Wednesday, October 31, 2018

My Argument for Birthright Citizenship

I've read a number of libertarian arguments on principle against "birthright citizenship," and I agree with them. I should really pick just one, so I'll pick one by Nathan Barton. Excerpt:

I believe the very idea of "birthright citizenship" is contrary to basic principles of liberty. The concept (that I have no choice but to be an American citizen because of where I was born and because of what my parents decided) is bad. It takes away the liberty of millions.

I did not sign the Constitution (or even the Articles of Confederation). How can I be governed by that -- just because one or more of my distant ancestors might have been forced to accept the jurisdiction of the governments who DID sign that constitution or were admitted to the Union afterwards? We rejected inherited slavery a long time ago. Or did we?

Works for me.

There are also some libertarians attempting to argue against "birthright citizenship" on constitutional/legal grounds. I say "attempting" because their arguments do not and cannot hold water.

Just as an example, some quote the author of the "citizenship clause," US Senator Jacob M. Howard (R-MI) as follows:

This amendment which I have offered is simply declaratory of what I regard as the law of the land already, that every person born within the limits of the United States, and subject to their jurisdiction, is by virtue of natural law and national law a citizen of the United States. This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons.

Oddly, they interpret that to mean exactly the opposite of what it clearly means. What it means is that if you are born into the family of a diplomat who is representing another regime on official business in the United States and is therefore not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States (i.e. there is "diplomatic immunity"), the citizenship clause doesn't cover you. If you're born to anyone else*, it does.

The asterisk is intended to note that there was some discussion of Indians. Howard held that because the tribes were (at least theoretically) sovereign nations with their own jurisdictions and their own territories (the reservations), they were neither part of nor "under the jurisdiction of" the United States. So being born in, say, the Cherokee Nation didn't confer "birthright citizenship" because that was being born abroad.

"Birthright citizenship" was what President Andrew Johnson took the clause to mean. That was what Senate Judiciary Committee chair Lyman Trumbull (R-IL) took it to mean. That was what every Senator who expressed an opinion took it to mean. Not a single Senator argued against that interpretation.

In fact, those who argued against the clause argued against it precisely because that's what they understood it to mean. Edgar Cowan (R-PA), for example, was upset that it would apply to the children of gypsies and of Chinese immigrants. He didn't think the Civil Rights Act already applied to them and didn't want the 14th Amendment to either:

Mr. Cowan: I will ask whether it will not have the effect of naturalizing the children of Chinese and Gypsies born in this country?

Mr. Trumbull: Undoubtedly.


Mr. Trumbull: I should like to inquire of my friend from Pennsylvania, if the children of Chinese now born in this country are not citizens?

Mr. Cowan: I think not.

Mr. Trumbull: I understand that under the naturalization laws the children who are born here of parents who have not been naturalized are citizens. This is the law, as I understand it, at the present time. Is not the child born in this country of German parents a citizen? I am afraid we have got very few citizens in some of the counties of good old Pennsylvania if the children born of German parents are not citizens.

Mr. Cowan: The honorable Senator assumes that which is not the fact. The children of German parents are citizens; but Germans are not Chinese; Germans are not Australians, nor Hottentots, nor anything of the kind. That is the fallacy of his argument.

Mr. Trumbull: If the Senator from Pennsylvania will show me in the law any distinction made between the children of German parents and the children of Asiatic parents, I may be able to appreciate the point which he makes; but the law makes no such distinction; and the child of an Asiatic is just as much of a citizen as the child of a European.

Children born in the United States whose parents are not credentialed foreign diplomats, i.e. not under the jurisdiction of the United States, are citizens.  That's an incontrovertible fact of both US citizenship law going back to the founding of the country (and to English common law before that), and of the 14th Amendment's meaning. Any executive order or statute claiming anything to the contrary is repugnant to the Constitution and therefore void. Period.

Which leads me to my own argument: The strategic argument.

