Thursday, May 27, 2004

Give Us Your Convicted Masses 

And We'll Pay You Cash-Money!

I'm driving home, listening to the local news on the radio. A piece comes up about a state assemblyman that is very close to succeeding in getting a bill passed that will give some drug offenders the ability to collect welfare once they've been released.

My ears perk up.

Because of the nature of radio news (short, almost fact-less), I glean that Mark Leno wants to give food stamps to convicted drug users upon their release from prison.
"California has twice the national recidivism rate and half the national parole completion rate," said Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). "Denying public assistance means families headed by former offenders will have less money for food and less of a chance to rebuild their lives."

The little devil jumps up on my shoulder. The cagey bastard jabs me in the temple with his trident and says, “What were these families doing while daddy was playing Prostate Pinada in prison? Was momma out hoe-in'? Did she wise-up, move away, and start a new life? Seems like things were working just fine, thank you very much.”

Then, the little angel, jumps up on my other shoulder. “Why are they sending someone to prison for drug use, anyway?” True enough. I'm very much against prison time for someone convicted of using drugs. If I, as an adult, want to guzzle copious quantities of alcohol, I can do so with impunity. If I want to smoke a single joint or snort a single line, I could go to jail. Where is the justice in that? Who is being harmed in either the legal or illegal activity? If in either instance, the “user” breaks the law – steals, cheats, beats or creatively “borrows” the money for their drug of choice – send them to jail for that.

In California, it costs $31,000 per year to hold someone in state prison. The average drug offense sentence is 2 years. That's $62,000 squandered down a rat hole.

And you know what? That's not even what got me pissed off enough to write this screed. What did it was this line from Leno's official press release:

Under current law, an individual convicted of a drug-related felony is banned for life from ever receiving food stamps. According to the California Department of Social Services, over 1,640 people with drug convictions were denied food stamps last year in California. The denials, combined with people who do not apply for assistance in the first place, have led the State to lose approximately $1.8 million in federal food stamp assistance annually. Thirty-one other states have restored full or partial food stamp benefits to those convicted of drug-related felonies.

First, you're changing the law to benefit 1600 people a year. At a time when we've got a fucking $15 billion deficit in our state. Way to go, ass-wipe.

But what really got me was the thought process of these dim-witted politicians. California has lost $1.8 million in funding because people aren't applying for benefits. Here's a thought: Why don't you pass a bill saying that the state social services department will be reduced in size – saving us all money – because we don't have as great a need for their services any more?

We all know the answer to that question. Getting a Democrat to voluntarily reduce the size of government is like asking a Republican to admit that going into Iraq was a huge waste of lives and treasure. Both parties occasionally have enlightened moments, but you've got to keep your eyes peeled to catch 'em.

Here's another thought (written with only the slightest bit of sarcasm): There are 31 other states that have enacted legislation that allows for these convicts to receive benefits. Give them a list of these states. Hell, buy bus tickets for the whole family. Why are they working so hard to give away our money?


Thursday, May 20, 2004

Free Healthcare! 

Hell, Let's just make it all free, OK?

A while back, my wife made a comment to the effect of, “Everyone in America should have access to healthcare insurance”. Knowing she meant, “free healthcare insurance”, and desiring to keep my award-winning Munich Helles homebrew in my glass, and not in my lap, I let it slide.

My gut reaction was, “Oh yeah, great. Another giveaway proposal.”

That concept simply rubs me the wrong way, on a couple of levels. Clearly, it's not free – someone is going to have to pay for it – usually it's the taxpayer. But I do have some reservations. Is there a moral obligation placed upon the “haves” to provide for the “have nots”? What about those with able minds and bodies that simply choose not to provide for themselves and their families?

I'm concerned we're building a society that has a dis-incentive to be productive. If you're given free housing, free food stamps, free schooling, free medical coverage – free everything – why would you bust your ass working? What is the incentive to work? If you've got the first two levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (survival and safety) handed to you on a silver platter, why aspire to any of the higher levels?

Quite simply, you won't.

My take on the issue is for the state to cover all children under the age of 18 if their parents don't have insurance. Disabled folks would be covered, too. Other than that, you're on your own.

