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Karl Gallagher's Political Journal
 
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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Karl Gallagher's LiveJournal:

[ << Previous 20 ]
Wednesday, June 24th, 2020
11:46 am
For Those New Here
A brief index to my major posts:

War
I'm an advocate of taking the offensive in the Global War On Terror, the official name for our war against the Islamofascists. I've done a Venn Diagram showing how different current conflicts relate to the war as a whole, and a state diagram showing the different strategies available to us and their possible outcomes. I think there's a limited amount of time to win before a catastrophe is inevitable.

Other war posts: Abu Ghraib, Torture, Iran, putting the Army on a war footing, mistakes made in Iraq, Wars of Choice, Law, Interrogation, and Torture, Reforming the Defense Acquisition System,



Politics
I've looked at better ways to categorize views than the "left-right" axis, why our political system forces everyone into two parties, and how we could modify the system to better express everyone's views. I also discuss how our political divide comes from different visions of how families should be organized and why the "War on Drugs" is the real threat to our freedoms.

Other politics posts: Gay Marriage/Polygamy, Global Warming and who to believe about it, War on Drugs (more here), Trinity River Vision, civil war, political quizzes, Iron Man vs. ITAR, Health Care Deformed (other Obamacare links), Nullification and a follow-up, the Tree Ring Circus, The Bill of Federalism, Gaiacrats versus Theocrats, and How I pick presidential candidates.



My Beliefs
Things I believe in, and the books which most influenced me. I want to lay out the assumptions behind my beliefs clearly. If one of those principles is disproved I'll have to rethink my stands.

Sometimes I'll toss out a wild idea to provoke debate:
Anglosphere Civilization (and merging states), Auctionocracy, and An Exercise in Alternate History

My other writings can be found at my main livejournal page.

Current Mood: calm
Thursday, November 10th, 2016
6:47 pm
What To Expect From the Unexpected, Part Two
Continuing my comments on Trump's promised to do list. Yesterday's discussion of the first half is here.

The last section is a list of proposed legislation.

1. Middle Class Tax Relief And Simplification Act. An economic plan designed to grow the economy 4% per year and create at least 25 million new jobs through massive tax reduction and simplification, in combination with trade reform, regulatory relief, and lifting the restrictions on American energy. The largest tax reductions are for the middle class. A middle-class family with 2 children will get a 35% tax cut. The current number of brackets will be reduced from 7 to 3, and tax forms will likewise be greatly simplified. The business rate will be lowered from 35 to 15 percent, and the trillions of dollars of American corporate money overseas can now be brought back at a 10 percent rate.
Gah. A national economy is too big to plan. It's organic and the unintended consequences always dwarf the intended results of government action. The Nazi Four Year Plan didn't work, the Soviet Five Year Plans didn't work, and this won't work to get the results promised.

As for the content: I'm a middle class guy with two kids, and I'd be happy to take a tax cut. Apple will be happy to have its income tax bill cut. How the heck is he going to pay for all this? Possibly he's not. The national debt will hit twenty trillion dollars about the time Trump's Treasury Secretary is approved. If he's planning a bankruptcy he might as well hand out some candy beforehand. Trump is one politician I could see attempting to do the Big Haircut.

2. End The Offshoring Act Establishes tariffs to discourage companies from laying off their workers in order to relocate in other countries and ship their products back to the U.S. tax-free.
No, not more tariffs. That makes everybody in both countries poorer. If you want to help laid off workers, give them a voucher for a U-Haul trip and three month's rent anywhere in the country so they can move to where the jobs are.

3. American Energy & Infrastructure Act. Leverages public-private partnerships, and private investments through tax incentives, to spur $1 trillion in infrastructure investment over 10 years. It is revenue neutral.
Now he wants to be revenue neutral? I have my doubts about that anyway. Most analyses of that kind of project make the business case close by projecting rosy revenue benefits from the infrastructure in the outyears. By the time it's built the politicians have retired and the consultants have moved on to new projects.

4. School Choice And Education Opportunity Act. Redirects education dollars to gives parents the right to send their kid to the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school of their choice. Ends common core, brings education supervision to local communities. It expands vocational and technical education, and make 2 and 4-year college more affordable.
School choice is great and I'm all for it. Given that school are mostly paid for by local property taxes and state revenue sharing I'm wondering where the Feds come into this. Of course, they are in local education with Common Core, so I'm good with getting them out of that. Vo-tech education is undersupported, more of that would be good (Mike Rowe for Secretary of Education?).

The part I don't like is the last. Making "2 and 4-year college more affordable" has resulted in tuition increases in the amount of whatever subsidy was given to students. That's why my entire Ivy-level education in the 80s cost less than one year at a no-name private school now.

5. Repeal and Replace Obamacare Act. Fully repeals Obamacare and replaces it with Health Savings Accounts, the ability to purchase health insurance across state lines, and lets states manage Medicaid funds. Reforms will also include cutting the red tape at the FDA: there are over 4,000 drugs awaiting approval, and we especially want to speed the approval of life-saving medications.
"Replace" is certainly needed. Just repealing would be a disaster. The health insurance plans that existed in 2009 are mostly gone, replaced by ones shaped to fit the ACA's requirements ("If you like your plan . . ."). I like HSAs, I've been using the one sponsored by my company to the maximum extent. Purchasing across state lines will be good for the people whose exchange providers have pulled out. Medicaid is the "public option" last resort. We may wind up with a suggestion I made back during the ACA debate--being denied coverage for a pre-existing condition is a qualifier for Medicaid coverage. If not, there has to be some way of handling people who fall through the cracks. Possibly a temporary bridge coverage program ("There's nothing as permanent as a temporary government program"). I'd want something more innovative.

Reforming the FDA is very overdue. The agency is too incentivized to reject drugs even if they'd be a net benefit. The dying should be allowed to gamble on new treatments.

6. Affordable Childcare and Eldercare Act. Allows Americans to deduct childcare and elder care from their taxes, incentivizes employers to provide on-side childcare services, and creates tax-free Dependent Care Savings Accounts for both young and elderly dependents, with matching contributions for low-income families.
I'm fine with that. How we pay for it ties back to #1.

