Tuesday, May 30, 2017

President Trump: Shut down those German Car Plants!

"See the millions of cars they sell in the US. Terrible. We will stop this."
--President Trump tweet

VehicleU.S. April 2017 YTD SalesU.S. April 2017 YTD Production
 Mercedes-Benz C-Class – Vance, Alabama27,09828,455
 Volkswagen Passat – Chattanooga, Tennessee24,41525,578
 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class – Vance, Alabama17,37459,322
 BMW X3 – Spartanburg, South Carolina16,77350,997
 BMW X5  – Spartanburg, South Carolina15,47256,290
 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class – Vance, Alabama10,00618,876
 BMW X6 – Spartanburg, South Carolina2,08913,151
 BMW X4 – Spartanburg, South Carolina1,17916,979
 Volkswagen Atlas – Chattanooga, Tennessee —11,871

Source: Manufacturers, Automotive News Data Center

And so President Trump looks at those very bad Germans who employ Americans in car plants in South Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama. Those are very bad states. Very bad. We have to kill those jobs.

The Germans are bad, very bad.
The Russians are not so bad. Russians good.
Mexicans bad.
Wall good.
Chinese bad. (Except when we need them for stomping on the North Koreans.)
ISIS is very bad.
Saudi Arabia is good. Today. They buy our guns and warplanes.
Iran is bad.
Israel is good.

ISIS is bad. Did I say that?
England is good. Brexit was good.
NATO is bad. They owe us money.
President Trump doesn't like people or nations who don't pay what they owe.
Climate is bad, when it costs money. Climate is bad for business. We are going to stop climate.
Climate change is a Chinese plot.

President Trump is "authentic." He says what he means. You know where he stands.

President Trump has the best words. HIs words are good. People who don't like him are bad.

Tennessee is bad.
Alabama is bad.
South Carolina is bad.
They make German cars.
Wait. What?

Can I get one of those Mercedes before they shut down that plant in Alabama?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Legalizing Prostitution and Drugs In New Hampshire

At the Exeter Democratic meeting focused on the Free State Project (FSP), one Democrat rose to say that the FSP members of the New Hamsphire House of Representatives (NHHR) wanted to "legalize prostitution and drugs," as an example of one of the outrageous ideas promulgated by the FSP.

I turned to my companion and said, "What a great idea!"
She promptly moved two seats away from me.

Later, we discussed these ideas.

I pointed out it's already legal in Las Vegas and the Netherlands and neither the city nor that country has gone up in flames.
I speculated treating it as a public health problem rather than a criminal problem would have more benefits than harm.

Hoping to monetize their sexual attractiveness in Amsterdam

My companion corrected me:  prostitution is not legal in Las Vegas, but it is legal in rural counties in Nevada.  Professor Google confirmed she is correct. Of course, illegal prostitution in Las Vegas is well known and apparently is much bigger business than the legal prostitution,  which is confined mostly to brothels just up the road.

Objections to legalized prostitution have fallen into several categories:

1/ Such work is demeaning to the women involved.
In the Nevada brothels women are brought out to  parade almost naked before potential customers, who then may accept or reject them, which is humiliating. 
I cannot see why this is any more humiliating than the Miss America contest or any other beauty contest with the swim suit meat parade, which is advertised as the ultimate in All American girlhood.
It strikes me that women walking naked in front of men does not, in itself, constitute humiliation. Beyond beauty contests, there is the scene at Hampton Beach, where nearly naked women walk in front of men daily. Those women do no look as if they feel humiliated, and in fact some look proud, others frankly provocative. I suspect the demeaning aspect of prostitution is a projection by some women upon other women. I have not had a lot of conversation with prostitutes, but the few I have had some of these women struck me as feeling not humiliated, but empowered. They felt they had a measure of control over their customers.

Hoping to profit from their naked beauty
And when it comes to humiliation, prostitution has nothing on capitalism for the ability to humiliate, as women (and men) are put into positions of having to do jobs which put them in positions which make them feel demeaned and undervalued.

I have to regard prostitution as a failure of the capitalist system, as if offers women a choice when other choices are not as attractive; what does that say for the choices? Some women can make $10,000 a night.
There is that famous poem by Thomas Hardy, "The Ruined Maid"

O 'Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!
Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?
And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?" —
"O didn't you know I'd been ruined?" said she.

— "You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,
Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;
And now you've gay bracelets and bright feathers three!" —
"Yes: that's how we dress when we're ruined," said she.

