Sunday, November 11, 2007

Privacy shimvacy

Redefine "privacy", says Bush administration principal deputy director of national intelligence. After redefining "torture", "weapons of mass destruction", "terrorism", a "voter mandate", the Bill of Rights and what it means to win a presidential election, this should come as little surprise, in fact, I suspect many of this administration to retire into lexicography.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

How the GOP could win in 2008

I've said that 2008 would be the Democratic Party's race to lose, and despite their lackluster efforts to do anything significant to distinguish themselves on Iraq since taking office, I still think that's the case.

However, pissing off the apparatus of a battleground state in order to "punish them" is an example of the sort of self-inflicted injury that could allow the GOP to somehow salvage the race. I'm sure Mitt Romney has no complaints....

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Oh look, I'm not the only Whacko

From Salon, Democratic Responsibility in Bush Extremism. It's nice to see someone cover the politically cooperative, rather than competitive aspects of the erosion of individual rights and liberties in the United States.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Why would I ever want to vote Green?

While I'd guess that more of my readers are sympathetic to Greens rather than Libertarians, my friends and readers cover a wide political spectrum, and my hope in this series of posts is to demonstrate the issues that each of the parties, in my mind, demonstrates constructive and positive leadership with.

Now, I don't identify as Green, or as a representative member of ANY party. I have a number of concerns about many Green policies and beliefs. Folks seemed to have trouble understanding that I don't feel well-represented by any party when I wrote my last post, I'm sorry you had trouble understanding that, but it was pretty clear both in that post and in this blog in general, if you haven't gotten the message I respectfully submit that perhaps you are just not listening. In both this and the previous post, I'm listing those issues which pull me toward a particular party, regardless of the issues that mitigate that support. Kapish?

When I see Republicans and Democrats working together to eliminate competition, I want to vote Green, for their leadership in promoting proportional representation.

When I remember the roll call of people who voted against the Patriot Act, and think about the harm it's done to our civil liberties, I want to vote Green, for their consistent opposition to that Act.

When I look at children being raised by same-sex partners denied the protections that would come to them if their parents were allowed to marry, and remember that the Green Party is the only notably sized party to include marriage equality in its platform, I want to vote Green.

When I see the consistent giveaways of federally-owned natural resources, I want to vote Green to support their use. Yes, the natural resources "owned by the government", gas, oil, timber, minerals, yes, many of those will need to be used, but to work "well" in the context of a capitalistic framework it's critical that the indirect, environmental and opportunity costs involved in resource extraction be modeled in determining appropriate royalties. Ditto grazing fees, etc.

When pufferfish (toxins intact) get sold as food, and thousands of pets die from poisons in the pet food supply, the Green party's pre-crisis support for agricultural regionalization looks forward-thinking and attractive.

And when I remember the words of JFK, that the "gross national product":

"Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product...if we should judge American by that - counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

"Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans." Address, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, March 18, 1968.

...and reading those words, when I recognize that the Green Party is the only party I'm aware of that specifically recognizes that "economic growth measured by GDP" is not the only thing in life that we should necessarily optimize for, well, voting Green sure sounds, even if only for a moment, like a damn fine idea.

Saturday Linkage

Densar on LJ links a video of Bill Maher and Ron Paul finding common ground on the subject of foreign policy. This is an excellent example of one of the primary themes of Liberty Cocktail--that issues, individual issues, are more important than the choice of the "red or blue" team, and that there are important ideas to be heard from many parts of the spectrum.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Why would I ever want to vote Libertarian?

As I stress repeatedly, my politics are pretty complicated and often not well-served by any particular political label. You can see in my political beliefs elements of thinking from the libertarian, Green, Democratic and old-school Republican thought. For all that variety, though, the label that seems to elicit the most derision and "running away shrieking" is the L-word, libertarian.

And some of that running away shrieking is understandable, the usual images of libertarians tends toward Stan Jones, rather than Milton Friedman, and frankly, most people, myself included, do think that government-provided fire departments are probably a good idea.

