Author Archive

Jennifer Rubin at Right Turn, discussing the failure of our ‘reset button’ foreign policy with Russia, concluded that:

The Obama administration would be well advised to give up the fantasy that we share common values and interests with Russia and instead recognize the Russian leadership for what it is — a thuggish regime that seeks to re-establish the Soviet-era notion of a “sphere of influence.”

A thuggish regime seeking to re-establish policies from the Communist era? I can’t imagine why the Obama administration thinks they have common values and interests with such people.

There’s an election coming up in a week or so and I thought it would be an interesting exercise to write up the reasoning behind my voting plans, starting with general principles and then applying them to the concretes of my actual ballot.

I’ve often said that I don’t have a political party, I have political values. Specifically, I value the principle of individual rights and I want to see it protected by the government across the board. This is a minority view in the culture today, which means politically I am put in the position of playing defense rather than offense. While I find the Tea Parties a promising cultural phenomenon, too many of their candidates are strongly religious and this poses serious dangers in the medium term. However, the egalitarian nihilism being advanced by the current Democratic party poses a much more immediate threat. Getting politicians who understand and support the principle of individual rights requires time for cultural and intellectual activism. That time will not be available if the government continues to bankrupt the country. The only way I see to buy that time is to block the ability of both parties to seriously advance their positions by preventing either one from gaining full control of both Congress and the White House. (In my lifetime there have been a total of 8 years in which the Democrats solidly controlled Congress and the White House: 1977-1980, 1993-1994 and 2009-2010. There have been 2 years in which the Republicans solidly controlled Congress and the White House: 2005-2006. Each of these periods provoked a massive political backlash and a swing to the opposition party. Apparently there is nothing that makes a party less popular than enabling it to implement its agenda.)

At the national level the primary strategic goal is gridlock, to buy time for further intellectual activism. The secondary strategic goal is to break the hold of the political-class Republicans on the leadership of the Republican Party by electing Tea Party candidates wherever possible. This is a variation of the gridlock principle applied to the internal power balance of the GOP itself. (If a similar internal power struggle could be ignited inside the Democratic party that would be great, but it doesn’t seem likely unless someone convinces Hillary Clinton to launch a primary challenge against Obama in 2012. A worthwhile goal but not relevant to the current midterm election. Update: On the topic of internal power struggles in the Democratic party, today I found this. Perhaps it’s not only more likely than I thought, but actually underway.)

At the state and local level my options are more limited, given that California is a heavily Democratic state and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. My main hope here is to try to keep politicians responsive by keeping their elections as close as possible, which leads to the general principle of voting anti-incumbent. Where I live that almost always means voting Republican just because the incumbents are almost always Democrats. If a particular challenger is unusually noxious I may simply refrain from voting in that race; if a seat is open and neither candidate impresses me as unusually good or unusually bad, I vote for the minority party on the gridlock principle.

For non-partisan offices, unless one of the candidates has come to my attention outside the campaign in a positive or negative way, I usually refrain from voting simply because I lack the information to make an informed judgment and the time to track it down. (An example of an exception: Back in 2006 there was a major corruption scandal in San Jose involving waste disposal contracts. The mayoral race was between two City Council members who both, during the race, criticized the contract. But only one of them, Chuck Reed, had strongly opposed it before it blew up into a scandal. On the theory that character is what you do in the dark — when the public isn’t roused and paying attention — I voted for Reed. Since he hasn’t come to my negative attention since then, I retain a measure of approval for him and will probably vote for him and/or his allies when and as possible.)

For ballot initiatives, my principles are a bit simpler. Anything that raises taxes or fees, I oppose. Anything that seeks to borrow money, I oppose. Anything that seeks to expand the scope of government action into previously free areas, I oppose. Anything that clearly abolishes a government policy that violates rights, I support. Anything fiddling with the nitty-gritty details of government operation, or too unclearly-written to have understandable consequences, I oppose on the principle of ‘the devil you know’. I also reserve the right to vote for anything that the political class hates on general principle, like anti-gerrymandering initiatives and term limits.