— "At home in the barton you said thee' and thou,'
And thik oon,' and theƤs oon,' and t'other'; but now
Your talking quite fits 'ee for high compa-ny!" —
"Some polish is gained with one's ruin," said she.

— "Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak
But now I'm bewitched by your delicate cheek,
And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!" —
"We never do work when we're ruined," said she.

2/ Under aged girls can be trafficked through the brothels. There have been instances, but there have been prosecutions for that. And there are laws  on the books for unwilling prostitution, kidnapping, enslavement. If women are engaging in prostitution willingly, and are of sufficient "age of consent"  where is the harm?

3/ The weekly inspections for HIV, hepatitis B and other diseases is confined to the women, not the customers, so protects the public but not the workers.
I'm not sure how to address this concern, as, presumably checking the customers would be expected to impair profits, but this must be a problem with at lease some partial solution.


 Which drugs are we talking about and in what way will they be legalized?
Starting with marijuana, which many  authorities believe is likely less harmful than alcohol, there is a bill in the NHHR sponsored by Renny Cushing to make possession of small quantities of MJ legal. 
Renny has remarked he hoped to shift the approach from regarding drug use as a criminal act to thinking of drug use as a public health problem.
I'm with Renny on this.
But making possession and use legal while making sale and distribution illegal poses a problem: If the man who possess a small quantity is committing no crime, then why is he committing a crime when he walks to his car where he has 300 pounds of MJ in his trunk? 
Buying the stuff is not a crime. Carrying it is not a crime. Using it is not a crime. Then why is selling it a crime? 
Either the drug is legal or not, I would think.  
You would not prosecute a man for eating a cupcake in public but why would you send to jail the man who imports the flour from which that cupcake is made?

The problem for me with "legalizing drugs" is there is always a drug which is so deadly or harmful, you have to proscribe it: PCP (angel's dust), Fentanyl and methamphetamine spring to mind.  
You can use heroin daily and still practice piano or saxophone 10 hours a day and play in a club until 3 AM.  You can remain functional and survive.
But if your heroin is mixed with Fentanyl, you stand a good chance of dying after your first dose. 
So legalizing drugs may really mean, legalizing more drugs or some drugs but not all drugs.
Hamsterdam, "The Wire"

As for heroin and cocaine, you have to ask what is the risk/benefit of legalizing those? 
What are the BENEFTS  you are hoping to achieve from your law?
1/  If it's to cut down on the associated diseases from contaminated needles, HIV, hepatitis and subacute bacterial endocarditis, well the experience in Portugal mayb be instructive. The Portuguese have reported a decline of 90% in these outcomes after heroin was legalized there from the simple expedient of clean needles and uncontaminated product.
2/  But would legalization lead to a decline in use? Unlikely. It is hard to know what use has been  before legalization, so how could we know if there has been a change after legalization?
3/  Would legalization lead to a decline in deaths from overdoses, once heroin of known purity and concentration is sold through pharmacies? Possible but not likely.

4/  What about reduction of crime as heroin addicts would now have an inexpensive source for their drug? This is very possible, but we have no really good studies.

As for the risks? 
1/  Would legalizing heroin or any drug mean more people would try it or become addicted?  No persuasive data exists. But you have to ask: Has legalized alcohol resulted in more alcoholism?  Are more people alcoholics since the repeal of Prohibition? 
I don't know. But not having data does not prevent me from guessing and I'd guess not. 
People abuse alcohol whether it is legal or illegal, whether or not  it is easy to get. They do it because of their own demons. I suspect the same is true of heroin and cocaine.
Major Colvin expounding on the genius of accomodation

You will raise the issue of people who became addicted to legally prescribed opioids. This is a case of increasing addiction with increasing use of legal drugs. 

But I'm not sure I really believe people who become addicted to opioids got addicted because of an innocent exposure and would never have got addicted had it not been for that exposure, as if they were infected by a tainted needle.  I'm not sure. I'm just not convinced. It is possible people who have become addicted to oxycontin or other opioids would have become addicted to an opioid without the source having been the prescription. 
Many people addicted to prescription opioids have chronic pain and trying to separate out the drug from the accompanying disease must be a very difficult task.

2/ How would you know if a driver was impaired by marijuana? 
There is no technology for that yet. We can do a breathalyzer test for alcohol but there is no such thing for marijuana yet.

