Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category.

Downside of Living in an Echo Chamber

I am wondering if this performance represents a failure of Obama's staff to perform even the most rudimentary ideological Turing test.  I am sure it has not been discussed on Lefty blogs, but it would take only the briefest perusal of center or Right news sources to guess that this would be the first and most obvious challenging question Obama would get on his Immigration decision.  Is the President's staff simply not used to getting anything but softball questions?  Or are they just incompetent?

Thinking of the Gracchi Brothers Today

It is with mixed emotions that I greet this day.  Frequent readers will know that I long for a system of much more open immigration.  I don't think that the US Government should be limiting who can and cannot seek work or live within the US borders (setting rules for citizenship and receipt of benefits are different matters).  So I would like to see many long-time immigrants legalized today (and in fact I likely have friends and acquaintances who will benefit, though it's always been a bit awkward to ask them about immigration status).

However, I would MUCH rather see a rational process implemented than these once a decade amnesties we seem to go in for instead.

I also worry that Obama is taking these actions for all the wrong reasons, seeking to add 5 million Democratic voters rather than trying to help 5 million people who are seeking prosperity.  The reason I suspect this is that he is also seeking higher minimum wages that will likely make it harder for these folks to find work, likely something he has promised to his union allies so they won't freak out.  I have always said that Republicans want immigrants to work but not vote and Democrats want immigrants to vote but not work.

But I am much more worried about the un-Constitutional process that is going to be followed.  Of course, this is not the only Executive power grab over the last two presidencies, but it is a big one and one of the first where the President has admitted he doesn't have the power but is going to do it anyway.

Around 133BC, Tiberius Gracchus was ticked off that the Roman Republic would not consider necessary land reform.  I am going to oversimplify here, but in their conquests the Romans had grabbed a lot of new territory and by law that land was supposed to be parceled in small sections to lots of individual land holders.  Instead, powerful men (many of whom were in the Senate) grabbed the lion's share of this land for themselves in huge estates.   Gracchus rightly saw this as unfair and a violation of law, but it was also a threat to the security of the nation, as independent landowners who bought their own weapons were the backbone of the Roman army.  The shift of agriculture to huge estates staffed with slaves was not only forcing a shift in the makeup of the army (one which would by the way contribute to the rise of despotic generals like Sulla and Caeser), but also was creating social problems by throwing mobs of unlanded poor on the cities, particularly Rome.

Anyway, the short version is that Tiberius Gracchus had good reason to think these reforms were important.  But traditionally they would have to be considered by the Senate first, and he was too impatient to wait that process out, and besides (probably rightly) feared the Senate would find a way to kill them.   He was so passionate about them that he violated the (unwritten) Roman Constitution by ignoring the Senate and setting new precedents for using his position as Tribune to pass the new laws.  It was absolutely the prototype for a well-intentioned bypassing of the Constitution.  I won't go into detail, but Tiberius was killed at the behest of some Senators, but his brother picked up his mantle 10 years later and did some similar things.  Which is why we talk of the Gracchi brothers.

In the near term, the results were some partial successes with land reform.  However, in the long-term, their actions really got the ball rolling on what is called the Roman Revolution.  A hundred years later, the Republic would be gone, replaced with a dictatorship.  Step by step, the precedents often set initially with only the best intentions, were snatched up and used by demagogues to cement their own power.  In later years, what gave emperors their authority was a package of powers granted to them.  One of the most important was "tribunition" power.  In essence, the tribunition power included many of the powers first exercised aggresively by the Gracchi brothers.  More than just starting the ball rolling on the Revolution, they pioneered the use of powers that were to be the core of future emperors' authority.

An Example of Broken Discourse

Apparently there is a daily pill called Truvada that can help reduce (but apparently not prevent) the transmission of HIV through unprotected sex.   Many public health agencies are promoting its use.

Apparently there is also at least one skeptic, a man named Michael Weinstein, who fears the pill may not be as effective as advertised, but more importantly is concerned that the pill's existence will reduce the use of condoms among at-risk men.

As I read the article (and I know zero about it on my own)  the ranking in terms of effectiveness is:  condoms+Truvada > condoms > Truvada > nothing.

The amazing thing to me is how broken the dialog about these issues appears to be.  Truvada supporters claim that there is a consensus on Truvada and that Weinstein is alone in his criticism, and that he is as bad as a "climate-change denialist" (eek!)

Weinstein claims that many others believe as he does but have been silenced by intimidation by the Truvada supporters.  Further, he argues that public officials who support Truvada are all paid off by the drug makers in one way or another.

