Gone Fishin’

The cold-blooded murder of Walter Scott by a South Carolina deputy a few weeks ago highlights numerous issues with a monopolistic, state based approach to “law enforcement.” First and foremost is the all too common hair-trigger response some officers have when interacting with anyone who does not instantly respond to their verbal demands. The expectation seems to be: they say “jump”, you say “how high, sir!” Even the meekest of responses, like “what did I do?” are perceived as a full frontal assault on their “authority” and thus ample justification for unleashing a barrage of “shock and awe” responses. According to Sheriff Ric Bradshaw in Palm Beach (in his attempt to justify a shooting there in 2013 of an unarmed bicyclist) “There’s nothing in the rules of engagement that says we have to put our lives in jeopardy to wait to find out what this is to get killed.” Well, if you don’t want to put your lives in jeopardy might I suggest another line of work? I’m not really sure I wanted to be “protected” by someone who values their own personal safety to the exclusion of all other considerations, up to, and including shooting me dead because I “might” present a risk that they just can’t be bothered to evaluate.

Further problems inherent to the modern police state can be uncovered by evaluating the reason Scott was pulled over and why he (apparently) ran. The stated reason for the stop was a bad taillight. Ok, fine, a taillight being out is a potential safety issue. But the state response to this and similar problems is incongruous with actually ameliorating them and is rather more in alignment with using them as an excuse to impose random, burdensome tolls on unsuspecting motorists (honestly, who among us checks our taillights before we leave the driveway?). For example, in Georgia a bad taillight will garner you a $140 fine. Such fines aren’t fun for anyone but are inherently more burdensome to those in the lower income brackets. These fines hinder the victim’s ability to remedy the situation by taking money out of his or her pocket which could otherwise go toward fixing the actual safety issue. If the state were truly concerned with safety instead of issuing a ticket they would call in a “repair unit” to come to the scene, fix the problem on site and then charge the motorist whatever they would have otherwise been charged at a shop. Now that is customer service! But don’t expect that from the state or its minions. Traffic stops rarely have anything to do with safety and everything to do with revenue collection (speed traps are a well documented phenomena). Once underway they set the stage for a fishing expedition. Which brings us to the third issue.

Once a motorist is pulled over for some matter related to operation of their vehicle, the officer is then free to shift the focus from road safety to any and all matters related to other state laws (typically drug laws). In no other arena of life would people accept that the police can just randomly approach someone and ask for ID and start running background checks (“papers please”), but stick them in a moving vehicle or observe them cross an imaginary line in the dirt (“the border”) and suddenly intrusive questioning is a fait accompli. Such questioning revealed that Scott owed child support. Yes, he should have paid his child support. Yes, he should not have run (I’m reminded of the scene in JurassicPark where the lawyer runs from the T-rex into an outhouse – “Where does he think he’s going?” wryly observes Dr. Alan Grant). But just like in that movie, he ran out of fear without actually thinking it through. But I doubt any of us would have believed that running FROM the police would be perceived as a threat necessitating eight rounds in ones back.

Unfortunately the state-backed child support system sets the stage for violent confrontations. It is the state that threatens violence (to the father or his employer) for non-compliance (employers that refuse to withhold child support payments become liable for those payments). This seems like a massive amount of overkill for what is strictly a private matter. Jail should only be for murderers, rapists, and thieves. They should not become modern day debtor prisons for those unable (or unwilling) to pay child support or other types of garnishment. These issues are private matters and should be left to the parties involved to resolve them. They should not become a matter that the state hijacks. It is due to a breathtaking lack of imagination of those in power that we are left with a system that fails to recognize that people are fairly clever at solving their own problems without resorting to state backed violence.

 

April 28 / 2015
Author Greg Morin
Comments No Comments

Fantasy Island

Consider the following scenario: You have just received an invitation in the mail from a friend. He is inviting everyone he knows to his beautiful tropical island. All are welcome to visit any time and stay as long as they want. There is just one catch: marauding pirates will attack anyone that comes near the island. The pirates patrol the skies above and the waters below as well as the surface. If you somehow do manage to outwit the pirates and make it to the island, your friend offers an additional warning: he has armed guards that will shoot anyone seen crossing the perimeter beaches. But – if you can make it past all of that – you are quite welcome there.