Legalizing heroin in the real world, in America,  would not be pretty. 
The depiction of what this would look like was well imagined in "The Wire."
When the police told the drug dealers they could sell their drugs unmolested in certain zones of the city, as they do in Amsterdam, the touts and hoppers heard them as saying "Hamsterdam." Hamsterdam was a zone where drugs were sold and used openly, without interference from police.
In Hamsterdam, unlike in Portugal or Amsterdam, drug sales were privatized, unregulated and simply cordoned off. Drug dealers were allowed to sell in the open without a competing governmental agency which might sell safer, cheaper drugs. 
In Portugal and the Netherlands they apparently did not worry so much about impinging on the free market in drug sales. Drug addiction in these places is addressed as part of a public health system effort, and in that sense a control was imposed on drug use which was not possible when drugs were bought, sold and used underground.

In general, I tend to err on the side of not making things criminal which may be best regarded as public health problems.
The effort to outlaw is often an effort to bury a problem, to hide it behind walls so the good citizens do not have to see it. 
It's understandable citizens do not want to gaze upon disease and desperation. Just think of how you feel walking down a street and seeing a panhandler reaching up asking for alms. 
We will likely never be free of the death and damage drug addiction, as a disease, causes in America.
I do think we can manage this disease better.
What we are doing now is the 21st century equivalent of throwing insane people in insane asylums and chaining them to the walls. 
We could do better, if we decided to approach the problem dispassionately. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Free Stater In Me

The more I think about my run in with the Free Staters last Wednesday, the more I ask myself how much I believe with which they might also resonate.

I have for years believed myself to be a most unelectable man because I question certain sacred beliefs:

1/ Marriage licenses:  I am offended by the notion of a government sanctifying what should be the most personal and intimate relation two individuals have.  Why do we need the government to issue a license? Well, if there are rights which people need, like visitation rights in a hospital, if there are financial rights connected to arrangements with mortgages and joint ownership or child support, marriage streamlines all this, but you could handle all this with contracts and you do not need licenses.
The Free Staters I met also resented licenses, but they extended that resentment to licenses for barbers and fingernail cutters. There I would draw the line. Licensing is a pretty inadequate way to protect the public health, and it has often been ludicrous and structured to protect a guild more than to protect the public, but I do not want a fingernail cutter spreading MRSA or a barber spreading hepatitis and a license might be at least a wave in the direction of certifying the practitioner has a passing familiarity with risks to public health his practices might present.

2/ Legalization of prostitution: I am told Free Staters are for this.   I think we ought to do this in some way. I realize there might be problems with sex trafficking and pimps and involuntary prostitution, but I cannot see that keeping prostitution illegal has, in a real world sense, ever addressed these problems. Better to treat this as a public health problem and make sure sex workers are tested for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.

3/ Legalization of drugs: Again, I'm told Free Staters want to legalize drugs. I'm not really sure what that means. I'm convinced our current "war on drugs" is stupid and ineffective. I think it might work better to legalize not just marijuana but heroin and cocaine, which could be treated as a public health problem, sold inexpensively in package stores or pharmacies along with clean needles to prevent the spread of hepatitis and HIV.  But there will always be drugs which are too lethal to be legalized: PCP, methamphetamine, Fentanyl, among many others. There will always be an illicit drug for sale. 

But what are our goals in making drugs illegal? To prevent members of the public, particularly stupid kids from using them? There is no evidence making drugs illegal reduces their use. The prevent deaths from overdoses? Again, no convincing evidence laws or drug rehabilitation programs work to prevent this.  I think we have to admit the truth, namely that we will never save the majority of dope fiends from their addictions or the consequences of these addictions. We can treat this problem as a disease to be dealt with but we cannot cure it.

4/ Foreign wars: The Free Staters I spoke with said it would be better if the United States was broken up into smaller states like New Hampshire because then we would not be big enough to wage wars around the world which have been, overall, destructive and done more harm than good.  I have often thought about this:  Since World War II what wars have the United States fought which were "the good war?" Certainly not Vietnam, or even Korea. The Gulf Wars? Were they really a good idea? Afghanistan?  Well, that helped us hunt down Osma Bin Laden, but did we really need to stay in Afghanistan for 10 years for that?  Our "Global War on Terrorism," really is no more a war than the "war on drugs" or the "war on cancer." 
We did some good in Kosovo and maybe we should have tried to do more in Rwanda, but look what happened when we tried to play policeman in Somalia.  
On the other hand, when you are facing a threat which has grown into a massive threat, like the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, or in the future, possibly China or even Korea or Iran, the very size of the United States is essential. 
Were we to follow the libertarian point of view, we would have very possibly found ourselves conquered by Hitlers hordes and living in a world of High Castle dimensions.  
Having a big federal government spelled the end of the evil of slavery, so big government is not always a bad thing.
The FSP folks often argue against the most basic obligations of an individual toward a larger group. They value individual freedom to the point where it threatens group freedom or the greatest good for the greatest number: Thus, they argue people should not be forced to vaccinate their kids against polio or measles. 

