Thursday, April 29, 2004

What No Nanny State Is All About, Part 1 of 3 

After a recent bout at a right-wing blog about environmental issues, one of the pinheads other contributors made a comment about how my stance on environmental issues was at odds with the title of this blog, namely No Nanny State.

My first inclination was to fire off a blistering rebuttal pointing out the errors of the pinhead's contributor's assumptions. Instead, I decided to write a post which delves into what's wrong with the Left and the Right, and my beliefs about how, when and where our government should intrude into our private and public lives. This is coming from a libertarian (small L) perspective that believes, generally speaking, less government is better government.

Bash The Left

"The government doesn't take away our freedom by taking away our freedom. The government takes away our freedom by offering to be responsible for things for us."

Democrats and other Left-leaning folks, in general, are proponents of the prototypical Nanny State. In their world, the government takes care of all of your basic needs – housing, food, education, health care. Basically, it's Welfare on a grand scale. Think socialism or communism. The State will take care of you in return for a large part of your earnings. Individual achievement is frowned upon, accumulated wealth is unacceptable, personal responsibility is nil. All is done for the collective good.

This philosophy does not work, because in any group of humans, you'll have individuals that are Slackers, and individuals that are Achievers. It's just how we're built. The system does not work because the Achievers note that the distribution of goods and services (wealth) is not proportional to the labor/energy put into their production. The Slackers get as much as the Achievers. Two things can then happen: The Achievers see the futility of their efforts, and simply reduce the quality and/or quantity of their output to match that of the Slackers; or they turn to the untaxed Black Market to sell their goods and services. The former Soviet Union is a perfect example of this phenomenon.

Both of these things undermine the economy of the state – the financial engine – and place a higher financial burden on a State that is producing fewer and lower quality goods. This is why socialism/communism will always be doomed to failure. Unless the State is 100% self-sufficient – and no country in the world has that distinction – it will have to trade with other countries. The other countries do not care that you are a Worker's Utopia. They want quality goods for their money. If you can't produce them, they'll go elsewhere.

I'm a strong believer in allowing the market to direct social change. Not the Left. Their other great preoccupation is with protecting us from ourselves. At every opportunity, they feel the need to pass a law restricting our personal actions. A great case in point is the near religious fervor that is directed towards smoking in public.

I guess this first affected me in the early 1980's. I worked for a large bank that was headquartered in San Francisco. The City passed an ordinance outlawing smoking in the workplace. The bank decided to prohibit smoking in all bank offices, regardless of location. Shortly thereafter, there were prohibitions on smoking in restaurants, which was soon followed by a similar ban in bars.

In this instance, this was the do-gooders throwing their collective weight on the chests of all smokers. In the bigger picture, it was another freedom of choice taken from citizens. People begin to see this happen so often, they now take it as the norm. “Don't worry. Papa will take care of everything.

Of course, as in most circumstances, there was a market-driven solution: Let bar owners decide if they want their establishment to be smoking or non-smoking. Give people the opportunity to make their own choice. Let the market speak the true desires of the populous. If people choose to smoke, knowing it will increase their chances of death by heart disease, lung cancer, and probably a dozen other illness, so be it. It's their life.

Taken a step further, business should be allowed to hire or terminate people based upon their health status, when that status is affected by their personal choices. If you smoke (as I do), a company should be able to refuse you employment based on the fact that you smoke and you will push up the insurance premiums for all other employees and the company. Same could be said for people that engage in dangerous hobbies like skydiving, or who are morbidly obese. These are choices people have made, and no business should be required to pay for higher health premiums as a result of those choices.

Clearly, the powers-that-be knew what the outcome of allowing the markets to decide the issue would be unacceptable, and that just didn't fit well with their vision of society, so they trumped the people and took away another freedom.