With that said, let’s take a look at the ballot and see how these rules translate into actual votes (or not). First, the elected offices.

  • Governor. This is an open office. Jerry Brown was noxious the last time he was governor, the state legislature is firmly in Democratic hands, and Meg Whitman doesn’t strike me as unusually bad. So the noxious candidate, gridlock and minority party principles all align. Meg Whitman, GOP.
  • Lt. Governor. Another open office. Gridlock doesn’t really apply, since as far as I can tell the office of Lt. Governor doesn’t actually do anything. But anyone who could get elected Mayor of San Francisco is automatically noxious in my book, and the minority party principle aligns with it. Abel Maldonado, GOP.
  • Secretary of State. Anti-incumbent. Damon Dunn, GOP.
  • Controller. Anti-incumbent. Tony Strickland, GOP.
  • Treasurer. Anti-incumbent. Mimi Walters, GOP.
  • Attorney General. Open office. Minority party principle. Steve Cooley, GOP.
  • Insurance Commissioner. Open office. Minority party principle. Mike Villines, GOP.
  • State Board of Equalization, District 1. (And doesn’t that sound like something out of Atlas Shrugged, or Anthem?) Anti-incumbent. Kevin R. Scott, GOP.
  • United States Senator. Anti-incumbent, gridlock and noxious all together. Carly Fiorina, GOP.
  • United States Representative, District 16. Anti-incumbent and gridlock. Daniel Sahagun, GOP.
  • State Assembly, District 24. Anti-incumbent, minority party. Robert Chandler, GOP.
  • San Jose/Evergreen Community College District, Governing Board Member Trustee Area 6. Anti-incumbent. Jeffrey Lease.
  • Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, District 1. Anti-incumbent. Forrest Williams.
  • San Jose City Council, District 9. Non-partisan, positive information principle — one candidate is a political ally of Chuck Reed, who still hasn’t pissed me off. Larry Pegram.
  • Various judicial offices, Superintendent of Public Instruction and Santa Clara Valley Water District Director, District 4 left blank by the non-partisan office, no information principle.

Wow, there’s a lot of the bloody parasites, aren’t there? Now on to the initiatives, state and local.

