Monday, April 29, 2013

"Get Big Money Out of Politics!" -- Only one way to do that...but you won't like it

A friend comments on a story about a corrupt state Attorney General:


Yet another example of why we need to get big money out of politics.

Wrong, of course. My reply:

Getting money out of politics cannot ever happen. An entity with the power the government has to make or break you, to side with you against your competitors or the other way around, to make rules that hurt you or help you, to send you to jail or outlaw your most profitable product, to tax you into oblivion, to demonize you to justify whatever is popular to do to you -- people will spend as much money as they must to control an entity like that. For better or worse.

And they will. And you can say "No, don't spend money to defend yourself" and those are empty words. Worse, you can say "No, don't spend money to seize this power for your own benefit!" and It Is obviously To Laugh. And tell the good not to take power to do good because that power is dangerous; and feel their resentment.

The Founders figured out there is one and only one way to reduce the incentive of the ambitious to seize the power of government - and that is to greatly limit the power of that government. Both the power to do evil, and the power to do good - for they are the same thing, just in different hands. In my hands, good; in your hands--not so much.

The ambitious will scheme into the night and you will not long suppress them. Those of good intentions will complain of limited government power to do good -- not able to acknowledge that power does not come with that kind of restriction in the long run. There is no such thing as "You are authorized to use power to Do Good."

But no... Let's by all means have an all-powerful government that is not limited in the good it can do, but only limited in the misuse of power. Yes, let's do that.

Wake me when you figure out how.

Meanwhile, mercy upon our descendants.

mac

Mac McCarthy


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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Fun with the Comcast Beast


Wasted half an hour on the phone with Comcast (wasted first ten minutes trying to find their phone number on their site) attempting without success to reduce service to save on my monthly bill.

I have "triple play' which combines TV, internet, and landline in one bill - which has grown to $175 a month over the past year or so. Once again I am reminded how well Comcast organizes its pricing structure to discourage exactly what I was trying to do.

Last year I reduced my internet speed to save money; the standard service is around 12mbps; the *only* lesser option is 1mbps, for which I save about ten bucks. One, or 12 - cute, huh? (Of course, Comcast's internet people can't help themselves: The speed has risen over the past year to 3mbps.) Happily I found that I can tolerate this speed just fine, since I don't watch high-bandwidth shows on my computer anyway, nor do Skyping.

So i called thinking to cut back on the TV side -- research shows that dropping down to the basic package drops off all the channels you most like, such as AMC and the housing shows my wife likes -- so I figured to cut back on HD, since we hardly ever use it (not sports fans) and would not miss it. Turns out that the DVR, which we do like, works on the HD package *only* -- drop to the "classic" (non-HD) service and bye-bye DVR. 

Also discovered that their DVR will indeed show on the other TV using a wireless gadget that should have been installed last year when I got the DVR but the tech didn't install, and nobody told me about. To have the tech come up and hook it up right will cost me -- $50. No, since it was their mistake, they'll discount that to $35. Nice.

Several "how about this package combo?" discussions later, all of which result in getting more service for just a bit more money, I gave up. It is not possible to reduce these costs. I suspect if I cancelled the phone element of the triple play, the remaining double--play items would add up to -- $175 a month.

I get my cell service from AT&T; I think I need to drop by and see if they can do anything for me. I suspect I will get the same treatment from them too, but the prospect of poking Comcast in the eye is hard to resist. I've been a happy Comcast customer for more than a decade (and its predecessors for another decade before that) but I can no longer afford it. One advantage of AT&T in my case is that I could presumably just drop my landline altogether, since I get my cell service from AT&T. (Last year I threatened Comcast with switching to AT&T and got a temporary fifteen dollar a month discount.)

Any of you have experience with AT&T's internet and TV service? Is it bad or tolerable, and is it just as gouging as Comcast?

Mac McCarthy

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Reason Foundation California Voters’ Guide: November 2012 CA Ballot Propositions


By Adrian T. Moore, Ph.D
15 October 2012


Executive Summary

It is election season and that means Californians once again face a daunting package of ballot questions on difficult public policy issues. This year’s initiatives cover a wide range of topics including taxes, campaign contributions, criminal justice, budget reform, food labeling and much more. As has been the case in years past, the ballot measures are not always as straightforward as they first appear. Some are grounded on questionable assumptions and value judgments. Others, despite admirable motivations, would nevertheless lead to unintended or unforeseeable adverse consequences. Some of these initiatives would empower the government to restrict individual freedom and choice in the name of uncertain benefits. And several would further burden California taxpayers by dramatically expanding the size and scope of state government.

