Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Controlling Legal Authority III

On the continuing problem of controlling legal authority....

The Supreme Court today issued a 5-4 decision narrowing the First Amendment rights of public employees. It held that speech made “pursuant to” an employee’s duties is not entitled to First Amendment protection. Employees do have other statutory and contractual protections, however.

Two excerpts from LA Times story:

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday restricted the free-speech rights of the nation's 21 million public employees, ruling that the 1st Amendment does not protect them from being punished for complaining to their managers about possible wrongdoing.
Although government employees have the same rights as other citizens to speak out on controversies of the day, they do not have the right to speak freely inside their offices on matters related to "their official duties," the high court said in a 5-4 decision.
When a citizen enters government service, the citizen by necessity must accept certain limitations on his or her freedom," said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, rejecting a lawsuit brought by a Los Angeles County prosecutor.
Lawyers for government whistle-blowers denounced the ruling as a major setback. They said it could threaten public health and safety. Public sector hospital workers who know of dangers may be discouraged from revealing them, while police and public employees may be dissuaded from exposing corruption, they said...

...Still, Tuesday's majority opinion left open the possibility that an employee might be shielded by the 1st Amendment if he or she acted as a "citizen," rather than in an official capacity, and took complaints to a newspaper or to a state legislator.
Justice John Paul Stevens said in dissent that it "seems perverse" to protect whistle-blowers who go public, while punishing those who take their concerns to their managers.
"We think this is a bad decision, but it may not be a catastrophe," said Peter Eliasberg, an ACLU lawyer in Los Angeles. "It basically says, if you go to the L.A. Times, you might get some protection. But if you report it in the office and up the chain of command, you don't have any protection under the 1st Amendment."


Ice and Fog...not

Check this, or else this, for word on the giant wreck on I-40/I-85. It was apparently caused by heavy fog and a layer of ice on the road.

Except, without the fog or the ice. Just rain. So not even like January 19, 2005, when traffic was completely gridlocked for five or six hours, because of less than an inch of ice. At least that was ice. It's hard to drive on ice.

Today, in the rain, more than 80 cars wrecked, in more than 20 little goofball clusters, with more than 30 injuries.

I Lots of these people did nothing more than stop to avoid the cars in front of them, only to be rear-ended, of course, so maybe only half of the 82 (or less) were actually at fault. But that's a lot fault for a Wednesday morning with a brief rain shower.

People in San Diego were talking about this pile-up: "See, Californians aren't the only ones who can't drive!"

One elderly man, at least, was seriously injured. Sometimes, when it first rains in summer, that sheen of oil comes up, and watch out.

Be careful out there....Or else just abandon the pretense and get yourself one of these. Cops love gags like this.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Yes, Dear

My (our) twentieth wedding anniversary is coming up. My lovely wife:

The lovely wife did something that, years ago, might have gotten me into trouble.

Here's what she did:

1. Decided my son's car needed gas (it did, it had fumes and nothing else. he had driven it home on empty...why? now, if I did that, i'd get a stony look. But since our older son did it, she decides she is going to go fill it up for him).

2. Drove to a gas station three miles away. (Pretty scary, might have run out of gas any second)

3. Realized, when she got to the gas station, that she had forgotten her purse. No money, no credit card.

4. Reasoned that she couldn't drive home, AND BACK, on the clearly empty tank (almost certainly correct). Reasoned further that without money she couldn't put gas in the car if she stayed at the station, either.

5. So, she called me. On my son's cell phone. I am pitching batting practice. He holds up the phone...."Mom wants to talk to you!"

6. I take the call. She explains. I say...."Well, now, that could happen to ANYONE, dear! I'll be right there!" (Baseball field is 1.5 miles from this gas station).

What does this have to do with 20 years of marriage? Answer, especially for young men not yet married or only married for a little while: You will do stuff MUCH more stupid than this. You will do it often. And if you laugh, or yell, or do any of the things that a not-married-for-20-years person would automatically do, you will regret it.

Besides, maybe this way I'll get lucky later. You never know. It could happen. Even after 20 years of marriage.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Je kanas nowan, Jabba Munga

Separated at birth? Check these two pictures, and tell me
we aren't related.....

(btw, if you want to translate the Huttese in the title, here....)