(And, by the by, for those party-line Democrats in the audience who think that Milton Friedman and Satan are synonymous, I'll remind you to reflect on his participation in the ending of the draft.)

This leaves me in an awkward position, however, since people tend to recoil so much by the adjective "libertarian" that they stop hearing whatever else I'm going to say. So I've decided to try and talk about the moments when I feel my impulses run in that specific direction, and hope that litany will provide some insight.

When I have to "show my papers" to get an "over-the-counter" remedy for my sniffles, and nobody in power thinks this is stupid, I want to vote Libertarian.

When owning a few harmless sex toys is a crime, and nobody in power thinks this is stupid, I want to vote Libertarian.

When "freedom of religion" feels limited to Christian beliefs, and nobody in power seems concerned, I want to vote Libertarian.

When the Ninth Amendment is held by courts to have no effect or meaning, and nobody in power is concerned in the least, I want to vote Libertarian.

When most of the money paid by the uninsured for prescriptions go to pharmacies, not pharmaceutical manufacturers, and yet the political debate on prescriptions is focused on the latter, easiest targets, I want to vote Libertarian, or at least "something else."

When the FDA prohibits uninsured people I care about from buying drugs from overseas, when "Canada" is made out to be a third-world country only for the purposes of the quality of drugs that happen to be shipped there to serve political and financial ends, and when few in power can stand up and stay "this is stupid... and hurting people", I want to vote Libertarian.

When the FCC is more concerned about the word "fuck" than people having their heads blown off, and nobody in power is willing to say this is stupid, I dream of voting Libertarian.

And when people I care about can't enjoy the legal protections marriage would afford the children they are raising, when those kids are put at risk out for reasons that fail to meet any sensible interpretation of "freedom of religion", and when not a single major-party political candidate can come out and simply state "This is wrong, this is stupid, this is harmful, this shall not stand.", I feel the urge, strongly, to vote Libertarian.

And for those of you who care about your major parties, I urge you to think about your own parties participation in these failures of government. I urge you to try and see if you can make a difference in even a single stupidity from this list. Because, if you can't, I might be tempted, despite better judgment, to not vote for the "lesser of two evils" in '08 and vote again, as I did in '04, for someone outside the major party duopoly.

You wouldn't want that, would you? At times it feels as if many of you almost assume that, by virtue of claiming to be the "lesser of two evils", hold the deed and title to my vote. You don't, and neither does your party.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Marriage Equality

As California waits quietly for its state Supreme Court to decide on the same-sex marriage issue, it's time to consider a likely unthinkable solution to one of the fundamental problems inherent in reconciling "equality of marriage" in California with the unavoidable context of the Defense of Marriage Act.

To my mind, the California Constitution is quite clear in it's intent to provide equal protections to all citizens. The state is prohibited from treating different classes of citizens differently, and part of the fuss is the question of whether treating same-sex relationships differently than opposite-sex ones really stems from a different treatment of individuals, an argument which seems to me to fail to see the sweeping scope of the Constitutional text. But that's not my point today.

My point today is different. Let us assume, for a moment, that the Supreme Court finds that prohibiting same-sex marriages to GLBT couples does violate the Equal Protection clause. The question then becomes, what remedy should the court fashion?

The obvious solution, and the only one that anyone ever talks about is granting same-sex marriage rights to Californians. And on the face of it, that would be a delightful turn of events, no question. But one might argue, and I will argue, that that's not enough.

But let's step back for a moment. Let's consider a hypothetical where the US federal government decides to offer $10,000 to each person who graduates from high school with a "class-A" award. In this hypothetical, the definition of "class-A" is, in the name of federalism, deferred to individual states, that is, California might have different rules than Ohio. Now let us assume that California considers a law in which only men are eligible for class-A awards, and in which only women are eligible for class-B awards, and moreover that they California give $20 to recipients of either award.

While the benefit of the thousand dollars is clearly provided by the federal government, and while the benefit of $20 is provided by itself in an arguably non-discriminatory manner, it is without question the action of the state which confers a discriminatory benefit to (some) men, and I have little doubt that such a restriction would be found in violation of the California state Constitution.

