Sunday, April 16, 2006

This I believe...

Inspired by this post by JOhn Kusters.

I believe that granting freely formed associations of persons the same rights as individual persons is fundamental to liberty.

I believe that when people are forbidden to organize for a common purpose except with narrow government approval of their purpose, the government has the power to prevent anything too big for one person to do by himself.

I believe that the right to rent a forum with your own money for your own speech or for the speech of someone you agree with is a necessary part of the right to free speech.

I believe that public financing of campaigns gives too much power to whoever decides which campaigns deserve financing.

I believe that taxing people to pay for the advocation of views they may vehemently disagree with is antithetical to the spirit of liberty.

I believe that tension between the branches of government is a good and desired thing.

I believe in congressional oversight.

I believe that goverment by one party or by two or by sixteen is fine, so long as the powers of the goverment are appropriately limited and those in power were fairly elected.

I believe that in six years of being the dominant party in power, the Republicans have yet to deliver on their promises of small government, fiscal responsibility, transparency, security, integrity, and personal freedom. However, I believe that the Democrats would do much, much worse in their place.

I believe that party is a useful heuristic which provides a partial solution to the voter rational ignorance problem.

I believe that sometimes we as voters need to bite the bullet, hold our noses, and vote for someone we don't particularly like in order to ensure that our government continues to work for the people.

I believe that it is sometimes worth me as a member of the public not being able to know something so that our country's enemies also don't know that thing.

I believe that there is nothing wrong with public or private religious faith by our elected representatives so long as they respect the constitutional and traditional limits on govenrment power.

I believe that there is no immediate danger of theocrisy in a country where religious freedom is the first right explicitly guarenteed by the constitution, where the most popular religious denomination constitutes only 1/4 of the population, and where very few people look to their priests for political guidance.

I believe that theocracy generally leads to persecution of anyone who is not part of the "flock".

I do not believe that terrorists can topple this country unless we chose to appease them instead of fighting them.

I believe that while this country is far from perfect, it is in pretty good shape by global and historical standards.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Be careful what you wish for

I've been seeing "Impeach Bush" bumper stickers practically since before he took office. Now, congressional Democrats are starting to make semi-serious noises about impeachment procedings. Has anyone taken a good look at the line of succession to see who would replace Bush?
  1. Vice President Dick Cheney
  2. House Speaker Dennis Hastert
  3. Senate President Pro Tem Ted Stevens
  4. Secretary of State Condi Rice
  5. Treasury Secratary John Snow
  6. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
  7. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales

I doubt many Bush-haters would consider many of these people improvements.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Voting Guide -- 2005 Special Election

Prop 73 -- Parental notification before abortions by minor children

Even if you believe that abortions are just elective surgery, minors cannot get elective surgery without their parents' consent, not just notification. In the eyes of the law, children are too young to make informed decisions on drinking, smoking, joining the army, piercings, or tattoos. Is having an abortion a less significant decision than getting your ears pierced or having a beer?

Prop 74 -- Extends time for tenure for k-12 teachers from 2 years to 5

Nobody has given me a good explanation for why k-12 teachers get tenure at all. University professors get tenure to allow them to pursue controversial research without fear of retribution. What controversial research did your third grade math teacher do?

Prop 75 -- Public employee unions must get consent before spending member dues on political contributions

Public employees are compelled to pay union dues, whether they chose to join the union or not. I don't think people should be compelled to contribute to political causes they may oppose.

Prop 76 -- State spending limits, executive powers, and school funding changes

In general, I'm predisposed to support any proposal that limits the growth of government spending. Tieing spending limits to a three year average of revenue growth strikes me as a good way of limiting the tendency of government to treat temporary windfalls as if they would last forever (see Davis, Gray).

Giving the governor unilateral authority to cut spending if balanced budget provisions are violated does shift power to the executive branch, but the governor of California had this power from the 1930s through the 1980s, and the world didn't end.

The proposition does change the way minimum school funding levels are calculated. I consider the current law on this unsustainable, and I wouldn't mind if the minimum levels were abolished altogether.

Prop 77 -- Delegate redistricting to a panel of retired judges

It can't be worse than the current setup. Currently, California's districts are a bipartisan gerrymandering to create a maximum number of safe seats for incumbents. The proposition would require new districts to follow state and county lines as closely as possible (good), and would assign the job to a group that doesn't have a perverse incentive to gerrymander (good).

Prop 78 -- Optional prescription drug discount program

The state would administer a program where low income people would be able to sign up for a drug discount card, and drug companies could offer discounts to members. Their incentive to do this would be to sell more to the most price sensitive consumers (the low income uninsured) without having to cut overall prices. Sounds like a win all around to me, although I'd prefer if the whole thing were administered privately.

Prop 79 -- Mandatory prescription drug discount program

Like prop 78, except that "low income" is defined to include 2/3 of the state's population, and drug companies that decline to join the program are forbidden to sell their products to MediCal beneficiaries.

Also, any lawyer who can convince a jury that a drug price is too high can sue for three times the company's 'excess' profit. If passed, expect to see judgments and settlements along the lines of the recent NetFlix settlement.

