I will not be happy if he wins in 2008

The Washington Post ran an interview with Virginia Senator George Allen yesterday. He had a few interesting thoughts. Consider:

Why do you think the political environment in this country is as sour as it is?

ALLEN: I don’t know, and it’s something that I’m trying to find ways to unify this country and recognize who our enemy is. Usually you can unify — and this does come from football — you try to get people motivated and inspired for something. We are in the midst of a war. That doesn’t mean we don’t have differences on domestic policy, tax cuts maybe, exploration of the north slope of Alaska, who knows what. But as far as the war on terror we ought to have unity of purpose and there just doesn’t seem to be that.

That’s the opening question and part of the answer? Is Sen. Allen just trying to stay on point, bang the War on Terror drum, and say nothing offensive? Here’s a better answer. The political environment is sour because Republicans can’t understand that we have a common enemy as Americans and it’s not gays and lesbians. The political environment is sour because Democrats can’t understand that President Bush is not the anti-Christ trying to kill little children by withholding health insurance. The political environment is sour because everyone else is watching the two parties punch each other in the face for the chance to steal a few more dollars and a few more bits of liberty. It’s not complicated. If I can realize that, a United States Senator should be able to do so, as well. Of course, I’m not running for president for the next 34 months.

But then when Karl Rove goes to the RNC and says here’s what we’re going to make this election about and says the Democratic Party has a pre Sept. 11 mindset and the GOP has a post Sept. 11 mindset — that doesn’t do a lot to bring the two sides together. Do you think that was a mistake?

I’m not going to say it was a mistake. I do think there are three key things for our country or three conditions or matters that are important. One is security, clearly. Second is competitive. The third is our values as a country. …

There’s nothing else in the answer about either competitiveness, unless he means between Democrats and Republicans. There is also nothing else about values. That’ll change later in the interview, since everyone has to hold the same values or else the terrorists win/the children get hurt/Jesus wants to punish us/whatever. Moving on.

What does it mean at this point given the record of the Bush administration to say, “I am a conservative”? What are the elements of conservatism today?

… The term conservative means different things to different people. I haven’t looked at a dictionary definition. For me, it is one who trusts free people and free enterprise as opposed to meddling, burdensome government. There’s a need for government in a civilization, but it should be very focused on its key responsibilities. At the state level, the top responsibilities are education and law enforcement. The federal government level — it is clearly national security, national defense issues and I think key areas of research beyond the interstate commerce matters. And you need to do those things and focus on those.

Otherwise, leave people free. There are those though who think people won’t make the right decisions and so therefore the government makes those decisions for them. You end up with higher taxes because the government needs to provide services. I’d just assume leave people to their freedom and they may not make the decisions that are the best decisions but it’s their life. And I like the concept of individual responsibility. …

I like the spirit [described] by De Toqueville in the mid 1830s — his observations of America where everything’s in motion, nothing is settled, the only things that haven’t been done are those that man has not attempted to do. In other words, we are only limited by our imagination. Maybe that’s conservative, but that’s my view of it. Trusting individuals rather than large institutions and authorities … all this nanny government and pestering regulations.

Someone so inclined could write a dissertation on how poorly Senator Allen’s statement above meshes with his actions as a United States Senator (and as Governor of Virginia). I won’t highlight the obvious contradiction that people are free and should remain free of nanny government, and that people may make decisions, no matter how poor, as long as those decisions don’t violate the moral code of another. No, I’m above pointing out that flaw in Sen. Allen’s reasoning, because that would be too easy. Instead, I want to point out that government should “be very focused on its key responsibilities”, like telling individuals who they can marry. To accomplish what, I have no idea, but it all sounds very liberty-loving conservative. Wave the flag for me.

Aside from Jefferson and Reagan, which presidents have influence your political philosophy or your political approach?

Another great leader that I learned over time was George Mason, a very unsung person. He wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which is … a predecessor to the Bill of Rights and it’s much better than the Bill of Rights because it’s more words to it. The Statute of Religious Freedom is paragraphs as opposed to one sentence. He was one that if this country had listened to George Mason in the beginning — and he lost his friendship with George Washington over this because he would not support the Constitution without a Bill of Rights. He also said that we should have gotten rid of slavery right at the beginning. And what a better country this would have been. He was one who put principle over everything else.