Now as schizophrenic as this sounds – “please come visit me, I’ll kill you if you try, but please come visit me” – it is not too far removed from the scenario that the government of the state of Georgia has just put into play with the passage of HB1 (also known as “Haleigh’s Hope Act”) and subsequent signing into law by Governor Nathan Deal last week.  HB1 legalizes the “possession” of medicinal marijuana. But only in the cannabis oil form. And, only if it is under 20 ounces. And only so long as it contains less than 5% THC. Caveat, conditions, and exceptions – “you can have this…except when… and only if…and as long as…” The politician’s lawmaking cookbook – liberally sprinkled qualifying conjunctions.

Ok, ok, well at least there is now a glimmer of hope for those that have a medical need for it, right? Well, almost. As long as one’s medical condition is on the short “approved” list of ailments: cancer, ALS, seizures, MS, Chrohn’s disease, mitochondrial disease, Parkinson’s disease and sickle-cell anemia. Funny, I thought Republicans were opposed to the government interfering in the doctor-patient relationship. In any event, if one is unlucky enough to suffer from one of these ailments that still may not be sufficient to qualify. A patient’s case must be considered severe or terminal… not in the opinion of one’s doctor mind you, but rather in the opinion of some faceless state bureaucracy to whom your doctor must now, on bended knee, plead your case whilst kissing its ring.

If a patient makes it past all those hurdles, then they can qualify for a registration card. This is their de facto “get out of jail free” card if they are ever found by police to be in possession of sub-20 ounce 5% dilutions of cannabis oil. But don’t get caught with 21 ounces or a 6% solution, otherwise it’s off to the big house you horrible menace to society you!

So while HB1 offers an invitation to an oasis of potential pain relief (the tropical island) it does not eliminate the marauding pirates or the armed guards. It is still illegal to grow or buy marijuana in Georgia (you know, the stuff you need to actually make the cannabis oil). It is likewise a violation of both Federal and Georgia state law to cross state lines to buy cannabis oil or have it shipped into the state. So to be clear on this: it is legal, pursuant to numerous conditions, to possess cannabis oil, however, all methods of actually acquiring the oil are still illegal. Well, magic as a method is legal. Perhaps the legislature envisions patients performing a Harry Potter style invocation to acquire their needed oil?

I will assume that the bill’s author (Rep. Allen Peake) and its sponsors did not set out to write a bad bill. I suspect they truly do want to help people suffering from the above (and many other unlisted) conditions. The problem is the compromises one must make in politics that whittle otherwise well intentioned legislation down to hollowed out cores of absurdity. This bill is a prime example of the fallacy that compromises are de facto evidence of a principled balancing of interests. If you believe all illegal aliens should be shot and I believe none should, then it is hardly a principled balancing of interests to say we shall only shoot half of them. Likewise if I believe that any substance that can relieve pain and suffering should be obtainable without artificial barriers but you believe that the risk of even one person getting “high” outweighs the pain and suffering of millions, then it is a meaningless compromise indeed to say patients can legally possess those substances but that actions aimed at possession are illegal. Empty, hollow rhetoric – nothing more.

Mix one part irrational fear with one part representative democracy and you get a society with needless pain and suffering. None should ever be allowed to suffer because of fears of what might be, lest we become prisoners entombed behind the bars of potential acts.

April 20 / 2015

Shortages the Spawn of Short-Circuited Prices

Although the recent drought experienced by much of northern Georgia a few a years ago pales in comparison to the ongoing drought in California, the response by each region’s government is equally misguided. The shortsightedness of the standard “solution” to a drought tends to scale with its severity. While we only suffered through time restrictions on outdoor watering, California has upped the ante to rather invasive levels in their pursuit of the “common good.” They are now all too happy to step into dear citizen’s shower and issue fines for lingering too long.

Droughts are a product of nature. Water shortages are a product of man; or, more precisely, a product of government. If a shortage is occurring in any market, it is guaranteed some form of price control (private or public) is in play. It is one simple lesson from Economics 101 that so many consistently fail to grasp: demand curves slope downward. Stated differently, prices (naturally) go up as supply decreases (all other things equal). But when part of that equation is artificially constrained (prices) the effects of the decreased supply are magnified, not ameliorated. When prices rise there is a two-fold socially beneficial effect: it (a) provides a rationing/conservation incentive (people only purchase that which they absolutely need) and (b) it sends a signal to everyone that a tidy profit can be had by supplying the market with that good. High prices are the market’s method of eliciting an economic immune response. As swarms of people respond to the wailing klaxons of above average profit, supply swells until prices begin to fall. It is this natural up/down demand/supply equilibrium that lets a market know where to devote more or fewer resources.

