is as Abraham Lincoln re-asserted, a government "of the People, by the People, and for the People". Our elected officials are civil servants. Servants.  And while the President of the United States may set an example, the President does not set the standard. That standard is set by the People of the United States, and it is the responsibility of every elected civil servant... but most especially our judges, Congressmen, Vice President, and even the President... to live up to that standard.

[What followed was a long exchange about sex talk; deleted emails; and whatever misdeeds the Republican and Democrat could throw at each other. The answer to all of these is the same...]
I'll wait for a policy question. I'm sure my opponents have their hands full explaining their own questionable actions.

QUESTION (Ken Karpowicz): Thank you. Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, it is not affordable. Premiums have gone up. Deductibles have gone up. Copays have gone up. Prescriptions have gone up. And the coverage has gone down. What will you do to bring the cost down and make coverage better?
Increase competition. One of the biggest problems with the unfortunately named "Affordable Care Act" is precisely that it stifles competition, and the increased cost and reduced coverage is directly attributable to that. Insurance companies no longer provide the policies that you once preferred because they are prohibited from doing so by law. What we have proven is that lawmakers know exceptionally little about the insurance industry. And that is a sad state of affairs, because the insurance industry is one where costs and risks are analyzed in excruciating detail.

And now we have the bizarre situation where we have people paying premiums even higher than the deductible that can never reasonably be met by an even moderately healthy human being. In effect they're being told, "Pay for your healthcare out of pocket and throw even more money into the system for no return." It makes no economic sense even when you take a broader view. The incentive is then to avoid the system because you're going to pay for your treatment out of pocket, every time; and you can't afford to do that because you've already been bled dry by payroll deductions. So instead of even expensive care, many people actually receive no benefit themselves, even while they are forced to pay for others. It makes for a sicker nation, specifically among those who are most productive. We know that because it's happening.

COOPER: You’ve said you want to end Obamacare. You’ve also said you want to make coverage accessible for people with pre-existing conditions. How do you force insurance companies to do that if you’re no longer mandating that every American get insurance?
At the risk of sounding like a purist, there is a definitional difference between actual "insurance" and coverage for pre-existing conditions. It's clear, though, when you look at any other insurance. Imagine walking into an insurance agent's office and saying, "I have no homeowner's insurance, and my house has already burned down. I want to buy homeowner's insurance and I want you to pay off my prior losses, now." That's what pre-existing conditions are. It's immediately obvious that this is unfair to private insurance companies because it is not insurance. There is no system that avoids indigent care. The question is how we handle it.

Insurance isn't the only way to deal with such costs. One way to do it is with payment plans. Another way is to fund a corps of physicians who work a term of public service at flat salary in exchange for medical training specifically to address indigent care, or to encourage hospitals to fund such programs. Another way is with charitable funds or surcharges. And here I'll hold up as an example the 22 Shriner hospitals that deliver exceptional care to children without regard to their ability to pay. But we do ourselves no favors when we disallow competitive systems of delivery that drive the costs of care down, or insist that all patients be surgically made to fit the same Procrustean bed.

QUESTION (Gorbah Hamed): Hi. There are 3.3 million Muslims in the United States, and I’m one of them. You’ve mentioned working with Muslim nations, but with Islamophobia on the rise, how will you help people like me deal with the consequences of being labeled as a threat to the country after the election is over?
To start with, if I were elected President, you would not be labeled a threat after the election is over... not by your government, unless you were legitimately a threat. My administration would treat peaceful, law-abiding people as equal under the law. That said, we cannot be blind to the fact that although most Muslims are peaceful and kind, most terrorists are or claim to be Muslim. It's an unfortunate reality. So there are things that you can do to prevent being mis-labeled; one of which is to be vocal in your opposition to hatred and violence done in the name of Allah. Allowing more non-Muslims to see more Muslims as ambassadors of peace would help deflect those labels, and I would happily assist in providing a platform for such ambassadors.

QUESTION (Spencer Maass): Good evening. My question is, what specific tax provisions will you change to ensure the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share in taxes?
To ensure all people pay their fair share, you need a fair tax code. And that means a simple one. Politicians like to pretend that loopholes are accidents, and they are not. They are written into the tax code. They are a combination of economic whips, prods, goads, and lures that are very deliberate means of encouraging people toward specific behaviors. The very intent of such legislation is to take advantage of the fact that people will choose to do the things that benefit them the most, tax-wise. And then when people actually do what they were prodded into doing, other politicians call the prods and lures "loopholes" and pretend with the very best acting ability that the people who did what they were prompted to do and follow the letter of the law are "tax cheats".