7. End Illegal Immigration Act. Fully-funds the construction of a wall on our southern border with the full understanding that the country Mexico will be reimbursing the United States for the full cost of such wall; establishes a 2-year mandatory minimum federal prison sentence for illegally re-entering the U.S. after a previous deportation, and a 5-year mandatory minimum for illegally re-entering for those with felony convictions, multiple misdemeanor convictions or two or more prior deportations; also reforms visa rules to enhance penalties for overstaying and to ensure open jobs are offered to American workers first.
Ah, he's going to ask Congress to pay for the Wall. Because Mexico will not contribute a peso to the project. I'm okay with the wall itself, though I'm more motivated by wanting to keep out terrorists than workers. Punishing repeat illegal immigrants will reduce the labor competition for low-end American workers. Ensuring "open jobs are offered to American workers first" could get very messy, I suspect Silicon Valley will be extremely unhappy with that.

8. Restoring Community Safety Act. Reduces surging crime, drugs and violence by creating a Task Force On Violent Crime and increasing funding for programs that train and assist local police; increases resources for federal law enforcement agencies and federal prosecutors to dismantle criminal gangs and put violent offenders behind bars.
Federal interference in local law enforcement is a bad idea. Ad hoc support for locals who request assistance, sure. Permanent task forces will attract empire builders and stormtrooper wannabees.

9. Restoring National Security Act. Rebuilds our military by eliminating the defense sequester and expanding military investment; provides Veterans with the ability to receive public VA treatment or attend the private doctor of their choice; protects our vital infrastructure from cyber-attack; establishes new screening procedures for immigration to ensure those who are admitted to our country support our people and our values.
AKA the Preserve Karl's Job Act. The military is run ragged. They need more troops to cover the missions they're assigned, not a bunch of fancy new gadgets. I fear Trump will be way too fond of huge, second to none systems and less interested in recruiting. Offering choices to vets for medical treatment I'm for; this could work out like doc stamps.

Immigration screening procedures. Yeah, this should be in a different bill. It's a big can of worms unrelated to the Defense Department. Testing people to see if they "support our values" requires a specific set of values to be agreed on. We don't have that agreement, which is why we argue so furiously over politics. We do have broad agreement on some basic principles which get discussed in the citizenship test. But that's a wide enough net to let in anyone short of Communists wanting to overthrow the government. I suspect this is a euphemism for keeping out Muslims who want to enforce Sharia law over civil law. I'll confess a little sympathy for that but putting a religious test on immigration is a step on a very nasty slippery slope and I don't want to go there.

If I was asked to set up a screening procedure I'd offer a multiple choice question: "The mayor needs to arrange for trash pick up for his town. Which should he choose?"
A. The company with the lowest bid.
B. His brother-in-law's company.
C. A company handling a neighboring town's trash well.
D. Hire new town employees to do it.
And then keep out everyone who picked B or D.

10. Clean up Corruption in Washington Act. Enacts new ethics reforms to Drain the Swamp and reduce the corrupting influence of special interests on our politics.
This would be the codification of the ethics rules discussed in the previous post. None of which will solve corruption. Look, the federal government is spending $3,800,000,000,000 a year. That's trillions. A petty bribe or favor that directs a tiny part of that stream to another channel will be cost-effective at almost any level of personal bribery. You can change which people get bribed, but the incentive will be there as long as politicians have so much power. If you don't want people buying them, make them worth less by reducing their power.
Wednesday, November 9th, 2016
6:06 pm
What To Expect From the Unexpected
I certainly didn't expect Trump to win, and I'm not happy about it. Then again, I wouldn't have been happy with a Clinton win. Libertarians don't lay in supplies for election night celebrations. I did have a nice beer--a stout from Shannon, a local microbrewery.

A frequent electoral gambit is to lay out a ten point plan for what the candidate will do first, often called a Contract. Trump, being Trump, has a Contract With the American Voter with four lists of 6, 7, 5, and 10 items each. I doubt that he'll consider them contractually binding, but it's the best clue we have of how he's going to start off his time in office. Here they are, with my comments:

Cleaning up Corruption:
● FIRST, propose a Constitutional Amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress;
I doubt term limits will have as much benefit as the advocates hope, but turnover is good. Everyone can think of one president they've lived through that they're glad couldn't have a third term.
● SECOND, a hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health);
This will result in an amazing number of agencies being redefined as safety and health functions. But it'll probably cut back on the growth of the federal payroll.
● THIRD, a requirement that for every new federal regulation, two existing regulations must be eliminated;
And this one will see two simple regulations replaced by one very complex one. The search for sacrificial regulations will slow down the production of new ones.
● FOURTH, a 5 year-ban on White House and Congressional officials becoming lobbyists after they leave government service;
Doesn't bother me, but the root of the problem is the total power of the Federal government. As long as government officials are worth buying, people will buy them. Diverting the stream of money into a new channel won't affect the corruption.
● FIFTH, a lifetime ban on White House officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government;
As above.
● SIXTH, a complete ban on foreign lobbyists raising money for American elections.
As above.

Protecting Workers
● FIRST, I will announce my intention to renegotiate NAFTA or withdraw from the deal under Article 2205
Hell, no. Free trade is one of the best anti-poverty programs there has ever been. We get more wealth for everyone. Yes, it's not evenly distributed, but that's always the case with capitalism's creative destruction.
● SECOND, I will announce our withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership
The TPP is free trade mixed with a bunch of trade restrictions but we come out ahead on net. Bad idea.
● THIRD, I will direct my Secretary of the Treasury to label China a currency manipulator
Digging around I haven't been able to find the real significance of this. If we're just calling China names, it's posturing. If we impose punitive tariffs because China is fiddling with exchange rates, very bad idea. That's a harsh tax on everyone who buys stuff made in China, which is to say all Americans except the richest.
● FOURTH, I will direct the Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Trade Representative to identify all foreign trading abuses that unfairly impact American workers and direct them to use every tool under American and international law to end those abuses immediately
See above.
● FIFTH, I will lift the restrictions on the production of $50 trillion dollars’ worth of job-producing American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal.
I'm generally in favor, though not wanting the feds to override state safety and environmental provisions.
● SIXTH, lift the Obama-Clinton roadblocks and allow vital energy infrastructure projects, like the Keystone Pipeline, to move forward
I approve.
● SEVENTH, cancel billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs and use the money to fix America’s water and environmental infrastructure
Giving money to the United Nations is almost always a bad idea. Flint can certainly use it to fix their water system.