  • Measure 19: Legalizes marijuana for personal use. The drug war is an insane violation of individual rights; anything that dials it back even a little bit is a good thing. Yes.
  • Measure 20: Redistricting of Congressional districts. This is an anti-gerrymandering initiative, putting control of redrawing district lines in the hands of an independent commission instead of the state legislature. In general, allowing politicians to pick their own voters leads to less responsive government — and anything the political class hates this much is ipso facto probably a good idea. Yes.
  • Measure 21: Annual vehicle license fee surcharge. This is a tax/fee increase. No.
  • Measure 22: Requires state to distribute tax revenue to local governments for various purposes even in the face of severe fiscal hardship. California is facing serious ongoing budget problems — the state is essentially bankrupt. The state and local governments are fighting over the shrinking pie, and this initiative is a shot in that ongoing battle. Ultimately the only solution is to shrink the state government; I don’t see how locking in spending obligations helps with that. No.
  • Measure 23: Suspends implementation of a ‘viro emissions control law until the state unemployment level drops to 5.5% or lower. This kind of environmentalist legislation violates the freedom of production and trade; blocking it even temporarily is rights-protecting. Plus I hate the ‘viros, so it’s nice to stick a finger in their eye. Yes.
  • Measure 24: Repeals recent legislation that enhanced business’ ability to lower their tax liability. The less wealth the government takes by force, the better, all else being equal. No.
  • Measure 25: Changes legislative vote requirement to pass budget and budget-related legislation from 2/3 to simple majority. The legislature in California is strongly Democratic. The 2/3 requirement on the budget is the only thing that gives the Republicans any relevance in budget debates at all. Given the strong likelihood that Brown will win the governor’s race, this is the last sliver of resistance to a total left-wing political monoculture in the state. Hell No.
  • Measure 26: Reclassifies certain state and local fees so they require 2/3 approval. Anything that makes it more difficult for the government to nickel-and-dime the public is good. Yes.
  • Measure 27: Eliminates the State Commission on Redistricting. This is basically the evil twin of Measure 20, putting control of redistricting firmly in the hands of the legislature. All the reasons for supporting 20 are reasons to oppose this. No.
  • Measure A: Tax increase to fund public health care for children. They lost me at ‘tax increase’ and added insult to injury by playing the ‘for the children’ card. No.
  • Measure B: Motor vehicle registration fee increase to fund street maintenance. Raise a fee, lose a vote. No.
  • Measure C: Term limits for members of the Santa Clara Valley Water District. It’s weak sauce for an institution that probably shouldn’t exist at all, but they hate it and I hate them. Yes.
  • Measure G: A bond issue to fund local community colleges. It’s a bond issue. The first rule of crushing debt is we do not talk about crushing debt. The second rule is stop borrowing! No.
  • Measure U: Marijuana business tax. Legalizing marijuana is good. New taxes are bad. (I could be argued on this one on the grounds that treating marijuana businesses differently from other businesses weakens the principle of equality before the law, but this initiative looks like a special tax levied specifically against marijuana businesses. Oh, and it’s a gross receipts tax. <Expletive redacted> that.) No.
  • Measure V: Limit powers of outside arbitrators, and Measure W: Pension reform. These two initiatives are closely-coupled attempts by the San Jose City Council to begin addressing the problem of public pension expenses. The public pension tsunami is one of a number of massive problems looming ever larger in the economic windshield. While I can’t vouch for the likely effectiveness of these proposals, I do know that the status quo is leading to disaster. Yes.

Wow. If I’d known in advance that there were that many things on the ballot I might not have started writing this. Still, I hope you enjoyed this not-so-brief snapshot into how I think about voting decisions.

Bill Dupray says “Remind me again why Chris Christie can’t be president in 2012?” Um, because the winner of the next Presidential election won’t be inaugurated until January 2013?

That said, I know what he meant. Christie is definitely a breath of fresh air in the morass of contemporary politics — not necessarily because of his substantive policies, the full impact of which remains to be seen — but simply because he treats the people of his state like adults. He doesn’t pretend that the hard choices aren’t necessary, or that they can be made without pain, and he believes the public is mature enough to grasp the facts, evaluate them and act appropriately.

It’s a sad comment on the rest of our political leadership, on the left and the right, that that alone is enough to make Christie stand out from the crowd.

Herewith my and Anne’s entries.  You will note that Anne is a much better artist than I am.

maybe-mohammad

Muhammad

For those interested in more drawings of Mohammad, Craig Biddle has a collection over at the Objective Standard website.  And for those who just can’t get enough, check out the Mohammed Image Archive.

A thought-provoking TED talk on the connection between effective leadership and communicating the ‘why’ of what you’re doing:

While trundling around Usenet, I stumbled over a piece of spam by a religionist with the subject “What have atheists ever done for humanity?”  The question struck me as interesting, not because of its contents but because of the way it frames the conflict between the religious and non-religious worldviews.  The poster wants to provoke the following line of thought: ‘What have atheists done for humanity?  Well, let me think of some famous atheists… hmm, nobody really comes to mind.  I guess there were the Communists, and Madeline Murray O’Hare.  Gee, I guess all we’ve gotten from atheism is mass slaughter.  Wow, I guess religion really must be a good thing!”  And, indeed, he is correct that overt atheists are pretty sparse on the list of great benefactors of humanity.  But does his conclusion follow?

The problem comes from the way the distinction is framed: religion versus atheism.  But is this the right way to think of the dispute?  Atheism, per se, is a purely negative doctrine.  It indicates the lack of a specific kind of belief.  But men act on the basis of what they do believe, not what they don’t.  I’m an atheist, but that isn’t the essential defining characteristic of my beliefs.  Fundamentally, I’m an advocate of reason.  Atheism is a derivative consequence, not a primary.  I don’t believe in God because there is no rational basis for doing so.