Jeez, this all sounds so familiar to this veteran of the climate wars that it is just amazing.  And the real tragedy of this broken discourse is that both sides have a totally valid argument.  I have no doubt that Truvada provides incremental protection (even Weinstein's clinic proscribes it).  On the other hand, it is fairly "settled science" in the safety world that an easier-to-use protection method can actually reduce total safety by undercutting a parallel protection mechanism -- the drop in seat belt use after air bags were added to cars is a classic example.    Weinstein argues that Truvada use will reduce use of condoms, and thus undermine safety.  Truvada supporters argue that condom use is so low already, even after 30 years of education efforts, that the drug is better.  Essentially, Weinstein sees the baseline as men who use condoms and worry about them getting worse.  The other side sees the baseline as men who don't use condoms and argues the drug makes things better.

It is a shame to see two groups of people who likely are motivated by good intentions devolve into name-calling and ad hominem attacks.   Just read the quotes in the article - no one in the debate seems to acknowledge that the other side includes people of good will who simply disagree.

Arrogance of the Elite

I am pretty freaking cynical about the political process, so it takes something pretty bad to catch my attention.  This attitude by Obamacare architect Jonathon Gruber, which is likely shared by most of the Administration, simply makes me sick:

An architect of the federal healthcare law said last year that a "lack of transparency" and the "stupidity of the American voter" helped Congress approve ObamaCare.

In a clip unearthed Sunday, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Jonathan Gruber appears on a panel and discusses how the reform earned enough votes to pass.

He suggested that many lawmakers and voters didn't know what was in the law or how its financing worked, and that this helped it win approval.

"Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” Gruber said. "And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass."

Gruber made the comment while discussing how the law was "written in a tortured way" to avoid a bad score from the Congressional Budget Office. He suggested that voters would have rejected ObamaCare if the penalties for going without health insurance were interpreted as taxes, either by budget analysts or the public.

"If CBO scored the [individual] mandate as taxes, the bill dies," Gruber said.

"If you had a law that made it explicit that healthy people are going to pay in and sick people are going to get subsidies, it would not have passed," he added.

By the way, Jonathon Gruber was the one in 2012 who said over and over that the limitation of subsidies to state-run exchanges was not a drafting error, but was an intentional feature meant to give incentives to states to create exchanges.  Now that it is clear that incentive did not do its job, and a case is in front of the Supreme Court attempting to enforce the plain language of the law, Gruber is now saying that he mispoke (over and over again) in 2012 and it was a typo.  Given the fact that he has now admitted he would gladly lie (and has) to the public to defend Obamacare, how much should we believe his current claims?

Republicans Beat Candidate Who Was Not Running. Democrats Lost to Candidate Who Was Not Running

Both parties chose to run against people who were not even on the ballot yesterday.  Republicans ran against the President and largely won.  Democrats ran against the Koch brothers (who are not even elected officials or even the largest private donors in the election) and to a lesser extent against mythical candidates who were going to ban all contraception, and lost.

Honestly, I can only remember three elections in the last 40 years with changes in power that really mattered in terms of actual legislative and policy changes:  The first term Reagan and Obama elections and the midterm election of the Gingrich Republicans in '94.

This Republican class lacks the unity around a written legislative agenda that the Gingrich Republicans had.  So I don't really expect much.  The best we can hope for is perhaps a bit more effective push-back against creeping executive power, which certainly would be welcome.

Voting Advice

I won't advise you on whether or not to vote.  Libertarians are split pretty evenly between "Don't vote, you are just giving authoritarianism your blessing", "Vote Libertarian because it is a useful protest and message", and "Vote for the major party candidate who has a hope of getting elected who is least bad."  I will leave parsing all that to you.

However, if you do vote, I have one bit of advice I always give on propositions:  Your default vote for any proposition (as it should be for legislators) should be "no".  If its purpose is unclear, if you are not sure of the full implications, if you don't know how it is funded, if you haven't thought about unintended consequences, if you haven't heard the pitch from both the 'yes' and 'no' camps -- then vote no.  Also beware that many Propositions that seem outwardly liberty-enhancing are actually Trojan Horses meant to be the opposite.   Vote yes only if you have thought through all this and you are comfortable the new law would have a net positive benefit.

Also, via Maggies Farm, I think this is a good image for election day:

bz-panel-10-10-14

 

Increasing Tribalism in America

As I mentioned before, the last two days I was sitting in a conference on parks and park management out in California.  Most everyone was pretty respectful in the room, and discussions about race and ethnicity that could have degenerated into political finger-pointing generally did not.