Security and Rule of Law
● FIRST, cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama
Cancelling executive orders is a routine start-of-administration exercise. I don't expect Trump will be checking if they're unconstitutional.
● SECOND, begin the process of selecting a replacement for Justice Scalia from one of the 20 judges on my list, who will uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States
Yep, something the President is required to do. Given that many of the judges on that list favor restricting Presidental authority I wonder if Trump will actually nominate them after he realizes they may tell him no?
● THIRD, cancel all federal funding to Sanctuary Cities
Given that Congress makes the budget I'm not sure the President has the authority to cut that funding. Money that comes through executive branch grants probably can be cut. I'm fine with providing negative incentives for encouraging lawbreaking.
● FOURTH, begin removing the more than 2 million criminal illegal immigrants from the country and cancel visas to foreign countries that won’t take them back
Assuming he's referring to people who've been convicted of a crime other than entering the country illegally I'm fine with deporting them. The legality of blocking entrance from countries that won't take their citizens back is something I'd have to research.
● FIFTH, suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur. All vetting of people coming into our country will be considered extreme vetting.
This is the ugliest one. "Terror-prone regions" is a euphemism for Syria. ISIS was spawned when the US pulled out our troops and created a power vacuum. Then we intervened in the Syrian civil war enough to prolong the bloody stalemate. That gives us some moral responsibility for the refugees fleeing the chaos. The problem is any terrorist would also be happy to use a refugee program to enter the US. And with the Syrian government effectively an enemy of the US they're not going to cooperate in background checks, so "extreme vetting" is just a euphemism for not letting in anyone from there. I'd favor supporting refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan, which is probably more cost-effective than bringing a handful of them to the US.

This is quite long enough for one post so I'll leave the ten proposed laws for another day.
Wednesday, October 26th, 2016
8:16 pm
Black Lives Matter, Chrome Lives Don't
One of the current contentious issues in this country is the death of black men at the hands of police officers. I've been writing for years about how the police are abusing their power. That's led to a series of protests, some of which turned into riots, and one of which was used by a man as an opportunity to kill five cops.

There's been some highly publicized shootings, I'm sure every reader can think of several offhand. I'm more worried by some of the less famous ones. A guy considering buying a BB gun at Walmart. A 12 year old playing with a toy gun in the park. Worst of all, someone walking down the stairs in his apartment building who startled a rookie cop.

Of course, cops aren't just committing unjustified shootings of black people. You can find analogous incidents with victims who look like me, or my wife, or my son. Cops have been so free with their weapons they're often shooting dogs who pose no threat. But blacks are suffering a much higher rate of shootings per capita than whites (arguing about whether this is driven by racism, classism, or whatever is out of scope for this post and will probably lead to deleted comments).

This is often described as "militarization" of police work. That offends our soldiers, who point out they worked under much stricter rules for using force in a war zone than police have at home.

So why are cops shooting so many people?

Some of it is the laws they're enforcing. The "War on Drugs" is the biggest offender. Kicking in the door of a house and rushing in to knock down everyone who might be able to flush an ounce of pot looks just like a home invasion robbery. In fact, if they weren't cops, it would be a home invasion robbery. Add in middle of the night sleepiness, flash-bangs to daze everyone, and black uniforms and you have the perfect recipe for a homeowner to shoot a cop he thinks is a criminal or a cop to shoot someone he thinks might have a gun (plenty of examples in the links above).

Sometime cops are conducting drug raids for profit. "Asset forfeiture" lets the police seize cash or goods they think may be the result of an illegal transaction, and then the burden of proof is on the owner to show that they earned that money through legal means. That makes for more traffic stops, any one of which can turn tragic if a nervous cop mistakes an object for a weapon.

There's also police activity designed to generate revenue. The "speed trap" is the most familiar, issuing tickets to get cash for their town instead of for safety reasons. Other minor issues can lead to frequent tickets and fines. Part of why Ferguson blew up so quickly was that the population was already being harassed and squeezed for money by police activity intended to get cash. When people can't pay their fines the court issues a warrant. That leads to cops pulling over cars that look like they might have someone with a warrant on them inside, i.e., poor and black.

Take the revenue raising pressure far enough and you have Eric Garner, dead because New York outlaws selling cigarettes one at a time instead of in (taxed) packs. So the laws have cops aggressively interacting with lots of people who aren't hurting anyone.

Why are cops so quick to resort to lethal force?

Some of it is a paranoid culture. Too many cops have taken the Hill Street Blues "Let's do it to them before they do it to us" line to heart. Too many are embracing a warrior mentality, rather than being peace officers. Being a police officer is far from the most dangerous job in this country.

A big part of it is a lack of accountability. Cops are excused for panicking in situations where civilians are required to instantly assess the situation without error (see the drug raid scenario above). The legal system considers cops "us" rather than "them" and will cut them slack. And even if the police chief and district attorney think a cop has gone too far, there's the union to have their back. When that rookie panicked and shot Akai Gurley in the stairwell, he contacted his union rep before calling for an ambulance for his victim.

Police unions often incorporate protections against legal action in their contracts. Police have privileges not available to others, such as waiting days before being interrogated so they can get their story straight. Unions also prevent information sharing between departments, so a cop who racks up a record of abuse in one town can move on to another town instead of having his power taken away.

When a cop makes a split second decision on whether to shoot, he's balancing his own life against . . . well, hardly any consequences for a bad shoot. That's an easy decision. The balance may be tipping a bit back the other way--there was a Chicago cop in a recent incident who didn't shoot, not because she was afraid of legal action, but of bad publicity.

What can we do about it?

There's a simple solution. Abolish victimless crimes. Stop sending cops into people's houses to search for drugs. Stop using cops as revenue collectors. But if the country was ready for that the candidate I voted for yesterday would have a chance of winning.

Some folks are pushing for a halfway measure: don't have cops out patrolling, only have them respond to complaints or carry out warrants. That wouldn't end the drug war, but would reduce the number of shootings coming from traffic or sidewalk stops. It'd be a big improvement. I'm not sure it would fly with the public.