California’s unemployment rate is at 10.7 percent (as of July data), and the current state budget is already billions in the red due to shortfalls in tax collections. Voters are going to have to look seriously at the choices these initiatives represent.

The nonprofit and nonpartisan Reason Foundation evaluated the 11 initiatives on this year’s ballot. We provide a "plain English" summary of the arguments for and against each proposition, some information on supporters and opponents and funding of the campaigns, and some discussion of what Reason judges voters should think about when deciding on each proposition.

Here, in brief, is the 'free minds and free markets' perspective on each proposition.


Proposition 30: Governor Brown's Temporary Sales and Income Tax Increase

A constitutional amendment that increases the state sales tax increase to 7.5% for 4 years and raises income taxes on the wealthy for 7 years to bring in an additional $6 to $9 billion each year.

  • It does not guarantee more education funding. While Prop. 30 funds are dedicated to education, all the other funds in the education budget are not, so Sacramento can, as it has before, shift other money out of the education budget to displace incoming Prop. 30 funds.
  •  The 2012-2013 California budget is a record breaking $142.4 billion. Why, with record spending overall, is Sacramento cutting school funding? Sacramento doesn't need more money; they need to prioritize.
  • Few things could be more harmful to the economy than raising taxes on millions of small businesses, as Prop. 30 does. When businesses have to pay more taxes, they hire fewer people and/or raise prices. California already has among the highest taxes in the nation.
  • Why put more money into a system that doesn't use the money it has well? Less than 50% of K-12 funding goes into the classroom, the rest to administration and overhead. And at the University of California, in recent years while faculty grew by 33%, senior managers increased by 194% percent! If we give them more money, more money will go to administration and bureaucracy, not into classrooms.



Proposition 31: State Budget and Funding Reforms

A bundle of budget and spending reforms, notably including shifting to a two-year budget instead of an annual budget, requiring cuts or new funds to balance any new spending, letting the governor make spending cuts in a fiscal emergency, requiring performance reviews and measures for state and local budgets, and publication of all bills at least 3 days prior to a vote.

  • California does have a big problem with lack of oversight of spending programs, and hence with a lack of results. This would give the legislature the opportunity to conduct more oversight.
  • Performance measures and reviews for budgets does bring new transparency to the process and makes it easier for voters, media, and watchdogs to understand where money is going and what is being done with it.



Proposition 32: Restrictions on Union and Corporate Campaign Contributions and Payroll Deductions for Political Funding

Prohibits unions, corporations and government contractors from contributing to candidates and their committees and from automatically deducting money from worker's paychecks to use for political purposes.

  • Contribution restrictions are not best way to solve the problem of special interest politics, but they can have some effect.
  • This initiative will likely not reduce spending on campaigns, but will shift much of it to indirect expenditures, which candidates do not control.
  • This will force unions to convince members to donate to political efforts, rather than rely on default giving, so unions may have fewer resources to spend on politics.
  • It will severely restrict the "pay to play" practice of government contractors giving to campaigns of officials who decide on contracts.

Proposition 33: Auto Insurance Based on Driver's History of Insurance Coverage




Allows insurance companies to offer customers switching from other companies a type of good customer discount for continuous coverage.

  • It is ridiculous that the state decides what discounts an insurance company can and cannot offer. This is a step in the right direction of giving that discretion back to the companies.
  • This will allow responsible people to pay lower rates. It may mean irresponsible people or those who chose not to insure to pay higher rates. That seems fair.

Proposition 34: Replace Death Penalty with Life in Prison

Replaces death penalty with life without parole. Applies retroactively. Requires murderers to work and pay restitution. Creates a new $100 million fund for unsolved homicide and rape cases.

• California’s death penalty is not working well. The average stay on death row is 20 years. It costs $90k more per year for each death row inmate than for ordinary inmates.

• 140 people on death row have been exonerated. We know the system is imperfect and sometimes condemns innocent people. Death is permanent; life in prison offers a chance.

• The money saved by not having to hold people in very expensive death row conditions is better used elsewhere.


Proposition 35: Increased Punishment for Human Trafficking

Increases punishments for people convicted of human trafficking. Makes sex traffickers register as sex offenders and requires registered sex offenders to disclose their Internet accounts.

  • This does address a gap in the law around kidnapping and sex with minors that can allow traffickers to avoid prosecution.
  • Making prostitution legal would substantially decrease incentives to traffic, and would free up lots of police resources for human trafficking.
  • Unfortunately, since this bill could easily include consensual adult prostitution, it would undermine the usefulness of the sex offender registry.

