Friday, September 30, 2011

They Say the Smog Is the Reason for the Beautiful Sunsets

I really don't care about the environment.  The zeal with which some people argue about it astounds me.  Though I've recycled my cans and stopped drinking bottled water for the most part, I can't report that I've been overcome with an incredible amount of urgency about the condition of the planet and the most notable conceit that we must somehow "save" the planet.

The planet's fine.  Earth will keep right on ticking no matter what we do to it.  We're the ones in trouble.

There are several pieces of information that inform my opinion on the matter.  The first one is that many reports, like this one, that indicates the process is already irreversible, no matter what we do.  My thinking is similar to the time my mother told me about a mystery disease that was killing people and had an indeterminate manner of spread...why bother worrying about it if nothing I do changes anything?

I remain slightly skeptical about the whole thing, because it's not like we haven't been wrong before.  I have heard global warming cited as the cause for the record summer in the American South this year, but I can also remember the exceptionally cold winter we just had either being dismissed as evidence of global warming or cited as also evidence of global warming.

I also am unconvinced about its validity due to the constant shifting of terminology.  Global warming is now usually called "climate change," a neutral term that allows for cold snaps to also be thus attributed.  Rhetorically, it's brilliant, but it's intellectually dishonest.

Here's the great thing about libertarianism: it doesn't matter what I think.  The correct thing to do is simply to require that pollution either be avoided or remuneration be given to those affected.  I am not for EPA emissions standards (or the EPA, for that matter), but I'm also not for companies having carte blanche to pollute their corporate little heads off.  I understand that companies will complain about the prohibitive cost of figuring and compensating people for total environmental effect, but them's the breaks if you want to play with fire.  Simply put, pollute all you want, but you better not share.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Morality Clash

I am a Christian.  I was baptized in the Baptist faith when I was seven, and though I am denominationally-promiscuous, I have remained a fairly devout follower of the Bible throughout my adult life.  I believe that the Bible represents the word of God, and is a guidebook for navigating through this broken world.

So comes now the issue of gay marriage.  Leviticus 18:22 states "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination."  I don't think there is too much wiggle room on this one...homosexuality is considered sinful in the Bible, and I have no reason to deny such a claim.  However, I find myself in a bit of a quandary as a libertarian, because the ability to be free to choose is the central pillar of the system.  Would it be right for me to declare something fit for ordinance simply because it offends my personal belief system?

In a word, no.  I believe that gay people should have the right to be legally joined.  There is no legal foundation to deny them such an ability, and any argument to the contrary will always invoke the notion of a shared societal belief system. I don't know if I agree that we do have such a thing, but I think that it's irrelevant regardless because people remain free to shun or verbally disagree with homosexual unions.  Furthermore, I am completely against churches or clergy being compelled to marry gay people if such a union violates the tenets of their faith (as it does mine).  

I have heard many people declare the United States to be a Christian country.  Whether or not I agree, it is certain that the United States is decidedly not a theocracy.  Secular rights should extend to all people, and laws that preclude people from behaving in a compassionate manner (say, a gay person is dying in a hospital, but their partner is forbidden to see them) simply don't make any sense.  I don't agree with homosexuality or gay marriage, but I support the rights of adults to choose.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Eight Is NOT Enough

Ye Gods.  After suffering through the debate two weeks ago that included a whopping eight candidates, the Republican Party shrewdly elected to allow NINE on the stage tonight.  Nine.  A baseball team.  The Fellowship of the Ring.  The Nazgul.

The newcomer to the ring is former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, who appears to be a younger, less-articulate Ron Paul who definitely is not overspending on his haircuts.  And so we progressed through this social media boondoggle that featured questions from Youtube, questions from texts, and questions from an oddly-raccoonish Megyn Kelly.  Since I streamed directly from the Fox News website, I was also treated to the in-place-of-commercials analysis from some young moderator and two goons with suits and laptops.  The whole thing reminded me of Jerry Lewis telethons.

Anyway...this debate is likely the first sign of Rick Perry's demise.  Before tonight, it seemed like he would play the same minimalist politics that got George W. Bush to the White House, but Mitt Romney destroyed him tonight.  It was brutal, and, with all due respect to Bill Simmons, featured the debut of a new face for the Pantheon of Faces: the Rick Perry face.  The Rick Perry face is the "Oh-God-I'm-getting-killed-here-and-I-can't-stop-it-but-there's-still-an-hour-to-go" look, which he wore for much of the evening.  He was so rattled that, by the end of the evening, his answers were incoherent to the point that it seemed as though he had a bottle of tequila under his podium.

Mitt Romney was clearly the winner tonight.  He looked sharp, polished, and unfazed by Perry's and others' attempts to slam him, including those from the moderators.  Mitt Romney, barring a catastrophic meltdown, looks good for the Republican nomination.