So I propose a technical fix: robots. A robot already appeared in this saga, when the Dallas PD* used one to bomb the guy shooting cops back in July (and unlike the Philadelphia PD, deployed a bomb without killing ten bystanders and burning down a city block).

Every police car could be equipped with a quadcopter drone carrying a video tablet, ribbon printer, and a card slider. In a traffic stop the drone would come up to the driver's side window. The cop would converse with the driver over the tablet. The driver's license can be photographed or swiped. The printer provides the ticket. No more shootings because a cop thought a wallet or cellphone or other object was a gun.

If the driver is an armed felon, the cop doesn't have to quickdraw to get in the first shot. The driver can shoot the drone, which is much cheaper to replace than a cop. That gives the cop video evidence of a crime and a good tactical position to respond from.

For drug warrants, send some small drones in to monitor the bathrooms so you can catch anyone flushing evidence. The cops can follow more slowly after everyone in the house has been alerted it's a police operation. Everyone's calmer, the cops can see if there's any weapons out, and we avoid panicked reflex shootings.

The traffic stop drone would cost less than a squad car (a DJI Matrice 100 runs about $5000, the rest would be COTS, integration and test would vary). Observation ones would be less than $1000 before the government contracting markup. So it's reasonable for a big city police department to deploy them now. Once there's enough out there for standardized models to go down the learning curve most departments ought to be able to afford them as standard equipment.

It's the 21st Century. Let's get some Robocops out there. They should have a lower bodycount than the movie version.

EDIT: After talking to somebody who knows hardware better than I do it looks like the quadcopter drones wouldn't work for this application. It would need something on treads, which is to say one like the bot Dallas PD used above.

*While I'm praising Dallas PD, I also want to point out that the shootout only had two civilian casualties while the shooter and five cops died and six cops were wounded. That's pretty damn professional shooting. I'm especially grateful since two of the bystanders are very close friends of mine.
2:09 pm
Ballot Cast
Early voting has started in Texas. I stood in line for half an hour at three in the afternoon. They were almost out of "I Voted" stickers. I saw a retiree sweet-talk a poll-worker into giving him one. I didn't ask for one. They were all busy when I finished and I didn't want to interrupt.

Voted Libertarian where they were running someone, voted for non-incumbent where they didn't, and skipped the many judges running without an opponent.
Monday, October 24th, 2016
4:32 pm
Providing Health Care to the Poor and Sick
We don't feed the hungry by setting up government food stores that are the only places they're allowed to buy food. We have some giveaways (where they're not banned) but the biggest form of support is food stamps. People get a cash equivalent that can only be used for food and spend it where they want (Yes, there's cheating. Everything has cheating). That also lets people control what they get rather than being fed what some bureaucrats picks for them.

Imagine if we did make the poor get their food from government stores. Stores with the décor and employees of the DMV. Carts would be piled high with corn and cheese. The produce aisle would require separate permissions. And meat would only be available part of the year, depending on how much money the legislature had allocated and how much the other customers ate.

That's how the poor and very sick get their health coverage. They're forced into particular programs that decide which doctors they can see, what medicines they can take, whether some procedures are currently affordable, and all of that varies program to program and person to person depending on their exact status.

We need to create a food stamp-like system to make sure that the poor and sick can get what they need instead of falling between the cracks of multiple programs. That's more difficult given how much health varies among people. Two same-sized people will eat about the same number of calories. A cancer patient will need orders of magnitude more care than a healthy person who has a sprain every couple of years. So the amount of "doc stamps" will vary by someone's diagnosis.

A big chunk of the problem is that the existing payment system drives up the cost of medical care for everyone. David Goldhill's Catastrophic Care has a detailed look at the forces driving up prices.

Insurance companies want to bargain down prices, so hospitals mark up their list price so they can make concessions. It all works out, except when someone walks in without insurance and gets stuck with the list price. If they're savvy and/or connected they can negotiate a cash discount with many providers (which might be even cheaper than what they charge the insurance company) but if you're poor, clueless, and/or really need to be treated fast that's not an option.

The some process happens with the government insurance programs. This leads to swarms of staff at doctor's offices and hospitals just handling the paperwork for all those programs, providing the documentation to prove a treatment is necessary when the insurer decides to not cover a claim. And all those people need to be paid for, which drives up costs.

Part of why the health insurers fuss so much over claims is that they're not really insurance. Getting a by-pass covered after a heart attack, that's insurance coverage, the way car insurance pays for repairs after a collision. It's a rare, unexpected event. My car insurance doesn't cover oil changes. My homeowner's insurance wouldn't even talk to me if I tried to buy a policy after my house had burned down. Real insurance is about dealing with low-probability future events.

Most of what happens with health insurance is tax evasion.

Originally it was about evading wage restrictions. To damp down inflation during WWII employers were prohibited from offering big raises for new employees. They got around it by adding benefits such as health insurance. The government not only tolerated that, they encouraged it by making health insurance payments tax deductible.

If I pay my doctor $100 out of pocket I'm paying after income tax was taken out of my salary. But if my health insurance company pays the doctor with $100 of my pre-tax income, it's really only taking $67 out of my available cash. So that's a big incentive to use the health insurance company to pay for everything.

That leads to therapeutic massages, healthy food, and gym memberships all becoming "health" expenses to take advantage of the tax loophole. The health insurers either push back by rejecting claims or charge more up front to pay for all the stuff people submit. Which means more clerks at the health insurance companies to go through the paperwork, more time spent by patients on paperwork, and more clerks at the offices of doctors and providers.

The government doesn't reduce the amount of paperwork. Sure, we need to make sure that providers are competent and facilities meet basic standards. But the government routinely exerts more control than that. A classic example is the "Certificate of Need." Anyone wanting to build a new hospital in 35 states, or using Federal money, needs to get a CoN proving that the area needs another hospital.

Naturally the existing hospitals deploy their lobbyists to try to keep the competition out. Having a local monopoly lets them keep their prices up. Epi-pens were in the news recently because of price hikes. The FDA shut down the manufacture of epi-pens by several companies, leaving the one run by a Senator's child as the surviving monopolist. And prices went up.