Now Young Faces Grow Old, and Sad

Went to a Durham Bulls game last night. One of our favorite family things to do. Cheap, great seats (if you get season tickets, or even one of the modified ticket packages).

You get cheesy little things, giveaways, if you do buy one of the ticket packages. We have the "Hit Bull, Win Steak" ticket package (See seventh bullet point here). So, for May 26, you got a coupon for a free autographed baseball.

We get there, and the poor people at the "Fan Assistance Center" are looking harried. We walk up to present our coupon to get our baseball, and they say, "We'll stamp it, and you can use it later."

Turns out that the "autograph" on the baseball they were GOING to give away was from (wait for it, I bet you can guess!) Delmon Young.

Now, Mr. Delmon Young is the younger brother of that oversized Treasure Troll*, Detroit's Dmitri Young and that would be some claim to fame already.
(a real Treasure Troll, for comparison)

But my man Delmon is also serving the baseball equivalent of house arrest for two months for throwing a bat at an umpire. And the bat hit the umpire, as you can see in an already famous video. I've never seen anything like that. Spitting on the ump is kind of gross, and bumping him is bad...but to throw a bat? And HIT the ump?

Discretion, better part of valor, and all that, for the Bulls. So, no baseballs, even though they had all the baseballs ready. They just didn't want to give them out.

My questions:
1. Why give out baseballs, anyway? You can THROW them. Having hundreds of kids in the stands with baseballs is not such a great idea. It's not "disco demolition night," but it's close. (oh, HELL no, you did NOT skip over that link. Go back and also look at DDN 25th anniversary. Outstanding baseball history. Don't be a putz; click it).

2. Why not give out THESE baseballs, anyway? Instead of making the ticket-holders mad, give out the Delmon Young-signed balls, with maybe a little toy ankle-bracelet GPS transmitter. Clearly a collectors' item, soon, when Delmon Young goes on to complete the trifecta of (a) hit ump with bat, (b) get caught with cocaine, and (c) use Mark McGuire-style steroids. People would be trying to buy these balls on Ebay, within just a few years.

Of course, there was also a game. A couple of monsoon delays, so we left early. But there was this kid, Edwin Jackson, a top prospect, who started for the Bulls. He was throwing 92-94, with a nice curve. Several Braves got the jelly leg and then had to go sit down for a while.

My son asked me a plausible question: "Given how weak the Devil Rays [Bulls are DR AAA farm club) are at pitching, how can this guy be down here?"

The answer quickly became apparent. Strikeout, groundout.....5 pitch walk, 6 pitch walk. Then a single, which scores a run. Infielders are kicking at the dirt, bored. Back on their heels. They get out of the inning, but the kid throw 24 pitches in the first inning. A lot of them were fast. Not that many of them were strikes.

My son (14): "How can a professional pitcher be that wild?" It's hard to say. There is some mental difference between the guys that have control, and those who don't. But EVERYBODY loses it sometime. That pitching thing: It's tough.

(*FOOTNOTE: I got the Treasure Troll bit from Boondocks. McGruder made the crack about the mug shot of James Brown. And....that's right. Of course, Nick Nolte has some pretty good Treasure Troll action going, his own self.)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Dog Bites Man

Skilling and Lay guilty

Enron former chief executive Jeffrey Skilling and founder Kenneth Lay were found guilty Thursday of conspiracy and fraud in the granddaddy of all corporate fraud cases. On the sixth day of deliberations, a jury of eight women and four men convicted the former executives of misleading the public about the true financial health of Enron, whose collapse in late 2001 symbolized the wave of corporate fraud that swept the United States early this decade


Check Dick Morris's alibi...

Toe-licking at WalMart.

No, really, it's not from THE ONION.

Was Dick Morris around?

Nobody's perfect and I stand accused, for lack of a better word

Verdict in Enron trial: noooooooooon today.

less than 30 minutes.

My prediction: guilty, guilty, guilty.

Of course, that seems obvious.

And, if I actually knew anything, I'd be executing trades
based on the info, not blogging about it.

Welcome to New Kind of Tension

Kelo and eminent doman seem to have caught fire as issues, nationally and locally.

An NR article....

And this...

In NC, there is this....

It will certainly be a central issue for me, in the next two years.

