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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:

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

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,

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, June 6th, 2019
9:38 pm
Scot Peterson, the SRO at Stoneman Douglas High School, is being prosecuted for not trying to to stop the shooter. Various people are objecting, saying "Cowardice may be fireable, but it's not a crime."

Oh? What's the military's attitude toward cowardice?

Any person subject to this chapter who before or in the presence of the enemy--
(1) runs away;
(2) shamefully abandons, surrenders, or delivers up any command, unit, place, or military property which it is his duty to defend;
shall be punished by death or such punishment as a court- martial may direct.

Cops have been demanding more respect, wanting all the privileges of soldiers while still staying home in their own beds each night. Fine. If they want the perks of being soldiers, they can be held to the standards. Scot Peterson had soft duty, hanging out with teenagers and swaggering around with his weapon in a 'gun free zone.' All so he could be there if it hit the fan. He failed. He should pay the penalty.

(Not that 'neglect of a child' or 'negligence' carry the death penalty . . . but he should pay some price.)
Monday, February 4th, 2019
9:29 pm
Calling the Legions Home
So, we're pulling troops out of Syria. And maybe Afghanistan. I wasn't thrilled about going into Syria. So I can't be upset about pulling out. Either way I want us to have a strategy rather than fumbling about.

The fumbling about is produced by different people in the US government wanting different strategies, or sometimes wanting an objective for reasons unrelated to strategy (for example, the State Department types who want the US to keep enough forces in the MidEast to be able to veto Israel's actions).

There's several strategies we could have followed in response to the 9/11 attacks. Strategic moves aren't always intuitive. The US response to Pearl Harbor was to invade Morocco, a place even more removed from the Imperial Japanese Navy than Iraq was from the terrorists who organized 9/11. It made sense as a way to keep the Allies in the fight, expecting them to defeat Japan's cohorts and then Japan in turn.

Invading Iraq made sense as part of a strategy of transforming the Arab world into a series of democracies, or at least autocracies leaving people enough freedom that they had better things to do than strap bombs to themselves (Dubya did mention this as our strategy a few times, but didn't put much work into creating a national consensus for us).

Alternate strategies existed--simple punitive expeditions, imperialism, isolationism--each with their own ideal outcomes. I wrote about the choices here.

I didn't think pushing for democracy was the safest or cheapest strategy. I certainly wasn't sure it would work, though there were moments of hope. Instead I was worried about the worst case. Terrorists are being empowered by technology to cause more damage

Eliezer Yudkowsky expressed this as "Moore's Law of Mad Scientists: Every 18 months the IQ required to destroy the world goes down by one point." The same minimum IQ reduction applies to each smaller act of terror.

So someday in the future, if we haven't eliminated the forces driving terrorism, there will be an attack on the USA that causes over a million dead. And Americans, seized with rage and fear, will launch a counterattack with a hundred or a thousand times as many dead.

I wanted us to pursue the strategy of democracy to avert that. Because I don't want that much blood on our hands. At the very least I felt an obligation to try.

Now Americans born after 9/11 are enlisting and going off to fight in Syria and Afghanistan. Dubya's successors haven't stuck with his strategy. The guiding principle of our actions in the Middle East this decade seems to be "Do the minimum to keep people from complaining on the news."

I'm not shocked. Americans aren't much for generations-long commitments, certainly not if no one's taking the responsibility for asking them to. So that strategy is abandoned. We don't have a new strategy. There's not much point to deploying troops if we don't have a strategy for them to execute.

So, yes, as someone who advocated going into Iraq and still thinks it was a good idea, I think it's time to pull out of the Middle East. Playing whack-a-mole is not a strategy.

When the great atrocity happens, and a half-billion are killed in retaliation, a grandchild will come to me asking "How could everyone let this happen?" I'll point to the Americans dead in Iraq and Afghanistan (and Syria, Niger, etc.) and say, "We tried to prevent it."

Current Mood: grim
Tuesday, September 11th, 2018
8:44 pm
Half Staff
Flag ceremony by Junior ROTC cadets. That's my boy in the back row.

Children born the day of the 9/11 attacks are now old enough to enlist in the military with parental permission.

Flag ceremony
Thursday, April 26th, 2018
8:56 pm
More Rules on Guns?
March 24th I walked in the March for Our Lives protest against guns, keeping company with my two teenage children. I completely sympathize with being afraid of some spree shooter attacking. I was there because someone shot up another DFW protest a couple of years ago and I wanted to help the kids escape if it happened again.