Society does not have an obligation to care for those that are able to care for themselves, even if that means making the tough choice of turning someone away from a hospital. Sure, patch someone up of they're in a car wreck or have a gun shot wound. But if you've got cancer, or need a hysterectomy, or some other "non-accident" trauma, tough luck. If we don't say "no", and back it up with action, our society will continue to spiral out of control. The line has to be drawn somewhere or we simply become a socialist state, and we've seen how well those work out.

What about people that do work? Should their companies be compelled to offer health insurance? The owner of the company could use those funds to hire more employees, or to line his pockets with more cash. Shouldn't that choice be his? Isn't he the one that took the risk to invest his time and capital to open shop?

Let the market be the guide. If Company A offers insurance and Company B does not, with all other things being equal, don't you think Company A will get the better, more motivated workers? Sure they will, and Company B will have to respond to stay competitive. They may offer insurance, or they may pay $500 more per month, and let the employee decide on how to spend the money, with health insurance being one option.

Other than regulating that a workplace be safe, the government has no place in telling a business how it should be run. Just look to our local, state and federal governments to see the epitome of poorly run organizations. These are not the role models that should be used to demonstrate business acumen.

Like that little guy on the Sprite commercials says, “Show my motto!”: Less government is better government. Let businesses make their own budget choices, and let the open market determine if those choices were wise.


Thursday, May 13, 2004

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

Where Is Government Needed?

I've spent the past two entries discussing how the left and the right both want the government to control our lives – they just come at it from different angles. Here are my views on the depth and breadth of the perfect government.


The primary duty of our government is for our defense, both internationally and domestically.

This includes the 4 branches of the service as well as the Coast Guard, FBI, CIA, etc. Included with these groups would be their intelligence gathering brethren, such as the NSA.

These group's aim should be to detect and defend us against aggressors, be they other sovereign nations, international or domestic terrorists, or other federal criminals. This must include protecting our borders against illegal aliens.

When a threat is imminent, a preemptive strike is clearly called for. Destroy a terrorist camp. Blow away the head of any group that openly calls for the destruction of America (i.e., similar to what Israel is doing with Hamas). If a sovereign state harbors such a terrorist group, they run the risk, as did the Taliban in Afghanistan, that they'll go down as we search for and destroy our enemies. If someone attacks us, make their country a glowing, smoldering ashtray. Our response should be brutal, and out of proportion to the initial attack. Additionally, when allies are attacked, we must come to their aid, as it can be assumed they would do the same were the tables turned.

This does not include forays into sovereign states under the pretense of, “stopping the threat of radical Islamics”, or “stemming the tide of communism” as was used with Viet Nam, when in fact the agenda behind these invasions is to force our way of life on others. No, an incursion into another country must be as an answer to a near-term threat to Americans, not some long-term, pie-in-the-sky theory about how other countries should govern themselves.

If these people want to live under oppressive conditions, that's their choice. Now, that sentence will get a howl from the pro-Iraq war crowd about how, “no one wanted to live under Saddam's oppressive regime”. And they're probably right. They may not have wanted to live under Saddam's harsh rule, but they certainly weren't doing anything to change their circumstances. No revolts. No revolutions. Nothing. If they truly wanted freedom as a people, they would have been willing to fight and die for that freedom. Instead, they allowed themselves to be slaughtered like sheep.


In a perfect capitalistic society, the government posture would be strictly laissez faire – leave alone – when it came to commerce. The framers of the Constitution knew that this was unrealistic, and vested the Congress with the power to regulate intra- and interstate commerce.

I'm a die-hard capitalist, always have been. I believe in letting an individual do pretty much whatever they want to earn as big or small of a living as they wish. The only caveat being that their pursuit of wealth not be done so by crossing the line and infringing upon the rights of others. The problem is, history has proven we can't trust large businesses like we can trust individuals. Throughout time, large companies have shown that they will lie, or screw their customers and the environment if it will make them a buck. Think corporate tax cheats. Think monopolistic software companies. Think groundwater polluters. Think river polluters. Think air polluters. Think faulty car tires. Think pricing collusion.

And there's the rub. Where is that ethical line between company growth and public safety drawn, and who gets to draw it?

Most people are in agreement that a monopoly is a bad thing – both for the individual and for the economy. But what about an oligopoly, where a relatively small number of companies control a market? The government is supposed to protect us against price fixing – where the members of the oligopoly conspire to set the overall price of a product. Think about the oil companies: At the pump, all of their prices are within a few cents of each other in any given market. Is this price fixing, or is it simply the fact that the companies are so similar in their operations that their cost structures are nearly identical? In instances where one, or a few companies have the ability to control the price of a commodity – food, utilities, and in certain instances, software – we need government regulation.