To the politicians who make such claims, if you can't keep up with the laws you wrote, there's no shame on the taxpayer. The shame is on you. I will urge Congress to adopt a simple and fair tax code. There are a number of approaches that could work better than the convoluted mess we have, and I look forward to opening a dialog with our lawmakers as to which ones best fit our country's needs. One thing that absolutely does not fit our needs, though, is this antiquated obsession with controlling our citizens' every action. This government needs to remember who's boss.

RADDATZ: The heart-breaking video of a 5-year-old Syrian boy named Omran sitting in an ambulance after being pulled from the rubble after an air strike in Aleppo focused the world’s attention on the horrors of the war in Syria, with 136 million views on Facebook alone. 
But there are much worse images coming out of Aleppo every day now, where in the past few weeks alone, 400 people have been killed, at least 100 of them children. Just days ago, the State Department called for a war crimes investigation of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and its ally, Russia, for their bombardment of Aleppo. 
So this next question comes through social media through Facebook. Diane from Pennsylvania asks, if you were president, what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo? Isn’t it a lot like the Holocaust when the U.S. waited too long before we helped? 
While the property damage has been extensive, between 300 and 500 civilians have died in the city of Aleppo, counting both sides of the city. You do the math and tell me if it's "a lot like the Holocaust". I say this not to minimize the importance of any individual life, but to remind you that there are matters of scale, and that war is never "sanitary". Syria is in the middle of a multi-sided civil war. In principle, I do not favor interventionism to change the outcome of that war any more than I would have favored whole scale foreign intervention in our own.

However, there is a plain difference between a national policy of regime change and humanitarian assistance. Human beings have a moral obligation to aid the defenseless, if it is with their power. That does not mean that we necessarily have to bring those people here, or even remove them from their own homeland. We could, for instance, assist in the establishment and defense of neutral areas to which civilian refugees could be located.

Regarding Russian intervention, which I oppose, it's important for us to understand why the Russians are intervening, and what they hope to accomplish by their indiscriminate bombardment. Without that we can't effectively negotiate. The full scope of that would take us beyond my time limit, but remember that the al-Assad Syrian government is Russia's sole remaining ally in the Middle East. The Russian bombardment seems calculated to drive the non-jihadi and jihadi rebel forces together so as to leave no credible alternative to the pro-Russian Syrian government. Knowing this gives us a basis for an devising an outcome involving neither civilian casualties nor an escalation to war with Russia. But this is something that we have to negotiate... given the Russian veto power in the Security Council, the UN is powerless.

QUESTION (James Carter): My question is, do you believe you can be a devoted president to all the people in the United States?

QUESTION (Beth Miller): Good evening. Perhaps the most important aspect of this election is the Supreme Court justice. What would you prioritize as the most important aspect of selecting a Supreme Court justice?
Any Justice I select will know, understand, and embrace the intended role of the Supreme Court, which is to ensure the Constitutionality of any law brought before it for review. It is not the role of the court to legislate from the bench or to opine on whether or not a law is a good idea. It's not their role to judge based on whether they would have passed it. It is not their role to undo the legislative will of the people based on any political agenda. The People of this country elect their Congress to enact legislation, and it is the role of those nine Justices to ensure that it is in compliance with the highest law of the land and nothing more.

QUESTION (Ken Bone): What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs, while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?
We'll start by setting aside emotion to apply some common sense and solid science to the problem. Good policy is not made without engaging your head. And it happens very often that when people discuss energy policy, they blindly rule out anything that makes practical sense. Our energy production has to meet our demand, and there are finite limits to which we can reduce that demand. The lower limit remains prodigious. At the present it is beyond the means of wind and solar combined, so we must continue to rely on more conventional generation even as we employ alternatives where it makes sense. It does not necessarily follow that a change to the environment is a change for the worse; so I would push to use clean, effective sources of energy where practical, and these must include hydroelectric and safe nuclear power. In particular, most of the objections to nuclear power are based on obsolete arguments when faced with contemporary reactor technology, and I would encourage educating the public in that regard.

Our larger challenge lies not in the power plant, but on our roads, and for that we look to the expertise and innovation of our private sector. The rewards for success here are astronomical, and we as a capitalist society must understand the basic economics of innovation. We must understand the true purpose of patent laws as well as the purpose and benefit of the limitation of their scope; and we must not allow government over-regulation to stifle innovation by removing the market rewards that have historically propelled us to world domination in technological invention. The market incentives are naturally there; the government does not need to tax or print money to provide them. Instead, the government should get out from between the innovators and and those incentives.