It's not the first time I've woried about spree shooters attacking me or mine. I was working at the Hughes Aircraft plant in El Segundo in 1996 when a gunman shot three people and took hostages. It gives a sense of immediacy to the annual workplace violence online training my employer puts me through.

Fort Worth had a good turnout for the rally, several thousand people. There were speeches at the old courthouse and then a march from there to the convention center and back again. There were more speeches, but we didn't stay for them.

I wasn't impressed by the speeches. No substantive proposals other than background checks for private sales, which would require a gun and owner registry to implement and is therefore fircely opposed by many including me. Lots of ad hominem attacks on Republican politicians and the NRA. Lots of exclamations over school shootings as if they were common and increasing, when they're rare and fewer.

The signs were worse. Lots of blatant misinformation. "I wish my uterus has as many rights as a gun." There's someone who can freely bring her uterus everywhere and didn't have a background check before getting it. More ad hominems. Claims that sudafed is harder to buy than a gun. Bullshit. I've done both. Demands to ban AR-15s, semi-automatics, or all guns.

The last amused me because the first speaker made an emphatic point of "We're not trying to take your guns away". If she'd read the signs in front of her she'd know lots of the crowd did want to try that. I'm pretty sure she did know that. It's not unique to that crowd. A few days later prominent liberal John Paul Stevens demanded the 2nd Amendment be repealed so guns could be taken. Lots of people cheered him. (Given all the attacks on the NRA, some seem to want the 1st Amendment repealed as well.)

But gun control activists have been trained to say "We don't want to take your guns" to reassure neutral listeners. And I do mean trained. The high school students were out in front of this protest, but they weren't doing it by themselves. There was a network of organizations supporting them and raising money. That's the connections needed to get city permits (with police and medical support), t-shirts, good graphic templates for signs, reporters doing stories, announcements made on social media, etc. etc. "March for Our Lives" handled all that stuff very smoothly. Newbies figuring this out for themselves aren't smooth.

I did see one bobble. The local march organizer put together a sign-making event so people would have hand made signs for the march. The Facebook event for it was screwed up because it showed a California address and a wrong time--it included an offset for Pacific time.

How'd that happen? The organizer posted that she was in California and announced the correct time and place. Here's what I think happened. She was spending her spring break at a workshop for march organizers. One item on the checklist was "sign making party." Emails went back to Texas requesting help setting that up. Experienced activists in Fort Worth ("Grandparents Against Violence" were the t-shirts I saw at the event) found someone with an industrial space that could be used, arranged donations of sign supplies and snacks, and sent the info to the high schooler on her spring break. She created the event on Facebook. FB, being FB, checked her location from her phone and set the time to Pacific and grabbed the nearest street of that name in Los Angeles County.

Ten years from now she'll tell that as a lesson learned when teaching workshops for the next generation of high school activists.

Not that it'd necessarily be a gun control workshop. Various liberal groups were showing their flags at the march. Civil rights groups. The local Cesar Chavez committee. Beto O'Rourke's campaign. Other Democratic candidates.

We gave a bottle of water to a guy who was leading chants on the march. He'd been doing protests his whole life, and looked closer to my age than my kids. His chants weren't about guns, much more civil rights focused. So he was representative of all the folks who weren't there to talk gun policy but leftist politics in general.

I did want to talk gun policy. Though the only ones I talked about it with were a couple of ladies who asked what my sign meant:
Middle aged guy at protest march.
(Pro tip: don't skip breakfast before going for a long walk in warm sun. I was wilting a bit.)

"IMPRISON STRAW BUYERS" is poking at a wide hole in the enforcement of current gun laws. Someone with a clean record who buys a gun for someone prohibited from owning one (the "straw buyer") is committing a felony. But the Feds rarely prosecute them, and offer easy plea bargains when they do.

That holds with many of the gun laws we have. Putting down false information on the background check form is a crime, and is often caught when NICS checks are made. Prosecuted? Hardly ever.

This is part of what makes 2nd Amendment fans suspicious of suggestions for "reasonable" "common sense" gun laws. If the laws aren't being enforced against the criminals, why are more restrictions being put on the law-abiding?

Part of that is a worry about the "slippery slope" problem. If guns are banned, and murders continue, what will be banned next? The Brits are answering that as they put active efforts into trying to ban knives as weapons.