High prices are the market’s method of eliciting an economic immune response. As swarms of people respond to the wailing klaxons of above average profit, supply swells until prices begin to fall. It is this natural up/down demand/supply equilibrium that lets a market know where to devote more or fewer resources.

But governments don’t like the price system. It is they, not the market, who should be in control. Of course they have their image to protect and the last thing they want is to be accused of being an evil “price gouger.” So instead of allowing the price system to modulate usage, they instead impose egalitarian restrictions so that all may suffer “equally” the effects of their economic ignorance. In other words, they choose the hard way rather than the easy. They deploy sticks (restrictions, fines, penalties) that require resources to enforce compliance, rather than employing carrots (demand based pricing), that require zero resources to ensure compliance.

If prices are allowed to rise, then people will switch from being wasteful to having an incentive to use as little as possible and to seek out new water savings and new efficiencies, to boldly use less than any man before. For those concerned about how the poor would fare under rising water prices, it is entirely reasonable to expect that a base tier of minimum human requirement could exist alongside progressively rising prices for greater usage. There is little daylight between this and the progressive income tax system where the poor pay virtually nothing and the wealthy pay the most. Except with this system one’s “tax” (water bill) would be within their control. If one voluntarily uses less, they will pay less. The outcome of raising prices will be either (a) similar usage with a windfall income or (b) much reduced usage with similar income. If the former is the result, then one can continue to raise prices until (b) is achieved if that is the goal, or one can use the extra income to invest in systems that will increase the supply.

At least in California one of the reasons they are hesitant to raise prices is the crony-capitalist nature commonly found among governments. The largest user of water in the state is agricultural (83%) . The powers that be are afraid that higher water prices could disrupt the state’s economy by pricing California agricultural products out of the market. So once again the marriage between big government and big business ensures private profits at public expense (restrictions and fines). Wait, I thought government was supposed to protect the little guy? Well, while you ponder that little fantasy I’ll leave you with an apropos Milton Friedman quote – “If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there’d be a shortage of sand.”

Immunity From Choice

It is deeply ironic (in the dramatic sense) that the most vociferous opponents of Indiana’s recently passed version of the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) are through their very actions making the case for why their beloved anti-discrimination laws are unnecessary. This is the argument libertarians have been making for years: boycott, shun, exclusion. If anyone, whether an individual or business, behaves in some socially unacceptable way, then everyone else is free to point out this boorish behavior to others, to refuse to associate with them and/or cut off other ties. That’s what happened here. As soon as Indiana passed this law there were cries from across the country to boycott the whole state. Their hearts were in the right place, but their brains are a few hours behind. Or perhaps it does make sense if one is immersed in the statist worldview, that is, that the government under which one lives technically “owns” you. For example, if an employee at a restaurant made some racist remark, people would boycott the restaurant with the belief that the owners of the restaurant are the ones with the ultimate responsibility and control over what goes on in their restaurant. So in the same way they view the Indiana government as being the “boss” of every state resident. Of course their grievances are merely about what might occur, not anything that has actually happened.  Considering that our governments don’t actually own us, the more logical approach would be to wait until some discriminatory event takes place and then boycott, protest, etc, that particular business. Why punish an entire state because of a fear of what a few individuals might do? Well if the ends justify the means then I guess it doesn’t matter. Let’s put millions out of work from businesses going under to ensure that maybe a gay couple will not have to suffer the indignity of being unable to buy a cake from someone that doesn’t like them very much. Yes, that’s who I want to get my edible items from; someone that really dislikes me. Trust me, never be rude to the person taking your order at a drive-thru; you don’t want to know what they do to your food if you tick them off (no it’s not what you think, this is second hand information).

But when it comes right down to it, that’s what anti-discrimination laws are all about, the right to be served by people that possess a range of negative emotions concerning you. Why on earth would you want to give money to someone that hates your guts? Or someone that espouse hate in general? Anti-discrimination laws simply drive those feelings below the surface. It doesn’t make them go away. It doesn’t make the world into a utopian Kumbaya handholding ring of love. It creates more of a Potemkin village where the false façade and the real are indistinguishable.