QUESTION (Karl Becker): Good evening. My question to both of you is, regardless of the current rhetoric, would either of you name one positive thing that you respect in one another?
Neither Mr. Trump nor Mrs. Clinton shy away from the challenging and often embarrassing task of representing the views that they believe are in the country's best interests. We disagree on what those interests are, but their willingness to serve is noteworthy.

[1] Note that I make no attempt to represent the views of Gary Johnson or the Libertarian Party here... or any political party, for that matter. Though I support Johnson for President, there are a number of views on which we differ, and I've made no attempt to identify them prior to answering these questions. These are the answers of a hypothetical candidate I would be comfortable supporting.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

I Aim to Misbehave

Donald Trump once bragged that as a rich guy he can get pussy, and the Democrats lose their minds. Suddenly this is a level of immorality that can't be condoned in the White House. Except that these are the very same Democrats (and you know you are) who excused Bill Clinton getting blowjobs in the White House from a woman who was not his wife. And Democrats staunchly defend Hillary Clinton for her attempts to destroy evidence in an active investigation, though they drove Nixon out of office for far less. That's because Democrats are hypocrites. It pretty much comes with the title.

Republicans are now defending this as "a private conversation" and "locker room talk". Except that these are the very same Republicans who wanted Bill Clinton impeached, and managed to do so. That's because Republicans are hypocrites. Again, it pretty much comes with the title.

In the case of both of these parties, the "go to" defense of any misdeed is to point to the other party and say "well, they did worse". And that's true of just about everything. For any of its misdeeds, one party can find something like it that the other one did that was worse. The problem is, this isn't an excuse for doing it yourself. Rather, it's evidence that you don't walk the high road.

And you can sit there and lie to yourself that Clinton's not a misogynist and racist like Trump, but to do it you have to forget that she called rape victims liars, and that she called called Paul Fray a “f*cking Jew bastard!” You have to ignore that she derided black men as “super-predators” saying, “we have to bring them to heel.”

In the case of Trump, evangelical Christians are posting thanks to God for having "raised up Trump" as He did King David or King Cyrus, forgetting that it is by their deeds that they must be judged, not their promises. As yet, Trump has done nothing as President, and certainly nothing to warrant such praise. Do you not suppose that poor Germans in 1933 praised God for raising up Adolf Hitler?... because they absolutely did. I cannot be so quick to confuse the platitudes of a politician with the answer to prayer.

Where you condemn the one and praise the other, you are a hypocrite. Where you pretend there is a difference, you are a liar. I, for one, got tired of being a liar and a hypocrite. I castigated Bill Clinton for his lack of a moral center, and will do no less for Trump. And as I agreed with Nixon's decision to vacate the White House for the good of the nation, I'm not going to let Hillary slide on her commission of misdeeds that outweighed his. Sure, it would be cool to have a woman as President, but it would be an embarrassing mistake to have this one.

The Biggest Problem

When I look at all the issues that are up for debate in this election, I note that the biggest issue of all, though cried about, is never actually debated.

The biggest problem we face is not immigration. This same issue, in similar magnitude, has been around literally for generations. It was a major issue in Reagan's campaigns, for Pete's sake. These people are not taking American jobs; for the most part, they're filling jobs that Americans won't. And if you don't believe me, I want to be there when you tell a laid-off Detroit steelworker the good news that the Mexicans have been kicked out and we've now freed up plenty of jobs picking melons down South. The ones that are working are paying taxes into a system for benefits that they cannot receive. And their children are American citizens under the Constitution and therefore as "entitled" as any other citizen.

The biggest problem we face is not foreign relations. Frankly, for all the blundering we've done, we may find that things work a bit smoothly when they're not 'managed' by people from a half a world away who don't understand the language, much less the culture of the people that we condescend to 'educate'.

The biggest problem we face is not the economy. A President has damned little control over the economy in the first place beyond acting as a standard-bearer and cheerleader. Congress passes budgets; Congress passes tax law. The President may veto or not, but in either case the economy flourishes and falters based on the People's willingness to take chances on investment and both short- and long-term purchases. The major economic "theory" that dominates every Administration is that the current President is immediately to thank for any economic success, while his or her predecessor is perpetually to blame for any economic failure.