We should always hold the state to its own rules when  and where those rules deny new discretionary authority to the state.

A faction of the ruling class is demanding new discretionary state authority to decide who is and who is not a citizen.

The only plausible reason for demanding that new discretionary authority is the expectation that that discretionary authority will increase the state's general level of power over all of us.

The faction so demanding is claiming the prerogative of seizing that new discretionary authority in violation of its own rules requiring passage by 2/3 of both houses of Congress and 3/4 of the state legislatures.

Why? Because they know they won't be able to get 2/3 of both houses of Congress and 3/4 of the state legislatures to go along with the idea.

Well ... no. Screw'em. Every one of them claims those same rules as the basis for their existing authority. They don't get to drop the one without dropping the other.

A Harmonica Question ...

If any of my readers are harmonica players, maybe you'll know:

Why are lower-pitched harmonicas so expensive?

For example, a Hohner Marine Band in the key of C goes for $36.80 at Amazon, a Hohner Special 20 in C for $33.79. But the cheapest Hohner I can find in low C is the Marine Band Thunderbird at $164.00.

I can see why actual bass (and chord) harmonicas are more expensive -- they're giant, big comb, lots of reeds involved, etc. --  but more than $100 for a "mini" bass more than $1,000 for the whole enchilada seems a bit excessive.

Is it that low-key and bass harmonicas are such specialty items that 1) not that many people want them so they're not produced in large quantities, but 2) the people who do want them really want them and are willing to pay through the nose for them?

Or is it something else?

Monday, October 29, 2018

Even Bloomberg (Temporarily?) Misunderstands What a "Loss" is

The headline as it appeared on Google News ...

Moutai Investors Lose $10 Billion as Liquor Maker Faces Slowdown

... seems to have been corrected at the site to ...

One of China’s most potent symbols of luxury spending at home -- the fiery liquor churned out by Kweichow Moutai Co. -- was dealt a $10 billion blow to its market value Monday, the latest company to be hit by anxiety over a pullback in spending by shoppers.

Moutai, which makes the baijiu liquor that’s favored by China’s leaders and often prized as a luxury gift, saw its shares plunge to the daily limit Monday after disappointing earnings stoked pessimism.

If you purchase a share of stock at $2 and the market price of that share subsequently drops to $1, you've only lost a dollar if you sell the share at that lower price.

If you don't sell the share, you haven't lost money yet. You bought a share. You still have a share. It may or may not produce income in the form of dividends. When you do eventually sell it, you may take a loss, or a profit, or break even. But not until you sell it (or until the company actually dissolves/goes bankrupt, leaving the share worthless and unsellable).

No, the Pittsburgh Synagogue Attack was not "the Worst Attack on Jews in American History"

That would probably be FDR's complicity in the murder of 227 of the Jewish passengers of the MS St. Louis. Just sayin' ...

Friday, October 26, 2018

My Endorsement of Amendment Four, and a Question

Amendment Four, per Ballotpedia:

A "yes" vote supports this amendment to automatically restore the right to vote for people with prior felony convictions, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense, upon completion of their sentences, including prison, parole, and probation.

I support this, and voted in favor of it yesterday. Personally, I would go further than that (prisoners should be able to vote), but it's a good start anyway. Florida is one of only a few states that prohibits voting rights to convicted felons who have completed their sentences. There's never been any real argument about the intent of that prohibition in southern states starting in the Jim Crow area: It was to intended reduce the number of African-Americans who were eligible to vote.

But anyway, now I read this:

[Cesar] Sayoc is a registered Republican in Miami-Dade County and listed as an "active" voter, according to Florida voting records. Court records show Sayoc has a history of arrests, notably a 2002 charge of making a bomb threat, which allegedly put him on law enforcement's radar. ... Sayoc was also convicted in 2014 for grand theft and misdemeanor theft of less than $300, and in 2013 for battery. In 2004, he faced several felony charges for unlawful possession of a synthetic anabolic steroid often used to help build muscles. He also had several arrests for theft in the 1990s and faced a felony charge for obtaining fraudulent refunds and a misdemeanor count of tampering with physical evidence. Lowy said he recalled that Sayoc also had a run-in with authorities over possession of steroids and another case in Broward County where he was charged with possessing a fake driver's license after altering his birthdate to make him appear younger.