Here's the problem, though: the big winner tonight was the Obama/Biden 2012 team.  I don't believe Mitt can beat the president...he just doesn't have a clear enough plan or message to galvanize the independent voting block.  Ron Paul clearly got the biggest cheers, but his opinions (though close to mine) are just not where the money is in the Republican party.  The Republican establishment would rather forget to nominate someone than to nominate the 77-year-old maverick libertarian, unfortunately.

The biggest challenge to the president may come earlier than expected, though.  I would not rule out a primary challenge, particularly from the Clintons.  After four years of Barack Obama, the country may just be ready for Hillary after all.

Membership Has Its Privileges

Believe it or not, I actually don't have much of a problem with illegal immigration itself.  In a way, it's flattering that so many millions of people are desperate enough to enter our country that they are willing to put themselves in great harm's way in order to do so.  Some of the anecdotal stories involving the horrific arrangements people make with "coyotes," guides who bring them across in exchange for promises of future earnings, leave no doubt as to the degree of motivation illegal immigrants have to enter the United States.

Similarly, I can agree that once here, most of them seek only to make money and create a better life for themselves.  They do so often through manual-labor jobs that tend not to appeal to American citizens.  Although their presence creates a bit of an underclass in society, they do mitigate some of the strain that minimum wage places on the labor supply.  So...that's good, because the minimum wage is a destructive policy that only hurts the workforce.  In a way, illegal immigrants fill a vital need within our economy.

However, the problem arises when these people have entered this country illegally, yet avail themselves of services paid for by taxes and reserved for US citizens.  Hospitals, schools and the like are forced to accept people with no legal right in the country, and expend resources that are reserved for people who bothered to go through the process in the first place.  Quite simply, those are ours.  As compassionate as it is to be welcoming to all people, we have a spending problem in this country, and you don't lend your hose to your neighbor when your own house is on fire.

I'm not indifferent to the fact that illegal immigrants are people, though, and as such, they will get injured or sick in this country, and they will have children who need education.  That said, I see no reason not to require upfront cash payment for services from people who cannot produce proof of citizenship, either.  I don't have a problem with them using the hospitals and schools...but they don't get the benefits that citizens do.  Make our services available for a fee, demand payment in cash upfront, or a guarantee from their country's embassy or consulate, and we have no problems.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Danger of Democracy

I've often heard people say that we in the United States live in a democracy.  While untrue, it seems that due to this misconception, many operate with a democracy mindset as to how society should function and government should work.  Everyone gets a vote.  Everyone is counted equally.  No one is left behind.

The danger of this mindset is that it guarantees that the United States will become an average culture at best.  The statistical clustering of people at the top of the bell curve in all things suggests that American exceptionalism, our belief in our own superiority, will no longer withstand the smell test.  The days of America the superpower will come to an end, and we will be left with a legacy of obsolete dreams.

We can see this danger in evidence in two major areas in our culture: public schools and taxes.  I have already written about the problems in our schools, but one area I left out is the deleterious effect that the shift from the perception that teachers and administrators maintained a level of expertise over students AND parents to the current mindset that all opinions are valid and accommodation for all must be observed has, in part, led to our declining educational system.  The lowering of expectations (most notably under the Republican-introduced No Child Left Behind) has precipitated a student populace largely incapable of excellence.

The tax system's elements of democracy has also created a horrific effect on our culture in that the half of the country that pays no taxes retains its ability to vote.  This power is what allows President Obama to suggest ridiculous notions such as his most recent pledge to tax the wealthiest members of our country further.  Spurred on by the self-appointed spokesman for the super-rich, Warren Buffett, the president has declared that the most "fortunate" (a word used in place of more accurate ones like "successful" or "innovative") should pay more simply because they can pay more.  Such lunacy is only possible because of the majority of voters who pay no taxes and have no qualms about someone else's going up.

Now...the obvious conclusion from the above is that I am advocating one must pay taxes in order to vote.  I'm not. As much as such a system would resemble the situation for stockholders in a company, the reality is that requiring a tax to vote is not only horrific in terms of the abuses possible in the system, but also was declared unconstitutional by the 24th Amendment.  Besides, advocating the revocation of a freedom is something no true libertarian would ever do.  However, democracy or democratically-appointed measures and situations should only exist within the narrowest of parameters due to the potential for abuses against the minority opinion. I, for one, as a holder of minority opinions, see no other fair alternatives.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The X Factor of the Economy

Recent Scene at Tallahassee Unemployment Office
I'm "between jobs" right now.  That's code for unemployed.  I'm part of the very unhappiest 9.1% of the US labor force, which is defined as working-age people either actively employed or actively seeking unemployment.  Of course, the use of a broad term like "unemployment" is deceptive, because there are two subsets (the underemployed and the discouraged workers) who are completely ignored by this 9.1% figure (a recent Gallup poll suggests that adding underemployed people alone could double the percentage of the labor force in less-than-optimal employment situations).  