But there was one exception I thought really odd.  A gentleman (can't remember his name), who is apparently the marketing director for Delaware North Company's extensive concession operations in Yellowstone, began his talk by expressing how crazy he thought Conservative Republicans are.  I thought this was a lead in for some kind of joke, but actually he just seemed to want to make sure that though he was currently living in Wyoming, no one should mistake him for a Conservative.  My guess at the time was that this man was transferred to this post after growing up back East, and is constantly embarrassed to think his tribe of liberal Easterners might think he was part of that flyover country Republican tribe.  Otherwise, I can't figure out why he would feel the need to make us understand this -- it certainly had nothing to do with his pitch and it seemed like a terrible marketing practice, particularly given the likely demographics of his current customer base.**

In fact, in a bit of irony I see repeated fairly often, he used this as an intro to his speech on a day where the main topic was inclusiveness (for those in the parks world, we ritualistically beat ourselves up at every opportunity for not attracting enough young people, urbanites, and people of color to rural public parks).  In theory, "inclusiveness" and "diversity" are supposed to mean that we are trying to get rid of the whole in-group / out-group thing altogether, but I often suspect that in practice, many folks are using them as code words for just shifting the out-group tag from one set of people to another.

 

** PS-  which should not be taken to mean that I necesarily would disagree with him if we discussed the details, just that it seemed a pointless and even self-defeating observation to make in this context.

Not Sure That Word Means What You Think It Means

While I share this individual's frustration with the Obama Administration's lack of transparency, I am not sure this phrasing quite works

“There is no precedent for President Obama’s Nixonian assertion of executive privilege over these ordinary government agency records,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in a written statement.

If the assertion is "Nixonian", doesn't that imply that there is indeed a precedent?  Otherwise how would the practice be named after someone else?

PS- since we were on the subject of grammar and editing yesterday, I will say that yes, I know the comma after "Nixonian" above is supposed to be inside the quotes.  But as an engineer and former programmer, this rule is entirely illogical.   It's like writing 3+(x+y*)7 instead of 3+(x+y)*7.   I do it the way that makes logical sense.

Gay Marriage in AZ

Good:  A judge has ruled that Arizona's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.  I suppose I am a little torn over judicial overreach here, but enough freedom-robbing stuff happens through judicial overreach that I will accept it here in my favor.

Republicans should rejoice this, at least in private.  From my interactions with young people, there is nothing killing the R's more than the gay marriage issue.  Young people don't understand squat about economics, but they are pretty sure that people fighting gay marriage are misguided (they would probably use harsher language).  Given that R's hold a position they are sure is evil (anti-gay-marriage) they assume that Progressive attacks that R's are evil on economics must be right too, without actually understanding the issue.  In short, young people reject the free market because its proponents hold what they believe to be demonstratively bad opinions on social issues.

I learned a real lesson about politics from my brief involvement in this issue -- which is, don't ever become involved again.  I am still frankly reeling from the refusal of gay rights activists to work with our group because I and others involved did not hold other Left-wing opinions.  Until this time I had a fantasy that libertarians could make common cause with the Left on social issues and the Right on fiscal and commerce issues, but I saw how this was a pipe dream.

Missing the Point

John Hinderaker says that Democrats have been unsuccessful in their anti-Koch brother campaign because only 25% of Americans have a negative opinion of the Kochs and that has not changed much in 6 months.

But that strikes me as missing the point.  The Democrats have raised tens of millions of dollars from those 25% inflaming them with anti-Koch rhetoric.  They will outspend Republicans this year largely on the back of a campaign that, for example, never failed to mention the Kochs in almost every email sent out.  Further, they have succesfully turned the words "Koch Brothers" into some sort of boogeyman.  The media even here in Red state Arizona breathlessly discusses every contact a Republican candidate has with Koch Brothers-funded organizations while never ever mentioning any large backers on the Democratic side.  Despite the fact that Democrats have raised more so-called "dark money" than Republicans, nearly 100% of the media stories on dark money are about Republicans.  Further, by successfully (and asymmetrically) making public life a living hell for prominent Republican supporters, the Democrats are doing important battle space preparation for future elections, giving second thoughts to future potential Republican donors.

That, in my mind, is a political success.

(Of course, it is a disaster for liberty, and demonstrates EXACTLY why anonymous speech and donations have to remain legal.  The campaign waged right from the floor of the Senate by Democrats like Harry Reid to vilify private citizens who have been out-front and transparent about exercising their free speech is an insult to liberty).