Refusing to get your vaccinations is not simply a matter of your being allowed to take a risk for yourself: You put the whole society at risk if you get polio or measles or Ebola. You are a potential walking contagion. Yes, there may be risks to vaccines, but that's a risk you owe your fellow countrymen.

And then there is that question of your obligation toward your fellow man. The Free Staters say they would have stayed home during the Civil War. That makes sense in terms of their belief in insisting government not press individuals to do things those individuals don't want to do, like give up their slaves. So they would have sat home. 

I like to think I would have put on the blue and gone to fight to free the slaves. I place a higher value on that sort of freedom. You can sit home with your family, by your hearth and tell your wife and kids, "It's not my problem. I want to be left alone."  But I could not live with myself, having done that. 
The essential mindset of the Free Stater is anti-social; it is tribal at best.

I am no student of history, so I may be missing something here, but is there another nation in the planet's history which fought a civil war to free of an underclass as we did in our nation's biggest war? 

I don't believe in "American exceptionalism" except in this one respect. I think we are the only nation in the world which really did fight to make a people truly free, to emancipate a whole slave population. 

And, somehow, even though it wasn't me doing that fighting, it makes me proud to live in the nation that did that. 

Shifting Sands: Government in the Service of the One Percent

David Owen, writing in this week's New Yorker, offers, almost inadvertently, a perfect example of how government serves the very rich, out of sight, significantly and on a scale which dwarfs food stamps.

This is an article about geology, "The End of Sand/ Annals of Geology" actually, and there is much in it to fascinate the least political among us.  
Who knew so much was known about the microscopic properties of sand, the shapes of grains and what this means for asphalt roads, beach volley ball, concrete skyscrapers?  Just on an intellectual basis alone, it is worth reading. Makes you appreciate how much mankind knows, how he can use minutia to build vast metropolises or to preserve them.

But from the political angle, there is enough here to outrage people from either end of the political spectrum, everyone from Howard Zinn to the New Hampshire Free Staters, who  would, I expect,  howl to hear how our government has dedicated itself and billions of dollars in an open ended effort to preserve the million dollar summer homes along the East Coast, in particular New Jersey.  
After Hurricane Sandy, Congress appropriated billions in the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013.  What this funded was a massive Army Corps of Engineers project which was contracted out to a company called Great Lakes Dredge & Dock.  This company, a perfectly legitimate enterprise, started around Brigantine, New Jersey and worked its way up Long Beach Island, a twenty mile long island no more than three blocks wide, shifting sand from the ocean bottom to at twenty foot sand dune designed to protect the million dollar summer homes lining this island.  (Some of the beneficiaries complained because the dune blocked their ocean views.) 
As Owen notes, these barrier islands over the millennia formed and reformed, the ocean side washing toward the continent and then back out, but with houses on the islands, this cannot be permitted. 
The federal government has made coastal second, third, fourth and fifth homes possible by the simple expedient of funding flood insurance, but this new effort is something else again.

At the same time President Trump aims to cut food stamps, Medicaid and every program he can find to force the undeserving desperate and poor from the government teat, Congress has sent billions upon billions to mow the lawn, shore up and protect of the nation's richest citizens. 
And, of course, the owners of these homes feel absolutely entitled to this government largess. It's disaster relief, after all.
The disaster, of course, is not just Hurricane Sandy, but the best Congress money can buy bowing and scraping back in Washington. 
The argument can be made this coastal development pumps billions into the economy, as the building trades and the services and businesses connected to seaside homes and vacationers profit.