Monday, May 22, 2006

News and Observer Article

From a piece in the Q section in the N&O yesterday:

The turning point in ideas about government was the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. It changed our character, it ended for many people the sense of optimistic self-sufficiency they had been brought up with and it turned us back from progressivism toward liberalism. Liberalism came to mean that concern for the poor is not just a sentiment, but a motivation for policy. Liberals fought for reforms that built a wall of government resources around those who were least well-off, a dam holding back a tide of poverty, ignorance, starvation and disease.

And it worked, as politics. Regardless of what you think of the New Deal, the Great Society programs of the '60s and the scores of other programs focused on social ills, they were wildly popular. The Democrats controlled the House of Representatives for decades and from 1933 to 1969 held the presidency for seven out of nine terms.

More recently, however, liberalism has stopped working. Many of the core beliefs of liberals are still present in American thought and culture, but for a politician to call herself a "liberal" is suicide in most jurisdictions. The reason is that the French sense won the war of meaning, and Americans rejected that view of political life. Doctrinaire ideologues, insisting on a particular conception of equality at the expense of liberty and on a narrow secular interpretation of the rhetorical space of public discourse, hijacked liberalism.

It was a Pyrrhic victory: In winning control of the Democratic party, they lost the confidence of voters. Liberalism was reduced to an interest group code phrase: "Vote for me, and I'll give you other people's money."


UPDATE: For those interested in "fair use" rules....

Friday, May 19, 2006

Johnny Damon: My Homie?

I had no idea Johnny Damon was from my hometown. (Actually, my home town is Gotha, FL, so NO ONE is from there, but I have an expansive sense of place).

He moved to Dr. Phillips when he was young. At that time, Dr. Phillips was not much of a place (it isn't exactly Paris now). It had to be a little hard to have an Asian mother in redneck city. When I was in high school, there were lots of Klan boys and Klan wannabes, proud of the knives they brought to school. There were small towns in the area whose proud motto was "The sun has never set on a live [n-word, meaning black man] in ______." These sundown towns were not exactly hospitable to outsiders.

Of course, by the time that Johnny D moved there, in 1978, it was...not much better. Way to go, John. Way to get out of there. A big part of the reason he got out is this sort of behavior.

A picture and story of Johnny D and DPHS lads; for some reason removed from local paper server, but available for a little while on the Google cache.

(Nod to MMartin, my best stringer)

John Stuart Mill

Millfest at Catallarchy, nicely done.

My own favorite Mill quote:

THE TIME, it is to be hoped, is gone by, when any defence would be necessary of the "liberty of the press" as one of the securities against corrupt or tyrannical government. No argument, we may suppose, can now be needed, against permitting a legislature or an executive, not identified in interest with the people, to prescribe opinions to them, and determine what doctrines or what arguments they shall be allowed to hear. This aspect of the question, besides, has been so often and so triumphantly enforced by preceding writers, that it needs not be specially insisted on in this place. Though the law of England, on the subject of the press, is as servile to this day as it was in the time of the Tudors, there is little danger of its being actually put in force against political discussion, except during some temporary panic, when fear of insurrection drives ministers and judges from their propriety;*1 and, speaking generally, it is not, in constitutional countries, to be apprehended, that the government, whether completely responsible to the people or not, will often attempt to control the expression of opinion, except when in doing so it makes itself the organ of the general intolerance of the public. Let us suppose, therefore, that the government is entirely at one with the people, and never thinks of exerting any power of coercion unless in agreement with what it conceives to be their voice. But I deny the right of the people to exercise such coercion, either by themselves or by their government. The power itself is illegitimate. The best government has no more title to it than the worst. It is as noxious, or more noxious, when exerted in accordance with public opinion, than when in opposition to it. If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

Chisox Update

In September of 2004, I had one of my favorite posts, on the Chisox. I was pretty hard on them, but it really was a fun night.

In the meantime, of course, they won the World Series.

Now, my main man Tofe went to a game with his dad just couple of weeks ago. The situation:

Kansas City at Chi White Sox. Top of the 9th. Bobby jenks comes in (sadly, no shingo like theme song or even "shingo time!" on the big screen) with a 3-2 lead.