There Seems to Be No Limit to Politicians' Hypocrisy

Obama, 2008:  "I taught constitutional law for ten years. I take the Constitution very seriously. The biggest problems that we're facing right now have to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not go through Congress at all, and that's what I intend to reverse when I'm president of the United States of America." (Townhall in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, March 31, 2008).

They all suck.  Every one of them.  This man was the great hope of more than half the nation and look what a loser he is.  We should stop talking about whether we are going to hand power to the Coke or the Pepsi party and start talking about limiting the power of these jerks.

I Have Pointed to this Overlap Many Times

click to enlarge

Sorry, I don't have a source for this.

Making common cause with people with whom one disagrees about many other issues is a natural state of affairs for most libertarians.  Since we are such a minority, we can only make progress seeking out allies on the Left and Right on particular issues.  It was so natural to me that I was caught short when I ran Equal Marriage Arizona to find that many other people have no desire to do this.  They will not make common cause with you on an issue with which they agree with you 100% if they disagree with you on an array of unrelated issues.  I have now come to the conclusion that the latter attitude is more common than the former.  The problem with politics is, IMO, not the lack of compromise, but this lack of ability to make common cause across political lines on narrow issues.  Thus, for example, Elizabeth Warren is unable to make common cause with Republicans on the Ex-Im Bank, despite the fact it hits on two of her hot buttons (corporate subsidies and crony insider benefits for Wall Street bankers).

Forget Halbig. Obama May Have Lost the Senate By Giving Subsidies to the Federal Exchange

In Halbig, the DC Circuit argued that the plain language of the PPACA should rule, and that subsidies should only apply to customers in state-run exchanges.  I am going to leave the legal stuff out of this post, and say that I think from a political point of view, Obamacare proponents made a mistake not sticking with the actual language in the bill.  The IRS was initially ready to deny subsidies to the Federal exchanges until Administration officials had them reverse themselves.  When the Obama Administration via the IRS changed the incipient IRS rule to allow subsidies to customers in Federal exchanges, I believe it panicked.  It saw states opting out and worried about the subsidies not applying to a large number of Americans on day 1, and that lowered participation rates would be used to mark the program as a failure.

But I think this was playing the short game.  In the long game, the Obama Administration would have gone along with just allowing subsidies to state-run exchanges.  Arizona, you don't want to build an exchange?  Fine, tell your people why they are not getting the fat subsidies others in California and New York are getting.  Living in Arizona, I have watched this redder than red state initially put its foot down and refuse to participate in the Medicaid expansion, and then slowly see that resolve weaken under political pressure. "Governor Brewer, why exactly did you turn down Federal Medicaid payments for AZ citizens?  Why are Arizonans paying taxes for Medicaid patients in New Jersey but not getting the benefit here?"

Don't get me wrong, I would like to see Obamacare go away, but I think Obama would be standing in much better shape right now had he limited subsidies to state exchanges because

  1. The disastrous Federal exchange roll-out would not have been nearly so disastrous without the pressure of subsidies and the data integration subsidy checks require.  Also, less people would have likely enrolled, reducing loads on the system
  2. Instead of the main story being about general dissatisfaction with Obamacare, there would at least be a competing story of rising political pressure in certain states that initially opted out to join the program and build an exchange.  It would certainly give Democrats in red and purple states a positive message to run on in 2014.

Driving Arizona From Libertarian-Republican to Conservative to Democrat

One local columnist thinks Andrew Thomas can win the Republican nomination for governor.  God forbid.  I would vote for Elizabeth Warren for governor before I voted for Andrew Thomas (or see the Phoenix New Times coverage).  Forget for a moment about his awful policy prescriptions, he is corrupt, and a serial abuser of power.

Last year when we finally folded up shop on Equal Marriage Arizona, a big reason we did so was lack of support from large gay rights groups.  A few said they had trust issues with a center-Right coalition to legalize gay marriage.  Fine.  But several said they did not want the gay marriage issue solved from the center-Right, they wanted Democrat credit for it.  Further, they did not want it solved in 2014, because they wanted to run on it to shift Arizona blue in 2014 and 2016.

I was skeptical of the latter, but it may be possible if the Republicans run Andrew Thomas.