The biggest problem we face is not race relations. This divide is merely a symptom of the real problem. And it is not the Supreme Court, at least not in the way that most of you think. It is not that there are more Justices on "their side" vs. "our side".

The biggest problem that we face is that there are sides. It is this bullshit binary thinking that not only enables, but encourages Democrats and Republicans like you to be the undeniable hypocrites that you are. It is that culture of "team politics" that encourages you to defend the sins you spent most of your previous decades denouncing. It is that same culture that encourages you to decry the fact that there aren't enough partisan Justices on your side, rather than promote Justices who (as the Constitution demands) are partial only to whether the Law is Constitutional. The biggest problem that we face is that your only concern for the issues is how to defend your team's position on them. As only one example, Trump's statements on Mexican immigration are indistinguishable from Bill Clinton's... but what got cheers for Clinton gets cries of racism for Trump. When the other team does what your team did, they're despicable. You don't give a damn about the issue itself; you care only about promoting the team, and it's stupid.

A Solution

There is one way to draw you away from continuing to be institutionally stupid, and it's to remove the binary teams; dismantle that bi-partisan system that the Democrats and Republicans have so carefully built and maintained. If you had to actually examine the issues and weigh them rather than unconditionally adopt and defend them; if you were not bogged down by the fiction that your vote is wasted if you do not vote to deny someone else their say rather than express your own; then much of this would disappear.

The way to do that is to institute ranked choice voting.
  • If you knew that a voting for your conscience is not a wasted vote because if your candidate is in last place your vote will be transferred to your second choice, then you could vote conscience and not your fear.
  • If "third-party" candidates were not excluded by the arbitrary walls that are built by the "Big Two" parties, and their members' votes were transferable, more serious candidates could be offered. There would be no "third parties", just political parties. 
Voters would look more closely at a broader array of solutions offered by a wider selection of candidates. In voting, they would rank their choices from most to least preferred. As candidates with the least votes are eliminated, their votes would be transferred to the voters' next choices, until a final choice is made by a popular majority within each State. When applied to Congressional elections, such a system will make possible more diverse representation and less partisanship, as progress will only be possible by an increase in statesmanship. Inter-party cooperation will have to more closely approximate that of parliamentary systems.

Today a President is chosen by a mere plurality, meaning that if you have the most votes, you can be elected, even if less than half of Americans voted for you. In a three-way race, the President can be elected with as little as 34% of the vote; and we've seen Presidents elected with low numbers.

A Path

Knowing that institutionalized partisan stupidity is the most pressing issue of the current generation, I'm borrowing a phrase: "I aim to misbehave." I am stepping off the ridiculous treadmill built by bi-partisan decree, and I will be voting for a Libertarian President. Because of partisan bickering, it is even mathematically possible for him to win, even if he gains only the electors of a single State[*]. While this is a long shot, gaining the White House isn't the only definition of victory.

Even a small number of Americans voting their conscience will deny the winning party a majority of the popular vote. Enough Americans doing so will deny the winning party any semblance of a mandate. The last time a President didn't win the popular vote, it was George W. Bush, with half a million votes less than Al Gore, and the resulting confusion wound up before the Supreme Court. The public was outraged by that percentage point in 2000. The outrage would only grow if that margin increased to 10%, leaving it abundantly clear 60% or more of Americans did not want the winner in office. With ranked choice voting, and only with ranked choice voting, that 60% would have agreed on an acceptable choice, even if it were not the first choice of all of them, and a more acceptable candidate would have been elected. (BTW, if Gary Johnson were to win the long shot scenario, the same argument holds). It would be a much easier task to sell America on the already obvious benefits of ranked choice voting, thus addressing the #1 problem in American politics today; the one that exacerbates all other problems.

I'm not concerned that my candidate may not win this election. I'm focused on a longer goal that will be furthered no matter who wins. When you make the phenomenally idiotic statement that a 3rd party vote is a vote for the other side, you assume that I should prefer your side. You're both wrong about that. You're the problem. We have the cure.

I aim to misbehave.

[*] If Gary Johnson were to win New Mexico, then neither Trump nor Clinton would have the required number of electoral votes to win. The election would go to the House of Representatives, who would presumably vote along strict party lines, still denying either party a win. In this event, the only path to keeping the other side out would be to elect the third party candidate.

P.S. I don't often put in an unsolicited ad, but I'm recommending these... I bought one of these in brown, which I'm adopting as my official stealth election T-shirt. It comes in other colors, but mine's in the proper color, brown (see Firefly). 

Get it at Sunfrog.com