And the fans stay IN THEIR SEATS! Dad'o'Tofe, lifelong Red Sox fan, is so outraged that the fans remained seated that he starts sputtering.

a powerful lesson in midwest culture indeed. Here they are, asses firmly still in seats:

FInally, they get up with 2 outs, probably so they can beat the rush back to the El.

Does it really take just one World Series to do that? They used to stand up for Shingo, who had nothing. Now, they sit down for a real team?

A Great Day....

One of my favorite people, and my PhD student, Amy McKay, defended her
thesis and did the walk of fame to get her degree.

Looks like Amy will be visiting at Iowa next year, and then on to great things!

Congratulations to Amy and her family. (Her mom was more than a little skeptical about the whole Libertarian thing, with me. She said, "I thought they were all nuts!" I said, "Well, what point are you trying to make?"

She said, "My daughter's dissertation adviser is a nut?"

Amy defended me, though: "Yes, mom, he is absolutely a nut. It's true."


I'm not sure my chest is big enough to run for Guv. Voters don't care, but the media has to sell papers. So, though I can run, nobody will take my picture.

And three-dimensional chests are all the media appears to care about for Libertarian candidates (see here). I'm 48-AA, and it is SO hard to find a bra that fits right!

Seriously, what the crack news hounds did was take a picture of this woman from another web site, and then used that in their "news" story about her candidacy. Here is her actual web site. Nice picture. Why not use this one?

(Yes, I know she is also the head of the "Marijuna Party" in Alabama. Is that a reason to show her breasts in a "serious" political article about her candidacy?)

I suppose the MSM doesn't owe the Libertarian party respect, but they don't have to make us all look like boobs. (On the other hand, if your candidate puts up something like this, perhaps we are at least complicit in our own mockery. But it is different if we do it to ourselves, right? RIGHT?)

And, to her credit, a nicely considered response. You go, Loretta!

UPDATE: Unknown Professor gives me a major reacharound; I can get my 48-AA right here, and then lookOUT, world!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Wow; I'm paranoid, but....

Check this, from THE BLOTTER

Federal Source to ABC News: We Know Who You're Calling
May 15, 2006 10:33 AM

Brian Ross and Richard Esposito Report:

A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we (Brian Ross and Richard Esposito) call in an effort to root out confidential sources.
"It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick," the source told us in an in-person conversation.
ABC News does not know how the government determined who we are calling, or whether our phone records were provided to the government as part of the recently-disclosed NSA collection of domestic phone calls.
Other sources have told us that phone calls and contacts by reporters for ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation.
One former official was asked to sign a document stating he was not a confidential source for New York Times reporter James Risen.
Our reports on the CIA's secret prisons in Romania and Poland were known to have upset CIA officials. The CIA asked for an FBI investigation of leaks of classified information following those reports.
People questioned by the FBI about leaks of intelligence information say the CIA was also disturbed by ABC News reports that revealed the use of CIA predator missiles inside Pakistan.
Under Bush Administration guidelines, it is not considered illegal for the government to keep track of numbers dialed by phone customers.
The official who warned ABC News said there was no indication our phones were being tapped so the content of the conversation could be recorded.
A pattern of phone calls from a reporter, however, could provide valuable clues for leak investigators.

But now, check the comments. Amazing we don't just kill each other. This is going to be an ugly election year....

(Nod to NP, who is clearly too frightened to have time with paranoia. He watches himself...)

Good Fences Make Idiot Senators

You probably don't have to be an idiot to be a Republican Senator.

But it appears to help.

On the "We hate all Mezkins" fence bill, the NYTimes
has this quote:

The Senate fence measure was embodied in an amendment offered by Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, who borrowed from the poet Robert Frost. "Good fences make good neighbors," he said. "Fences don't make bad neighbors."

ATSRTWT (NYTimes Article)

Now, here's the relevant excerpt from the poem:

He is all pine and I am apple-orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down!"...

...He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

ATSRTWT (poem)

That poem is the LAST thing you would cite in favor of a fence.
Don't these people have staffs? Is everyone in Washington illiterate,
or are they just not paying attention.

At a minimum, just google the poem, dude, before you quote. Fences
do make bad neighbors, and in fact bad neighbors make fences.

UPDATE: A much clearer, and literate, analysis of the fence and the poem
can be found here. I don't agree with Brimelow, but at least he has
some grasp of the ideas at play in the words.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Property Rights and Goat Kneecaps

One of my favorite Duke students, engineering major but with an encompassing sense of responsibility and potential, sent this note back from Uganda....



I read De Soto, passed it on to my teammate, and signed it over to the director of the Rural Agency for Sustainable Design in nearby Nkokonjeru. It's definitely seeing a full life! We actually talked once about the need to register titles for property there, and about how title registration is (definitely) separate from land ownership, at least culturally? in some ways. All fairly confusing, but it was nice to draw from the book and then be able to give it to them! So thanks.

In other news, Mosques DO sound at 5:30 am the whole world-'round, and "fried goat meat" may or may not consist of goat kneecap, depending on how specific you make your order.

I had suggested he read Hernando de Soto's THE MYSTERY OF CAPITAL on the plane on the way over. If you haven't read it, you might want to pick it up. (Yes, my friend John Nye hates it, but he is such a detail guy).

Monday, May 15, 2006

Ballot Access

I have written several times about ballot access. There is even an MP3, if you want to listen while jogging.

But now there is a way to take action.

For those interested in supporting third party ballot access in North Carolina, the Libertarian Party needs your help. Go to this pdf file and print out a copy of the petition.

Then, get two or three friends or family members (North Carolina registered voters) to sign, put it in an envelope and then mail it to:

NC Libertarian Ballot Access Drive
10020 Bushveld Lane
Raleigh, NC 27613

(Sorry, there is no way to sign the petition on-line!)

Thanks for your help!

Interesting: Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is quitting the Dutch parliament and headed to a conservative think-tank in DC.

Maybe: haven't seen confirmation yet, except as email from MMartin.

But the guy knows things. So maybe it's true.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

These are my people

Sometimes I read my hometown newspaper, the West Orange Times (back then, the Winter Garden Times). Sometimes old friends who have since moved to New Orleans or the Netherlands do the same, and send me e-clippings.

For a flavor of where I come from:
Danielle Burnett, center, a senior at West Orange High School, has received the first-ever re-enactor scholarship from the Nature Coast Civil War Re-enactment in Crystal River. The scholarship is a $500 award and will go toward buying books when she starts college in the fall. She is a member of the 37th Alabama, along with her parents, Diane and Danny, pictured at an encampment with her, and her younger sister, Abigayle. The family, Ocoee-area residents, has been living historians for more than 2 years. Before leaving for college, Danielle plans on being a working resident at Camp Wewa this summer.

As one of my friends noted, "And that is NOT from The Onion".

I used to go to Camp Wewa all the time growing up. Great place.

ATSRTWT (with photo)

(Nod to MMartin)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Pearly Whites

My son Brian just got his braces off. And, check the hair.
As an incredibly old lady at the grocery told me, ten years ago, "Wow. You could never deny that one."

Saturday, May 06, 2006

My Speech from the NC Libertarian State Convention

(Burlington, NC, May 5-7) (Link)

Hello! My name is Mike Munger, and I am a Libertarian. (sounds like Alcoholics Anonymous: “Hi, Mike!”)

I went to vote in Primary, on Tuesday, May 2.
Walked up to the volunteer at the desk at the precinct, and said hello.
Told him my name, my address.
He asked, “What party are you?”
I said, and I said loud: “Libertarian party!”
He looked nonplussed. Some other people looked over at us, because I had said it pretty loud. “That’s not one of the choices.” He said that, yes he did.
I said, “Oh, I see now. What you mean is, ‘Which of the state-sponsored parties did I sign up for? Which of government-run parties did I show my little ID card for, and get the government’s permission to take a stand on political issues that won’t threaten anybody or change the status quo.’!” I said. Yes, I did.

He was looking a little flustered now. He was just a nice old man, volunteering at a polling place at 2:30 in the afternoon. He wasn’t expecting the bloody Spanish Inquisition.

He said, as if speaking to a child: “Your choices are Democrat, Republican, or….”

But I interrupted again. “Or ‘none of the above’? Is that my only alternative? Either I can accept one of the state-run parties, or else I have to vote none of the above? I guess I’ll be ‘unaffiliated’ then.”
Now, think about that. Think how many times you have heard someone say, “It would be easier if you would just…” and then something about voting for state-sponsored parties, or let the government do it, or something like that.
Of course it WOULD be easier, for those who want a docile, obedient public. Much simpler if we would expect dependence on the nanny state.
Now, in many ways, the news in the last year or so is very, VERY good for libertarians. Many of our worst predictions about the consequences of relying on the nanny state have come true. There is a growing sense of distrust of government, and of the people who govern us (since we are not allowed to govern ourselves). All good news for libertarians, right?
Well, not really. The prescription in the public mind, the solution to the problem of bad government, is always reform. Get better people in office. Build better government institutions.

But we have fundamentally misdiagnosed the problem.
The real problem is this: today, a group of Americans decide there is a problem. And they work on it. They start, though, by saying, “What should we do?”
My question is, “Why the hell do you think there is a ‘WE’”?
I have obligations, and responsibilities. And you have obligations and responsibilities. But why would we start out, as a first step, with the idea that WE have anything at all? That WE have an obligation to the state? Why would it be that our bodies, our money, our property, are OWED to the state, or are contingent on the state’s sanction?

The sense of the obligations of the individual, and the value of the individual, is something that is in danger of disappearing in American society. The independent, free and responsible citizen is disappearing.

This time right now, this moment, is our greatest opportunity, as libertarians, if we can see our chance clearly and grab it! Libertarians are the only remaining heirs to the classic American virtues. Self-reliance, independent self-protection through the responsible possession of fire-arms, independent communities, and education of children in independent values.

The problem is not that government is corrupt, not badly led, not full of bad people. Coercion is the basis of most policy. It is inherently dangerous and abusive. As Thomas Jefferson said, “Any government large enough to give you what you want is powerful enough to take everything you have.”

Edmund Burke had it right when he said, "In vain you tell me that Artificial Government is good, but that I fall out only with the Abuse. The Thing! the Thing itself is the Abuse!" (Liberty Fund Edition of Vindication of Natural Society).

This may be the key distinction, the test of whether someone is “really” a libertarian. If you believe government is good, but you hate abuse, you are not really a libertarian. The thing, the state itself, is inherently a threat to liberty. It may be a necessary threat, something we have to live with, but it is a threat nonetheless.

It is really a matter of nature. Think about it: you can’t blame a dog for eating out of the garbage. That is what dogs do. Can’t ask yourself, “Why? Why isn’t my dog a good dog? I can imagine a good dog, one that doesn’t eat out of the garbage. Can’t we just get a better dog?”
No, no you can’t. All dogs eat out of the garbage, and all states coerce unjustly. It’s what they do.
Sometimes I wonder what the "state" is. There is this guy, George Bush, who in many ways runs the state, but my statist friends hate him. The state must be something else. It could be Louis XIV, of course, because he said as much "l'Etat, c'est moi!" But my friends don't really think Louis XIV was the ideal form of government. What is the answer? What is the state?
I am proud to say that I have found the state: It is Cherrail Curry-Hagler, of the DC Transit Police. The story comes from the Washington Post (July 30, 2004). The facts, (remarkably) are not in dispute.
About 6:30 p.m. July 16, 2004 Stephanie Willett, EPA scientist, age 45, was riding the escalator down from 11th Street NW to the subway station, and eating a "PayDay" candy bar. Cherrail Curry-Hagler, D.C. transit policewoman, was riding up on the other escalator. Officer Curry-Hagler warned Willett to finish the candy before entering the station.
Willett nodded. But she kept chewing the PayDay as she walked through the fare gates. Curry-Hagler, who had turned around and followed Willett, warned her again as she stuffed the last bit into her mouth before throwing the wrapper into the trash can near the station manager's kiosk, according to both Willett and the officer.
Curry-Hagler ordered Willett to stop and show ID. Willett refused, and retorted "Why don't you go and take care of some real crime?" Admittedly, this may be seen as rude, since her mouth was still half full of PayDay bar. The scientist rode a second escalator down to catch her Orange Line train.
At this point, according to Willett, the officer grabbed her and searched her, running her hands under Willett's bra and around her waist. She put Willett into the back seat of a police car, took her to the 1st District station, and locked her in a cell. At 9:30 p.m., after she paid a $10 fee, Willett was released to her husband.
Got it? Okay, now consider:
1. Ms. Willett was on a DOWN ESCALATOR. She couldn't turn around.
2. She was already chewing the candy bar. She couldn't spit it out, without littering. I'm a libertarian extremist, but even I think you should be given a ticket if you spit chewed-up food on a public escalator.
3. When Willett got to the bottom of the escalator, she put the last bit into her mouth, threw the wrapper into the trash can, and continued on toward her train.
There is no way that Ms. Willett could have obeyed the instruction not to eat in the station, unless she had run back up the escalator, or spit out the candy bar. The difficult part, for the "let's have the state be our nanny" tribe, is this: Given the laws on the books, Ms. Willett had committed a crime. You can't take food into a station, and you can't eat in the station. It's the law. The officer had not, in fact, abused the system; Ms. Curry-Hagler, and all the other Transit Police in DC, are supposed to keep their gimlet eyes peeled for offenses exactly like these.
You think that's wrong? Fine. But don't blame Cherrail Curry-Hagler, D.C. Transit cop. She was simply doing her job. So is the TSA employee who makes my kid take off his shoes at the airport and who makes me show my boarding pass four times. So is the cop who gives me a speeding ticket for going 38 in a 35 mph zone.
Is there an alternative to these zealous examples of pettiness? Sure. We could give discretion to bureaucrats and the police. And that is a ticket on the train to tyranny, folks. Discretion allows the representative of the state to indulge racism, or sadism, or blankism. That won't fly (and it shouldn't!) in a democracy. So we are stuck with legislation that must be foolishly blunt and mindlessly enforced. It is the nature of the state, not a perversion of it.

It is tempting to think that competition is the answer. But, there is good political competition and bad political competition. The fundamental human problem is to foster the good and block the bad. So, as I argued in my Presidential address to the Public Choice Society in 1988, the fundamental human problem comes down to the design and maintenance of institutions that make self¬interested individual action not inconsistent with the welfare of the community.

One example of a set of institutions that accomplish that reconciliation of selfish individuals and group welfare is the market, Adam Smith?s ?invisible hand.? We still can?t accurately predict the exact circumstances or times when markets might work as he described, but it is definitely not always true that self ¬interest leads to the welfare of the community, even in market-like settings. Nonetheless, by and large we know that competition in markets serves the public interest.. The question is this: under what circumstances is competition good in politics?

Good political competition is where ambition checks, or at least balances, opposing ambition. When President Bush tried to push through the domestic spying program, some senators and representatives, and some citizens, objected on the merits. But even more objected on the grounds that the president was usurping judicial authority and personal liberty. Our political rules have to create situations in which politicians’ ambitions are opposed, in which attempts by one group or person to grab all power are always frustrated.

Bad political competition is what public choice theorists call rent seeking. In my classes, I ask students to imagine an experiment that I call a George Mason lottery. The lottery works as follows: I offer to auction off $100 to the student who bids the most. The catch is that each bidder must put the bid money in an envelope, and I keep all of the bid money no matter who wins. So if you put $30 in an envelope and somebody else puts $31, you lose the prize and your bid. When I play that game I sometimes collect as much as $150. Rent-seeking competitions can be quite profitable. In politics, people can make money by running rent-seeking competitions. And they do.

What are all those buildings along K Street in Washington, DC? They are nothing more than bids in the political version of a George Mason lottery. The cost of maintaining a D.C. office with a staff and lights and lobbying professionals is the offer to politicians. If someone else bids more and the firm doesn?t get that tax provision or defense bid or road system contract, it doesn?t get its bid back. The money is gone. It is thrown into the maw of bad political competition.

Who benefits from that system? Is it the contractors, all those companies and organizations with offices on K Street? Not really. Playing a rent-seeking game like that means those firms spend just about all they expect to win. It is true that some firms get large contracts and big checks, but they would be better off overall if they could avoid playing the game to begin with.

My students ask why anyone would play this sort of game. The answer is that the rules of our political system have created that destructive kind of political competition. When so much government money is available to the highest bidder, playing that lottery begins to look very enticing. The Republican Congress has, to say the least, failed to stem the rising tide of spending on domestic pork-barrel projects. Political competition run amok has increased spending nearly across the board.

In a perfectly functioning market system, competition rewards low price and high quality. Such optimal functioning requires either large numbers of producers or low¬cost entry and exit. Suppose that Coke and Pepsi not only had all the shelf space for drinks, but asked in addition if they could make their own rules outlawing the sale of any other drink unless the seller collected 100,000 signatures on a petition to be allowed to sell cola. The Federal Trade Commission would not look favorably on the request, or the industry.

But in our political system, we have an industry dominated by two firms. Republicans and Democrats hold 99 percent of the market share and have undertaken actions at the state and national levels to make it practically impossible for any other party to enter. How did we come to have such a system, with outside competition for office nearly closed off, but with inside competition for access to the public purse organized as a kind of expensive ritual combat, where Congress keeps all the bids?

I believe that the perverse competition in the political system is a direct consequence of the so¬called progressive reforms. First, reformers systematically hamstrung the ability of political parties to raise funds independent of individual cults of personality. Parties are actually necessary intermediaries. They solve what my colleague John Aldridge calls the collective action and collective choice problems by giving voters a shorthand by which to identify and support candidates whose opinions they share. Campaign finance reform cut out soft money, thus weakening parties’ ability to support new candidates, but doubled hard money limits to members of Congress.

Second, progressive campaign finance reform surrounds incumbents with a nearly impenetrable force field of protection. Any equal spending rule or equal contribution rule benefits incumbents, who can live off free media and other publicity. Any rule that restricts contributions or makes them more expensive, such as reporting requirements for contributions, benefits those with intense preferences and deep pockets. So restrictions on contributions ensure that only the most hard-core competitors?those along K Street?participate in the political bidding wars.

The hidden problem is that politics actually abhors a vacuum. If real grass-roots parties are denied the soft money they need to mobilize people and solve the problem of collective action and collective choice, organized interests will fill that vacuum. Because no individual can influence government, stripping away intermediary organizations of individuals makes the remaining organized groups more powerful.

The problem is not our inability to reform. The problem is precisely the extent to which we have reformed the system. Our reforms killed healthy political competition at the citizen level. And now all real political competition takes places in the offices on K Street. That’s the kind of political competition that is antithetical to the interests of the community.

The problem, then, is that the first step citizens take is to ask “what should WE do?” But presuming an organic “we” means that we are already lost.

To achieve change, we need to make the case to the American public that the problem is not corruption, not poor leadership, and not a lack of budget. The problem is that stated so clearly by Edmund Burke: “In vain you tell me…government is good, but that I fall out only with the abuse. The THING! The thing itself is the abuse.”


April 10, 2006: [Podcast/Audio File] Ticket Scalping and Opportunity Cost. With Russ Roberts
April 3, 2006: A Fable of the OC
January 9, 2006: Unintended Consequences 1, Good Intentions 0
August 1, 2005: Everybody Loves Mikey
March 7, 2005: The Thing Itself
January 10, 2005: Democracy is a Means, Not an End

Friday, May 05, 2006

Now I feel like Drudge

Breaking News: Desh Rosenberg attends training session.

Background here.....

I think this means he gets to be a "judge". Get after it, Desh.


(nod to RL)

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Non-voting sons spoil election bid: Coin flip?

Okay, I always claim voting doesn't matter. But in this case, nonvoting DID matter!

(From AP Interactive Legal) (UPDATE: CNN Link; nod to RL)

CASTALIA, Ohio (AP) -- You're both grounded!

Two voting-age sons of a northern Ohio candidate didn't go to the polls Tuesday, and their father's race ended in a tie.

William Crawford, trying to retain his seat on the central committee of the Erie County Democratic Party, and challenger Jean Miller each received 43 votes in the primary balloting.

Officials plan to conduct a recount, but the race may have to be settled by coin flip, said David Giese, the county's Democratic Party chairman and an elections board member.

Crawford was able to laugh about it Wednesday, but he said his sons are going to be getting an earful for skipping the election.

"Oh they will, let me tell you," Crawford said.

Son Jim lives across the street from Crawford's home in Castalia, about 45 miles southeast of Toledo, and son Andy is a college student who lives at home.

Both are registered Democrats.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

(nod to JP)