If we further assume that the federal government had imposed a restriction that no "class-A" awards can be awarded to women, I see nothing legally or ethically that has changed. The act of awarding "class-A" and "class-B" awards has as its primary effect the creation of a large discriminatory financial bias. As unpleasant as it would be, the only way to reconcile equal protection with the existing framework of far more significant federal law would be to stop giving out class-A awards entirely.

And so it is with marriage. Should the California Supreme Court decide to require same-sex marriage in the state, it will be an active participant in the federal discrimination against same-sex couples. One might propose, modestly enough, that the only way to clearly reconcile California's equal protection with the existing federal landscape is to simply stop issuing marriage licenses entirely.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Karl Rove subpoenas

The US Congress is working today to subpoena subpoena Karl Rove and other aides in connection with the firing of several Justice department attorneys, perhaps in connection with a probe of corruption in the CIA. Of course, the White House asserts that those aides are exempt from such oversight because of executive privilege.

Fortunately it is unlikely that the US Supreme Court will grant the executive branch such unchecked power. In United States v. Nixon the court found that the invocation of executive privilege was far from absolute. In that decision, writing for the putatively unanimous court, Chief Justice Berger affirmed that President Nixon's withholding of papers was not covered by executive privilege "absent a claim of need to protect military, diplomatic, or sensitive national security secrets." Similarly, President Clinton was denied the unchecked use of executive privilege during his impeachment hearings surrounding the (ahem) Lewinsky affair.

The need for oversight in all areas of government is a fundamental protection against corruption, and that need is historically recognized in our system of government. The White House's claim that details of the firing of those attorneys somehow merits an exception flies in the face of this principle. That claim should not, and likely will not, stand.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Shocked, shocked!

The FBI has been abusing it's authority under the Patriot Act, according to a DOJ audit. I don't mean to make more of this than it is, but it underscores why there's such an opposition to parts of the Patriot Act... there is a lot of power in those provisions, it's not balanced by appropriate checks that would prevent the abuse of that power when it happens, it's used in non-emergency contexts, and so on.

The audit blames agent error and shoddy record-keeping for the bulk of the problems and did not find any indication of criminal misconduct.

Still, "we believe the improper or illegal uses we found involve serious misuses of national security letter authorities," the audit concludes.

One can only conclude from this that "serious misuses of national security letter authorities" aren't considered criminal. That's an enormous flaw to begin with.

Over the entire three-year period, the audit found the FBI issued 143,074 national security letters requesting customer data from businesses.

140,000? All claimed to have a significant relationship to "national security"? I'm incredulous.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Hooray for AMT Gridlock!

In the overview I posted of my political beliefs I described my discomfort with the idea of an alternative minimum tax system. For those of you who don't know about the AMT, in short, it's a part of United States federal income tax law that requires the calculation of income tax by two fairly separate methods, and then requires (more or less) the taxpayer to pay whichever is higher. The AMT calculation features lower marginal rates than the standard tax calculation, but disallows many common deductions such as the mortgage interest deduction, a deduction for the payment of state and local taxes, incentive stock option gains.

The AMT was originally devised to try and fix what many folks perceived as loopholes in the tax system that allowed very wealthy individuals to avoid paying taxes simply because they had a lot of otherwise allowable deductions. However, the AMT single "tax bracket" of about 27% starts at a taxable income level which is not indexed to inflation. Because of this, the AMT has come to hit more and more US taxpayers each year, often by (unpleasant) surprise.

The complexity, unpredictability, and applicability of the AMT by middle-income taxpayers has led to calls for repeal of the AMT.

I don't believe that will happen.

The primary reason is money. Estimates I've seen for the cost of even indexing the AMT tax brackets for inflation (a far more modest step than AMT repeal) would cost the government over $100 billion a year. To repeal the AMT, Congress would need to either raise tax rates or remove deductions, either of which would be unpopular and visible.