On the Death Penalty and Ideological Turing Tests

Actually trying to understand how those you disagree with think, rather than just accepting some straw man version, can make one a much better debater.  Bryan Caplan's ideological Turing test is not just about empathy and being open to opposing arguments, but it also pays dividends in making better arguments for one's own positions.  I love how Jesse Walker begins his pitch to Conservatives against the death penalty:

The typical conservative is well informed about the careless errors routinely made by the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Postal Service, and city hall. If he's a policy wonk, he may have bookmarked the Office of Management and Budget's online list of federal programs that manage to issue more than $750 million in mistaken payments each year. He understands the incentives that can make an entrenched bureaucracy unwilling to acknowledge, let alone correct, its mistakes. He doesn't trust the government to manage anything properly, even the things he thinks it should be managing.

Except, apparently, the minor matter of who gets to live or die. Bring up the death penalty, and many conservatives will suddenly exhibit enough faith in government competence to keep the Center for American Progress afloat for a year. Yet the system that kills convicts is riddled with errors.

Young People Voting Democrat

John Hinderaker laments

Harvard’s Institute of Politics released a poll yesterday that showed millennials’ trust in government at a historic low. This chart shows how many respondents said that they trust the entity in question to do the right thing either all of the time or most of the time. Notably, 20% of millennials said they trust the federal government to do the right thing; 32% said they trust the president; and 14% trust Congress. State and local governments (and, appallingly, the United Nations) fared a little better, but distrust of government is clearly the order of the day....

Which raises, not for the first time, a question I can’t answer: why do people who don’t trust government keep voting for more of it? For a long time, young people have voted mostly Democrat. Which means they are voting to give more of their money, and more control over their lives, to government–especially the federal government. Why would they do that, if only 20% of them trust the federal government to do the right thing?

I won't give a simplistic answer to a complex social issue, but I have a theory that explains at least part of this: gay marriage and other social issues.  I get a chance to work with young people a lot, and generally they don't seem to be focused on tax and regulatory issues.  They haven't been deep enough into the productive economy (and many will be convinced by their universities never to enter the productive economy) to understand the effects of government interventionism in the economy.

But one thing young people do know is that they are absolutely turned off by the social conservatism of Republicans.  I read an article the other day by a Conservative lamenting that young people use certain political positions as social status symbols, as self-identifiers that they are among the elite.  But certain ideas also have the opposite affect, acting as a big scarlet A that no one would willingly wear.  Among those are opposition to gay marriage, for example.  Many young folks, regardless of their position on anything else, would be as unlikely to vote for someone who opposed gay marriage as would be a Victorian society woman to openly admit she was a prostitute.  There are certain social positions that many Republicans hold that are complete non-starters to young people, such that they could not consider voting for such a politician even if they agreed with 99% of all the politician's other positions.  This tendency is reinforced by college professors, overwhelmingly of the Left, who tell kids that Republicans are not just people with whom they disagree, but bad people who have no place in civil society.

A year or so ago I got tapped to lead an all-too-brief center-right effort in Arizona to legalize gay marriage.  I cannot tell you how many Republican leaders and politicians came to me in private and thanked us for what we were doing, saying that the Republican party has to be saved from itself.  In the end, we eventually shut the effort down because prominent groups on the Left didn't want a center-right group to get any of the credit.  Some of them wanted the effort to go forward, but only if non-Leftists would bow out of the leadership group, and some said explicitly that they did not want the issue solved yet, because the Democrats wanted to flip Arizona blue in 2014 and 2016 and they needed the gay marriage issue to run on, knowing it was a way to pull otherwise libertarian leaning young people away from the Republicans.

Update:  I would add that opposition to gay marriage among Republicans also poisons young people to other Republican positions, such as smaller government and free markets (though this libertarian would argue that such Republican positions are often in name only, and not consistently followed, but that is another rant).   The biggest lie every person in this country is taught is that somehow Republicans and Democrats offer opposing and internally consistent positions on a political spectrum that only has two dimensions.  So if we don't know much about politics but KNOW Republicans have one really bad position, then the whole package must be bad and we should vote Democrat.  Which causes us to start self-justifying support for things like economic interventionism that we may not know much about but now is part of our team's position.

Don't Say I Didn't Warn You

I warned you that Cliven Bundy's ranch was the wrong hill to fight on over property rights and the role of government ownership on western lands.  And I was right.

This kind of thing should not come as a surprise.  This is a guy who simply did not want to pay his rent, and used the catch phrases of liberty to try to get sympathy.  I could find about a thousand far more sympathetic examples of folks screwed over by government land use regulations -- e.g. people whose puddle in the backyard is suddenly a wetlands that they can't build on.  But for some reason Conservatives all rushed to pile on this one example.  Stupid.  The media can probably be counted on to hide the unsavory back stories of Occupy Wall Street supporters, but there is no way they are going to do so for a "hero" of the right.   The BLM almost bailed Conservatives out of their stupid support for Bundy by their execrable on-site management of the raid, but Conservatives are now getting what they deserve for jumping in bed with this guy.