Some of those things are listed merely as "charges," but the grand theft is noted as a "conviction." And in Florida, grand theft is a felony. So how the heck was this guy a "registered Republican" and an "'active' voter?"

Election Predictions, with Bob Dylan Goodness

So, will the Republicans find themselves tangled up in blue, or is it all over now, baby blue?

In a September Thanks For Asking! thread, Darryl W. Perry asked:

do you want to make any predictions (can be specific or vague) about the upcoming mid-term elections?

Some high points from my reply, which you can read in its original entirety at the link if you really want to:

  • [I]t is normal for the party that holds the White House to lose seats in the midterms. So I will predict Democratic gains in Congress.
  • I do not, however, predict anything that would amount to a "Blue Wave."
  • I do not expect the Democrats to take the Senate. In fact, there's a real possibility they will lose seats on net.
  • [The Democrats] need to pick up 24 seats to take the House. They might do that (they picked up more than that in 2006 and 2008, and the GOP picked up more than that in 2010). But if they do I think it will be just barely.

The "blue wave" talk in the mainstream political media was just beginning to take a stumble when I wrote that. Why?

Well, it could be the usual "we have to sound desperate to Get Out The Vote" tactic that parties pull even when they know they have it in the bag (for example, the outcome of Clinton v. Dole in 1996 was never in serious doubt, but the Democratic strategy was to pretend that it was so as to get their base alarmed and off its ass; and the Republicans, of course, pretended Dole had a chance for the same reason).

Or it could be that they sobered up and looked at the actual numbers.

As of today, 538 -- which hasn't done nearly as good a job as I do at picking overall outcomes over the last decade or so -- forecasts a one in six chance of the Democrats taking the Senate and a five in six chance of the Republicans keeping control of the Senate, with an 80% chance that the outcome will wall within the range of "Democrats gain two seats" and "Republicans gain four seats."

I think 538 is probably getting it right this time.

Here's the problem for Democrats:

Of the 35 Senate seats up for election (33 normal, two special elections), 26 are currently held by Democrats and only nine by Republicans.

To put it a different way, Republicans only have nine seats to defend, leaving them free to attack those other 26, while Democrats have to defend 26 seats and only have nine places to go on the attack.

The Democrats are almost certainly going to lose a seat in North Dakota, are very likely to lose a seat in Missouri, and are quite possibly going to lose seats in Montana and Indiana. As of the thread above, I also had Florida in play, but at the moment I'm expecting it to stay Democratic. So let's call it four seats that they may lose.

How many currently Republican seats might they gain? 538 has Arizona and Nevada in the toss-up category. I think the GOP will almost certainly hold Arizona and am skeptical that the Democrats can take Nevada. But even if Democrats win both those states, that's a net loss of two seats.

I could be completely wrong here, but you know how I am. I'm going to go ahead and call it and then see if I'm right or wrong. I think it will be a GOP net gain of four seats.

As always, it comes down to "who gets the vote out best."

It was already looking to me like the Republicans were going to win on that metric when I replied to the Thanks For Asking! question. To the degree that the midterms were a referendum on Donald Trump, his base still loved him and was going to go vote because he told them to, while the Democrats still seemed attached to the stump-stupid idea that whining about !Them Russians! beating Hillary Clinton two years ago would get their people out.

The "October surprises" don't seem likely to change the equation. I think that Trump is having better luck scaring the bejebus out of his base with the "caravan" nonsense than the Democrats are having or are going to have with anything they've done or are likely to do.