For politicians, the status quo has much to offer. The number of people badly affected by AMT bracket creep is low enough to avoid large-scale taxpayer discontent. Better, it results in increasing federal income tax revenue at a time of record debt and deficits.

Now, no discussion of any tax change or situation would be complete without a discussion of the consequences of this on Democrats, Republicans, the poor and the rich, and of course my own personal take. So let's dig into the consequences of "leaving it as is."

As I noted, it "raises taxes" without too much pressure from taxpayers. Politicians like that, and can quell the remaining affected taxpayers by floating proposals for reform that will never pass. I like it too, not because I'm for paying higher taxes, but because I'm for balanced budget reform, I believe that we shouldn't be creating an unfair burden on future generations of taxpayers.

Over time, the "status quo" will begin to phase out the individual mortgage interest deduction. This wildly popular deduction is both regressive (if you can afford to buy a home, you're not poor), and environmentally ruinous, creating the suburban sprawl that impedes the effectiveness of mass transit, increases air pollution, and destroys wilderness. Removing the mortgage interest deduction would be the perfect Democratic plank were it not for one thing--the popularity of "making it easier for me to by a house." While I love having a house, I'm not sure poorer folks should be subsidizing my own "American dream", and in combination with the significant environmental effects of sprawl, I'm once again in favor of the AMT "status quo".

Over time, the "status quo" will phase out the state income tax deduction, which will have a larger negative impact on the typically higher-taxed "blue states". Republicans cheer this effect, Democrats decry it. Ignoring matters of self-interest (I live in California) and the partisan political pandering, I can see a benefit of this phase out. To me, the federal income tax deduction for state taxes feels a bit like a subsidy for states with higher state income taxes paid for by states with lower state income taxes, the "status quo" over time would restore what seems a fairer balance to the tax system.

Thus, I've come around to the position that the AMT should stay in place "as is" at least for the foreseeable future. I do decry the complexity and "surprise" value of the AMT, but I now find that more than balanced by the positive effects the status quo will have on the environment, tax fairness, and the federal debt. Hooray for AMT gridlock.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

What I believe, an overview.

What I want is a government that's out of my bedroom and my body. I want drugs, public and broadcast nudity, consensual adult sodomy, sex toys and other victimless "crimes" to be legal, but I'm comfortable with some regulation of drugs and prostitution, and a pot tax can take a cue from the various taxes on alcohol.

I'd pardon people only in prison on drug-use and non-violent trafficking charges to get an immediate more than factor of two reduction in the federal prison population, eventually resulting in large reductions in spending on prisons, administration, and or own overseas efforts to reduce drug creation.

I would impose a life sentence without possibility of parole for anyone convicted twice of childhood sexual abuse.

I'm okay with the death penalty in theory, but practice and the excellent work of the Innocence Project has proven that in practice the failure rate is far too high.

I want a right to privacy, and I think it's hiding, unprovably, under the Ninth Amendment. Unprovably, that is, to anyone who hasn't read the history of that amendment, a presumption of individual liberty is a clear requirement of a strict reading of the Ninth and its history.

I want the right to a fair trial.

I believe in search warrants given by judges.

I believe in habeas corpus, unlike the Attorney General of the United States.

I'd impeach any federal judge, including those on the Supreme Court, who couldn't answer "If the Ninth Amendment wasn't supposed to do anything, why was it so important to the framers?" but who still supports the current USSC interpretation of that amendment.

I agree in most respects with the decision in Roe v. Wade.

I'm a believer in free trade and competition in general, and yet know that externalities and monopolies can bullocks a competitive system and make real regulation necessary (which leads me to be more interested in regulating pharmacies than pharma manufacturers). I think NAFTA was probably more of a good than a bad.

I'd legally mandate a limit to the markup pharmacies could charge anyone for pharmaceuticals, moreover, I'd require that their pricing be identical for all customers, there's no need for the uninsured to pay more.