I agree about George Mason. It’s not Senator Allen’s domain now that he’s a U.S. Senator, but I’d be curious to know how he feels about the Virginia General Assembly tarring the Virginia Bill of Rights with the proposed bigoted marriage amendment? Given that he supports the Federal Marriage Amendment, I think I know the answer. But it’s good to know that he respects that, by his natural rights, every man is free. Quite consistent. Perhaps I can learn something.

I’ll just leave it with this statement about whether or not Sen. Allen will run for president, since I’m sure this isn’t the last time we’ll hear this statement

You never know the future, but no matter what I’m doing I’m going to be advocating these common sense Jeffersonian conservative principles.

He also mentioned “Mr. Jefferson’s university” earlier, which is not the official name for the University of Virginia. Ass.

Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

As in most cities, traffic is atrocious in the metro Washington area. I missed the train one day last week and my morning commute took me almost two-and-a-half hours. My highway miles, which constitute probably 90% of the drive into the District consist of HOV lanes, whether in the one designated lane outside the Beltway or both lanes inside the Beltway. (I-66 is all HOV once it crosses inside the Beltway.) The area needs a transportation solution.

As a libertarian, this story about some localities in Northern Virginia considering offers from private developers to pay for road upgrades in exchange for zoning approvals fascinated me. I’m certainly in favor of privatizing governmental activities wherever possible, and as I’ve read more, I’m not opposed to private roads instead of public roads. (I’m not rah-rah over the idea yet, but that’s the practical side of me. The intellectual battle continues.) Whether or not this current scenario in Virginia could work is worth discussing, as it provides insight into the debate. Consider:

“This is one of the prices we pay for not adequately funding our transportation system,” said Ronald F. Kirby, director of transportation planning for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. “We’re getting into a situation where we’re so desperate for improvements that we’re willing to make deals like this.”

County officials say they are aware that the offers are a Faustian bargain of sorts, since the deals would draw even more cars onto the roads that need fixing. But they are fed up with waiting, they said, and if legislators fail to agree on a funding package in the coming weeks — one with clear guidelines for where the money’s going — turning down the developers will be more difficult.

I read the first quote with a skeptic’s interpretation. For the purpose of today’s debate, I’ll agree that we’re not funding transportation adequately. But where does that simple statement end? Do we raise taxes? Or do we analyze what we’re spending public funds on today? Essentially, it’s worth separating any idea of a causal link between transportation funding and government tax receipts. Mr. Kirby doesn’t carry it that far, so I have no idea what his position is regarding how to fix it. But the natural inclination of legislators is to not eliminate spending if funds aren’t available when new needs arise. That shouldn’t be the automatic leap in Virginia, although I suspect that’s where the plan is going.

Of course, turning over funding and construction to private developers could lead to the Faustian bargain some fear. My morning commute shows that it’s not unfounded. It would be unwise for local politicians to use that theory as the sole deciding factor in the deals. Let the developers present a cost-benefit analysis and present it for consideration. Then review it thoroughly. It sounds simple, but I hold little confidence. A few circuitous re-election campaign donations seem more likely.

Later in the article, more details arise. What I find most telling is this passage:

Some local officials are less impressed by the developers’ largesse than others. Skeptics note that builders are paying for many of the improvements by establishing special tax districts within their developments, thereby passing on much of the cost to the new residents.

That sounds sinister, but how is passing the cost to new residents different than how the state would pay for increased spending on improvements? Leprechauns don’t deliver pots of gold to government coffers every time a rainbow appears. Since I’m certain residents in the new development will know that they’re in a special tax district, they’ll be in the best position to decide if they want to buy a home in the neighborhood, given the tax implications. If the developer over-estimates what home-buyers are willing to pay, it could lose money or go bankrupt. It comes down to two private parties negotiating terms for conducting a transaction. It’s capitalism. Where’s the flaw?

It’s clear that hurdles to privatizing exist. Whether or not this is the place to start is a question worth asking. The debate should be interesting, at least. However, it should teach legislators and the voters who elect them that the private market isn’t scary. Profit motive isn’t dangerous. When private entities seek to get something done, that’s a sign of where the market wants to go. Government doesn’t need to rubber stamp anything just because it’s a private individual or company, but government shouldn’t be a hurdle just to keep its action in the monopoly.

