Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Speaking of Ron Paul hit pieces...

Michael Medved vomited up this intellectually dishonest and shallow smear.

A sample:

"The only possible argument for [believing the federal government lacks constitutional authority to ban drugs] would involve a sweeping expansion of the fictitious 'right to privacy'—a whole-cloth invention of the Warren Court that conservatives (and originalists) generally hate."

Really? That's the "only possible" argument? What about the fact that banning drugs is not one of the enumerated powers given to Congress in Art. I, Sec. 8? What constitutional authority does Medved think justifies the drug war? The current ridiculous interpretation of the Commerce Clause? The same one that's been incorrectly used to justify Obamacare and the vast expansion of federal power over the last 100 years?

Fortunately, judging from the comments such as those below, people aren't buying this BS. Look at the thumbs up vs. down. That's a good sign.

Against the Drug War

Here's an extremely superficial hit piece on Ron Paul regarding his support for ending the War on Drugs.

Regarding whether drug use harms other people:

"[O]ne can be a casual consumer of alcohol. One cannot be a casual user of cocaine or meth."

First, what about marijuana? Second, while I certainly don't recommend it, we've had numerous examples of causal users of cocaine - Oprah ... Freud ... our last two presidents. Third, the drug war actually created our meth problem. Finally, the war on drugs hurts a LOT of people. In the last few years, tens of thousands of people have been killed due to our war on drugs in Mexico alone. People were no longer mowed down from violence in the whiskey trade as soon as the federal government legalized it in the 1930's.

The author also claims that rehab doesn't work, so we have to keep pushing the drug war.

"The other problem is the spotty record of rehab in curing people from addiction to drugs. One can only point to the bad examples of Charlie Sheen and Lindsey Lohan to conclude that rehab more often than not does not take and, at the very least, needs to be repeated a number of time until a person is off the pipe or is dead."

He's saying that rehab is ineffective, so our only option is to continue pursuing the drug war. Well, how effective has the War on Drugs been since we started it half a century ago? Consider what we've received in exchange for the $1 trillion or so it's cost us so far.

-No real decrease in the number of drug users
-More dangerous drugs (i.e. meth) have been created as cheaper alternatives because of higher street prices for traditional drugs such as cocaine
-Hundreds of thousands of dead people
-The militarization of local police forces and the institutionalization of unnecessarily dangerous SWAT team home invasions

The drug war has been a complete failure. There is no part of it that can be viewed with any degree of success. We've spent a trillion dollars, and have not achieved any progress on any of its goals. Many things are actually far worse. Even so, few are willing to reconsider whether it is worth pursuing.

Ron Paul is one of the few elected officials principled enough to hold his ground on this issue, despite knowing full well that it will result in unfair caricatures of his actual beliefs. Why isn't the burden on the Drug War advocates to explain why we should keep pursuing an expensive, tragic policy that has not worked at all for the last 50 years? Do they need more time? More money? More laws?

We've tried all of those things. It's time we try something else.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Healthcare is not a right, but Lawrence O'Donnell is ridiculous

This self-righteous diatribe by Lawrence O'Donnell is a great example of what is wrong with the "progressive" mindset. The same type of unprincipled, shallow thinking is very common within conservative circles as well.

Here's the premise:

During a speech, Rand Paul states that if people have the right to healthcare, it implies that people have a right to the labor of hospital staff - doctors, nurses, even janitors. This means that some people can force other people to work for them against their will, which is slavery. He gives an example that if healthcare is considered a right, the police could beat his door down and force him to provide it.

Lawrence O'Donnell's shocked response can be summarized as follows:

Rand Paul is stupid. Ron Paul was a bad parent. Rand Paul has the "ugly, hysterically self-centered and vile audacity" to compare the right to healthcare with slavery. "Nothing more unhinged from reality and decency has been said in the United States Senate in our time. It is utterly unpardonable." Paul is a "demented libertarian" and his police analogy is "pure, unadulterated dementia." Also, "Paul could not pass a medical competency test for medical competency." Probably administered by the Federal Redundancy Department of Redundancy.