The RFRA is a step in the right direction but for totally incorrect reasons. There is nothing unique or special about “religious” beliefs. This outlook holds all other forms of belief in contempt and makes a mockery of religion in general as everyone figures out if they just slap the word “God” or “Church” on their belief they can get into the fast lane of doing what they want without state intervention (e.g. The First Church of Cannabis). ALL beliefs (whether religious, political, or philosophic) should be immune from state interventions.

The state has no right to interfere between the peaceful interactions of two people, even when one of those people is behaving like a jerk (regardless of what belief system is motivating said behavior). Likewise you have no right to not be shunned and boycotted when you behave like a jerk. That is how a free society works. The immune system cells (activists) will quickly identify and rally attention on the growing cancer cells (jerks, racists, homophobes, etc) quickly, cleanly and without violence. The state on the other hand is like chemotherapy, it bathes the whole organism is a poison that while killing the cancer also kills non-cancer cells and makes the organism that much weaker for it. Stop the chemo and get the state out of all aspects of our lives.

April 07 / 2015

Minority Report

It would appear that the Georgia General Assembly is under the impression that police officers in this state are endowed with wizardry skills, namely the ability to divine the future and see beyond this physical realm into the invisible and incorporeal dimensions. The Georgia House voted last week (the Senate similarly approving it a month earlier) to approve Senate Bill 94.  In broad terms this bill’s stated purpose was to modernize many of Georgia’s statutes under Title 17 relating to criminal procedures. There do appear to be some genuine improvements to the law in this piece of legislation. For example Section 17-20-2 covers procedures for witness identification lineups. It is now forbidden that the person conducting the line up have any knowledge of the identity of the actual suspect. This ensures a true “double-blind” outcome free of unconscious cues directing the witness to the “correct” choice.

However there are other aspects to this legislation which take a decidedly two-steps forward one-step back approach to improving the state of criminal law in this state. Perhaps the most egregious is Section 17-5-22, which now includes language that warrants may be issued if probable cause can be shown that a crime is about to be committed. Yes you read that correctly – about to be committed. Taking a page out of the movie “Minority Report,” Georgia now has a “pre-Crime” clause in its criminal code. We are fortunate that police officers in this state can now exercise a power none of us mere mortals posses: the ability to see into the future. Nostradamus would be proud. So, that leaves an open question – can the state get a conviction for a crime that was about to be committed but then because of the warrant was not? What are the standards of evidence? Is merely possessing a weapon “proof” you were about to commit a crime? If I have a gun or knife on me does that mean I am about to commit the crime of murder? Armed robbery? Assault? Which one? All three perhaps? If I own an analytical balance does that mean I’m about to commit the crime of drug distribution? I wonder how much easier it will be for the police to harass someone they have it in for if any of a number of innocuous items could be used to commit a crime. Let me just interject here now to say I don’t mean the Oconee County Police – they are the best and would never do anything like this! Ok, that was mean to be a bit of levity, but I’m also serious, I am fortunate to live in a county with a police force that does not engage in the sort of shenanigans you sometimes hear about on the news – they truly are top-notch.  So, what am I complaining about you might say, none of these legislative games affect or are likely to affect me? Because I can see beyond my own little world, and I can see how although some officers would not abuse the power granted in this new law, I can also see how it could easily be abused by those with personal vendettas or discriminatory inclinations. We’ve all heard the phrase “driving while black” – can you imagine how much easier it will now be for officers with racist inclinations to concoct suspicion of some “pre-crime” when they fail to find any evidence of an actual crime? I believe the question answers itself.

On the lighter side of inanity contained in this bill, there is a change in the definition of “property”. Section 17-5-1 now defines property to encompass “intangible, … incorporeal… or invisible” things. Hmmmm… so are they going to confiscate my invisible friend? That doesn’t seem very respectful of the rights of invisible, incorporeal beings. Ok, I know what they mean; they are referring to digital media (well I hope that is what they mean, otherwise someone let Casper know about this). The intent here is unclear but one could imagine that it allows them to now collect a physical device (phone, hard drive), copy all the data off, and then erase it and return it to you empty. That way they can say they returned your physical goods and kept as evidence the “incorporeal” digital evidence. Of course if making a copy of someone’s property” is supposedly a crime then haven’t the police just committed the same crime by copying your copy? Perhaps if the General Assembly used the correct definition of property, e.g. scarce, rivalrous resources, it would free up police manpower to go after actual property crimes (theft, rape, murder) rather than acting as referee in disputes that amount to nothing more than schoolyard disputes over who said something first.