In fact, I suspect that the likely Democratic strategy for the next two weeks -- screeching that the Trump base is pretty much entirely composed of people who mail pipe bombs to Democratic politicians -- will help the Republicans more than it helps the Democrats on GOTV terms.

I do expect Florida to stay blue at both the US Senate level and for governor, because:

  • For Senate, Floridians just seem far more tired of two-term governor Rick Scott, the GOP nominee, than they are of Bill Nelson, the three-term Democratic incumbent. They both suck, but the suck is especially strong with Scott.
  • For governor, the Democrats nominated a corrupt African-American southern mayor (Andrew Gillum) and the Republicans nominated a nutzoid racist creep (Ron DeSantis). That's a tough call, since southern voters seem to love both corrupt mayors and nutzoid racist creeps. But I'm betting that 1) two terms of Rick Scott has worn out the GOP's welcome in the governor's mansion for a term or two, and 2) the African-American vote will turn out big (not just for Gillum, but also for a ballot measure aiming to restore former felons' voting rights, denial of which has been a tool to suppress the African-American vote since Reconstruction). I also suspect, or at least hope, that the nutzoid racist creep factor will drive a some "moderate Republican" votes away from the GOP and to my friend Darcy Richardson, the Reform Party's nominee.

"I Voted" is a Lot Like "I Farted"

I feel like holding my nose when doing it, but afterward I'm glad to have it over with.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Prognosis: Celine Dion

My Heart Will (Probably) Go On, that is.

The short version of my visit with the cardiologist this morning is "you're fine, quit smoking, take your statin, and come see me again in a year."

Longer version:

When a doctor sees "left branch bundle block" on an ECG, the first thought is "guy may have had a heart attack," but that's not always the case and more testing is called for.

In my case, the additional testing (echo cardiogram and nuclear stress test) says no heart damage, no arterial blockage, no obvious underlying "problem." I may eventually need a pacemaker if the bundle block worsens/changes, but I don't need one now.

He did say there's one more test they can do -- something about a more exact measurement of arterial plaque -- but that he doesn't see any reason for it unless I just feel like blowing some additional money (I don't).

So, heart down, liver to go.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Thanks for the Experience ...

... and since several of you helped me get there, I figure I owe you a bit of a write-up on Bob Dylan's show in St. Augustine, Florida on October 19.

Not a "review," mind you, because that's just not something I can even consider doing. If anything, I've previously low-balled my description of why it was important to me to see Bob Dylan perform live. Think of what making the haj means to a devout Muslim, and you're somewhere in the ball park. So the performance could have sucked and that would have been OK, because the quality of the performance wasn't the point.

The performance didn't suck. I'd rather have had better seats so as to be able to discern facial expressions and such, but no problem. I was actually glad there were no stage-side Jumbotrons, since I came to see Dylan, not watch Dylan on TV (it's not a gigantic venue, about 5,000 seats). The sound quality/acoustics were fantastic.

The only disappointing aspect I can think of is that the man didn't play any guitar, and I would like to have seen him do that. But the man is 77 years old, and played a solid 90-minute set, with no breaks, not including a double encore ("Blowin' in the Wind" and "Ballad of a Thin Man"), under what looked like pretty hot lights and wearing a (white) suit. If he didn't feel like hanging a heavy guitar around his neck, who am I to say he should have?

He spent most of the show at a grand piano, and played plenty of harmonica from there, too, but walked out front and did vocals only on a few songs, including "Scarlet Town."

That one, "Early Roman Kings," and "Gotta Serve Somebody" were the high points of the show in my opinion. Which is odd, since only the last one of those three has ever appeared on any version of my Very Important Dylan Songs checklist. In fact, I don't even own the 2012 album (Tempest) on which the first two appear, being more of an early Dylan (John Wesley Harding and before, heavy on the pre-electric) fan.

One thing that struck me, and that I talked with a few people about -- they said he's done this forever, or at least for a long time:  No talk. Period.

No "how ya doin', St. Augustine, are you ready to rock?" stuff.