Gun control is another of their favored pets. It will someday take me an entire posting to get my thoughts out on this one, but suffice it to say, I believe in the literal words of the Constitution. The second amendment gives us the right to bear arms. There is no ambiguous language in the passage. If you're of legal age, aren't a felon or have mental defects, you should be able to own as many guns as you wish. You should also have the ability to carry a concealed weapon should you so desire.

Next: Bash The Right


Thursday, April 22, 2004

Do You Feel Safe Yet? 

Our Fourth Amendment Rights Are Being Shredded

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

From time to time, I'm going to use this space to dissect and drill into the USA Patriot Act. While there are certain provisions which do help in it's stated cause, the bulk of the act - under the guise of protecting us from terrorists - is in reality, a circumvention of many of the protections given us by the Constitution.

The shrill I hear from many – virtually all far right-wing extremists – is the line, “If you don't have anything to hide, you've got nothing to worry about.” How scary is that thought process? Americans are willing to allow their government to snoop into their lives, for any reason the government feels is just, with only window-dressing judicial review.

Section 215 of the Act contains a number of very troubling features.

First, if an FBI agent is sure that he has dotted all of the I's and crossed all of the T's, he can get a court order requiring that your bank, library, video store - WHATEVER - to turn over any records they wish.

Of course, they must provide probable cause and proof to the judge that this is a legitimate search, right? Wrong. The agent must simply certify that the records they are requesting are for an authorized investigation to protect against international terrorism.

No proof. No probable cause. Just the word of the agent.

Oh, and even if the judge thinks something is a little fishy, he still can't deny the request. The only provision for denial is if the request doesn't meet the requirements of the act, which as I've shown, are not much.

Lastly, the order itself cannot be disclosed, and the persons that are releasing the information cannot disclose that it's being requested or has been released. It used to be, say in the financial industry, that if the government wanted your financial records, the bank had to alert you to this to allow you to go to court to show why the request was unjustified. No more. Tough luck, bud.

This shouldn't be surprising to those of you who've read the Act. Section 213 actually allows the government to write up a warrant, search your property, and not tell you about it until they feel it's necessary.

Yep, those are your Fourth Amendment rights that just flew out of the window.

Do you feel safer yet?


Thursday, April 08, 2004

R Publik Skoolz 

This will help kids HOW?

The headline blared from the April 7th issue of the Houston Chronicle (originally seen at The Drudge Report):

HISD May Promote Failing Students to Cut Dropouts

I said to myself, "This must be some sort of a teaser headline to draw in readers."

No such luck.

It seems that the esteemed trustees of the Houston Independent School District have come up with a novel way to reduce the drop-out rate:

Houston high school students who've failed core subjects such as English or math would get to move on to the next grade under a proposal HISD trustees are considering as part of the district's effort to reduce its dropout rate.

This so clearly defines what is wrong with our public school system. Worry more about the kid's self esteem than his education. WTF is going on?

If you've ever noticed, nowhere in our constitution does it say anything about our right to a state-funded education. Long ago, states and the Federal government decided that requiring primary schooling - K through 12 - would be a good thing. For the most part, they were right. Our society has thrived when compared to the rest of the world. But that's changing.

What's happened in the last 25 years - and more pronounced in the past 10 - is this need to place a child's personal feeling ahead of his education. We no longer see the need to teach Johnny (probably spelled 'Jonee' now) how to do algebra. Nor do we see the need to teach Sally about the periodic table. No, we see the need for these kids to, "engage their inner-self". To feel good about who they are. To break down all of the barriers - such as competition and scholarship - to being a really, really happy person.

That is just plain old, unadulterated phlegm balls.

Our school system need a swift kick in the ass before we as a country go down the crapper.

In California, the state pays roughly $7500 per year, per child for education. I sent my two boys through Catholic school for under $3500 a head, per year. And No, the church did not supplement the school AT ALL. It had to be self-sufficient. My boys now attend public high school, and I guarantee you, they are better educated that 95% of their classmates - most of whom were shuffled through the public system.

What's the solution? Competition for our tax dollars.