March 31 / 2015

Rape culture, no. Theft culture, yes.

There are a number of word-couplet slogans that aim to pithily define some societal ill that is widely ignored but which demands immediate rectification (white (or male) privilege, social justice, rape culture). The proof of said societal ill? The mere Jehovah-like utterance of said phrases brings them into existence before a credulous audience who only need hear the words to accept the implied truth. Their refutation, on the other hand, requires pages of discourse and facts and who has time for that? Mindless emotion trumps facts and reasoned discourse every time.

Sound bite slogans engage in semantic slight of hand, mixing words and their meaning into a soup of inscrutability. As the great sage Inigo Montoya would say, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”  Perhaps the worst offender among these is “rape culture.” This term is particularly sinister as it establishes its own legitimacy in tautological fashion by claiming that proof of rape culture is found in the very denial of its existence.  Witches must exist because anyone denying their existence is only doing so to cover up their allegiance to said witches.

Users of this term apparently are unaware of what “culture” actually means. The dictionary definition is “the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.” Hmmmm… so it seems if we had a “rape culture” that would mean we would find positive depictions of rape in our literature, movies and television. Our political leaders would extol the virtues of rape whenever possible. We would erect monuments to the greatest and most prolific rapists. Our schools would teach boys and girls the virtues of rape. Nope, I don’t see any of that, do you?

Yes, rape is a horrible crime and the perpetrators should be severely punished, but to suggest that 3% of the population who commits 90% of the rapes (on college campuses) suggests an endemic problem in the very fabric of a society is ludicrous. It ironically mimics the very thing proponents of this term decry – victim blaming – by shifting the blame from the perpetrator to society. “Society” should teach men not to rape and thus to the extent rape exists it is tacit proof of the failure of society to teach that. See, the perpetrators are the victims here as well; it’s not their fault, they never got the “don’t rape” memo from society. Honestly, is there anyone alive who thinks rape is “ok”? Even thieves and murders know their crimes are wrong – and yet they do it anyway. Does this then signify we have a “murder culture” or “theft culture”?

Actually, on that last question I would answer in the affirmative. We do have a “theft culture.” How so? Imagine the following: in order to eliminate the scourge of rape from society the government created an incentive system to stop potential rapists. Whenever someone thought about raping they could instead go to the government Department of Gender Relations and receive a payment to not rape. To make this system work all potential rape victims would be required to pay an annual fee into this system. If they did not pay up, then the government would publish a list of their names and anyone could rape them without consequence. Naturally nobody wants to be on that list so everyone pays – just the threat of what might happen for not paying is enough to ensure all continue to pay “voluntarily.”

Does that seem shocking and crazy? Well it should, but unfortunately this exact system exists today in order to prevent a different crime: theft. Government agents who would otherwise violently rob people in order to extract the proper “tribute” payment to the state’s coffers have convinced everyone it is better if we all just pay them “voluntarily.” If we don’t then they can rob us without consequence. So if we all pay our taxes in a “civilized” fashion then there will never be a need to resort to base barbarism. And it’s all “voluntary”, so that makes it legitimate.

The really scary part is that this culture is not unique to America; it is global. People will universally agree that taxes are bad, but quickly pivot to extol their virtues. The parallel to an actual rape culture would be if society would extol the virtues of all the children born as the result of rape and told women they should just accept being raped because yes it is bad, but look at all the good it brings about. One parallel that does exist today between rape victims and tax victims is the odious practice of “victim blaming” – rape victims “deserved” it because of how they dressed and tax dodgers “deserved” jail because they refused to be robbed; both have the right to exist in the world without being victimized on account of the lens through which others view them.

That is the way of the state, instead of standing as a bulwark against rights violations it institutionalizes those very violations and whitewashes them into a sanitized bureaucratic system that like a virus then infects all cultures, transforming them into the “war is peace” and “theft is good” upside down culture of the state.

March 25 / 2015

‘Not Even Wrong’

One of the main reasons I am skeptical of the predictions of status quo climate science is that those predictions are entirely based on the output of computer models. As a Ph.D. chemist part of my training exposed me to chemical computer modeling and I quickly learned how easy it is to get results that do not conform to reality. Computer models have their place, but that place employs very narrow constraints on both the number of variables and the degrees of freedom of those variables.