But whatever happened to the "free market?" If people want to enjoy coastal homes, why should citizens in the interior or who are simply too poor to afford ocean front homes pay for this extravagance?  If the free market actually operated in America, the homeowners would pay for these dredging operations.
Living on the East Coast, I can certainly appreciate the aesthetic joys of living on the ocean, and one can say the more people who spend time near the ocean, the more people will have a vested interest in protecting the oceans. 
But this effort should be front and center whenever anyone complains about the federal government spending money on the undeserving poor. 
Why are the rich so much more deserving? 
One might ask the same question about the ultrarich mega industrial farm corporations which get billions in federal dollars for farm subsidies. 
I'd bet, if I were better at Google, I could churn up more programs of government welfare for the rich, except, of course, when those dollars go to the rich, it's not welfare.
 It's investment. 
Or disaster relief.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Let Them Eat Coal

Whenever I can, I read the comments section responding to Paul Krugman's wonderful Op-Ed pieces in the NYT and this time he pointed out how the voters of West Virginia had voted by 40 points for Trump over Hillary and how a huge proportion of West Virginians are on food stamps, disability, Medicaid through Obamacare or Medicare, more than almost any other state and yet they hate the guvment and resent the Democrats who brought them all this relief. Almost 1/3 of West Virginians are on Medicaid and 1/5 on food stamps.
The Federal Government is carrying that state and they resent the federal government so much they voted for Trump to destroy it. Drown it in a bathtub.

West Virginians have the same mind set as Kentucky voters who refused Obamacare until it was renamed "Kynect" and then they loved it.

West Virginia is a small, impoverished, poorly educated state of 1.8 million people about the size of New Hampshire but without the education level of the Granite State.

As one of the letters in response to Krugman's piece said, "Let them eat coal."

It's hard to have much sympathy for people who seem too obstinate and stupid to help themselves.

But as others observed, people at the bottom of the social ladder need to have some group below them to feel superior to and West Virginia is 93% white so there is not even a significant Black population to hate and blame for their misery--they have to blame the folks Fox News points them toward.

The fact is there are large swaths of each of those "blue wall" states from Wisconsin through Pennsylvania which are basically Alabama between the big cities.

If ever the Democrats get back into office, the question will arise--should we try to do anything to help these determinedly miserable people or should we simply ignore them and move on?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Democrats and Free Staters Meet In Exeter, NH

Last night, I went to a meeting of New Hampshire Democrats in Exeter, where a woman spoke who works for an organization (Granite State Progress?) which tracks a group called the New Hampshire Free State Project (FSP).
All I knew of the Free State Project is what I've read on the internet and Wikipedia from which I concluded these people believe in as little government as possible, government only to insure the rights of the individual to not be bothered by the oppressive hand of government. Government small enough to drown in a bathtub.

Part of their utopian dream is to make New Hampshire a place where like minded small-to-no government types can establish their ideal society, and possibly secede from the United States and set up a homeland for semi-anarchists.

The lady with the microphone asked if there were any Free Staters in the audience and about six stood up and introduced themselves.
Then she had them sit down and she proceeded to outline the nefarious plot the Free Staters were hatching, saying they infiltrated, undermined local government, town councils, and subversively denied they were up to anything at all.  But they have come to New Hampshire to take control of the state by getting themselves elected to the state legislature.
In Keene, she said they harass parking meter maids, who they claim are the agents of an oppressive government trying to extract parking fees. Several meter maids have had to retire because of post traumatic stress as a result of these encounters.
Meter maids with PSTD? Really?

The lady with the microphone gave her version of what Free Staters believe without ever allowing any of them to confirm or deny what she said.

She did sound very much like the old Joseph McCarthy news reels as she ticked off all the underhanded ways in which the FSP tried to destroy democratic town councils, the state legislature, the courts,   so people would lose patience with government and abandon it.

Her assumption seemed to be that we all know all there was to know about the ideas of the FSP and her job was simply to inform us how they intended to take over and what we could do about it.

One member of the audience rose to say he wondered what the FSP thought about the shift toward huge economic inequality, which the free market had fostered, not prevented and which as far as he could see only the government had the power or will to reverse. No FSP was allowed to respond to his question because the microphone lady seized control and moved on without calling on any FSP person to allow an answer.