Proposition 36: Reform of Three Strikes Law

Changes Three Strikes so that criminals get a life sentence only when the third strike is "serious or violent" or is a certain kind of sex, drug or firearm offense. Allows resentencing some three-strikers whose third strike was not serious or violent, unless one of their strikes was for rape, murder or child molestation. Non-violent third-strikes would be punished with double the normal sentence for the crime committed.

  • This initiative still punishes repeat offenders much more than first-time offenders. Three strikes appears to have reduced crime; will heavier sentences do as well?
  • Life sentences do cost a lot. So does crime by recidivists.
  • Things would be different if California did not have a 75% recidivism rate. California needs to focus on that more than how to lock more people up. Learn from other states that have much lower recidivism.



Proposition 37: Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods
Requires labeling of foods with GMOs. Prohibits labeling or advertising such food as "natural." Exempts labeling foods that are "certified organic," even if they do contain GMOs.

  • GMOs are safe. Without exception, serious studies find GMOs do no harm, including reports by the International Council for Science, the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization.
  • The many and bizarre exemptions to the labeling rule show this is not really about providing consumers with information, but rather about forcing some selected food producers to label their foods with a frightening label.
  • The FDA argues that there is no scientifically valid process for determining if food contains GMOs or not, so it is unclear how this bill could be implemented.

Proposition 38: Tax Increase for School Funding

Increases income taxes on most Californians for 12 years to raise about $10 billion a year earmarked for schools and early childhood development.

• It does not guarantee more education funding. While Prop. 38 funds are dedicated to education, all the other funds in the education budget are not, so Sacramento can, as it has before, shift other money out of the education budget to displace incoming Prop. 38 funds.

  • The 2012-2013 California budget is a record breaking $142.4 bn. Why, with record spending overall, is Sacramento cutting school funding? Sacramento doesn't need more money, they need to prioritize.
  • Few things could be more harmful to the economy than raising taxes on millions of small businesses, as Prop. 38 does. When businesses have to pay more taxes, they hire fewer people and/or raise prices. California already has among the highest taxes in the nation.
  • Why put more money into a system that doesn't use the money it has well? Less than 50% of K-12 funding goes into the classroom, the rest to administration and overhead. And at the University of California, in recent years while faculty grew by 33%, senior managers increased by 194% percent! If we give them more money, it will go to administration, not into classrooms.

Proposition 39: Tax Increase on Multistate Businesses and Funding Clean Energy

Requires multistate businesses to pay about $1 billion per year more taxes in California by removing a current loophole. Half of revenues go to green energy programs.

  • Taxing business has a direct effect on job creation. This tax will reduce jobs.
  • Taking money from companies that are producing jobs and growth and giving it to ones that require subsidies to grow does not create jobs.
  • Did we learn nothing from Solyndra?

Proposition 40: Redistricting State Senate Districts

A yes vote confirms the Citizens Redistricting Commission boundaries. A no vote overturns them and sends to courts to redraw.

  • The people who wanted voters to vote NO on this withdrew. All parties want a YES vote on this initiative.


For a more detailed discussion of these Propositions, and their funding sources and supporter lists for pro and con, see California Voters' Guide: November 2012 Ballot Propositions at the Reason Foundation.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Ron Paul 3rd Place Finish--What Will It Mean for the Future of His Goals?

Venture Beat talks about Why the Internet Was Wrong in predicting a bigger vote total in Iowa:

http://venturebeat.com/2012/01/04/why-the-internet-was-wrong-about-ron-paul/

Good points. These were noted beforehand; the vote seems to have illustrated the problem of predicting elections from just counting the tech savvy. Not surprising.

OTOH see Reason's "The Bright Side of Ron Paul's Third-Place Finish."

Lemonade.

But I hope Point 2, especially, is true, and Paul gains influence in that party via his delegates; we badly need his messages to continue to be pushed, even on a reluctant Republican leadership.

Likewise, Point 7) "Ron Paul, and more importantly his ideas, are in it for the long haul."

Finally, I hope this year segues into a Rand Paul future..... The Kid is awesome!


Mac McCarthy

Author of "Wine Tasting 101" 
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Friday, December 16, 2011

Ron Paul vs. The Warmongers


Photo MachtErgiefen
Ron Paul was terrific in the Dec 14, 2011 Republican candidate’s debate -- the Fox News hosts actually asked him more questions and let him speak more than ever. The result was a strong statement of his positions.