Today I came across this article in C&EN (Chemical and Engineering News) the weekly news magazine of the professional society of which I am a member (American Chemical Society). Anyway, in it the article they discuss a new article (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2015, DOI: 10.1021/ja5111392) that shows that computer models meant to predict the reaction mechanism for a particular chemical reaction come up with wildly incorrect predictions that are so off base they are ‘not even wrong’ in the words of the studies author.

What I found most striking was this quote, “Theory, he [Houk] says, “is still not capable, and may never be capable, of predicting what happens, when many chemicals, four (emphasis added) in this case, are mixed in solution”

Did you get that? Even a mere four variables is too many for the best computer model to predict the outcome, pathway, and interplay in a highly chaotic system of a “simple” chemical reaction. And yet climate models, modeling not a mere collection of atoms in a flask but  basically every atom in the atmosphere and oceans on the entire planet with orders of magnitude more variables, those models are 100% ironclad and sound and we should take their predictions to the bank.

Perhaps someday computers (quantum computing) will get us to that point, but that day is not yet here. At the end of the day the proof of scientific validity is in prediction. It is not sufficeint to simply predict “it will get warmer in the future” – anyone has a 50/50 chance of guessing correct on that one. You must predict to what extent and at precisely what rate (with reasonable error bars, not error bars larger than the magnitude of what it is you’re trying to measure).

March 23 / 2015
Author Greg Morin
Category Climate Change
Comments No Comments

Blind Lines

Last week a Los Angeles jury awarded the estate of Marvin Gaye a $7.3 million verdict against songwriters Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams for their 2013 chart topping hit “Blurred Lines.”  The plaintiffs claimed that “Blurred Lines” copied several key elements of Gaye’s 1977 song “Got to Give It Up.”  There are many parts that contribute to what we call music: melody, harmony, key, time, rhythm, note patterns, chords, instrumentation, lyrics, and so on. The degree of similarity or dissimilarity of any one of these components is not an objectively measurable property. One’s judgment of similarity is a subjective assessment that depends on our unique set of experiences and preferences. For some a song’s rhythm may be the most striking characteristic, whereas others may find the key or melody to be more noteworthy (bah-bump). To underscore this point one need only to do a cursory Internet search on this topic to witness the broad range of opinions: some say it was a blatant “rip-off” whereas others assert only a superficial similarity (the cowbell). So if the degree of similarity in such a case can be so dependent upon a mere cross section of opinion, how can it be said “justice has been done”? Try this case 10 more times and you’ll get a random array of “thumbs up/thumbs down” decisions. Using the result of one coin toss is hardly just.

But the arbitrariness of the outcome, insofar as it rests solely upon the subjective opinion of 12 jurors, is not a failure of the judicial system itself or of the jurors. Jurors in such a case are tasked with the intellectual equivalent of deciding if that now infamous Internet dress is gold and white or black and blue. The failure is in the legislative system. Ambiguity and arbitrariness in law breads ambiguity and arbitrariness in outcomes. Copyright (and by extension all intellectual property law) is nothing if not arbitrary and that fact betrays the invalidity of IP laws in their specious claims to be protecting “property.” Laws protecting actual property (that is scarce, rivalrous physical goods) do not have expiration dates. The title to your house or car doesn’t simply expire after some set time period; but not so for copyright (or patents, etc.). In fact the fingerprints of crony-capitalism are all over the recent extensions of the copyright term (life of author + 50 years in 1976 and then extended to life of author + 70 years in 1998).  Every time some particularly lucrative piece of copyright material would otherwise fall into the public domain (yes Disney, I’m looking at you) there is mysteriously a push in Congress to extend the copyright term just a bit further out.

Surprisingly there are still some areas of human creativity that are not protected by copyright and yet, despite pro-IP arguments to the contrary, innovation and creativity have flourished. Yes, the utilitarian argument for IP laws is superficially plausible – unfortunately the empirical data indicates IP laws inhibit innovation whereas a lack of them fosters innovation. For example, food recipes are not copyrighted (can you imagine the state of affairs if McDonalds had copyrighted the hamburger and fries – it would be a CRIMINAL offense for any other firm to make such a meal). Clothing design/fashion is not covered by copyright. Designs are copied, altered, and tweaked into a dizzying array of choices. Fashion trends twist and turn and change so quickly as each firm tries to distinguish themselves and stay one step ahead of the competition. Imagine that, people can still actually be creative without the “protection” of a state granted monopoly.