No story-telling between songs.

Dylan and his band came out, started playing, kept playing until they were done playing, took their bows silently, and left. That felt appropriate. It also reminded me of something he said when someone asked him why he didn't put any original songs on his first album, to the effect that he wasn't ready to "give too much away" at that point. These days, he promises a musical performance, nothing more, and he delivers a musical performance, nothing more. That's all he owes anyone for the price of a ticket.

And it's plenty.

Thanks for making it possible for me to go.

Side note: I also got to visit with two of my other heroes, Darcy Richardson and Austin Cassidy, in St. Augustine. We met for dinner (a local pizza/pasta buffet) before the show. That was cool, too.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Two Statements That Don't Mean The Same Thing But Often Get Treated as if They Do

Statement #1: "That idea/belief/position of yours is not libertarian."

Statement #2: "You're not a libertarian."


Wednesday, October 17, 2018


We bought the Dylan tickets on August 25.

I started learning about left branch bundle block and liver fibrosis on September 2.

If the order had been reversed, I probably wouldn't be going to see Dylan on Friday, due to the financial uncertainty that comes with getting new but limited health information.

But hey, the tickets were already paid for and in hand. We're driving to and from on the same day (saving a hotel bill), borrowing a friend's car (instead of renting), and another friend has indicated an interest in treating us to dinner.

So yep, going to see Dylan.

I Wish They'd Just Let it Die

I wasn't a big fan of the original Roseanne, never bothered to watch the reboot, and have no intention whatsoever of watching The Conners. If I'm going to watch/listen to Roseanne Barr, I'd rather do so in the context of standup, roasts, etc., where nobody will bat an eye at stuff that gives everyone the vapors if it's network television related.

So, I'm not really entitled to an opinion of The Conners, I guess. Perhaps it's all in all a fun show. I'll likely never know.

But I have an opinion anyway: ABC should have either strapped on some guts and continued with Roseanne, or killed it, cremated the corpse, scattered the ashes, and moved along.

I wasn't a big fan of Valerie, either. I think I watched maybe one episode. And I watched no episodes after they killed Valerie Harper's character off in a car crash and limped the thing along for four more seasons as Valerie's Family and then The Hogan Family over a salary dispute.

All this crap about how "we need to come up with a way to continue this thing so that we don't have to lay off cast and crew" is, well, crap. Shows get canceled all the time, and if ABC and the production company and so forth were really that worried about what was going to happen to the actors and writers and camera operators and gaffers and best boys and editors and assistants, they could have drummed up a completely different show for some of them, shuffled others off to other existing productions, etc.

Make a show or don't make a show, people. Half-assing it because you didn't have the courage to out-wait a Twitter storm is just stupid.

I Don't Understand the Supposed Surprise

A sample of what I'm talking about from CNN:

There is no God -- that's the conclusion of the celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking, whose final book is published Tuesday.

The book, which was completed by his family after his death, presents answers to the questions that Hawking said he received most during his time on Earth.

Other bombshells the British scientist left his readers with include ...

"Other bombshells" implies that Hawking's non-belief in the existence of a god or gods is itself a "bombshell."

bombshell, n. 2. a shocking surprise

I'm no expert on Hawking, but like many people in the late '80s / early '90s, I read his first popular work, A Brief History of Time. I had to look up this quote, but the gist of it has stuck with me for 30 years:

With the success of scientific theories in describing events, most people have come to believe that God allows the universe to evolve according to a set of laws and does not intervene in the universe to break these laws. However, the laws do not tell us what the universe should have looked like when it started -- it would still be up to God to wind up the clockwork and choose how to start it off. So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?"

In fact, Hawking said -- and made headlines for saying -- that he didn't believe in a creator many, many times during the three decades of his life when he was internationally famous (and presumably many, many times before that as well).

How in God's name (pun intended) is him saying what he's said over and over a "bombshell?"