I want a balanced budget almost every year and would support a well-thought out Constitutional amendment to enforce it but to give a reasonable escape clause. I'm not against lower taxes if we can do everything else within this constraint, but we have to pay down the debt and soon, interest rates are low now, and when they get high, the payments on that debt will get even more prohibitive, and they already take the place of money we could be spending on doing real good. Hurt now, win later.

I want strong but well-thought out environmental laws, I want a higher CAFE (corporate-average fuel economy) and a higher gas tax, national parks, and clean air—but I also know that MTBE was a big mistake and that ethanol takes more energy to produce and transport than it ends up generating in fuel. I think reduced gasoline consumption and incentives for insulating houses could make a small but real dent on our energy needs, as could nuclear energy based on something like but not precisely the French model. As scary as nuclear power is, and it is, the dangers of coal and oil are very real as well.

ANWR becomes a National Park.

I'd probably okay limits on asbestos liability for the fifty-year-old claims. People didn't always understand how bad asbestos was, good faith and reasonable effort is a defense against liability in my book, and the costs of that litigation continuing has and continues to produce real economic damage, year after year.

I'm okay with some gun registration and instant background and ID checks (instant would only work for previously registered owners, of course). But, I'm also happy for some guy in Texas to machine-gun his 50-year-old washing machine in his back yard, or dynamite tree trunks, so I'd eliminate the pointless swiss-cheese regulation of the assault-weapon ban.

Equal rights are an essential, a "can't wait for it" must--for gender identity, for sex, orientation, etc. I'd prefer to do away with legal marriage entirely and replace it with a more a la carte streamlined set of legal benefits, calling the whole shebang civil union, and make those arrangements blind to number and gender. It's fine with me if they confer no direct tax benefits, which would simplify quite a bit.

While I want a strong defense I'm also tired of paying the bills for Europe, Japan, Canada, Taiwan.... A combination of history and tariffs mean that US citizens subsidize their defense, food, and pharmaceuticals, I'd start addressing problem immediately by pulling many US forces out of Europe. It ain't just Europe of course, it's also Japan, it's also Taiwan, it's also Canada.

I'd allow drug reimportation, despite how much the effects that would have on phrama R&D worry me.

I'm tempted to think the Middle East is an insolvable puzzle of hatred, and I admit to no clue about what directly to do there in general.

While people talk about the contribution of things like tax rates to the fair or unfair distribution of income, it is my belief that differential respect for and investment in education is a primary cause of income disparity, and in particular, the lack of respect for and investment in education is a leading cause in poverty. This problem is in some ways more societal than political, but good investment in education is essential. I'm not convinced the current administrative structure for schools (local school boards, lots and lots of little school districts each partially separately funded by property tax revenue) produces a fair result in terms of the quality of education for poor children vs. rich children. I think that NCLB requirements for student testing are problematic, but do support the idea of trying to measure, even imperfectly, the results of education, paying top dollar for excellent teachers, and firing the ones who don't live up to standards.

I'm willing to believe that a good system of school vouchers might offer the right incentives to create good learning environments in some localities, and would work with and experiment with those ideas, if we can keep the dollars from teaching religions to children using public funds.

As someone who works helping women learn to defend themselves, I've seen first-hand the damage done to people I care about (women and men) by sexual, physical and emotional abuse. The epidemic of abuse must stop, the costs, even just the financial costs, are far larger than most people would imagine. For this reason, as part of our educational system we'll replace part of physical education with versions of the training done by Impact, teaching kids that their right to protect themselves matters, teaching them that their safety matters, teaching them how to defend themselves, how to avoid attacks, and most of all, teaching them that they do have some ability to take care of themselves.

Good sex education will be mandatory. Abstinence will be an option, safer sex will also be an option. Discussion of STDs will be graphic and pictorial.

Teaching the science of evolutionary history, including reasonable scientific debate, will be mandatory.

Tax subsidies for charitable organizations will be eliminated for any organization which uses funds for political lobbying for any purpose. This applies to property tax exemptions as well, which will be given to non-profits in all cases without regard to whether or not the organization is religious or not. There will be a three-year warning period for this change due to the size of its effects.