Meanwhile medical procedures that fall through the cracks of regulations such as laser eye surgery wind up with multiple providers competing for customers and prices go down.

A Lasik center can innovate because it deals directly with its patients. If patients don't like how they're treated they'll leave, and tell others. Someone dependent on a health insurance program can complain to the insurance company, but can't stop paying for it without pressuring their employer's accounting department or finding a new job (if we go a national single-payer system the feedback loop will be doctor-insurance organization-cabinet department-congressman-patient . . . I expect that to be worse).

The health insurance companies restrict which providers their clients can access because that's their strongest bargaining power. If a doctor charges too much the insurance company takes him off the list. This is promoting consolidation among both insurance companies and providers. Doctors are merging independent practices with hospitals or other large provider organizations so they'll be too big to be excluded. Insurers are merging to get more bargaining power. And that makes it more expensive for the patients as large organizations become more cumbersome.

We can avoid most of that by putting purchasing power in the hands of the patients. Shorten the feedback loop to get a better response.

An effective doc stamp program would have a basic level for everyone which would cover checkups, flu shots, and the typical number of office visits to deal with colds. Actual insurance would cover trauma and unexpected hospitalizations. If you want some additional routine treatment, pay out of pocket. It was coming out of pocket anyway, after being filtered through the employer and health insurance company.

When someone discovers an illness will require more care than the insurance covers it's time to see a diagnostician. That doctor will evaluate the illness and recommend a level of coverage. Then the patient receives a higher level of doc stamps to cover the additional treatments. Pick your own cardiologist or oncologist. They're all in-network, because there is no network.

There'll be review panels for the allocations, and arguments over whether they're treating people right, but we already have that problem. This way we'd be focused on a straightforward question: "Is this sick person going to have enough money to get proper treatment?"

Right now the Federal government is spending over a trillion dollars a year on health coverage and tightly regulating even more spending through private health insurance plans. They're inefficient because they're trying to use "health insurance" to cover people too poor to pay for any treatments, other people so sick their treatment is expensive beyond an average individual's means, and provide tax discounts to the middle class. Juggling all those conflicting needs is driving up the costs for everyone and still screwing over people who fall through the cracks (such as this poor SOB). We need a new system that will give each group the support they need.

If we're really lucky, we might even save some money in the process, which we can use to retrain all those people filling out health insurance forms for productive jobs.

Current Mood: thoughtful
Tuesday, September 13th, 2016
6:30 pm
Fifteen Years After 9/11
Posting on 9/11 is the only tradition I have on this blog. This year's is late. I saw lots of other people posting about it . . . most of them making it a football in our country's factional infighting, instead of a reminder that we're all of us facing enemies, who don't care about our differences and would cheerfully kill us all.

No, I'm not over 9/11. Not because of how many died that day. But because Americans are still dying in Islamofascist attacks such as the ones in San Bernardino and Orlando. And because too many Americans direct their vitriol at their neighbors instead of the ones who want to kill us all.
Monday, July 11th, 2016
12:34 pm
Above the Law
While I try to get a post on more important things put together, a few comments on something else from last week:

I wasn't surprised that Clinton skated on her classified handling infractions. Sure, I'd be doing a decade in Leavenworth if I'd done even a fraction of what she did, but I never had any illustions that those laws were going to be applied to her.

What disappoints me is that there wasn't the traditional ritual sacrifice of two or three minions who'd committed the same offenses. Stripping the markings off classified material and sending it unsecure is pretty easy to prosecute. Sure, they wouldn't get the punishment that a worker bee like me would, but permanent loss of security clearance and being banned from federal employment is a serious hit at that level. And Secretary/Senator Clinton would endure the punishment of having to break in some new minions.

But that doesn't seem to be happening.

The folks I really feel sorry for are all the instructors in classified materials handling who are facing classrooms full of people who followed this news.

"We'll start with roll call. Clinton? Clinton? No Clinton here? Well, since all of y'all need to know this shit, we'll get started."
Monday, May 30th, 2016
10:34 am
Memorial Day
Observing the holiday by reminding the kids what it's about. In this case a showing of the Civil War movie "Glory." Which had also been the Memorial Day movie two or three years ago, they talked me into seeing it again. Trying to raise them to be thankful for the sacrifices that let us have this good life.

In lesser news, I'm thankful to the Libertarian National Convention delegates for nominating Gary Johnson. It's nice to have a candidate I can vote for.
Thursday, May 5th, 2016
1:15 pm
Outcome Uncertain
The presidential race is looking to be Trump vs. Clinton. Various people are saying this is a guaranteed Clinton win. All those people were also saying Trump didn't have a chance at getting the nomination. Let's look at the demographics.

The two big parties are coalitions of groups held together by hating the other coalition more. Ever few generations there's a "realignment" and groups switch between coalitions. FDR's New Deal was one, the Civil War was another. The Democrats are composed of blacks, Hispanics, union members, and liberals. The Republicans groups are rural, Christian, and business. This is of course an approximation. Every one of those groups breaks down fractally into thousands of sub-cultures, and other little fragments adhere to one side or the other. But these are the groups large enough to show up in opinion polls.

The Republican primary was supposed to be dominated by candidates locking up each of the groups and then having a run-off among the final two or three ("lanes" in the consultant jargon). Trump instead split each group on class lines. He's bringing in the people who are doing badly in each group, the ones whose death rate is increasing. For example, the Christians split between Trump and Cruz. If an evangelical Republican reported attending church more than once a month, they were a Cruz voter. Trump got the "evangelicals" who didn't go to church--and presumably lacked other social support networks. Likewise the rural conservatives whose towns were dying and small businessmen afraid that they're one OSHA ruling away from bankruptcy.

The Democratic coalition is also vulnerable to splits. The unions are separating into government workers and industrial ones, with the non-government workers being laid off or watching their companies go bankrupt. More than one primary had Trump boosted by those Democrats crossing over to vote for him. They'll probably stick with him in the general.