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Why I Might Seem at Times to Prefer Bigger and/or More Powerful Government

The obviously needful advance disclaimer: I DO NOT.

In fact, given my druthers I would do away with the state entirely and would press Murray Rothbard's Magic Button right now if it appeared in front of me.

Within the existing state system and in terms of practical politics, I will support any policy move that I regard as genuinely "in the right direction" -- that is, any measure that I believe reduces the size, scope and power of government in any area and on any issue -- without deluding myself into believing that that measure gets to the root of the problem.

And then we have cases where none of the options "on offer" in a practical sense seem to meet the "right direction" criterion. At which point I look at those options, try to pick the one that seems least awful on non-libertarian criteria, and perhaps give that option lukewarm rhetorical support versus the other options (while still calling for the abolition of the state and/or real "right direction" moves).

For example:

In comments on an earlier post on healthcare, Jim L writes "I am usually a free marketer, but we don't have that.

To which I reply (as I have similarly said elsewhere and in other formats): "What we have is a mix of left-wing socialized healthcare (about 20% on Medicare, about 20% on Medicaid, 3% enrolled in VA healthcare, etc.) and right-wing socialized healthcare (HMO/PPO/ObamaCare, etc.). I'd rather have a free market. But if we're going to have almost entirely socialized healthcare, I suspect that 'single payer' would be better. Less complex, possibly less expensive."

No, I don't endorse "single payer," or "Medicare For All," or any of that nonsense. But if someone handed me a magic button and the only function it served was to let me choose between the existing system and "single payer," I'd probably go with "single payer."

To explain why, let me butcher and repurpose a quote from Abraham Lincoln:

"As a nation, we began by declaring that 'healthcare is something the market provides.' Over time we came to practically read it 'healthcare is something the market provides except for the elderly, and the poor, and veterans, and whenever the AMA monopoly doesn't like the market.' Increasingly more so over the last 45 years, we now read it 'healthcare is something the market provides except for the elderly, and the poor, and veterans, whenever the AMA monopoly doesn't like the market, and when Big Pharma and Big Insurance can lobby to have us all forced into its HMO/PPO schemes via e.g. tax policy.' I should prefer we make no pretense of loving the market and take our socialism pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy."

Does Anyone Really Know How Much Medical Care Actually Costs?

Presumably so -- I've heard of practices and clinics that refuse insurance of any kind and are entirely "cash and carry." Even those prices are distorted by the overall climate, but at least they're prices directly negotiated between provider and patient, so they presumably communicate some kind of coherent information on cost of provision, scarcity of staff and equipment, etc.

For those of us with "insurance," not so much.

Case in point:

I recently had an office visit with a specialist.

The medical equipment involved included, to the best of my recollection, a scale, a thermometer, and a sphygmomanometer. In other words, stuff that is neither especially expensive nor costs a lot to operate (like, say, an MRI machine).

The visit's total length was around an hour, probably 20 minutes of which was spent waiting due to technical difficulties (a regular old desktop computer went down -- hard drive problem that kept it from booting up) and patient backlog (some older patients ahead of me had problem with the computerized check-in kiosk, etc., and it kind of cascaded). But let's generously call it an hour of raw time and three person-hours of work time between the doctor, the physician assistant (who did most of the heavy lifting), and other staff (receptionist, nurse, et al.). My real guess is less than two person-hours because most of those people are multi-tasking, but I don't want to lowball the costs of provision.

My co-pay was $35. Not bad at all.

According to billing, the full charge for the visit was $747.

That seemed high to me until I did some research on salaries, etc. In addition to going high on person-hours involved, I went with the higher numbers I found for doctor pay, etc. and used the two highest salaries I found (doctor and physician assistant), and multiplied even that by 1.5 to account for non-salary costs to employ someone. I came up with staff costs of about $420.