Programs on television will be rated for their level of organized, religious content, to help parents who wish to avoid having their children programmed by that corrupting influence.

Right now we have so much debt I can't completely support tax cuts, as much as I do believe that lower tax rates (although still progressive) have a real economic benefit. I'd look towards simplification of the tax code, including a 5-10-year phase-out and elimination of the mortgage interest deduction. The mortgage interest deduction "subsidizes the American dream of home ownership", but does enormous environmental damage in sprawling suburban masses (compare American to European cities to see my point), in long commutes, in traffic, in pollution, in the loss of open land. This sounds progressive (since rich people have houses), but as the deduction applies to landlords and such it's not so much progressive or regressive as just a tax increase.

I support the elimination of capital gains and dividend taxes, but only when we also make that change progressiveness and revenue-neutral by a balancing increase in the higher marginal tax rates for middle- and high-income earners. The reasoning for this is far too long to fit in this post.

I'd eliminate the alternative minimum tax. Either deductions make sense, or they don't. The practical reality of the alternative minimum tax is that tax law is so complex I've seen folks make mistakes that cost them most of their life savings because the law was too complex. Again, adjust regular tax deductions, credits, and rates to make this elimination revenue-neutral.

I will admit in my "out loud voice" that Social Security will fail as it currently exists, as it certainly will, and make plans for its failure that don't entirely screw people my age and younger. Raising the retirement age to 75 would be a good first step. I won't lie to you by calling "Social Security" a "trust fund" unless I have a deeply sarcastic tone of voice. I won't lie to you by hiding the upcoming costs it will present "off the books."

I'd phase out sugar subsidies, and (at least in part) many other forms of agricultural subsidy. Taxes on resources extracted by companies from public lands would be subject to a minimum tax of ten percent of the market value of the extracted resource. This includes water in Hetch Hetchy, timber, grazing rights, and more.

Bans and limitations of direct shipments of alcohol between states will be removed, the current patchwork of laws only serves to subsidize middlemen. For example, a winery in California can directly ship wine to adult consumers in Texas, but not in (say) Oklahoma. Oklahomans can get the wine, they just have to pay someone with a license to buy it for them. Fix this.

Old-growth redwood logging stops now.

I'd implement a national tax on water use above a certain reasonable baseline level, requiring the installation of water meters in places like Sacramento (where water is not metered, you're simply charged by the household.) Ditto agricultural water users, based on acres-planted.

I'd burn the INS down and start from scratch. It's an embarrassment.

I want fairer distribution of federal funds to states. California is getting hosed.

I want a system of proportional representations, and eliminate the representational bias in the Senate towards smaller states, either by a reformation of system, or by dividing the country up into eight-to-twelve roughly equally sized states. 201 representatives and 50-60 Senators would be fine, in the theory of "That government which governs least, governs best."

To combat gerrymandering, I'd specify a set of objective criteria for quantifying the "goodness" of a proposed set of districts, that set of criteria would then be cast in stone, and future redistrictings would be chosen by selecting the best proposed district scheme, from any source, given those criteria, as modern GIS systems make DIY-gerrymandering something you can accomplish on your home PC. Preserving existing districts would not be an allowed criteria, geographic convexity of districts and equal-population districts would be significant and positive criteria. I'm open to debate on the proper role of demographic homogeneity in districts.

Finally, bisexual, long-haired, blog-addicted nature photographers living in San Jose will be grossly oversubsidized.

What this is.


This is my political soapbox, and hopefully a place where facts can be brought to air to refine or even rebut my own political beliefs. I'm a self-described political "whacko", with a set of beliefs that tend to drive philosophical purists crazy, my politics are a combination of sweet pragmatism and idealism, spicy engineered solutions to the problems of society that honor a deep respect for the core needs of individual freedom and liberty, the tart importance of environmental protection, and salty goodness of rationality. As you'll see, these delightful flavors combine into a cocktail whose whole exceeds the sum of its parts.

In my next post, I'll pen an overview of these beliefs to give you a better sense of their flavor.