And what about organizations such as the FDA? I think they are actually a commerce-driven organization. If the FDA didn't require drug trials before their general release, does anyone really think that the majority of the drug companies wouldn't be selling us harmful crap just to make a buck? If you really are unsure about the answer, just look to the unregulated “supplement” manufacturers that were selling ephedra like hotcakes. With products where it is highly unlikely that the “average Joe” will have the knowledge to make an informed decision, we need government regulation.

Finally, think about organization such as the EPA. Protection of the environment is what actually brought about this 3-part essay. These Right-wing-nut-jobs think that it's a good thing to leave the polluting companies alone, let them trash the environment, then fine the hell out of them and force a clean-up. How asinine can they be?

Here's one of them arguing in favor of polluting the environment:

It [polluting the environment] made perfect economic sense, you blithering idiot. I am delighted that industry cleaned up its act and made the air and water cleaner. But do you, in your sheer ignorance of business, believe that CORPORATIONS paid for the cleanup? They DID NOT. People who buy their products paid every dime in increased prices.

I had to read this pinhead's loon's comments a couple of times to really let it sink in: Screw the environment then screw the customers by hiking up prices to pay for the clean up. And be proud about that.

There is not a lot more I want the federal government getting involved with. I don't need them to somehow interpret the Constitution into saying I can't own firearms. Don't tell me what I can watch on TV or in the movies or in a book. Don't try and turn your flavor of morality into the law of the land. Don't tell me or anyone else what I can or can't do with my own body. That means abortion, taking drugs, having sex with any other consenting adult (or adults, for that matter), piercing my nipples or painting my toes pink. If, in exercising my rights, and I infringe on the rights of others, then come and hammer me.

Until then, back off, Sam.


Thursday, May 06, 2004

What No Nanny State Is All About, Part 2 of 3 

Bash The Right

They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security

Republicans and their Right-leaning brethren, while advocating smaller government and less intrusiveness into our lives, really only apply these principals to commerce. Just as the Left has an obsession with running our daily lives and taking care of our every need, the Right has an obsession with restricting our personal freedoms in the name of safety, or forcing their brand of morality on all of the citizenry.

The Right seems too enamored with prohibition.

It seems that, in their view, the government is a better judge than I, of what my children should watch on TV. It seems as though they're a better judge about what I should watch, too. And listen to on the radio. Can Internet blog content be far behind? What about newspapers and magazines? How about a good, old fashioned book burning, huh? It's not that slippery of a slope, you know.

Of course, this has a market driven answer as well. If I find Janet Jackson's exposed breast offensive to my moral standards, I'll discontinue watching that network; I'll boycott NFL games; I'll not buy the goods of the game's sponsors.

My actions will speak much more loudly than some government bureaucrat trying to protect the delicate sensibilities of my family.

What's more, now they want to extend their censorship to cable TV. I pay for cable service. If I don't want to see something, I won't buy it. Who are they to tell me what I can or cannot view or read?

Many on the Right also tend to have messianic complexes. They want to deliver me to salvation, whether my tattered soul needs it or not.

I always thought America was about freedom. Freedom of choice. Freedom of religion. Freedom of thought. Freedom of action. As long as my use of those freedoms did not infringe on the rights of others, I'm free to go about my life as I see fit.

Not if the Right has their way.

If I am a gay American, I am denied the right to marry the person of my own choosing.

If I am a kinky American, I am denied the right to have sex in any position of my own choosing.

If I am a non-Christian American, I am denied the right to go into a supposed secular court of law without having the 10 Commandments blaring at me from a shrine in the courthouse.

Why this obsession with telling other American's how they should live their lives and what they should think?

I've already written, and will continue to write, about the USA Patriot Act. This destroyer of our personal liberties is perhaps the most invasive law ever passed. I'll leave this discussion to more detailed blog entries. Suffice it to say, this Act must have it's provisions regarding the lack of judicial review thoroughly reworked. What is frightening is the number of American's that have been goaded into believing that giving up their basic Constitutional rights is of no importance, and makes America a better place.

They couldn't be more wrong.

Next: When is government needed?


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