Citizens United and Turkey

So now that the Turkish incumbents have been re-elected, the government will allow Twitter to be turned back on in the country.

I think that the vast, vast majority of Americans would agree that this turning off of a communications vehicle several weeks before an election was a pretty transparent dodge to protect incumbent politicians, and that most of us would oppose such steps -- even be outraged by them.

So why the hell was McCain-Feingold's ban on 3rd party ad-based communications 60 days prior to an election any different?   These two steps seem absolutely identical to me, but my guess is most everyone agrees the Turkish actions were bad but the Citizens United decision that overturned the McCain-Feingold restrictions was met with much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Our Political Opponents Believe Whatever We Say They Believe

I can think of two groups with whom I have some sympathy -- the Tea Party and climate skeptics -- who share one problem in common:  the media does not come to them to ask them what their positions are.  The media instead goes to their opposition to ask what their positions are.  In other words, the media asks global warming strong believers what the skeptic position is, without ever even talking to skeptics.  It should be no surprise then that these groups get painted with straw men positions that frequently bear no resemblance to their actual beliefs.

Paul Krugman provides an excellent example.  He writes:  (shame on the blog author for not linking Krugman's article, here is the link)

Or we’re told that conservatives, the Tea Party in particular, oppose handouts because they believe in personal responsibility, in a society in which people must bear the consequences of their actions. Yet it’s hard to find angry Tea Party denunciations of huge Wall Street bailouts, of huge bonuses paid to executives who were saved from disaster by government backing and guarantees.

This is really outrageous.  I am not a Tea Partier because they hold a number of positions (e.g. on immigration and gay marriage) opposite of mine.  But to say they somehow have ignored cronyism and bailouts is just absurd.  TARP was one of the instigations, if not the key instigation, for the Tea Party.  As I have written any number of times, the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street actually shared a number of common complaints about bank bailouts and cronyism.

David Harsanyi has more here.

By the way, it is Hilarious to see Krugman trying to claim the moral high ground on Cronyism, as he has been such a vociferous proponent of the Fed balance sheet expansion, which will likely go down in history as one of the greatest crony giveaways to the rich in history.

Why Do We Manage Water Via Command and Control? And Is It Any Surprise We Are Constantly Having Shortages?

In most commodities that we consume,  market price signals serve to match supply and demand. When supplies are short, rising prices send producers looking for new supplies and consumers to considering conservation measures.  All without any top-down intervention by the state.  All without any coercion or tax money.

But for some reason water is managed differently.  Water prices never rise and fall with shortages -- we have been told in Phoenix for years that Lake Powell levels are dropping due to our water use but our water prices never change.  Further, water has become a political football, such that favored uses (farmers historically, but more recently environmental uses such as fish spawning) get deep subsidies.  You should see the water-intensive crops that are grown in the desert around Phoenix, all thanks to subsidized water to a favored constituency.   As a result, consumers use far more water than they might in any given year, and have no natural incentive to conserve when water becomes particularly dear, as it is in California.

So, when water is short, rather than relying on the market, politicians step in with command and control steps.  This is from an email I just received from state senator Fran Pavley in CA:

Senator Pavley said the state should consider measures that automatically take effect when a drought is declared to facilitate a more coordinated statewide response.

“We need a cohesive plan around the state that recognizes the problem,” Pavley said at a committee hearing. “It’s a shared responsibility no matter where you live, whether you are an urban user or an agricultural user.”

Measures could include mandatory conservation, compensation for farmers to fallow land, restrictions on the use of potable water for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), coordinated publicity campaigns for conservation, increased groundwater management, and incentives for residents to conserve water. Senator Pavley noted that her hometown Las Virgenes Municipal Water District is offering rebates for customers who remove lawns, install rain barrels or take other actions to conserve water.

Pavley also called for the state to create more reliable, sustainable supplies through strategies such as capturing and re-using stormwater and dry weather runoff, increasing the use of recycled water and cleaning up polluted groundwater basins.

Note the command and control on both sides of the equation, using taxpayer resources for new supply projects and using government coercion to manage demand.  Also, for bonus points, notice the Senator's use of the water shortage as an excuse to single out and punish private activity (fracking) she does not like.

All of this goes to show exactly why the government does not want a free market in water and would like to kill the free market in everything else:  because it gives them so much power.  Look at Ms. Pavley, and how much power she is grabbing for herself with the water shortage as an excuse.  Yesterday she was likely a legislative nobody.  Today she is proposing massive infrastrure spending and taking onto herself the power to pick winners and losers (farmers, I will pay you not to use water; frackers, you just have to shut down).  All the winners will show their gratitude next election cycle.  And all the losers will be encouraged to pay protection money so that next time around, they won't be the chosen victims.

What I Hate Most About Political Discourse...

..is when people attribute differences of opinion on policy issues to the other side "not caring."

I could cite a million examples a day but the one I will grab today is from Daniel Drezner and Kevin Drum.  They argue that people with establishment jobs just don't care about jobs for the little people.  Specifically Drum writes:

Dan Drezner points out today that in the latest poll from the Council on Foreign Relations, the opinions of foreign policy elites have converged quite a bit with the opinions of the general public. But among the top five items in the poll, there's still one big difference that sticks out like a fire alarm: ordinary people care about American jobs and elites don't. Funny how that works, isn't it?

Here are the specific poll results he sites.  Not that this is a foreign policy survey

blog_public_elite_cfr_priorities

 

The first thing to note is that respondents are being asked about top priorities, not what issues are important.  So it is possible, even likely, the people surveyed thought that domestic employment issues were important but not a priority for our foreign policy efforts.  Respondents would likely also have said that (say) protecting domestic free speech rights was not a foreign policy priority, but I bet they would still think that free speech was an important thing they care about.  The best analogy I can think of is if someone criticized a Phoenix mayoral candidate for not making Supreme Court Justice selection one of her top priorities.  Certainly the candidate might consider the identity of SCOTUS judges to be important, but she could reasonably argue that the Phoenix mayor doesn't have much leverage on that process and so it should not be a job-focus priority.

But the second thing to note is that there is an implied policy bias involved here.  The Left tends to take as a bedrock principle that activist and restrictive trade policy is sometimes (even often) necessary to protect American jobs.   On the other hand many folks, including me and perhaps a plurality of economists, believe that protectionist trade policy actually reduces total American employment and wealth, benefiting a few politically connected and visible industries at the expense of consumers and consumer industries (Bastiat's "unseen").  Because of the word "protecting", which pretty clearly seems to imply protectionist trade policy, many folks answering this survey who might consider employment and economic growth to be valid foreign policy priorities might still have ranked this one low because they don't agree with the protectionist / restrictionist trade theory.  Had the question said instead, say, "Improving American Economic Well-Being" my guess would be the survey results would have been higher.

Whichever the case, there is absolutely no basis for using this study to try to create yet another ad hominem attack out there in the political space.  People who disagree with you generally do not have evil motives, they likely have different assumptions about the nature of the problem and relevant policy solutions.  Treating them as bad-intentioned is the #1 tendency that drags down political discourse today.

Postscript:  This is not an isolated problem of the Left, I just happened to see this one when I was thinking about the issue.  There likely is a Conservative site out there taking the drug policy number at the bottom and blogging something like "Obama state department doesn't care about kids dying of drug overdoses."  This of course would share all the same problems as Drum's statement, attributing the survey results to bad motives rather than a sincere policy difference (e.g. those of us who understand that drugs can be destructive but see the war on drugs and drug trafficking to be even more destructive).

 

Republican Web Folks Still Suck

Somehow I managed to get on the NRCC email list.  I don't generally mind these things, as I am on several lists from both parties and it is kind of interesting to see what marketing come-ons they are using at any particular moment.

But the NRCC has been spamming the hell out of me.  This in and of itself I think shows a lack of understanding about the medium.  You lose effectiveness really fast if you send, say, five emails in five minutes, which is what I just received.  Worse, though, is that there is no opt-out link in the email.  Who in this day and age is dumb enough to send out even quasi-legitimate marketing material and not include an opt-out?  Morons.  I am one of the those people who actually can and do write rules to sort my email box, so I can take care of the problem, but this is just bush league.  If you are a GOP member, I would not be fooled by your parties happy talk that it is closing the gap on digital communications with the Dems.  I see no such evidence.

During my brief foray into politics Chairing Equal Marriage Arizona, we were trying to message from the center right on the gay marriage issue.  We found out, to our dismay, this is not at all a comfortable approach for established gay rights organizations (to say the least), but we thought it an intelligent and necessary approach to win on the issue in a red state.  Anyway, one thing we found quickly is that there is no bullpen out there of talented web people on the Right, at least in Arizona.   They are all on the Left.  If I were a member of the GOP and actually cared about their fate, I would sure be looking for a way to fix this, perhaps with some sort of internship program to start developing a bench.