Parents need the ability to chose which school their child will attend, and that school needs to get the full $7500 stipend from the state. The only roll the state should have is to produce a standardized test which shows how students from different schools compare with each other. Their only other job, should be to cut checks to disburse the funds.

Those test results will be used by parents (who give a damn about their kids) to choose which school their kid will attend. Since these schools would be private businesses, they would also have the ability to kick kids out of school for whatever reason they wish. Talk back to a teacher, you're outta here. Run a spike through your nose, See ya later, alligator.

Or not. You may want to send your kids to an artsy-fartsy school for drama or the arts. Purple hair and nipple piercings might be acceptable there. They may not be acceptable at a mathematics and electrical engineering-focused school.

By raising expectations - for kids, their parents, and for the schools - we will raise the competence of our children, and our society as a whole. Lowering expectations, such as they've done in Houston, only churns out more and more mediocre, unqualified workers. In their attempt to help the self esteem of the kids, they are actually setting them up for failure.

At least they'll have been taught how to feel good about it.


And don't come whining to me with, "What do we do with the kids that no school will take?" How about home schooling? "But, but, but, I work, and can't teach my kids at home." Bummer. Figure it out.

Parents need to realize that they are responsible for their kids, not the state. As soon as some of that responsibility is thrust back upon parents, and taken out of the hands of the Nanny State, everyone will be better off.

If parents aren't willing to care for their kids, the state should remove them, and place them in foster homes that give a damn.


Thursday, April 01, 2004

Pretty Little Soldiers 

The Creeping Tide

We see the expansion of government into our lives on a daily basis. There are overt signs, such as the USA Patriot Act from the Right, or excessive taxation from both sides. These, we can see, touch and feel, and if we get mad enough, we'll protest or vote someone out of office.

What concerns me more are the covert encroachments that occur. The encroachments guised in safety and protection.

We now have this tripe from the Left (most educational institutions are run by the Left - at least here in California). I heard a news radio report about how the San Jose, California, school district was contemplating mandatory school uniforms for all students.

On the surface, this may sound like a good idea. It will take the pressure off of kids to dress "cool". It will result in fewer kids with gang affiliations from getting in school yard fights because of their "colors". It will give kids the opportunity to concentrate on their school work, and not be concerned with the latest trends.

In fact, what it will do is inch those kids one step closer to not having to think for themselves. Instead of children learning to fend for themselves - as they will have to do in the real world - we are designing an unrealistic social environment in which failure and personal responsibility are improbable. Excellence is equally improbable. We know what's best. Don't worry your pretty little head. Papa will take care of everything.

We are designing a society of middle-of-the-road, go-along-with-the-program, don't-cause-any-waves automatons.

It's trite but true: You don't really learn anything until you've failed first.

Where is the personal responsibility and initiative? If a kid is in a gang, and he causes problems, remove him from the school. If a child is being disruptive in class, remove her from the classroom.

If you have cancer, you don't put a band-aid on it, you cut it out. Address the problem directly and focus the punishment on the cause.

At the high school my sons attend, there was a terrible tragedy. A 15 year old kid left campus at lunch time - in a car (hello parents!) - went drag racing, and was killed. He injured a 50 year old woman, and his racing partner is being charged with manslaughter. It was a terrible event.

How does the school fix this? They shut down access to student cars during the school day. Why should every student in that school - the vast majority of whom are responsible kids - be punished because some idiot went and got himself killed?

How does this teach the kids anything? It doesn't. It simply perpetuates the impression that the kids don't have the ability to make good decisions, so all decisions will be taken away. We know what's best. Don't worry your pretty little head. Papa will take care of everything.

From what I've learned, the school knew that kids were doing this drag racing. Here's a thought: How about stating that any kid that is caught breaking any traffic law during school hours will have their parking pass rescinded for 6 months?

We need to teach our children how to think for themselves, how to make decisions and how to learn from failure. Patting them on the head and placing them in a cocoon will damage them - possibly beyond repair.


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