Trump is endorsed by some black celebrities. He's in a position to drive a wedge between blacks and Hispanics. There's already tension between the groups because they're competing for overlapping jobs and housing, generally papered over in elections by pointing to racists as haters who can't tell the difference between the groups. If Trump pushes immigration restrictions as a way to increase the economic fortunes of blacks he could pull some to his side. I wouldn't expect a majority, but if 10-20% vote for him, and a 10-20% stay home because they're not afraid of him, it could tip some states.

Liberals don't seem like a good group for Trump to look for votes in, but again there's class divisions within them. The Occupy Wall Street protestors were as liberal as tenured professors, but they were marginally employed (if at all) and crushed by student loan debt. Those are people who hate bankers more than they hate Trump. Anyone who can quote how much Clinton collected in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs is a potential Trump voter. He can point to his bankruptcies as a blow against the bankers. A proposal to make student loans dischargable in bankruptcy could bring 10% of the liberal bloc to his side, enough to tip a couple states.

Will this be enough to outweigh the Republicans who are sticking to #neverTrump by going Libertarian or dropping out? Beats the heck out of me. But I think there's a plausible scenario that Trump could be our next president. Horrifying, but the Republic will survive.

The more interesting question to me is whether the party realignment will revert to old pattern or keep changing until we have two new coalitions.

(If you want another scenario for how Trump can win, check out Scott Adams' persuasion series at the Dilbert blog)

Me, I'm planning to vote for Gary Johnson, whether the Libertarians nominate him or not. He would only have to take a few states to throw the election into the House of Representatives, which might prefer him to the other two.
Friday, April 22nd, 2016
12:37 am
Twenty Dollar Bill
Jackson's out, Tubman's in. I'm okay with that. Especially if we get this version of the bill:



I found this floating around twitter--anyone know who the artist is?
Thursday, March 31st, 2016
1:52 am
Three Problems With Socialism
Bernie Sanders and other leftist activists have put socialism in discussion again. Some of Trump's ravings have socialist assumptions as well. So I'm going to go through why socialism has been such a disaster everywhere it's been tried.

First let's make sure of what we're talking about. Some folks have been freely applying the socialist label to anything they consider good, but the word does have a long-standing definition: state control of the means of production. Means of production is an economic term for creating value. Factories, stores, doctors all create value. "Control" doesn't mean state ownership, even if that's the most famous example. The Soviets would shoot the factory owner and install a commissar as the new manager. The Nazis would have the local Gauleiter drop by and suggest the owner focus on making cheap cars or cheap radios according to the Fuerher's latest whim (lest brownshirts drag the owner out into the street and kick him to death). Chunks of the American economy are partially socialized by having government regulations tightly restrict what people can do to where they can't make decisions about their own business.

If something isn't producing new value, it's not part of the "means of production" and isn't socialist even if it's a government program. Police catching criminals isn't socialism. Social security and pensions aren't socialism. Safety rules aren't socialism (but they can be stretched into controlling mechanisms, so there's a broad grey area).

Problem One: Top Down

A socialist program is run with a central plan assigning roles to all the work units in the country. This has the basic problem of all centralized structures: it's hard for them to get the information they need. No one can track the work time of everyone in a single industry, so all information has to be summarized on its way to the center. That gives you the SNAFU Principle: the summary will be shaded to avoid pissing off higher-ups. Do that in a tall chain of command and you get this example.

This overly-processed data is then used to create a Plan, which is passed down the chain and applied to the whole country. As usually happens with "one size fits all" there will be places where the Plan makes things worse or doesn't work at all. Gaining an exception from the Plan is possible but depends on how much pull local leaders have the central planners. So the exceptions will be distributed to those with political power, not those who need them the most.

Between the bad data going in and the poor fit of the Plan to reality the outcome of the Plan will fall short of expectations. The central planners will do their best to conceal that to save their jobs, or dictatorial polities, lives. They might falsify reports or blame their opposition. In the Ukrainian famine the Soviet planners kept exporting grain to meet their goals, leaving the farmers starved to the point of cannibalism.

Such an atrocity isn't an accident--it's the inevitable consequence of moving decision-making far away from where the actual work is taking place. Medicare mischarging, defense contract overruns, failed Soviet Five Year Plans, and the millions dead in China's Great Leap Forward are all results of the same problem.

Problem Two: Bottom Up

For most people in a socialist system, the grand Plan is of no concern. They're trying to get through one day at a time without being punished. They do the work that they're given incentives to do. Unfortunately the incentives often don't match real value production, and may even be counter to what planners wanted. Viktor Suvorov lived that in the Soviet Union. A factory made extra fertilizer, but the collective farms didn't have enough trucks to transport it, so the excess was dumped into the Dnieper River, killing fish. The factory manager responded to his incentives, the drivers for the farms to theirs.

Of course, the incentive problem isn't limited to socialism. Plenty of big corporations give employees bad incentives, and small business owners may prioritize their personal convience over customer service. Consumers treated badly have to put up with it or search for alternative providers. In the extreme case, they may start a business of their own to compete with the one that treated them badly. And they're allowed to do that in a free market.

Under socialism people are stuck with the providers that they're assigned to. It's like only being able to see the doctor covered by your health insurance--except it applies to your groceries, and clothes, and appliances, and everything. Since the providing organizations don't have to worry about their customers going elsewhere they have no incentive to improve service. Workers don't need to put out extra effort. Managers can arrange things according to their whims instead of focusing on the bottom line.

There are incentives workers respond to--not being punished by their bosses. This leads to the famous Potemkin Village, where the bigwigs see a show put on for their benefit with no connection to reality. This is the SNAFU principle from above seen from the other point of view.

With the workers practicing "we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us" the system becomes steadily more inefficient even if the top-level Plan is good. Contradictions in the plan force the worker bees to cheat. Every socialist system has its black market, as people try to make the exchanges needed to keep things from falling apart. But that can add to the inefficiency of other areas even as it fixes one problem.

Problem Three: Parasitism

All this inefficiency means socialist systems are consuming value, not producing it. But this can be lived with if there's non-socialist sectors producing enough wealth to sustain the whole economy. The US school system doesn't charge students for their education. It's paid for by taxes on everyone else. In the medical sector charity hospital and Medicare/Medicaid are supported by taxes as well. We can afford that.