Chocolate, Baseball, and Economics

On Wednesday, I read this entry at The Dredge Report. In it the author refers to this article from the Washington Post about Moleskine notebooks. She explains that she spends money on a few items that some might consider an extravagant waste, such as $8 for a bar of soap, before expressing a “WTF?” about people spending more than $10 on a notebook that has many much cheaper alternatives. I got her point, since I agree that one person’s view of irrational spending doesn’t translate to unacceptable. There can be tangible and intangible benefits in any product. Personal preference matters, and it’s what makes capitalism so interesting and effective. She concluded by asking what people spend their money on that some might find crazy.

For me, it’s a $4 pack of Cowboy Cookies or a $3 pack of baseball cards. I’ve written in the past about how perfect Liz Lovely cookies are, and Cowboy Cookies are easily the best cookies in their product line. Two giant, vegan cookies are enough to brighten any day, and $4 never seemed irrational after tasting one bite. They’re so good that sometimes I’m thankful that they’re $4 and not $2 or less, which would seem more “rational”. At $2 or less, I’d weigh 600 pounds and would clearly be a diabetic by now. I’m mostly kidding, but those cookies are that kick ass.

Now, baseball cards. This one’s a bit easier for me to accept the strange looks I might get. I’m 32-years-old and I’m still buying baseball cards. I’m not really collecting any more, because that involves too much expense and time. Instead, I buy them as a holdover, visceral feeling from my childhood. I began collecting in the early ’80s, expanding into a major hobby in the late ’80s. My interest waned in the early ’90s as the perfect storm converged: price per pack rose by a factor of three to six, depending on the brand, I went to college, and my funds reflected those of a jobless college student. When I entered the workforce after graduate school, trips to Target, where a reasonable variety of cards could be purchased, my interest reappeared. It’s continued more than sporadically over the last seven years or so.

There’s no rational reason for continuing to buy them, as they mostly sit in stacks in my closet. They’re unsorted until Spring Training every year, when I scramble at the last minute to find a few suitable for autographs when I arrive in Clearwater. It’s one of those silly habits that appears alongside disposable income. It would vanish if necessary, but it’s not at the current time. And it’s cheaper than a Porsche.

That’s where I blow my money. What about you?

Virginians may breathe a little easier

The proposed statewide “public” smoking ban I wrote about recently failed to muster any support in the Virginia House of Delegates. This is hardly a surprise, but it’s still good news for property rights in the commonwealth. Worth noting are a pair of quotes. The first offers what should be the end of this debate everywhere it’s occurring in America:

“The problem is, I want to have smoke-free restaurants and businesses. But in America, you don’t pass a law to tell a private business owner who is paying rent or mortgage payments what he can and can’t do in his own place,” said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax).

I wish Virginia’s Republicans practiced that throughout the spectrum of potential business activities, but every little bit of retreat from insanity is welcome. Unfortunately, the debate includes a few politicians suffering a shortage of brain power. Our politicians can barely wait to trample on our rights established by both the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution, but this bill’s sponsor wants us to respect his rights. Consider:

“The bottom line is that we’re not talking about a smoker’s right to smoke indoors,” said Sen. J. Brandon Bell II. “We’re talking about my right not to breath in 4,000 chemicals and 60 known carcinogens that are associated with secondhand smoke.”

Admittedly, if someone is going to ignore rights established in a Constitution so that his agenda can be furthered, it’s not a giant leap to expect new rights to appear which allow him to trample on the rights he dislikes. That doesn’t make it any less objectionable.

I suppose they’re Liberals now

Ignore for the moment the heated nature of the specific topic involved in this story. Instead focus on the contradictory, though not surprising, lack of principle underlying the action.

South Dakota lawmakers yesterday approved the nation’s most far-reaching ban on abortion, setting the stage for new legal challenges that its supporters say they hope lead to an overturning of Roe v. Wade.

The measure, which passed the state Senate 23 to 12, makes it a felony for doctors to perform any abortion, except to save the life of a pregnant woman. The proposal still must be signed by Gov. Mike Rounds (R), who opposes abortion.