I finally stood up and admitted I did not know much  about the FSP apart from some internet chatter about their belief we had too much government and I wanted to hear more from those people from the FSP who had come to the meeting, presumably to answer such questions.
I wanted to know, for example if the FSP believed that government had no role of any sort which could justify its existence, like for instance, protecting the public from terrorist acts.
If I saw a man belting on a suicide vest, or what I thought might be a suicide vest,  at the Manchester airport, I would go right to that government run TSA and tell them, but could I assume the FSP person would say, well this is a man who has the right to carry whatever ordinance he wants to carry--the FSP is for open carry gun laws--and would not want to bring the heavy hand of the TSA down on this individual who might want to express his displeasure with the public by blowing himself up in the airport?

To my surprise several of the FSP people said they would report the suicide bomber to the TSA. They were barely allowed to respond by the microphone lady, who was off to other assertions about how "ridiculous" their ideas were.

But what was evident is that some FSP disagreed with others about questions like this and they were by no means a top down organization with members. They insisted they were too free spirited to be members of any organization.
The big problem with the meeting was the scold with the microphone was simply not bright enough to allow the audience to tease out the FSP beliefs and to demolish them with questions.

She was a perfect example of what is wrong with the Democratic party,  which has been accused of being elitist, unwilling to listen to opinions from others who they believe are "ridiculous."

Fortunately, after the meeting we were allowed to stay and talk with the FSP people and I had some revealing exchanges which I wished the larger group of 100 had been allowed to hear.

I pressed the FSP about several examples which I thought illustrated the need for a government, as opposed to private sector efforts, and I pressed them about the value of being free from government interference vs the value of insuring the just functioning of a free society.

With respect to the TSA question, the FSP people told me we didn't need a government agency to protect us from suicide bombers at the airport because the airlines could hire their own security for that. But what about the public spaces? Would Southwest airlines pay for security in the bathrooms and hallways and gates?  Well, that could be worked out they said.
What about prisons? Should they be run for profit by the private sector rather than by the government? If the prisons are run for profit would it not be in their interest to keep prisoners as long as they can to keep beds filled? No time off for good behavior?
Well, no said the FSP, there is enough business for the prisons to have plenty of customers; they wouldn't need to keep prisoners in place to keep cells filled. But the experience, as I understand it, with private prisons show just the opposite.
The heavy hand of government

What about government intervening to right wrongs?
Take, for example, slavery.
Would the FSP people have sat home in 1860 and not gone off to force slave owners to give up their property in states where slavery was legal?  After all, the federal government waging war on slave owners trying to defend their property rights is the ultimate in the heavy hand of government.
Yes, they said, they would have sat home and allowed slavery to persist in the South.
But they would have opposed the Fugitive Slave Act to prevent the slave owners from pursuing slaves in New Hampshire.
But by what means would the FSP have opposed the private armies of the slave owners when they appeared in NH to reclaim their "property?"  Would the FSP have called out he NH national guard? Again, government getting between a man and his property. Or would the FSP have hired a private force to oppose the slave owners' armies? Who would have skin in that game, to pay for a force to protect runaway slaves? No profit in that.

The problem is, the profit motive does not motivate change for those who cannot immediately contribute to your profit. (I would argue there are whole parts of the economy where the profit motive has proved a conspicuous failure, driving up costs and decreasing quality, e.g. health care.)

The big vulnerability in the FSP people was they had never thought through the implications of what they were saying, which is they basically are anti social, and if you follow their line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, they want to live "off the grid." 
How much appeal would these hermits have to the 1.3 million citizens of New Hampshire?  The best disinfectant for these thinkers is sunlight. Just let them talk in open venues and they will burn up under the glaring light of scrutiny.

What about the lunch counter question? If a man owns a lunch counter and hangs up a sign saying "No Negroes served. Whites Only,"  are we wrong to bring the heavy hand of government down on him to get him to serve the public, all the public, as he is holding himself out to do?
Well, the FSP people said, market forces would drive out of business the guy who refuses Blacks service. Now that's a practical argument, but for 100 years in the South no market force drove those segregated businesses out of business. This response is a dodge. It avoids the moral question of whether such expressions of racism as they take the form of concrete action should be permitted. It says the rights of private property (owning a soda fountain) should be ascendant over the right of every citizen to enjoy the benefits of public access to public places and to not be discriminated against on the basis of race.

 And  what of public bathrooms labeled Whites Only or Blacks Only? This practice was by local governments acting as a matter of policy to support segregation.
The FSP answers:  Well those bathrooms could have been privatized.
And what would be the profit motive in integrating private bathrooms?