Human creative efforts invariably must draw on the work of those who have come before. If one objects to truth of this statement, then they would see no downside in not educating their children, destroying all books and technology, and depositing babies in the forest so that each new generation must start from scratch. Since such a scenario is obviously absurd then we can agree that it’s not “copying” that is “bad” but rather “too much” copying that is bad. Ok, so where shall we draw this arbitrary line in the sand between “just right” and “too much”?

Let’s erase that line and allow the full flourishing of human creativity in all arenas. Where is the harm in that? If the “copy” is more successful than the original what has the original lost? What has been stolen? The right to limit the choices of others to your inferior product? If your business model necessitates the deployment of armed goons of the state to influence the peaceful behavior of others, then it’s time to rethink your business model.

March 16 / 2015
Author Greg Morin
Comments No Comments

Medicaid Expansion: Compassion or Trojan Horse?

Georgia is one of 19 states currently not expanding Medicaid under the auspices of Obamacare. This, contends proponents of expansion, is leading to needless deaths and poor health outcomes for many poorer Georgia residents due to the ongoing closure of rural Georgia hospitals. As with any political issue reduced to sound bites, this is a gross over simplification. Although it is true that monies received under a Medicaid expansion would indirectly alleviate some of the financial burden faced by these hospitals, it would not solve the problem nor would it address the proximate cause of these hospital’s failures.

This nationwide network of rural hospitals was established in the 1940s by the federal government. For the most part they were quite successful with few closures, that is, until the first year of Obamacare regulations came on line – 2010. Obamacare then began to smother these community hospitals with shortsighted regulations that do nothing to limit costs. These regulations included penalties for patient re-admittance if done too soon after initial release, mandates to establish electronic medical records, as well as cuts in Medicare reimbursements to hospitals.  While one hand of Obamacare beats these hospitals with a stick (regulation), the other hand offers a Band-Aid (Medicaid expansion); truly a case of governmental cognitive dissonance.

Medicaid expansion is but one part of the Obamacare-Trojan horse that will slowly stamp out the last vestige of market health care. The “Medicaid Hole” was deliberately inserted into Obamacare. This “hole” leaves some people with no coverage unless the states go along with the Federal definition of Medicaid eligibility (the states can set their own standards now). This is the second Gruber-esque ploy within Obamacare directed at enticing “voluntary” state compliance. It follows the standard Mafia extortion-pattern of an “offer you can’t refuse” by threatening harm to a third party. The first instance of this was the state exchanges: “set up state exchanges or else your citizens won’t qualify for federal subsidies.” Now it is “expand Medicaid or your citizens will suffer for lack of health care.” The individual is but a pawn in their game. If that were not so then why didn’t they simply create federal exchanges and grant everyone subsidies?

The second part of this Trojan horse is that Obamacare sets a substantial tax on “Cadillac” health care plans. The threshold for a Cadillac plan is the ONLY financial figure in Obamacare that is NOT indexed to inflation (let that sink in for a minute). Once a state expands Medicaid they must follow the federal eligibility requirements. The end game is a masterful pincer action; Medicaid eligibility will be eased upward by the feds while the Cadillac cap will in effect be eased downward (as a result of healthcare inflation). “Affordable” plans will disappear and thus people will have no choice but to jump over to Medicaid. End result: single payer healthcare (Medicaid) without a shot being fired.

Now before anyone argues that we need single payer to fix this “free market” mess remember that we have never had a free market based health care system in this country – there has always, at some level, been government intrusion into the market.* These intrusions distorted natural incentives and created unintended consequences. The “solution” to these unintended consequences then is always more government intrusions. Wash, rinse, and repeat.

To find a real solution to government interventions we must “undo” – not “do”. If proponents of Medicaid expansion in Georgia are serious about helping the poor and uninsured then they should propose the total repeal of all “Certificate of Need” laws (O.C.G.A. 31-6) in this state that require both state approval and the approval of any potential competitors for not only any new health care facility, but even the expansion of an existing one. CON laws have nothing to do with maintaining a certain standard of care. They are entirely a crony-capitalist measure, like taxi medallions, meant to limit competition among providers of a particular service. These laws do nothing but scare off potential investors and add years onto the process of opening a new hospital. The best thing to help the uninsured would be low prices brought about through competition. Subsidies to the uninsured in a CON environment are nothing but an indirect subsidy to high cost providers.