The hosts, stung perhaps by widespread carping at their blatant ignoring of Paul in previous debates, did what journalists always do when put on the spot in such circumstances: We go into "You want attention? How about this!" mode, where we throw trick questions at you, hammer you on points we don't hammer others on, express a level of incredulity not visible elsewhere, and other debate tricks.

None of these had much effect on Paul, who's spent two decades putting up with ignorant media grilling and supposedly trick questions designed less to explore your positions than to force you to alienate some large interest group.

But where candidates typically hedge like mad when pushed into such stupid corners, Ron Paul is not afraid to take strong stands that make some voters mad. His strength is in his key, foundation points: Less war, less aggressive foreign policy, more paying attention to the Constitution, and more awareness that it's not a choice between property rights and civil rights.


WHAT?? YOU DON'T WANT WAR? ARE YOU NUTS?

The strangest set of reactions to Ron Paul came in response to Paul's forceful insistence that the U.S. should not threaten war with Iran.

The Fox hosts kept demanding to know what Paul is going to "do" about Iran, and kept balking at his refusal to declare war. Paul pushed back at the assertion, as fact, that Iran is close to having a bomb (Paul quoted Israeli officials skeptical of that claim), ignored assertions that Iran will attack Israel once it has such a bomb, and kept insisting that we engage in diplomacy.

He also made the mistake of acting like a statesman -- pointing out perfectly good reasons why an Iranian government would want an atomic bomb aside from wanting to attack Israel. He pointed out, twice, that we had talked Libya out of its bomb, then attacked Khadafy and he ended up dead -- hinting that the only people we invade are those who don't have a bomb. He pointed out that neighboring countries, and the US, have the bomb, so it's hardly surprising Iran would want one for defensive reasons.

This willingness to consider how things look from the point of view of other countries earned Paul contempt from the hosts and from his rivals.

Each of the other Republican candidates in turn announced their readiness to "get tough" with Iran -- Paul had provoked a most shocking display of red-meat warmongering tough talk from the other candidates.

It's clear to any American with open eyes that if any Republican other than Ron Paul is elected President, the US will go to war with Iran.

During one of the debate breaks, when commentators evaluated the "performance" of the candidates thus far, in terms exactly as if they were talking about a football game at halftime, one said Ron Paul had hurt himself with his pacifist talk -- the reason being, a majority of Americans believe Iran will soon have an atomic bomb -- which implicitly means that they would reject Paul for not talking tough on Iran.

This is inane, on many levels.

The public is being sold a bill of goods on the threat of Iran, as Paul himself pointed out several times on stage; this is exactly the kind of bullshit the administration fed the public in the lead up to the Iraq war -- exactly the same.

That should worry anyone - again, Paul pointed this out: Haven't we learned any lessons from the Iraq war?

In addition, there was that odd, automatic expectation by these experts that the job of candidate Ron Paul is to find out what the public thinks, and then pretend to attack that problem, even if the public is wrong or misled -- is this really the way they prefer the country to be run? Did John F. Kennedy have 'Profiles in Courage' ghostwritten for nothing? Pandering is apparently the obligatory strategy as recommended by the journalist experts!

The next day, analysts on NPR again raised this issue of Paul's 'pacifism' playing against the natural instincts of the Republican electorate -- a position which owes much to the reflexive belief among Democrats that all Republicans are warmongers. Then several interesting things happened.

One of the commentators disagreed, though: He said that Iowa Republicans have traditionally been the most noninterventionist in the country: He pointed to its noninterventionist Congressmen prior to World War II, and said that Iowa was one of the first states to come out against the Vietnam War.

Photo JohnWalsh2

HAVE WE LEARNED NOTHING?

Then they turned the discussion to the previous day's big event: The formal 'ending' of the war in Iraq, with the withdrawal of most US troops. The question was put: Was it worth it? The first commentator said no, considering what it cost us. The second said only time will tell, because it will depend on how Iraq evolves in the coming years.

But the third guy became quite heated in disagreeing: The Iraq war was undertaken under a cloud of lies: Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, they weren't harboring Al Qaida, they didn't have weapons of mass destruction, they were no threat to the United States. The war was sold to the public under false pretenses, and 'the generals' didn't support it, he said: This wasn't the Pentagon's war, it was a war pushed entirely by civilians: Bush II, his VP, and members of Congress.