Even a knife ban won't stop criminals. They'll throw acid in people's faces or run people over with trucks.

Describing a new gun control rule as a "compromise" just makes 2nd Amendment people wary at this point. A hundred years ago citizens could have automatic weapons, short barreled rifles, silencers, and carry pistols without a permit. Now there's so many rules it's a full time job to figure out what's legal in a jurisdiction. Collectors are forced to get dealer licenses to protect themselves from prosecution for owning too many guns.

There's already been many restrictions on guns. Too many people are open about wanting to confiscate all guns. Why they want to live in a country where all rifles are carried by people under Trump's orders I don't know, but that's what they're asking for.

At this point the gun control fans can't keep track of the laws. I keep seeing suggestions for rules that are already in place.

I did see one set of suggestions that intrigue me. (backup link) It's a real compromise, in that both sides would be getting something they want.

Swiss-style universal background checks

Opening up the NICS to private sellers so they can check if their buyer is allowed to own guns. I'm good with that. It doesn't have a registry of guns that could be used for future confiscation attempts. Still vulnerable to straw buyers and other evasions, but we have laws for that now.

This may also have an unintended consequence by making the database available for non-gun purposes. Any guy at a singles bar better have a recent background check code if he wants someone to go home with him.

Extreme risk protection orders

Another name for the GVROs I talked about in my last post. If someone is presenting a danger, show a judge and get a restraining order.

EDIT: see edit to previous post. This is being implemented badly and I no longer think it's a good idea.

Classify bump stocks as machine guns

Bump stocks trade accuracy for firing speed. Their effect can be duplicated with a belt and rubber band. But I won't miss them. The main argument against banning them is the slippery slope. 2nd Amendment supporters who've had many miles taken don't want to give up another inch. Doing it as part of a big compromise package would answer that.

Put silencers in the same legal category as handguns, not grenade launchers

Oh, yes, please. Then my local range can mandate them for the guys with the big pistols that hurt my ears through the hearing protection. For anyone wondering if this will make murder too easy, Hollywood has been lying about the effectiveness of silencers. It's still a loud bang. It just causes less ear damage.

Repeal Depression-era barrel length laws

Yep. They're dumb. Mostly enforced on people too dumb to check the rules, or someone the ATF is trying to entrap.

Concealed carry permit reciprocity

I'm all for this. Self defense is a right for all Americans.

Mass shootings are a media contagion. The press can help stop it with the same anti-copycat guidelines they already use for suicides.

Yes. Reporters are flogging the hell out stories to get clicks and ratings. They're convincing kids that shootings are a major danger when they're well below traffic accidents. And if they can't carry out the copycat guidelines, could they at least not fucking tell potential copycats that shooting up their school will make girls send them sexy pictures?

Penalize agencies that fail to update the NICS background check system

This is already happening.

Those suggestions are useful, and as a package should be able to gather widespread support. Will they? Well, that depends on whether activists want to make useful changes in the law . . . or just try to enrage their supporters to get them to donate funds and vote for preferred candidates.
Friday, March 16th, 2018
10:39 pm
Schools, Guns, and Laws
Some asshole shot up a high school and killed 17 people, most of them students. How could this have been prevented?

First off, he could have been arrested and convicted when he committed previous felonies. Threatening to kill someone is a crime. When cops decide not to arrest someone they're missing a chance to stop him before he commits a greater crime. We wouldn't want cops arresting everyone they see breaking every possible law (especially considering how many stupid laws are out there) but we need them to make good judgement calls. It doesn't help when the chief is saying, "Don't arrest high school kids, that makes us look bad."

A few states have implemented an idea that would have helped in this situation. Domestic violence restraining orders are a way for a battered wife to go to a court and have her ex restricted from possessing guns, etc. A "Gun Violence Restraining Order" expands this for someone who's threatening strangers. If the cops or FBI blow off reports of dangerous behavior the GVRO is another tool for targeting potential murderers.

Either a felony conviction or a GVRO would keep the shooter from passing the background check needed to buy guns*.

One way criminals avoid background checks is getting someone with a clean record to buy the guns for them. This is called a "straw buyer" and is a felony. But straw buyers are rarely prosecuted. When prosecutors do press charges the penalty is usually probation instead of prison time. To draw a stiff penalty straw buyers have to supply weapons to the Columbine shooters. Enforcing that law would be an effective way to deter people from providing guns to criminals or the underage.