I'm Feeling Pretty Good About These Remarks on Inauguration Day 2009

I caught a lot of grief on inauguration day 2009 for questioning the general feeling that some new era was beginning.  Most of you may have repressed the memory at this point of what that day was like, but even normally intelligent, well-grounded people were going a bit goo goo that day.  

I am feeling pretty good about the remarks I made that day.  Here is part of what I wrote.

I am not enough of a historian to speak for much more than the last thirty years, but the popularity of non-incumbent political candidates has typically been proportional to 1) their personal charisma and 2) our lack of knowlege of their exact proposals....Folks are excited about Obama because, in essence, they don't know what he stands for, and thus can read into him anything they want.  Not since the breathless coverage of Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone's vault has there been so much attention to something where we had no idea of what was inside.  My bet is that the result with Obama will be the same as with the vault.

There is some sort of weird mass self-hypnosis going on, made even odder by the fact that a lot of people seem to know they are hypnotized, at least at some level.  I keep getting shushed as I make fun of friends' cult behavior watching the proceedings today, as if by jiggling someone's elbow too hard I might break the spell.  Never have I seen, in my lifetime, so much emotion invested in a politician we know nothing about.   I guess I am just missing some gene that makes the rest of humanity receptive to this kind of stuff, but just for a minute snap your fingers in front of your face and say "do I really expect a fundamentally different approach from a politician who won his spurs in .... Chicago?  Do I really think the ultimate political outsider is going to be the guy who bested everyone at their own game in the Chicago political machine?"

Well, the spell will probably take a while to break in the press, if it ever does -- Time Magazine is currently considering whether it would be possible to put Obama on the cover of all 52 issues this year -- but thoughtful people already on day 1 should have evidence that things are the same as they ever were, just with better PR.

And I wrote this about the candidate I actually preferred over the Republican alternative McCain. Which explains why it has been ages since I have voted for anything but the Libertarian candidate for President.  The last election was actually a pleasant surprise, as I was able to cast a vote for Gary Johnson, who I was able to vote for not just as a protest vote but as someone I actually would love to see as President.

When Did the Senate Hit Peak Dysfunctionalality?

Kevin Drum argues that the Senate currently could not get any more dysfunctional, so unprecedented changes in the cloture rules by simply majority vote were justified.

But to my mind the peak of recent Senate dysfunctionality was when it passed the PPACA.  It passed a rushed piece of legislation 2000 pages long full of holes and errors that no one had even read.   When bribes (e.g. in Louisiana, Nebraska) were openly being offered to holdout Democratic Senators to gain their vote.

To this day, even Democratic supporters are expressing surprise at what they voted for.  Most of its key provisions (employer mandates, restrictions on individual policies) have turned out to be unenforceable.  While the Obama Administration has done plenty to screw up the exchanges, the problems began in the legislation itself that did not actually fund or specify a home for the web site development.  And because of implementation delays, we have not even gotten to the point where we can see the real problems with the law that many of us expected.

The Dems said that the filibuster made the Senate dysfunctional.  If the PPACA is what results from a "functional" Senate, I will take dysfunctional.

Filibuster Rolled Back

Well, the Senate voted to effectively end the filibuster (or I presume to end the need for 60 votes for cloture) with respect to votes on Presidential nominations that require Senate approval.

As a libertarian, I am generally a big fan of the filibuster rules.  Anything that can slow the relentless march of more and more legislation is a good thing.

That said, I have always been uncomfortable with the filibuster rules as applied to basic Senatorial tasks, particularly the need to approve Presidential appointees.  I think that the Senate reasonably owes the President a timely vote on nominations, so I think from a good government standpoint, this makes sense.

And that being said, the problem is the incredibly extra-Constitutional powers that have been given to certain administrative functions.  I can't argue with filling judge positions in a timely manner, or getting a new Secretary of State hired, but some of the Administrative agencies have acquired to themselves such crazy, unchecked, arbitrary power that the only way to dial them back at all is to try to keep them unfilled.  The filibuster was really the last check available to the minority party on agencies run wild.

So I have mixed feelings.  The Republicans overplayed their hand on some nominations that probably don't matter much while Democrats have convinced themselves that they are never going to lose the White House again so this is one expansion of majority power that will never benefit the Republicans.