The problem comes when more and more of the economy is socialized. You wind up with the inefficiency being paid for by running down the accumulated wealth of the country. Old buildings are used with minimal maintenance, tools break and less-efficient ones replace them, resources run out. As the Margaret Thatcher quote goes, "Eventually you run out of other people's money."

So the Soviet Union collapsed. Britain's socialized industries were privatized again. Venezuela is undergoing collapse now, as falling oil prices have wiped out the subsidies of food imports. Even the Nordic countries pointed to as examples of "democratic socialism" have been loosening their restrictions on free enterprise. An economy needs to produce wealth, not just redistribute it, and socialism is bad at that.

Why Socialism?

Given the track record of failure worldwide, why are people advocating socialism? My guess is that it feels more comfortable with our hunter-gatherer evolved minds. In a band of a few score people someone having noticeably more food probably cheated or was very lucky. The modern 1% produce an emotional reaction in those who think their share of wealth is unfair.

Is it unfair? Probably. But lots of things are unfair, and fixing them can be worse than living with them. A society of millions of people can't run the same way as a band of a hundred hunter-gatherers. We need to give everyone the flexibility to deal with their local circumstances and make their own decisions. That's what brought us to the information age. Countries that take that freedom away have gone backwards. Producing new wealth is what lets us be in a position to clean up pollution and take care of the needy.

Because even hunter-gatherers are smart enough to not work harder if someone else is going to take most of what they produce.
Wednesday, March 9th, 2016
9:40 pm
Voting, More or Less
Last night I attended the Libertarian Party precinct caucuses. Which, since the LP rarely has more than one voter per precinct, was a pro forma declaration that everyone was the chair of their precinct. We're now recorded as LP delegates. This coming Saturday we'll have the county caucus and nominate candidates for the local offices. The Saturday after the district caucus will handle nominations for districts crossing county lines. And then in April there's the state convention.

The Democratic and Republican caucuses usually select delegates to support particular presidential candidates at their state convention, which will then assign delegates to the national convention. The Libertarians have a simpler process. To vote for a presidential nominee you have to be at the state convention.

That means being in San Antonio from 3pm Friday (delegate credentialing) to 5pm Sunday (the actual votes for presidential nominee). Sigh. That's a long drive from here, and a couple nights in a hotel. Even if I carpool and room share with some of the local libertarians that's still a whole weekend away from family and no writing time.

So, sigh, I will not be voting for Gary Johnson until November. And I'm hoping the LP convention delegates don't go nuts and nominate a talk show host.
Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016
11:02 pm
Voting For Someone
Usually I wind up voting against candidates rather than for one. That can be harder in the primaries, if you have half a dozen clowns competing for the crown. This year it's gotten to be too much for me.

None of the local races are inspiring me to vote in their party's primary, so it's just the presidential race driving my decision. I did think of voting in the Democratic primary on the principle of "Vote for the crook, it's important." The Republicans are offering a choice of an amoral celebrity or matched first-term Senators, none appealing.

So, for the first time since 9/11, I'll be voting Libertarian for President, at least in the primaries. Gary Johnson isn't someone I completely agree with, but he's sane, sensible, and has the experience to run a large organization without the bureaucrats tying him in knots. He recognizes the danger of Islamic terrorists so he isn't as blind as most big-L libertarians.

I'm going to skip voting in the primaries and attend the Libertarian Party caucuses on 3/8 and 3/12 to support Johnson delegates to the state convention.
Saturday, January 9th, 2016
2:38 am
Abbott's Amendments
My governor is offering a set of constitutional amendments, the "Texas Plan," to make the federal government behave more like the Founders intended it to. That page includes a link to a 92-page pdf with history, philosophy, analysis, and footnotes backing up the case for the amendments.

After going through the doc what I haven't found is the actual text of the amendments, which will make a tremendous difference in how acceptable they are. But this is still an interesting proposal, so let's look over what we have here.

Prohibit Congress from regulating activity that occurs wholly within one State.
This is something I favor. The Feds shouldn't have authority on anything you grow and consume in your own backyard. Implmentation could be tricky. Saying "this time we mean it" would be worked around the way the original Constitutional restrictions were. Making it an affirmative defense in court that you didn't cross a state line would probably work. Assuming the wording is solid I favor this.

Require Congress to balance its budget.
I've seen a bunch of balanced-budget amendments. Most had big enough loopholes to let Congress keep spending us into bankruptcy. There's an excellent one in the Bill of Federalism (number 8). That one used the tension between the President and Congress to force Congress to balance the budget or face a President with a line item veto.

The biggest problem with Abbott's proposal is that he wants to restrict Federal spending to 18% of GDP. That's an invitation to crank up the GDP numbers. I'm sure the Treasury Department has statisticians that could take their current data and claim we have double the GDP they reported last year. Statistics are like that, especially when you get to define your own terms.

I'd need to see the wording and some analyses of how hard it would be to by-pass before supporting this. If the amendment does work I'm all for it. The federal government is already committed to spending more money than actually exists. Keeping us from going bankrupt is essential to giving us a peaceful future.

Prohibit administrative agencies—and the unelected bureaucrats that staff them—from creating federal law.
Doesn't keep Congress from rubber stamping regulations put out by the departments, but does force the legislators to take responsibility for voting for it. I'm for this.

Prohibit administrative agencies—and the unelected bureaucrats that staff them—from preempting state law.
Yes, that's a real problem, but I'm not sure how you can fix it without breaking Federal authority. I'd have to see the wording before I have an opinion.

Allow a two-thirds majority of the States to override a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
I'm generally in favor of adding feedback loops to systems. I assume the effect of the override would be the same as if the Supremes hadn't accepted the case for review. Getting two thirds of the states to agree on something is a hard barrier, especially if this includes a time limit (if there's no time limit, let's start with Plessy vs. Ferguson). Leaning for this one.

Require a seven-justice super-majority vote for U.S. Supreme Court decisions that invalidate a democratically enacted law.
This is a shift in power from the Supremes to Congress. The problem is the power shifted more by Congress abdicating responsibility by writing vague law than by the Supremes seizing it. I think before making a decision on this I'd want to look up a list of 6-3 and 5-4 decisions by the Supremes. There's also the question of what "democratically enacted" means. Anything passed by Congress? By state legislatures? Popular referendums?