If you reframe the question in terms of reason and faith, the entire playing field changes.  What has reason ever done for humanity?  In a modern industrial society it’s difficult to identify a concrete value that doesn’t flow from reason.  Science, technology, medicine, industry, political freedom — all are children of the age of reason.  (Stephen Hicks has a nifty diagram of the connections in his book Explaining Post-Modernism; on-line version available here.)  Now consider the contrary question: What has faith ever done for humanity?  The era of history in which faith was most dominant is aptly named the Dark Ages — a time when the average lifespan was approximately 30 years and everyone existed in what we would today consider grinding poverty.  Disease ran rampant, literacy was extremely rare.  Heretics were burned at the stake.  Men who took their faith the most seriously, like Saint Francis, would use rocks as pillows, drink laundry water, and sprinkle sand on their food to dull the taste.

Reason is man’s basic means of survival.  In essence, the answer to the question “What has reason ever done for humanity?” is “Allowed it to live and prosper.”  The answer to the question “What has faith ever done for humanity?” is “Led it to suffer and die.”  The religious men whose actions benefited humanity created those benefits to the extent that they acted rationally, i.e. to the extent that their faith did not interfere with their reason.

Attempting to think about this issue in the terms laid out by the religionist is futile.  The setup leads down a blind alley to a false conclusion.  The lesson is that one should never uncritically accept the terms in which an intellectual opponent wants to frame a debate.  Concepts matter.  Don’t let your enemies pick the ones you use.

Anyone paying attention to the news knows that 2010 is shaping up to be a Republican year.  A growing grass-roots backlash against the Democrats is reflected in both election results and polls.  But one should never underestimate the ability of the GOP to blow an advantage, and here’s an example of why — they don’t understand the power of narrative.  The left is expert at setting up narrative lines that provide the structure for media coverage of events.  Facts that play into the narrative get picked up, repeated, elaborated.  Facts that run counter to the narrative are ignored, suppressed, abandoned.  And the narratives are almost always ones that benefit the left and damage the right.

One of the narratives the left has been setting up recently is the classic “conservatives are just a bunch of racist rednecks”.  They’ve been particularly anxious to set this frame up around the Tea Party movement in the hopes of scaring off and/or driving away the independent voters who have been attracted by the Tea Party’s message of fiscal responsibility, but they’ll use it on mainstream Republicans too.  It never gets old.  Now, if you want to fight a narrative line, you must not do anything that feeds into it and gives it credibility.  Any fact that even seems to support the narrative may be seized upon, repeated endlessly as ‘proof’ of its accuracy, and used to cement its power in the upcoming news cycle.

In light of the above, I now present to you Bob McDonnell, the recently-elected governor of Virginia.

Idiot.

Rick Moran writes, of the Tea Parties, that he has “been very critical of those in the tea party movement who seek to use anger and fear as a wedge to gain support for their cause.”  The implicit assumption here is that anger is somehow an inappropriate response to recent political events.  Excuse me?  Let’s take one example: ObamaCare.  In my judgment, the Democrats passed a bill which was:

  • Profoundly immoral.
  • Ruinously impractical.
  • Defended mendaciously.
  • Supported corruptly.
  • Enacted through procedural abuse, in the face of strong public opposition.

Exactly which of these things should I not be angry about?  Anger is a response to perceived injustice.  Condemning anger means one of two things: either the object of the anger is not in fact an injustice, or we should be emotionally indifferent to questions of right and wrong.

Moran goes on to note that “that reason wins a lot more converts than screaming” — which is true.  But reason and anger are not mutually exclusive.  The appropriate response to our current political situation is anger, rationally grounded. It is the rational identification of the facts which gives rise to the anger, and the anger provides the motivation to act to correct the injustice.  This is not an academic exercise.  Our lives are, quite literally, at stake.  If we’re not allowed to get emotional about that, when is anger appropriate?