Eventually, O'Donnell actually tries to substantively refute Paul's points. Here's his argument:

1) Since 1968, 1/3 of the population has had a "right" to healthcare due to Medicaid and Medicare.

2) Since Medicare and Medicaid were introduced, doctor's salaries have gone up significantly, along with those of nurses, and even the janitors - who are unionized.

3) Skyrocketing wages for medical employees are what's leading to health costs rapidly exceeding inflation.

4) Paul is a doctor, and probably wealthy. How can he complain?

O'Donnell explicitly points out the skyrocketing medical costs occurring immediately after the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid - i.e. socialized medicine. He then points to those very costs as the reason healthcare costs have soared far faster than the rate of inflation. He even points to janitors having higher wages due to unions.

This is an important point worth emphasizing.

O'Donnell is blaming higher medical costs on higher physician and medical provider wages. He then blames the higher wages on Medicare and Medicaid.

He actually points to the two biggest socialized medicine programs in the United States to explain why healthcare costs have "skyrocketed" much faster than the rate of inflation. How can he not see the connection?

Second, Paul's point about slavery is, of course, correct. People cannot have a "right" to physical goods or actual services unless someone else has an obligation to provide them. If you are a doctor, and people have a right to medical services, you - or someone else- must provide them. But while O'Donnell thinks this statement is "unhinged from reality" and could not conceivably occur, people are forced to work against their will to provide health care for others all the time.

Granted, it is not usually doctors who are forced to work against their will. Those who do are usually not as wealthy. For example, high-school dropouts working at McDonalds (as well as liberal arts majors working at McDonalds) have money taken from their wages and given to doctors to pay for socialized medicine for older people. These older people are often much wealthier than the younger workers supporting them.

And for those who don't think police will knock down doors to pay for socialized medicine, try refusing to pay your taxes sometime.

Forcing someone to work against their will is slavery. The amount, or even existence, of compensation doesn't change this fact. That is why college basketball coaches cannot be forced to finish the terms of their contract. It violates the Thirteenth Amendment's prohibition of involuntary servitude.

Healthcare is not a "right." On what could such a "right" be based? Is it a constitutional right? Of course not. It's nowhere in the U.S. Constitution. Is it a fundamental human right, such as life, the freedom of speech, or religion? Of course not. People cannot have "rights" that necessarily require the violation of the rights of other people.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Government as a provider of services

"WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama's main idea for getting quality health care at less cost was in jeopardy Wednesday after key medical providers called his administration's initial blueprint so complex it's unworkable." - AP article, via Yahoo!

The [American Medical Group Association] wrote the administration Wednesday saying that more than 90 percent of its members would not participate, because the rules as written are so onerous it would be nearly impossible for them to succeed.

According to the AMGA, "[t]he regulations are 'overly prescriptive, operationally burdensome, and the incentives are too difficult to achieve to make this voluntary program attractive.'"

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Global Warming/Climate Change Legislation

Here's my take. I haven't had much time for blog updates lately, so I'm lifting passages from earlier Facebook posts. Enjoy the leftovers.

People spend way too much time arguing over whether global warming is happening. That simplifies things way, way too much in light of the policies that people are advocating. It's not just a question of temperature. We have to ask the following:

1. Is the Earth getting warmer?

2. If yes, can we be certain that it is getting warmer due to human activity?

3. If yes, do the negative effects of increased global temperatures outweigh the positive effects of increased temperatures?

4. If yes, can we do anything to meaningfully change this trend?

5. If yes, what will this cost, in terms of money, quality of life, and human lives?

6. Does the potential negative impact of global warming exceed the costs of No. 5 to an extent and degree of certainty that, on balance, justifies these costs?

7. If yes, can we be certain that everyone worldwide will get on board, and we won't run into a
free rider problem?

That still omits a lot of variables, such as the rate of change of temperature, etc. But even if you can answer yes to Nos. 1 - 4 and 6 - 7 with a 90% degree of confidence, that still close to a coin-flip that you're doing the right thing.

And even if you assume there is a 99% probability on items 1-4 and 7, there is absolutely no way that No. 5 can be answered with any degree of certainty, which makes No. 6 essentially impossible to answer.