The bill was designed to challenge the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe , which in 1973 recognized a right of women to terminate pregnancies. Its sponsors want to force a reexamination of the ruling by the court, which now includes two justices appointed by President Bush.

Like it or not, Roe V. Wade is the law. It may even be appropriate to challenge it, as these legislators are doing. But every legislator who voted for this can never again complain about “activist judges”. Not only are they counting on judges to be activist in accepting their change to accepted law, they’re engaging in activist legislating. There is no other way to explain this action, as they openly accept that it violates current law. They’re counting on the expectation that President Bush stacked the court in their favor with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Roger W. Hunt, offered another interesting perspective on good for me but not for thee:

Hunt has also said that when the inevitable challenge to the ban is filed in court, the ban’s supporters will be prepared for a costly court fight with $1 million already pledged by “an anonymous donor.”

If the issue at hand was a liberal favorite, and supporters replaced “anonymous donor” with George Soros, Republicans like Mr. Hunt would be screaming rather than boasting.

Hypocrites, every one of them.

Father Congress knows best

Yesterday, the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys released a study showing that last year’s bankruptcy reform has been ineffective at its original purpose of stopping deadbeats exploiting creditors. Although the data represents preliminary results, few outside of the financial companies pushing the legislation expected otherwise. I highlight this because I like this quote from the story:

“The vast majority of people pushed to the brink of financial collapse by circumstances over which they had no control,” said Brad Botes, executive director of the NACBA. “Abuse of the process is the rare exception, not the rule.

That last statement could be said about most every statist ideal currently pursued by our elected officials. It’s just so much easier to criminalize and prosecute every incident than to legislate the specific activities that harm society. It makes for better sound bites from politicians, since fear is better used with a thump than a nudge. It’s too bad reason takes the brunt of that hit.

I’m corrupting my own mind

This isn’t shocking, but the FCC is back in the nanny business:

The Federal Communications Commission plans to levy fines against broadcasters or their affiliates for violating decency standards in about a half-dozen cases, people familiar with the matter said yesterday.

One incident involves Nicole Richie saying “shit” on Fox’s broadcast of the 2003 Billboard Music Awards. The first obvious response is to state that it was the Billboard Music Awards. Nobody was watching. For those few who were, I’m going to guess that they’ve heard the word “shit” before. They’ve probably even uttered it once or twice. Our society still exists. Somehow.

Another case involves the unsurprising conclusion that Janet Jackson’s not-really-revealed breast during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show violated decency standards. I have nothing else to add about the specific incident beyond what I’ve already written. Instead, I’ll point out that human creativity provides me with uncensored radio, in spite of the decency cops at the FCC (and Congress). They may be violating one Amendment, but they haven’t figured out how to violate all of them. Yet.

Until then… Suckers.

Do you perceive this as a blog entry?

Continuing today’s theme of calling out poor writing… This passage from a story stating that a majority of seniors eligible for Part D, the new Medicare drug benefit program, aren’t enrolling:

But as in earlier efforts to register low-income Americans in programs such as food stamps or children’s health insurance, officials have encountered myriad challenges. The group of seniors eligible for the subsidies dubbed “extra help” tend to move often, may not speak English, sometimes suffer from mental impairments or do not want what they perceive to be a government handout.

Ummm… how else are they, and anyone else, supposed to perceive Part D? By itself, being a handout doesn’t push it into the “Bad” pile, but I’m at a loss to see how else it should be perceived. I’m sure supporters of Part D could explain it as something else, but that would be political gobbledygook. Reporters for the Washington Post should try a little harder.

Post Script: Yes, I agree that the details of this could fill many posts regarding the details. Such a post would likely begin with this statement:

Even Medicare chief Mark McClellan acknowledged that it is difficult marketing to this skeptical group. “Some people think it’s too good to be true,” he said in an interview.

Make of that what you will.

That laissez-faire stuff is for losers.

When I wasn’t self-employed, I would’ve been a little more diligent in verifying my wages if I’d been non-exempt. After the first paycheck missing overtime pay, with insufficient resolution by the employer, I would’ve quit. But why be logical when lawsuits (free money!) could be had:

Large employers around the country, from retail giants Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Lowe’s Cos. to tech firms IBM and Electronic Arts Inc., are being hit with state and federal lawsuits alleging that they systematically failed to pay overtime to hundreds or even thousands of employees.