If someone has a gun and has decided to attack a school there's not many good options. Having a police officer present might deter an attack, but would more likely divert the maniac to a less well guarded target. There's also the downside that when the school isn't being attacked having a police officer present can turn petty misconduct into a criminal offense.

One option people are talking about is letting teachers with concealed carry permits carry their weapons in school. Many states already allow this. This strikes me as just common sense. Nobody supporting this wants teachers trying to hunt down an attacker. But when the attack is going on and a teacher is stuck in a classroom with a bunch of students . . . what's the best option for that teacher? Trust the lock on the door? Grab the scissors off the craft table**? Or use a weapon they know how to defend themselves with? Yeah, someone with a pistol can stop someone with a rifle, such as the terrorists who attacked the cartoon show in Garland or the guy who tried to assassinate Republican Congressmen.

For those afraid an armed teacher would be a danger to students, I'll point out people with concealed carry licenses are one of the most law abiding demographics in the nation, committing noticeably fewer crimes than police officers do. The Georgia teacher who fired a gun in school a few weeks back did not have a license . . . and the one in California was a cop.

The good news about school shootings is that they're becoming less common. This is part of the general fall in murder rates in the USA over the last 25 years. There's more privately owned guns but they're not causing as many deaths. The AR-15 is responsible for fewer murders than bare hands.

So why do we have all these horrible school shootings? I don't know. There's theories out there: Multi-thousand student high schools drive people crazy***. Not having father figures present drives boy crazy. Boys are crazy. Crazy people are entranced by the thought of becoming famous for shooting up their school.

But guns have always been around. Go back fifty years and high school students would have deer rifles in the cars so they could go hunting after school. Those rifles did much more damage than AR-15s--a .223 bullet isn't considered powerful for deer, it would just wound them instead of killing. But the students rarely committed mass shootings.

Some people want to outlaw private ownership of guns. They want to "have a conversation" about it. The USA has had this conversation every 12-18 months and it comes out the same every time. The current laws exist because that's the consensus of the voters. Yes, a minority wants to get rid of all those guns. They're outvoted. They're going to keep getting outvoted. If someone wants me to discuss the ins and outs of current firearms laws I will. But there's a lot of laws so that's going to be tedious. Federal laws, state laws, local laws, BATFE regulations, ITAR regulations, and more. Guns are heavily regulated. Suffice it to say that if I cut the barrel off a rifle I'd go to jail, if I bought a Glock and sold it to someone I'd go to jail, if I modified a weapon to have automatic fire I'd go to jail. Most of what people are demanding for gun control is already on the lawbooks.

Owning more guns didn't create school shootings. Trying to outlaw the guns won't stop them.

* Assuming the responsible agency enters the information into the database. The Sutherland Springs shooter could buy his weapons because the Air Force fell down on entering court martial convictions into the database.

** The available option I have in case of workplace violence. Which doesn't thrill me because someone once shot up a building I was working in.

*** My high school had 2400 students. Make your own call.

EDIT: I've changed my mind about GVROs (aka "Red Flag laws"). They're being implemented without due process and used as weapons against people for personal or political reasons. So it was a useful idea in theory, but can't be successfully implemented in today's USA.
Saturday, September 30th, 2017
12:29 am
Shooting, Kneeling, and What To Do About It
In all the fuss over athletes kneeling the original cause of the protest is being drowned out. Cops shooting too many people, specifically black people.

The Black Lives Matter movement put forward a set of solutions called Campaign Zero. It's a list of ten actions they want taken, exactly the format I love analyzing on this blog. Let's take a look. Note that the site I'm linking to has a much more detailed discussion of each item, with supporting links. If you're not sure what something I mention here means please consult the source.

End Broken Windows Policing
  • End Policing of Minor "Broken Windows" Offenses

  • End Profiling and "Stop-and-Frisk"

  • Establish Alternative Approaches to Mental Health Crises

This one is a trade-off. Loosening the low-level policing that keeps thugs from being able to commit minor crimes will lead to more of those crimes. Faced with a choice of fewer deaths and fewer burglaries, I'm going to choose few deaths. The detailed list included drug possession, which is something I want to reduce enforcement of in general. (Legalizing drugs would be more of a benefit than most of this list, but I guess the organizers didn't want to pick that fight.)

The mental health training is also necessary. Cops are prone to dealing with anyone noncompliant as a criminal defying their authority instead of someone who just doesn't understand the instructions their being given (or didn't hear them).