Restore the balance of power between the federal and state governments by limiting the former to the powers expressly delegated to it in the Constitution.
"This time we mean it" won't work. The goal is good, the implementation could make things worse. Can't have an opinion without seeing the wording.

Give state officials the power to sue in federal court when federal officials overstep their bounds.
Yep, there needs to be more checks on the federal bureaucracy. There's a lot of petty administrators running amuck with the own empire building. I support this.

Allow a two-thirds majority of the States to override a federal law or regulation.
Again, feedback loops are good, and getting 2/3s of the states to agree on something is hard. Assuming the effect of the override is as if the law had been voted down originally, I favor this.

The plan for implementing the amendments involves a constitutional convention. I have mixed feeling about that but it's worth a try. I'm glad Governor Abbott made the proposals. This is a debate worth having.
Monday, November 9th, 2015
3:33 pm
If This Goes On . . .
The GAO head under Clinton and Dubya says the official $18 trillion in debt is only a third of what we're on the hook for. Once you add in the promises Congress has made without budgeting any money to pay for (Social Security, Medicare, pensions) the taxpayers are facing $65 trillion in debt.

That is, bluntly, something we're not going to be able to pay off. So there'll be a bankruptcy, either cutting those social security checks to a fraction of the promised size, or inflating the dollar until the promised amount is worth almost nothing.

But in all those presidential debates no one asks, "Senator X, the federal debt will break $20 trillion during your first term. What will you do if the financial markets don't supply the loans your administration asks for?"
Friday, September 11th, 2015
2:27 pm
They Mean It
What I want people to remember most about 9/11:

When a mob of foreigners is chanting "Death To America!" it's not a quaint native folk custom, it's not amusing, it's not a trivial thing we should ignore. They're declaring their intent to wage total war against us.
Tuesday, September 8th, 2015
12:32 am
Gay Marriage Comes Full Circle
A local elected official is defying the law to prevent gay marriage in her town. Which is a fitting end for the process, as gay marriage in the USA began with a local elected official defying the law to enable gay marriage in his town (Gavin Newsom, for my less historically inclined readers). Gavin succeeded because he started a preference cascade. People all over the country, forced to confront the idea of gay marriage, shrugged and said, "Eh, okay." Which meant something totally off the table suddenly became negotiable.

Let's take a look at how unthinkable the concept had been before 2004. Look at this cartoon from 1980:
gahan wilson gay marriage.jpg
Treats the whole concept as a joke, right? By 2015's standards that's rude. Now consider what kind of joke it was. Gahan Wilson specializes in cartoons of hideous monsters and eviscerated children. So it's a horror joke. And it appeared in Playboy, so a joke restricted to the sturdy-minded.

Andrew Sullivan wrote a serious essay proposing gay marriage in the New Republic in 1989. Even to that very liberal audience it was considered a radical idea. Sullivan said the most common response was laughter. It seemed to be one of the many wonkish proposals that never go anywhere.

Another example from 1997: in the Babylon 5 episode "Racing Mars" (s4e10) two men are given the identity of newlyweds. So it was an idea that audiences could handle . . . as being in place over two hundred years in the future. The audience for that was restricted to people who weren't bothered by the thought of people from two different species marrying, so again sturdy-minded. It was up there with the reference to a female Pope from the same season--an obscure joke to show how different things were in the future.

Then Gavin Newsom pushed it into the now. And eleven years later his counterpart Kim Davis is being sent to jail for the flip side of the same cause. This is staggeringly fast for a change in law and culture.

Look at how long it took to change the laws and attitudes on interracial marriage:

And that graph needs an update--the solid blue line just shot up to 100%.

Why did this happen so fast?

I think the biggest factor is that nobody's mind was changed. Public opinion on gay marriage can be divided into three groups--people who actively wanted it (But before 2004 considered it unattainable), people who don't object to it or consider it a "nice to have," and those who actively oppose it. There hasn't been significant movement among the groups.

With interracial marriage the size of the groups changed, mostly by the old generation dying off and new voters with different views coming of age. Eventually there was enough support that states began repealing their laws and judges were willing to take a stand for civil rights. This was driven by many other votes on civil rights acts and elections where politicians had to take stands on civil rights. Eventually it became clear the majority accepted it, even if they didn't like it.

Gay marriage was not majority vote driven. State referendums opposed it even in liberal states such as California. Politicians opposed it during elections only to reveal their support later (Obama did support it during his re-election campaign). More states had gay marriage legalized by judicial rulings than legislative votes. And the final legalization came from the Supreme Court.

What we're seeing here is that a lot of politicians and judges are in the middle group, considering gay marriage "nice to have" and willing to follow the lead of which ever group of activists currently has more clout. That doesn't settle the issue, especially when the final vote on it is 5-4. That tells the activists on the losing side "find one more vote," not "give up, you're outnumbered."

Kim Davis and her supporters are hoping her martyr act will start a preference cascade the other way. I don't see it happening. Instead we're going to have incredible sturm and drang over every upcoming Supreme Court appointment. Which will be a change from those being driven by abortion politics, another issue where majorities don't rule (if politicians had to live with the abortion laws they passed instead of expecting them to thrown out by judges we'd see more European-style compromises instead of grandstanding).

I'm all for gay marriage. It's a step forward for personal freedom. It lays the groundwork for more changes I'd like to see. I just wish I had been passed by referendums and legislatures instead of judges. Democracy is already being weakened by the incredible amount of power held by unelected bureaucrats enforcing laws. With unelected judges making new ones there's even less connection between what people want and what the government does. If that goes too far we'll lose democracy as a way for settling our differences . . . and I don't like the alternatives.
Thursday, May 28th, 2015
4:21 pm
Candidate Selection
When the guys at National Review are debating Cthulhu versus the Sweet Meteor of Death it's going to be a long campaign season.
Wednesday, May 13th, 2015
6:47 pm
Local Voting
My town had elections last Saturday. No one wanted to run against the Mayor. Again. Well, he's doing a good job. The open city council seat was contested by people who don't bother putting up issue websites. Two of the three had Facebook pages for their campaigns. I voted for the one who seemed less interested in starting up new projects. She came in third. Also, I voted to not let the sales tax increment for road repair expire. They're using the money.
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