While the impact of rising temperatures on humanity is difficult to predict, the impact of rising prices for essentially everything people own or use is not. The entire purpose of the proposed cap and trade, or carbon rationing plans is to artificially drive up the cost of energy, with the
hope that costs will rise so much that wind/solar/etc. power will be affordable in comparison.

Because essentially all industries rely on carbon producing forms of energy, including manufacturing, shipping, retail, restaurants, and anyone with an office, the profits, payroll, and viability of each of these industries will sink. Also, if you heat your home, run your air conditioning, drive a car, wear clothing, or eat, it will impact you, too.

Union Dues for Political Activities

A while back, a friend asked about my thoughts on this article from the Lawrence Journal-World. The topic was whether a proposed bill in the Kansas House to prohibit the use of union dues on political activities violated the First Amendment rights of union members. I typed the following, corrected for typos.

"The freedom to speak is only half of the freedom of speech. Compelling speech, under most circumstances, violates the First Amendment just as much as prohibiting speech does. For example, I can't force you to put a Ron Paul 2012 bumper sticker on your car, no matter how awesome that would be.

Due to federal labor laws, unions can obtain a monopoly power to negotiate on behalf of employees who don't necessarily want that particular union, or even any union, to do so. Because of these laws, it's actually illegal for employers to negotiate with these workers outside of their union. If these workers want any input toward negotiating their working conditions/wages/benefits/hours/etc., they have to do it through the designated union. This requires, at a minimum, paying union dues.

Even though unions are ostensibly voluntary organizations, and cannot compel employees to pay dues, this doesn't bear out in practice. First, as explained above, the federal labor laws actually make it illegal to negotiate with their employers outside of the union, so many feel obligated to join. Also, union backers have repeatedly subjected employees to all kinds of pressure to join, ranging from subtle persuasion to flat-out violence. Union membership is something less than voluntary for a lot of people. Things like card check legislation would exacerbate this problem.

Getting back to the free speech issue, money is fungible, and when union dues are inevitably used to support political messages and/or candidates with which some of the union members disagree, those members have effectively been forced to support a political message against their will. That is wrong.

For example, if the Kansas Bar Association required attorneys to pay membership dues in order to practice law within the state, and then spent those dues advocating for political causes abhorrent to some of its members, that's also wrong.

No one would argue that a school district could require teachers to display a Bush/Cheney bumper sticker on their cars. It would be an obvious First Amendment violation. But, if the union for those same teachers spent a bunch of their dues on television ads for Democratic candidates, it's really not much different.

Even unions recognize this, which is why many already maintain separate accounts to separate their political and non-political activities.

If that's what the bill is getting at, I'm fine with it. I hate fixing the unintended consequences of legislation with more legislation, but state legislatures only have so much they can do in the face of federal law and the manner in which the Supreme Court interprets the supremacy clause. It would be better to repeal the vast majority of labor laws that created this mess in the first place."

The very next day I had an almost identical question on the MBE.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Who's to blame for high gas prices?

Well, I'll start with the inflationary policies of the Federal Reserve. But numerous other government bureaucracies share the blame. The EPA, the DOT...hell, even the Department of Agriculture.

This blog post answers a question I've been wondering for some time.

Obama is blaming oil companies and "speculators" for high oil prices. Meanwhile, the government, on average, confiscates 48 cents in taxes per gallon of gasoline. Exxon, for example, makes 2 cents per gallon of gasoline. In other words, the government makes 24 times, or 2,400% more per gallon of gas than Exxon.

But according to Obama, the way to punish these greedy oil companies is to eliminate subsidies. Look, I'd like to end ALL government subsidies, but if they're talking about eliminating tax deductions used for oil exploration, that's not a subsidy. That's simply allowing a company to keep more of the profits it actually earned. And to take Exxon's money and give it away in subsidies to "green energy" startups is simply wrong.

But more important to a lot of people is that increasing the cost of business for oil companies will not lower the cost of gasoline. Eliminating reckless money printing by the Fed, bureaucratic regulation, and high taxes will.