Community Oversight
  • Establish an all-civilian oversight structure with discipline power that includes a Police Commission and Civilian Complaints Office

  • Remove barriers to reporting police misconduct

Many of the egregious shootings have been committed by cops who'd misbehaved many times but were kept on the force. Enforcing standards would get rid of the few bad cops committing most of the offenses.

Limit Use of Force
  • Establish standards and reporting of police use of deadly force

  • Revise and strengthen local police department use of force policies

  • End traffic-related police killings and dangerous high-speed police chases

  • Monitor how police use force and proactively hold officers accountable for excessive force

Rapid escalation to lethal force is a key part of the problem. Nonlethal weapons and being willing to let minor criminals escape and be caught later would spare lives.

Independent Investigations and Prosecutions
  • Lower the standard of proof for Department of Justice civil rights investigations of police officers

  • Use federal funds to encourage independent investigations and prosecutions

  • Establish a permanent Special Prosecutor's Office at the State level for cases of police violence

  • Require independent investigations of all cases where police kill or seriously injure civilians

"Lowering standard of proof" is a phrase that normally sets my hackles up. In this case I'm okay with it, given that the existing standard is that the prosecution has to prove the mindset of the cop rather than the actions.

Community Representation
  • Increase the number of police officers who reflect the communities they serve

  • Use community feedback to inform police department policies and practices

I don't think this would provide the benefits BLM is hoping for. Half the officers in the Freddie Gray case were black. And Minneapolis' attempt to bring representation to the Somali community didn't work out well. We need to bring in more cops without giving up on high standards for people authorized to use lethal force.

Body Cams/ Film The Police
  • Body cameras and dashboard cameras

  • The Right to Record Police

Oh, hell, yes. Cops confiscating a bystander's camera or disabling their own should be kicked off the force. Accountability is essential.

  • Invest in Rigorous and Sustained Training

  • Intentionally consider 'unconscious' or 'implicit' racial bias

For all the talk of "militarizing" the police, cops don't get the thorough training soldiers do. Combat units are regularly trained in how to handle various scenarios. Police are frequently not given preparation to handle situations out of their normal routine. A cop with twelve years on the force may not have twelve years of experience, just one year's experience twelve times.

End For-Profit Policing
  • End police department quotas for tickets and arrests

  • Limit fines and fees for low-income people

  • Prevent police from taking the money or property of innocent people

  • Require police departments to bear the cost of misconduct

This was a large part of the pressure feeding into the Ferguson riots: towns balancing their budgets by extracting money from those least able to pay it. Add in police incentivized to go after the most profitable targets instead of the most dangerous and we get the legalized robbery of civil forfeiture.

  • End the Federal Government's 1033 Program Providing Military Weaponry to Local Police Departments

  • Establish Local Restrictions to Prevent Police Departments from Purchasing or Using Military Weaponry

  • Don't use SWAT teams or no-knock raids unless there is an emergency situation or imminent threat to life

Too many shootings happen because the police chief doesn't want the SWAT team sitting around and sends them out to serve warrants on non-violent suspects. But when you train someone to treat going around every corner as a life-or-death situation they're going to have the wrong reflexes for dealing with an innocent woken up in the middle of the night. Given them more powerful weapons just makes the damage worse.

Fair Police Contracts
  • Remove barriers to effective misconduct investigations and civilian oversight

  • Keep officers' disciplinary history accessible to police departments and the public

  • Ensure financial accountability for officers and police departments that kill or seriously injure civilians

If I had to pick one item from this list to make law, it would be this one. A big part of that is because it could become law instead of being bogged down in negotiations and court battles. Setting a rule that a cop isn't entitled to a different legal process from what civilians go through would be a huge step forward. Right now a cop pulling the trigger is balancing the decision between the risk of whatever threat he perceives and probably no consquence if he kills someone he shouldn't have. Taking away the special privileges of delayed interrogations, union intervention, and sealed records will improve the balance.
Monday, September 4th, 2017
12:05 am
Standing Against Nazis and Other Fascists
On August 19th I attended the "Dallas Against White-Supremacy" rally. I was pissed off enough by the Nazis who'd paraded and murdered in Charlottesville that I wanted to take a public stand. I went by myself. A couple of friends considered going with me but between the weather (typical August in Texas) and memories of the murders at last year's BLM march in Dallas they bailed. Perfectly understandable.