And what about public health?
If an agent from the federal government shows up at a man's private farm and says he wants to test his cows for Mad Cow Disease, would the FSP be opposed to that heavy hand of government? 
--Yes. The market would close that man down if his cows had Mad Cow disease.
--Ah, but the disease does not show up for 15 years in human beings who eat that meat, the market is too slow. That cow is out of the barn. 
--Well, private companies could certify the meat free of Mad Cow disease. 
-- But that's like Moody's and all those private companies rating stocks--they were motivated by profit to rate stocks highly, for fear of losing the business of the companies they were rating. What company paid by the farmer would find the disease in the cattle of the man who is paying them?

What about thalidomide? 
The FSP hates that heavy handed agency of the Federal government which harasses drug companies.  Had there been no FDA unsuspecting American mothers would have been swallowing thalidomide and giving birth to thousands of babies who had no arms or legs, as happened in England. Would the FSP think that's just fine?
Better than laying the heavy hand of government on the drug companies?

And what of the polio vaccine? 
Many FSP people oppose requiring polio vaccination (or any vaccination, measles, mump, tetanus) for kids to attend public schools. Again the right of the individual to place the group at threat.
Government requiring the individual to not be a threat to others or a burden to others.
Many also oppose requirements for health insurance as a government intrusion into their lives.
If we had an Ebola outbreak in New Hampshire and vaccine to prevent it, would you oppose mandatory vaccinations, knowing those who refused vaccination could pose a threat to the entire population by getting and spreading Ebola?
Blank stares in response and much blinking.
Back in the 1940's and 1950's every child and parent knew about and feared the yearly epidemics of polio--would you want to return to that?
FSP answer: It's up to the individual to assess risks for himself.

We went back and forth about all this and I understood the FSP stance, or rather, their variety of stances, always coming from the point of no government, and I understood it is no more monolithic than the Catholic population of America.  The pope would forbid contraceptives, but American Catholics use them anyway. They reject parts of the orthodoxy but still consider themselves Catholics. So it is with the Free Staters who disagree with some dogma and embrace other parts of it.

They are not "ridiculous," although as is true of many absolutists, their absolutism gets them into precarious intellectual positions.
Even the American Civil Liberty Union accolyte gets hung up on his absolute belief in free speech when Oliver Wendell Holmes asks, "But do you have the right to shout 'Fire!' in a crowded theater when there is no fire?" 
Small government guru. Worked for him. Owned slaves. Except for the Louisana Purchase

The microphone lady kept going on ominously about the 20,000 FSP subversives who have moved in to the state to seize control.
Personally, I've got no problem with 100,000 true believers moving here--they still have to convince others they are right and given my conversations with them last night, I doubt they'll ever be able to persuade more than their own numbers. They find few converts beating up on meter maids as the example of the oppressive hand of an overweening government.

If you want to look to a model, look at Utah, where true believers flocked and set up a utopia which over time gave way to the demands of the greater nation.

I would hate NH to become Utah, but we are a free and open nation, with no borders which prevent free travel and relocation. We have to defend our ideas, not our borders. Even the Mormons had to change their beliefs to accommodate the heavy hand of a federal government which forbade polygamy.

The trouble with Democrats is they react in the authoritarian /scold mode.
I do not fear these FSP guys.
They collapse quickly enough when you press them on their positions.
They are hardly a pernicious threat. Listen to them. Argue with them. Respect their right to believe crazy things and then demolish those crazy things and watch to see if they are capable of seeing the truth as you see it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Let's Cut Food Stamps for the Welfare Queens!

President Trump's budget is out and he's cutting food stamps and disability payments and giving the money to defense contractors.
And as the Republicans in Congress and in his administration see it, it's about time.

All those welfare queens, driving around in their Cadillacs, are using the food stamps to buy orange soda pop, cigarettes and booze and then selling that on the street to make a tidy profit and buy themselves mink stoles and pink Cadillacs.

It's an abuse of the welfare system, all those undeserving poor, living off the teat of the federal government.  Not like the defense contractors who do not live off the teat of the federal government but earn their money, fair and square and then keep it by using the carried interest dodge in their federal income tax so they pay less than their secretaries.

Finally, we got a guy in the White House who, for the first time since Reagan, will root out all those people on welfare disability who are perfectly able bodied but who prefer to go fishing rather than to the factories (which President Trump will be reopening shortly) and take their welfare checks which they spend on drugs, booze and loose women. 
I hear the women in my office talking every day about how it's high time all those shirkers, parasites and underserving poor got what's coming to them. The women in my office who talk this way do this between answering phone calls and telling whoever calls in they better call back later because it's not their job and the person whose job it is is out on break. Then they go down to the kitchen on break.