I just received the following e-mail from my father, which I assume is circulating around the underbelly of the Internet. (I have edited it lightly, mostly by removing repetitions of the line about “Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. I got the point the first time, thanks.)

Subject: This makes sense to me!

I think we should print this off and send it to our congressmen…..over and over again until they “get it”!!!

THIS IS HOW YOU FIX CONGRESS!!!!!

Congressional Reform Act of 2010

  1. Term Limits: 12 years only, one of the possible options below.
    1. Two Six year Senate terms
    2. Six Two year House terms
    3. One Six year Senate term and three Two Year House terms
  2. No Tenure / No Pension: A congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.
  3. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security: All funds in the Congressional retirement fund moves to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system; Congress participates with the American people.
  4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan just as all Americans.
  5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.
  6. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.
  7. Congress and the President must equally abide in all laws they impose on the American people. Signing statements will not be used nor honored.
  8. All contracts with past and present congressmen are void effective 1/1/11. The American people did not make this contract with congressmen, congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

If you agree with the above, pass it on to all in your address list. If not, just delete.

I thought that, as a list of proposed solutions to the problems afflicting our government, this largely misses the point.  Herewith, my response.

That stuff feeds an emotional desire for vengence, but doesn’t really address the fundamental problem.

The Founding Fathers envisioned a government whose sole function was the protection of the individual rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness; the purpose of the Constitution was to establish such a government, with powers limited to those necessary and proper to the fulfillment of that end.  Our government has thrown off those restrictions, arrogating effectively unlimited power to itself.  Our leaders are contemptuous of the very idea that the Constitution limits their power — you may or may not have noticed the derision with which House Speaker Pelosi dismissed a question regarding the constitutional authority enabling a government takeover of the health care system.  (She said that “wasn’t a serious question” and refused to answer it.)

Unsurprisingly, the power we have allowed our government to amass attracts unsavory people, whose personalities are marred by narcissism and power-lust.  Is it surprising that such people fasten themselves to jobs that give them the power they lust for, refuse to give them up, and proceed to act as rulers while treating the American people as serfs?

As long as you have a pot of honey, you will have flies attracted to it.  You can’t stop the process by putting a lid on the pot — you have to get rid of the honey.  Restore the limitations on the government’s power.  A Congress that has no authority beyond protecting the individual rights of the people would be a Congress with no ability to dispense favors to favored constituents or special interests.  Such a government would not need multi-trillion dollar budgets, and would not be in a position to bail out the connected or punish the productive when they refuse to abase themselves.

It is widely acknowledged today that our government is thoroughly corrupt — but what does that really mean?  A government action is corrupt when it directs government power and resources to an inappropriate end.  But since the proper end of government is the protection of individual rights, this means that any government action not directed to that end is inherently corrupt — and that is 90%+ of what the government does today.  Corruption is the norm, not the exception, and the problem is not structural, but functional — specifically, that our government officials have lost their understanding of what their proper function *is*.

If we wish to reclaim our government and halt the ongoing theft of the liberties envisioned for us by the Founders, this is the issue we must push.  We must insist that our Congressmen understand the purpose of their jobs, and we must replace those who reject that purpose with new Congressmen who do.  This job starts by finding such candidates and supporting them in the upcoming primaries, wherever possible.  I suggest contacting your local Tea Party organization as a good starting place.

Look, cretins.  They’re either money, or they aren’t.  You don’t get to have it both ways.  Or at least you wouldn’t, if the world hadn’t gone insane and decided the law of identity is politically negotiable.

I assume the motivation here is that the state government has financial obligations it can’t fob off with IOUs; if they were to accept them for tax payments they’d get eaten alive by Gresham’s Law.  Still, I have no sympathy.  If you go long enough spending wealth that doesn’t actually exist, you burn through your savings and go bankrupt.  Reality wins.  Every time.