I listened in amazement: The guy is, of course, right. But further: Of all the Republican candidates in the previous evening's debate, every candidate excepting only Ron Paul talked about Iran in exactly the same way they had all talked about invading Iraq only a decade go. Only Ron Paul thought the country should have learned a lesson from the mistakes of Iraq. Only Ron Paul claimed we are once again being sold a bill of goods -- just like the last time. Only Ron Paul wanted to halt the rush to war. Only Ron Paul was willing to question the claims about Iran's threat to us and to Israel.

One thing should be clear to everyone: If you want an end to the endless march to war, the constant saber-rattling by blowhards talking tough with the blood of your sons and daughters, learning nothing and believing anything -- you will only get that with a Ron Paul presidency. Every one of the other warmongers will have us heading off to war as if this were World War I all over again.

As if Flanders Fields never happened - nor Iraq, nor Afghanistan, nor Pakistan -- nor Somalia, nor Yugoslavia, nor any of the rest of our militaristic jingoistic warmongering.

This is perversity of the first water: Pols more afraid to lose an election than interested in the good of their country. And, worse, a press corps urging them on.

Disgusting.

Friday, December 2, 2011

After the Supercommittee?



Cato scholar Daniel J. Mitchell discusses sequestration and the aftermath of the supercommittee’s collapse in an op-ed for National Review Online: 
Taxpayers just dodged a bullet. Even though Republicans on the so-called supercommittee were willing to break their promises and support a tax hike, a 1990-style budget deal was not possible because Democrats demanded too much and offered too little in exchange. This is good news for fiscal responsibility. Simply stated, any agreement would have been a typical inside-the-Beltway pact featuring real tax hikes and empty promises of future spending cuts. And if the 1990 tax-hike deal is any indication, that would have resulted in more red ink rather than less…. For fiscal conservatives there is no possible compromise with either the hard Left or the rational Left. Both of those camps want bigger government. Both want higher taxes. And both oppose real entitlement reform. The only real debate on the Left is how quickly to race in the wrong direction.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Democats, Republicans--both the same. Ron Paul would be a real kick as President, wouldnt' he?



Friends discussing the current administration's assaults on the U.S. Constitution (provoked by the proposed new law to allow takedown of Web sites on mere allegation of copyright infringement), wondering what ever happened to the Constitution. The subject of detainees in Guantanamo arose.


One says of Obama: "This is a professor of constitutional law, now a US President. He knows damn well that Guantanomo is a cesspit of bad prior POTUS behavior, but one rooted in extra-territorial precedent. My altruism says: free them."


Another replies, "Mine too. But my inner soldier says, "...and have a firing squad greet them the second they step through the exit."


This is, indeed, a difficult situation. But two observations:

One: If, as Ron Paul points out, we weren't sticking our military noses in every corner of the world, we'd have fewer of these Constitutional sticky bits to deal with. When you act badly, your good choices become limited. I have a whole rant about this, but never mind for now.

Two: As a Libertarian, I was not interested in which pol won the last presidency, but I hoped that with a liberal Democrat in office, we'd at least get some of the things Dems like to consider themselves good at (and blast the Repubs for being bad at), like: less war; more respect for freedom of speech and other civil liberties. it would almost be worth paying the price in taxes and limits on property rights to back away from our many wars and our many assaults on our liberties.

Instead, we get more of the same. It might as well be Bush II up there. 

The ironies abound: When the Bushes were in charge, we got all the taxes, regulations, and gigantic new government agencies the Dems are supposed to do, and none of the restraint on the growth of government the Republicans claim to favor. And of course we got the Republicans' wars. With their predecessor, Clinton, similarly, we got the best Republican president the Democrats have ever had -- lower taxes, reduced regulatory intrusion, plus a Democrat benefit of few/limited military nosiness. We didn't know how good we had it.

So you get foreign-policy adventurism, growth in government power, growth in government spending regardless of ability to pay for it, and continued assaults on our liberties, with a general annoyance at the notion the Constitution might limit any of this -- from whichever major party you vote for. Or stay home and not vote for.

It would sure be a hoot if Ron Paul got nominated and then, even more improbably, elected. The likelihood of that guy, based on his history, voting for more spending, more taxes, more invasions, more civil-liberty assaults, and so on, is very low. It would be fun to watch D.C. turn upsidedown.

But unlikely all around: If he makes much more progress in the polls, they'll have to start mentioning him in every race roundup instead of only occasionally in passing, and when he gets too far up there, they'll go try to find a way to do a Herman Cain on him -- the political press's nuclear option when they want to get rid of somebody but don't want to acknowledge their complicity.

[end rant][God I hate politics]

Mac McCarthy