Prop 80 -- Increased regulation on electrical service providers

As much as it pains me to take the same side as the tree huggers, I'm against increased regulation on general principle.

Measure D -- Divert a portion of local sales tax growth from the police to the fire department

I'm not sure which department would make better use of the money, but the opponents of the measure set off my bullshit alarms much more strongly than do the supporters.

Measures B, C, and E -- Divert a portion of local sales tax growth from the police to everyone and their Aunt Sally

As far as I can tell, nobody has even tried to argue for these.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Don't be so down on Kerry

Cross-posting a comment I made in response to this post by TheFerrett.

I suspect the political environment was such that a Kerry-style incoherent flip-flopping campaign was no worse than any of the alternatives. Yes, less than 50% of the electorate thought Bush was doing a good job, but that doesn't mean any one non-Bush position would be preferred over Bush by a majority.

According to the RCP average of job approval polls, in the week leading up to the election Bush's job approval was 49.5% favorable, 46.8% unfavorable. Assume that was inflated by people grading him on a curve against Kerry. Suppose, for the sake of argument, 55% of the electorate had major misgivings about Bush's presidency.

Many of them are firmly anti-war or anti-business. If a candidate doesn't sound like he might pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan, if he doesn't sound like he might raise taxes and back major 'pro-consumer', 'pro-labor' initiatives, a lot of them will stay home or vote for Nader instad of voting for 'Bush-lite'.

Many of those 55% more-or-less approve of much of the goals Bush's defenders attribute to him, but don't think he's implemented them well. They'd love to vote for Bush-lite, but would eagerly vote for Bush to keep a Dean-type candidate out.

A lot of those 55% are disaffected conservatives who object to runaways spending under Bush, who feel that his immigration reform proposals went too far, who feel his tax cuts didn't go far enough, or who are upset we stopped with Iraq instead of also invading Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea. These people are not voting for a democrat. They may not like Bush, but they'll vote for him, vote Libertarian or Constitution Party, or stay home.

In order to stitch together a winning coalition out of that 55%, Kerry had to appeal to both of the first two groups, and look nonthreatening enough to the third that they wouldn't be induced to vote Bush to keep Kerry out. Tell me how he's supposed to do that without being a flip-flopping weasel.

In the end, it seems he ended up with most of the first two groups, but alienated a little too much of the second and also wound up motivating the third to turn out for Bush.

TechCentralStation -- The Vivid Centuries

Thus, one day, perhaps, will our descendants look back on us in the early part of this, the second vivid century. We accept as routine the fact that we are familiar with the voices, appearance and mannerisms of entertainers, actors and public figures living and dead. Voices and faces -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Frank Sinatra -- live on in a new technological reality. Elvis Presley has made much more money dead than he ever did alive.

But we are not always as aware of how much the private lives of ordinary people are a part of this time-transcending techno-reality. We are surrounded now by rapidly advancing technology that -- for better or worse -- is leaving ever-more detailed, intimate, vivid records of the warp and woof of our lives.

In the first vivid century, the 20th, we had the benefit of the motion picture coming to full fruition along with sound recording. Movies, radio and television grew rapidly from the early-mid century onward, making it possible, even routine, to know much about the sights and sounds that were a part of our parents' and grandparents' lives.

This was an important departure from the "silent centuries" that had gone before.

These technologies have given us clues and more than clues with which to reconstruct the incidental ambience of daily life as far back as the early 1900s. They have put us in closer touch than ever before with social and cultural history at its most elemental and personal level.

Information is a wonderful thing. Think how it would be to have archived C-SPAN footage of the constitutional convention. A reporter's live coverage of Columbus's first landings in the Caribean. A recording of the Sermon on the Mount. Videotape of Moses leading the slave out of Egypt. Photographs of ancient Sumerian and Egyptian cities in their prime.

Practically every notable public event this century or the latter half of the last has been videotaped, and much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were photographed and audiorecorded. Before that, we rely on drawings, paintings, and written accounts. Much of what we think we know of major historical events like the Battle of Agincourt or the death of Julius Caesar comes from a fictionalized account written centuries after the fact. The scriptures of most major religions are second- and third-hand accounts written down decades after the fact. We don't even know what Jesus looked like, let alone what he sounded like or what exactly he actually said. And it's not just the big things; we only know bits and pieces of the details of our ancestors' daily lives; historians would kill for an ancient Greek's home videos (almost literally; Pomeii is regarded as a godsend to archeaologists, since volcanic ash preserved the city and its late inhabitants almost intact, giving us the closest thing we have to a snapshot of ancienct Roman life).

These are problems that future generations will not have about things that happen in our lives, provided they remember or can figure out how to read our formats.

Random side note on formats: the Voyager probes each included a phonograph record. There was no worry about format, since analog phonograph formatting is a direct analoge (no pun intended) of physical sound, and it stands to reason that any sufficiently advanced race, when presented with a flat disk with grooves in it, would know what to do with it.

It has been observed since then that Saturn's rings are a flat disk with groove in it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Hello, World