This post is not a means for me to blame my plight on others.  Quite frankly, almost all of my difficulty is self-inflicted.  However, it disturbs me that so many other Americans are struggling to find employment right now, because the political answers coming from both sides of the aisle almost uniformly display an ignorance of the psychology of business.  The real problem is that the uncertainty in Washington translates into uncertainty in business, and uncertainty is the true X factor of the economy.

A January 2011 report in the Wall Street Journal revealed that 50 of the largest companies in the world are currently sitting on $1.08 TRILLION in cash.  This fact is an indication of two things: 1) spending, the Holy Grail of Keynesian economics policies, is alive and well, yet the economy continues to suffer, and 2) businesses are hoarding cash due to uncertainty about the regulatory and economic future.  The more polarizing the debate in Washington and the less decisive our politicians become, the more risk-averse businesses become about future expansion.

What does this have to do with unemployment?  Companies are usually not hiring due to turnover within the company; rather, they hire because they are in periods of expansion.  Business expansion is a good but risky proposition, and without proper care, can lead to the downfall of the entire organization.  Hence, business owners seek to minimize the amount of variability in the potential outcomes of their expansions, because the expected value of such a venture suffers in a volatile climate.

Uncertainty about taxes, uncertainty about regulation, and uncertainty about anticipated demand (note: not's not the present that bothers owners, but the future) lead to businesses not expanding, and hence, not hiring.  It's true that America is suffering from a skills deficit right now, but in practice, it simply means that businesses are much more interested in finding cookie-cutter workers for specific roles, rather than hiring a person who might not fit into one particular box.  Such is my plight, but I had the opportunity to avoid this situation, so don't cry for me.  Cry for the laid-off car worker in Detroit who started working at age eighteen. Cry for the steelworker who quit college because he had to support his family.

Then, once you've stopped crying, write your congressman, senator and President and tell them to make a damn decision one way or the other.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tea Party Republican Snarkfest Recap

Romney! Perry! Bachmann! Paul! ... (breath) ... Cain! Santorum! Gingrich! Huntsman!

Eight people. One stage.  Pity that no one gets eliminated tonight. 

Mitt Romney seemed very polished, slightly annoyed and wishing that he could throw an elbow into Rick Perry's face.  Rick Perry spent the first half of the debate looking like the clear winner and then the second half getting attacked by everyone else (it works in Survivor).  Michele Bachmann showed up wearing a cardigan, apparently flaunting the fact that she doesn't have to wear a suit, and said "Obamacare" roughly 500 times.  Ron Paul made reasoned arguments and got booed off the stage. 

The other four didn't really make much of a mark, except for Huntsman's tortured attempts at humor.  If I'd written this post at 8:00 CST, I would've been saying that Rick Perry is your Republican nominee.  I didn't know they were going to hit him with mandatory HPV vaccination and illegal immigration

The truth is that no one wins these things until they get whittled down.  Very few issues have eight different viable solutions, let alone eight different sides to argue.  So...the candidates either end up agreeing with their opponents or nit-picking for things to rant about.  It's all theater.  None of it helps, except to plant some needed seeds of doubt in the minds of some of these guys.

I don't know what to make of the revelation that Huntsman rides a Harley, though.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The American Jobs Bill and Pink Cotton Candy: A Comparative Study

"There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation," the president said. "Everything in here is the kind of proposal that's been supported by both Democrats and Republicans -- including many who sit here tonight. And everything in this bill will be paid for. Everything."
So set the tone for tonight's speech to a joint session of Congress.  President Obama spoke for the better part of an hour through various measures he wants enacted in order to spur job growth.  He frequently implored Congress to pass the bill by repeatedly saying the phrase, "pass the bill." 
Truth be told, I'm not sure what to glean from tonight's events between the Jedi mind trick and John Boehner looking like he was receiving radio signals about whether to react.  I mean...I can't really argue with payroll taxes or measures designed to encourage businesses to begin hiring, I suppose. (I say the latter with an asterisk until I actually see how much these measures will cost).  I'm not for dumping more money into schools or infrastructure projects, but I'm not really surprised that the president hit those particular buttons.

The speech reminded me of pink cotton candy...fluffy and sweet, but unfilling.  After so much ballyhoo about the gravity of this moment, I just expected a bit more.  The bill really doesn't seem to do much of anything, which is a frightening statement considering that it's projected to cost 447 billion dollars.  I'm glad that he is now expanding the mandatory cut amount from the debt ceiling agreement to include this new expenditure, but like many proposed (and sadly, actual) pieces of legislation, there was no projection of its true effect on the economy or the recovery.  I understand that projecting numbers and failing to deliver is problematic, but it would be nice to know what we're buying before we do.
My other problem is the timing.  The urgency is compelling, and I'm sure that it played well as far as a rhetorical device, but if passage of the bill is so urgent, why does it come on the heels of a month-long vacation that the President just took?  What took so long?  Why the delay?  When the President mentioned that an election was coming in fourteen months, but that Americans couldn't wait fourteen months, I got confused, because apparently, a month is okay.
I guess we'll see.