So, the universe is coming aback to a better place now that President Trump is in office and states like Pennsylvania will realize they voted right. Pennsylvania, you know that state, which is Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and Alabama in between.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Voting in Iran and Invasive Species

What a wonderful age we live in: Last night I saw Steve Inskeep on The News Hour, and as Judy Woodruff interviewed him you could see people behind him voting in a mosque in Iran.  
It was a gorgeous mosque, with lots of tile and colors but the most amazing thing was the people.
Steve Inskeep

I could hardly focus on what Mr. Inskeep was saying because I was so taken with the images of the Iranian people behind him.  I had heard him say, on NPR radio, earlier in the day, that women lined up to vote in separate lines from men, so I imagined a sort of bleak and dreary event. 

But, NO!  The women behind him on the TV screen were vibrant, smiling, laughing, having a wonderful time. The whole scene was joyous and the vibrancy of the people came through.

It reminded me how very narrow and distorted an image I have of Iran and likely of the entire Middle East. Yes, they have to be careful about what they say and write for fear of a visit from the government goons, but they have lives, joys and the political climate cannot suppress that.

Reminded me of my father, returning from a visit to Spain, years ago, when the dictator Franco was still in power and he was laughing in dismay.  "I was wandering around in Madrid and seeing all these happy people, having a wonderful time, laughing, sitting at sidewalk cafes--didn't they know they lived in an oppressive dictatorship?" He had to laugh at his own ignorance. He expected life in a dictatorship would be all grimaces and sloped shoulders.

Of course, a glimpse over Mr. Inskeep's shoulder should not convince me life is fine in Iran, but when I listen to Mr. Trump and his bombastic band of brothers talking about Iran and the Iranians, I have to think of the possibility these people have their side of the story to tell.

Which brings me to pythons. Another story on NPR about the opening of python hunting season in Florida, where pythons are "destroying" the everglades, eating up raccoons, alligators, deer and Bambi.  They are an "invasive species."
We don't like them.

I really hate that idea of "invasive species."  
In New Hampshire, Norway maple trees are legally an "invasive species" even though they are nearly sterile, are not seen outside of all the house lots, church yards, or planted along median strips as landscaping.  
But somebody at the Horticulture Department of the University of New Hampshire testified before a committee of retirees who comprise the New Hampshire House of Representatives and called these trees an invasive species and poof! No longer can you buy or transport these trees or plant them in New Hampshire, under plenty of law in the Live Free or Die state. 
Unlike the pythons which have spread out and occupied territory, Norway Maples are simply not seen in any of the woods or forest surrounding Hampton or, to my knowledge, anywhere else in New Hampshire.  They are the most rooted invaders one can imagine. They simply do not move. 
Far as I can tell, the prime offense of these invaders is they have offended the aesthetic sense of the UNH faculty of Horticulture. The UNH faculty simply does not like purple leafed trees and took offense at how many people had planted them in their front yards, churches and town spaces and so they called them "invasive."

The fact is, there is nothing scientific about the notion of "invasive" species. A new bug arrives, finds a niche it can exploit and devours the stuff people living in the area like and that becomes an "invasive species."
We don't like them.
But this is a value judgment. We like trout. Trout are pretty and fun to catch. 
We do not like the snake fish, which can walk on land and devour all the trout in the lakes and  streams and so they are new and invaders and should be eliminated. 

Same thing for some insect or virus or fungus that kills the chestnut trees or the elms we love or the birch trees we love or the corn we plant or the apples.

We value certain things we like to look at or eat and these are good. These are not invasive. Cornfields in Iowa which replaced the grassy plains are not invasive. They are good.

We draw borders around what we like and what we want to defend: Our green sunlit lawns, and anything in nature which crosses that line is an "invader."
Fair enough. But remember, this is not nature or evolution. This is our imposition of our values within a territory of our own choosing.

When England voted for Brexit, Mr. Trump summarized it succinctly: "People want borders."

And he was right--the Brits were aggravated about their white, rosy cheeked children, now being displaced by immigrants from the Caribbean, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, all those "invasive species."
Globalization means that rats carrying plague from Singapore can jump ship in London or New York. 

But it also means we might meet new people with new virtues we had never really thought about.