The suits stem from state and federal laws that require employers to pay time-and-a-half to workers who put in more than 40 hours a week. Salaried managers and independent contractors are exempt — unless their salaries fall below a certain threshold. Exempt categories are carefully defined to prevent employers from simply using the titles for workers to avoid paying overtime.

But the market won’t work without government intervention. Or will it? At my last employer, I received overtime pay despite being employed in an exempt position. My employer only paid me at my average hourly rate instead of time-and-a-half, so maybe the government should’ve saved me from my own stupidity of accepting more than the law required. It definitely should’ve saved my employer from paying more than the law required. What was the Department of Labor doing while I was being exploited?

Citizens On Patrol. What a joke. You know what C.O.P. really stands for, Proctor?

Anyone care to offer theories on how poorly this will proceed?

Prosecutors in some Maryland and Virginia counties have adopted a potent tactic to discourage check-bouncing: threatening writers with prosecution if they don’t attend “bad check school” run by private contractors.

It is a way for the counties to make money — they get a portion of the fees the companies charge people who attend the courses — and law enforcement officials say the practice saves resources for fighting more serious wrongdoing.

But critics say the private companies violate the law when they send out letters warning check bouncers to attend classes or face prosecution. The critics add that in most states, it is not a crime to write a returned check unless there is intent to defraud. And federal law bars debt collectors from making false threats.

I’ve never bounced a check, but let’s assume I make an innocent mathematical mistake in balancing my checkbook and send too much money to an investment account. Should I receive a letter from a private contractor, threatening me with prosecution if I don’t make restitution? What responsibility does the party that accepted my check have to verify my check before accepting it? Technology makes this possible. Companies institute policies regarding returned checks. What is the burden upon the state to first determine that evidence exists that a crime was committed? Should the state convey that power to a private contractor?

Who needs questions, though, when logic like this can prevail:

“I don’t have to use prosecutors to take these cases to court,” said Glenn F. Ivey, the state’s attorney in Prince George’s County. “The homicide rate is up, carjacking is up, sex offenses are up, armed robberies are up. I could probably use about 10 more prosecutors to handle violent crimes alone. So to the extent there’s a program like this that allows us to get good results on restitution, it’s a good way to go.”

In Maryland, a contractor charges those who attend the courses a $35 administrative fee, which is split with the counties, and $125 more for the class itself, an eight-hour session on financial responsibility.

Local prosecutors say the threat of prosecution for not participating is legitimate. “The general rule is we prosecute” people who fail to repay bad checks, said Frank R. Weathersbee, the Anne Arundel state’s attorney. Maryland law allows people 10 days to make good on a bounced check, he said. If check-restitution programs are curbed, he said, “you’re just setting us back a step, making it easier for bad-check writing.”

So, some criteria seems to exist. That’s reasonable. But, curbing check-restitution programs run by private contractors does nothing to make it easier to write bad checks. Messrs. Ivey and Weathersbee do not know that, if writing bad checks is so prevalent and dangerous, it’s reasonable to find more state funding for curbing it? The police power, and the prosecution of law-breakers, is a legitimate use of taxpayer funds. Ask for the necessary funding. It’s not too much to ask.

But really, what could possibly go wrong with this:

The Maryland counties have hired American Corrective Counseling Services Inc. The largest of the few private check-restitution companies, ACCS operates in 140 counties in 16 states. ACCS President Michael Schreck said the company sends 10,000 to 15,000 notices a week and conducts about 2,500 classes a year.

Retailers typically allow consumers at least 10 days to make good on a bounced check and pay a service charge. After that, retailers may either continue to try to collect the checks on their own, send them to a debt-collection firm or forward them to the prosecutor’s bad-check program.

When ACCS gets the checks, it sends check writers a notice using the local prosecutor’s letterhead. ACCS’s name is never used in communications with check writers or on the telephone hotline that ACCS operates.

I realize I’m being hyper because no one entrusted by government oversteps limits and abuses their newly emboldened authority.