 

*Sky high income tax rates during World War II fostered the creation of tax free health insurance through ones employer. That, coupled with the creation of Medicare in the 1960s soon led to rapidly increasing health costs in the 1970s which Congress tried to stem with the HMO Act of 1973  and this country’s first dalliance with “managed-care” – that is the insertion of a third party between the doctor and patient who would pay for all care but also inject their opinion on the necessity of care. As costs continued to spiral upwards (due to the artificial disconnect between the customer (the patient) and the vendor (the doctor), Congress introduced layer upon layer of additional regulations trying to keep costs down. That was about as successful as throwing more blankets on a leaking waterbed to stop the leak. Like whack-a-mole, as soon as they plugged one hole a new one appeared, normally as a direct, unintended consequence of the “fix” for the last hole. And that story is how we now got to Obamacare – the latest fix in a long line of fixes.

 

Knock, knock – Who’s there?

A pair of nearly identical bills (SB 45, SB 159) has been introduced this session into the Georgia legislature concerning “no-knock” warrants. Apparently all those no-knock raids we’ve heard about recently in Georgia (a toddler nearly killed in Habersham County, the murder of David Hooks in Laurens County) were illegal. Under Georgia law (O.C.G.A 17-5-27) officers must give “verbal notice” before force can be used to execute a warrant. Huh. Imagine that, words on a piece of a paper didn’t stop those in power from doing whatever they wanted – and since there was no accountability in either case, apparently the current law prohibiting no-knocks is of little practical value. So, let’s see, how could we possibly remedy this situation? I’ve got it – make no-knock raids LEGAL! Now when officers engage in this practice they won’t be breaking the law anymore, problem solved.

Why stop there? Why not make rape, murder, and theft legal? That would lower the crime rate in Georgia to the point where there would be no need for no-knock raids. Oh, right that wouldn’t help because no-knock raids aren’t about catching actual criminals (rapists, murders, and thieves). No, they are about nabbing the low hanging fruit of drug “crimes” where mere possession of “stuff” is all that is needed to close a case. Smash, grab, arrest. Wash, rinse, and repeat. Detective work is so tedious – this is much easier. I have a suggestion for these politicians. If you are so keen on legalizing that which was formerly illegal in order to control it better, then try this: repeal all drug laws. Now there is no need for no-knock warrants.

Now, just to clarify, both bills’ proponents claim the bills prohibit no-knock raids. One (SB45) even goes so far as to call itself “Bou Bou’s Law” (after the toddler that nearly had his face blown off). Because both bills would greatly increase the probability of another “Bou Bou” type incident, this particular appellation is about as disconcertingly insulting as naming a rape legalization bill a “Women’s Rights Law”.

What the declaration giveth (“No search warrant shall be issued which contains a no-knock”), the exception clause taketh away (“unless the affidavit or testimony supporting such warrant establishes by probable cause that if an officer were to knock and announce identity and purpose before entry, such act of knocking and announcing would likely pose a significant and imminent danger to human life or imminent danger of evidence being destroyed.”)

“Significant and imminent” are the weasel words that will build the foundation of every manufactured excuse to engage in this practice. Honestly, if the degree of danger is that serious do you really think an extra 5-10 seconds will provide an absolute measure of safety? If the danger level is truly “imminent” no one should be entering, announced or unannounced, if officer safety is the primary concern. Surround and siege is a much less dangerous alternative for all involved. Likewise, the phrase “evidence being destroyed” is code for “drugs flushed down the commode”. Thus upon this rock one may build the excuse for every drug case being a no-knock case.

Opposition to these bills is not “anti-cop”. Quite the contrary. Officers tend to get shot when they break into people’s homes unannounced. That’s just a fact. The goal should be to eliminate such raids, not increase their use through legalization and specious pleading of “oversight.” The only situation where a no-knock raid would ever be warranted is if someone’s life inside the residence is in danger (think serial killer situation). But to risk the lives of officers and innocent bystanders inside in order to potentially get a few grams of dope off the streets – that is simply reckless and the Georgia senate should be ashamed of themselves for attempting to codify under the color of law this outrageous practice. Please contact your Georgia Senator to voice opposition to these bills.

March 02 / 2015
%d bloggers like this: