Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Alea jacta est.

Well, it's happened again:  I've been unfriended on Facebook by a cousin over a difference of opinion.  She thinks there are "good cops", the best of them being her husband who was killed — adventitiously — on his way to work;  I hold that if there are any good cops they are overwhelmingly outnumbered.  I think the thing that pushed her over the edge was me suggesting that — if things keep going the way they're going — 'cop' is finally going to break into the Top 10 Most Dangerous Jobs

We have crossed a Rubicon-of-sorts with the recent spate of execution-style slayings and attacks on what seem to be random police officers.  These were (we think) just ordinary cops going about their ordinary days when they were set upon by some disaffected someone and killed for wearing their gang colors — blue, usually.  Almost everyone seems genuinely surprised.  Why would anyone kill a cop 'just because'?  Just because that broken taillight just cost you $145 and a mark on your license?  Just because it's the end of the month and Corporal Smith needs to write four more tickets or he'll get a letter of reprimand in his personnel jacket?  Just because you're black or Hispanic?  Just because the window tinting that's legal where your car is registered happens to be illegal in this county, mister?  Just because the family dog is now dead because the cop investigating the burglary down the street feared for his life?

The justification for this, of course, is that these officers don't make the laws;  they just enforce them.  That's their job.  They're LEOs, law enforcement officers, and they're just following orders.  Besides, if they don't do it, somebody else will, see?  And you wouldn't be complaining about any of this if you just followed the law in the first place.  If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.  It's that simple.

They say.

So, when officers are ordered to disperse the crowds of unruly DAPL protesters, they trot out their water cannons and douse those protesters with water in sub-freezing weather.  That'll send them scurrying to find warmth and dry clothing!  No protesters equals no protest.  Let's finish this project and go home!  First amendment?  What first amendment?

You and I have a hard time imagining being soaked-to-the-skin in 26 degree cold, but I think there is probably no one who thinks it would be classified as 'humane treatment'.  If the police are going to treat the people inhumanely, why would they expect better treatment and more respect in return?  Does the Golden Rule have an exception for police?

That's the Rubicon.  Police expect to get away with inhumane treatment — racial profiling, excessive use of force, automatic forgiveness when they make an error like SWATting the wrong house at 2:15am and making the whole family stand outside in the snow in their pajamas while search teams ransack the house looking for drugs that aren't there — and they expect that everyone else will still tip their hat and wish them "Have a nice day, officer".  That's the Rubicon they have now crossed.  Alea jacta est.  The die is cast.  The bell has rung, and it cannot be unrung.

We have to come up with a solution or we're facing a very unhappy future.  By 'we', I mean we the people and we the police.  Both communities have to buy in to whatever the solution turns out to be.  The alternative?  Well, there are something like a half million police in this country, and a hundred million armed Americans who are not police.  Do the numbers.  If, as I believe, the bad cops seriously outnumber the good cops, those good cops won't be able to do anything except resign and retreat.  Not doing so will be extremely hazardous, since in extremis the assumption will be that anyone in uniform is automatically 'bad'.  This is such a bad scenario that I can't imagine any cop wanting to even contemplate it.  No, the solution has to be something else.

One possible solution is to disarm the police — don't laugh.  Citizens will then be expected to come to the aid of a police officer when asked.  Interactions between police and public will thereafter be voluntary.  If you are stopped on the street by an officer, you will not have to fear being shot, but you may be arrested if the officer can make a good enough case to those citizens assisting.  If the officer cannot make a good case, you continue about your business because the officer can't hold you at gunpoint.  This is actually the America our Founding Fathers envisioned.  They lived in a world without police — at all.  There were constables, but they were no better armed than anyone they would encounter in the normal course of a day, and their duties were strictly peace-keeping, not law-enforcing.  The difference, of course, is that peace-keeping benefits the community, and law-enforcing benefits the State.

If we seek a peaceful future, our police must lead us there.  If they can't or won't, then we will need to be our own police or we will need to get ready for war.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Why are there only two major parties?

Did you ever wonder why "third parties" never seem to gain much traction?  When so many Americans self-identify as "libertarian", why does the LP not qualify as a "major party"?

Well, in case you've wondered, wonder no more.  I'm about to lay some truthiness on ya', and I'll start with an anecdote in the first person.

Some years back — 1990 or thereabouts — an event mandated by the Florida Constitution woke me up.  Every so often, Florida requires that a Constitution Revision Committee be... umm... constituted and its members charged with surveying the people of the state to find out what's wrong that needs to be fixed, and to thereafter propose constitutional amendments to do such fixing.  At the time of that 1990 CRC, the LPF (Libertarian Party of Florida) had a goal — to fix Florida's outrageous ballot access law.  "Outrageous"; that's a pretty strong word.  Why would anyone think such a thing?

At the time, Florida's ballot access law read approximately (I'm not going to copy all that legal gobbledeygook verbatim, dammit) "for Republicans and Democrats, ballot access can be attained by ..." and listed a few fairly-easy-to-accomplish tasks in a choose-one-of-the-above format; "...for all others, ballot access can be attained by ..." and listed a series of relatively difficult processes in a do-all-of-these-or-else format (yes, it actually named the Republican and Democratic parties).  That is, if you were already a R or D, getting on the ballot was pretty simple and straightforward, but if you weren't, you had to start collecting petition signatures not earlier than date-A and ending not later than date-B and submit them to the Department of State by date-C with a nice fat check to cover all the verification that had to be done to make sure you weren't trying to pull a fast one.  The Rs and Ds could get on the ballot as "petition candidates" by collecting a handful of signatures or just paying a nominal fee, or — the really easy way — they could just be nominated by their county committee.  Everybody else had to collect mountains of signatures and empty their treasury to pay the filing fee.

Unfair?  Yes, but also "outrageous".  As a result of this... ahem... disparity, Florida had not seen a third party candidate on their ballot since 1928 when, coincidentally, that new ballot access law was passed — by the Republicans and Democrats.  In 1990, a Tampa maverick named Jack Gargan stoked a political firestorm called THRO (Throw the Hypocritical Rascals Out) and managed to actually get on the ballot — the first time since 1928 anyone had done it.  The LPF saw that as an opportunity to level the playing field.  They pulled out all the stops and managed to get the law thrown out on Constitutional grounds.  Now in Florida the rules are the same for everybody.

So, what happens in other places with similarly discriminatory ballot access rules such as pre-1990 Florida?  Well, for a year or so a party collects dues and contributions from its members and when election time comes around, those members hit the bricks with clipboards and nominating petitions asking random passers-by for their endorsement.  It's a frantic effort almost always time-limited and heavily volunteer-dependent and labor-intensive, and it often fails.  If it appears that the signature deadline can be met, the party almost always writes a check that effectively bankrupts it.  They're on the ballot, but they don't have any money to actually run a campaign.  Even high-profile parties like the LP and the Greens run into this problem — a problem the major parties never even have to think about.

So, do you think these discriminatory rules are put in place to make sure the Rs and Ds never have any serious competition?  Do you think they're not?

Unequal ballot access requirements are the main — perhaps the only — reason you rarely see any significant campaigns for third party candidates.  Even after those rules are evened-out, it takes decades, generations even, for a smaller party to grow into a threat.  The Florida LP has had a quarter-century to catch up and still hasn't gotten substantial traction against the monstrous war chests that can be deployed by the major parties.  As a result — or perhaps it's a cause — third-party votes are still seen by many as "wasted votes".

Until the people get over their "wasted vote" delusion and start voting for parties that actually represent their views, the effect is nearly identical to discriminatory ballot access rules — which still exist in many states.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

What Happened To The Soviet Union?

From the Russian Revolution in 1917 to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, communism had one of the largest, most robust bases-of-operation imaginable.  For 45 years after the end of WW-II, 'the West' (primarily The United States) engaged in a Cold War — mostly political maneuvering, espionage, sabotage, and outright bribery — in an effort to contain the growth of the other.  The most newsworthy incident of the time involved the Soviet gambit to install missiles in Cuba.

During the 80s, Ronald Reagan proposed, and the US spent time, effort, and money developing a futuristic anti-missile defense (dubbed "Star Wars" for its planned use of directed-energy weaponry).  Although it never actually materialized, the Soviets had to counter the impending threat (the inventive Americanskis, after all, might actually have pulled that rabbit out of their hat) and the colossal cost of doing so bankrupted, for all intents and purposes, the entire Soviet operation.  Within a few years, the Soviet Union collapsed, having run out of money.  It is said in retrospect that Reagan raised the stakes so high the Soviets couldn't call the bet.  It's probably an accurate description of what happened, but it raises additional questions about how the whole Cold War was waged.


The most intriguing question, I think, is 'what would have happened had we not moved to block each and every communist gambit?'

What we know with near-certainty is that socialism/communism is at the top of its game when used as a philosophical ideal.  As an economic system, it's a losing bet.  You can run an economy socialistically only for so long before the internal stresses and frictions make it grind to a halt.  Like physical systems, entropy will eventually catch up to it.  ('Entropy' for economic systems is the resistance of individuals to the central planning inherent in all socialist economies.  It takes several forms which may be described as "I should move to somewhere I'm more appreciated" or "They're not paying me enough to do this job well" or "I made my quota for the week already".  Each means the economy is not running at 100%.)

If a government is very careful, the game can be played for a much longer time.  Sweden and Norway are examples of this although Sweden is currently seeing cracks form in its medical delivery system stressed as it is by a huge influx of immigrants from the Middle East drawn by the promise of free stuff.  If the game is played less carefully, economic entropy gets you sooner rather than later.  How long?  The economic resources you start with play a big part in that, to be sure.  Norway has North Sea oil reserves that will allow the game to go on for quite a long time.  Sweden has only those reverves built up over a long period when it was a much different sort of country, economically speaking.

When the West pushed back against communist 'aggression' here, there, and elsewhere in the world, China and Russia slowed their advances and this probably made them better able to continue.  What if we had just let them run rampant?  Yes, they would have gobbled up lots of territory and those conquered people would suffer under increasingly repressive central planners, but that suffering is the entropy that attacks socialist systems.  Might the Soviet Union have collapsed in 1981 or even 1971 had we simply let them expand unchecked?

'But an expanding Soviet Union would be a threat to world peace,' someone objects.  How?  It was never a possibility that the USSR would nuke the US; never.  In most years, it was the output of Kansas and Nebraska that kept the people of the USSR fed through the winter.  To entertain the thought that the USSR was led by people stupid enough to destroy their own food shows an alarming inability to grasp reality.

When Eisenhower left office in 1960, he left a message for us in his farewell address.  In it, he warned of "the military-industrial complex' and its ability to take over our economy and our government.  We didn't listen.  Since then, the Pentagon's budget has grown steadily, year after year, fueled by war after war such that today if the Pentagon were its own country it would be the seventh-largest economy in the world.  Just the Pentagon.  A military budget bigger than France's.  Not 'bigger than France's military budget'; bigger than France's budget.

There are abroad in our country people who will earnestly assert that we need a military that large to properly defend ourselves.  It's fair to ask, I think, why Great Britain doesn't need a military budget of a comparable size and why France doesn't and why Germany doesn't and why Spain doesn't and (most tellingly) why China and Russia don't.  The answer, of course, is that we taxpayers of the United States foot the bill for defending not only ourselves, but dozens of other countries who spend little or nothing on their own defense.  Why should they if Uncle Sugar is picking up the tab?  Then, too, we regularly engage in offensive military operations, primarily in the Middle East, ostensibly to combat 'terrorism' and that doesn't come cheap.  Our fighting men (and women) deserve the best of the best when it comes to armaments, and don't forget our allies.  They need to be comparably equipped and we need to make that happen.

There's a vast difference in the cost of fighting a war here against an invading army as opposed to the cost of fighting a war there as an invading army.  Note carefully what is happening:  we are expanding the way the Soviet Union expanded and there is no one around to stop us.  We will expand until, just like the Soviet Union, we go bankrupt.

Who will be "the last man standing" when that happens, I wonder?