After a bit of confusion with my map app I found parking half a mile from the rally site and walked. There were lots of cops from multiple departments. I saw city, county, and state cops. Also cops on bicycles and horses. The helicopter arrived later. Dallas PD did not want to let things get out of control and they wanted everyone to know that.

I followed the crowd to the plaza in front of City Hall. There were counter-protestors at a confederate memorial by the Pioneer Park Cemetery, too far away for me to see them. The crowd was peaceful. The organizers requested that no one wear masks and I only saw a couple of black-bandanna types.

A couple of friends found me there, which made standing around more pleasant. The organizers had a series of speakers, but the sound system could barely project over the packed solid crowd at the stage. Neither my friends nor I wanted to LARP sardines so we hung on the outskirts and watched people's signs. (The Baptist preacher could project well, but I couldn't hear well enough to follow him.)

The signs fell into several categories:
1. Nazis, fascists, and white supremicists are bad. I agree.
2. Peace, love, and other things are good. Also agree.
3. I hate Trump. I didn't vote for Trump, but I'm not panicking over him either.
4. Revolution now! (In socialist, communist, and possibly a few other flavors.) Nope. I swore an oath to the US Constitution.
5. Speech is violence. I disagree.

One of my friends had a sign saying "White Silence Is Violence." I didn't argue with him about it. I was there to support the rally, not split it, and if I insist on only grouping with people I agree 100% with I'll always be standing alone.

Nitpicking arguments is what this blog is for.

Insisting that speech is never violence is more than a nitpick though. No matter how horrifying someone's speech is, and advocating genocide is as horrifying as it can get, it's not justification for initiating force against them. We have rules defining incitement and harrassment. Waving a flag in a park doesn't count as either.

Declaring speech is violence serves a specific purpose: granting permission to attack people engaging in speech.

We've had plenty of precedents of people engaging in hateful speech. The Nazis had to go to the Supreme Court to get permission to march in Skokie. Did that get them the white supremacy they wanted? No. It got them mocked as homosexuals in the Blues Brothers.

The previous month Charlottesville had a KKK rally. It was handled firmly by the police. What did they get out of it? Nothing. Not even national publicity. I didn't hear of it until the Nazis did their rally and the cops let it turn into a brawl. (Why am I blaming the cops? Well, when the ACLU thinks the police are being too retiring there's some bad police work going on.) Countering the Klan with speech and ostracism worked.

I see a lot of people looking at the brawlers and saying "this bunch is on my side." I don't. To me they're both on the same side, the Violence Party. The brawls are their primary election. Democratic primaries are usually contests between the unions and the liberals. Republicans ones are between country clubbers and Christians. The Violence Party is competing to see which form of total control they want to impose on the country. The thugs can be counted on to rally behind the winner. There's already switching going on between the groups. The Portland knife murderer used to support Bernie Sanders, and one of the Nazi organizers in Charlottesville was an Obama supporter.

I'm a member of the Voting Party. I want our arguments settled with speech and votes, not force. Because once we let force make the decisions it'll displace speech everywhere. Giving a mayor the power to suppress speech by withdrawing police protection to enable a heckler's veto will mean giving Trump the power to use the same tactic. That's not anyplace we want to be.

A digression, since someone will probably ask. The government removing statues from government property I’m fine with. That’s democracy. Vandalism is a crime. Removing the marker from POWs' graves is a dick move.

Back to the issue of violence. The black bloc rioters have been scaring me for months with the attacks they've made to suppress speakers. I’m all in favor of being opposed to fascism. But when someone uses violence to shut down a speech, breaks windows, assaults journalists, and advocates a totalitarian form of government . . . that’s a fascist, even if you put an “anti” label on him. They even shut down the rally I was at. As the organizer posted on FB:
Now, many of you may not know this, but there was an altercation between members of Anti-fa and officers of DPD. There were threats made on the part of Anti-fa towards police, the threat of escalation was real, and that is why the ending of the event probably felt so abrupt. We were unable to do the vigil portion, and we are truly sorry for that, but getting everyone out of the plaza and home safely was paramount and a top priority. Obviously, nothing ever came of the conflict between Anti-fa and DPD, but it's better to be safe than sorry, always.
I didn't see that confrontation. One of my friends had a seizure and I was busy cushioning their head from the concrete. When I looked up there were a dozen riot-geared cops surrounding us. Seemed ridiculous overkill at the time, but now that I know what happened I presume they were making a show of force to make sure the black-masked types didn't try anything more.
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.
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