According to Becker's Hospital Review, median hospital labor costs as a percentage of operating revenue run 54.2%. Which, based on my labor calculations above, would mean that the hospital expected to bring in about $775. So the "real" price of my appointment (as opposed to my co-pay) was only about $28 (3.5%) off of what the labor numbers I SWAGed would lead me to expect.

The combined "real" bill for my echo cardiogram and nuclear stress test last week came to $4,787. Of course, those things involved expensive equipment, drugs, more focused staff time and more of that staff time involving people with specific technical credentials, etc. But once again my co-pay was $35.

If the whole pricing scheme just sounds bizarre and even crazy to you, it does to me too. But it occurs to me that my "insurance" pricing is tasked with absorbing some of the difference between actual costs and what the hospitals and clinics can bill for the same services when provided to Medicare and Medicaid patients, administrative costs of complying with government regulations, etc.

That is, I expect that in a free market, cash on the barrelhead pricing would be significantly less than the numbers you see above. But also more than I could afford to pay ;-)

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Florida Ballot Issues Endorsements: No on Amendment 3

I'm not sure how many of the issues on Florida's November ballot I'll bother analyzing here, but at least one or two, starting with Amendment 3. The relevant parts, excluding the word definitions section, etc. ...

This amendment ensures that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling in the State of Florida. This amendment requires a vote by citizens’ initiative pursuant to Article XI, section 3, in order for casino gambling to be authorized under Florida law. This section amends this Article; and also affects Article XI, by making citizens’ initiatives the exclusive method of authorizing casino gambling.


Nothing herein shall be deemed to limit the right of the Legislature to exercise its authority through general law to restrict, regulate, or tax any gaming or gambling activities. In addition, nothing herein shall be construed to limit the ability of the state or Native American tribes to negotiate gaming compacts pursuant to the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act for the conduct of casino gambling on tribal lands, or to affect any existing gambling on tribal lands pursuant to compacts executed by the state and Native American tribes pursuant to IGRA.

In short, under Amendment 3 only the voters (not the legislature) can allow non-Indian casinos, but the legislature can still do things that make casinos more difficult and expensive to open or operate.

Who, I wonder, could be behind such an idea? Well, the top three donors to "Voters in Charge," the group pushing the amendment, are:

  • Disney Worldwide Services, because Disney doesn't want to compete with casino gambling for tourist dollars in Florida
  • The Seminole Tribe of Florida, because the tribe doesn't want to compete with non-Indian-owned casinos in Florida
  • No Casinos Inc., an anti-gambling (at least in Florida) organization

The "purpose" of Amendment 3 may be to put "voters in charge" of whether or not to allow casino gambling, but the goal of Amendment 3 is to make sure casino gambling isn't allowed.

My preferred casino gambling amendment to Florida's constitution would look something like this:

Don't want to own, operate, or patronize a casino? Don't own, operate, or patronize a casino. Don't want others to own, operate, or patronize casinos? Well, feel free to try to talk them out of doing so if that floats your boat, but it's not your decision to make for them. Things would probably just be much better all around if you minded your own f**king business.

That option not being on the menu, I intend to vote no on Amendment 3 and encourage others to do likewise. Not because I trust the legislature to mind its own f**king business, but because legislators at least might have some incentives (increased tax revenues, perhaps some expensive meals paid for by lobbyists, etc.) to possibly at least allow these businesses to operate.

Yes, there are competing incentives (I'm sure Disney, the Seminoles, and the evangelical obsessives or whoever is behind No Casinos Inc., can lay out a great prime rib and crab leg buffet too, as well as contribute to pols who toe their line and to opponents of pols who don't), but the prohibitionists wouldn't be behind this if they didn't think it was going to be, at least in the long run, a more effective and less expensive way of protecting their business interests through government force and/or running everyone else's lives through same.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Two Things the Kavanaugh Fiasco Did Damage to "From the Right"

Both are ongoing, but the Kavanaugh confirmation process both highlighted the damage and added to it.

Thing One: "Presumption of Innocence"

Here's a non-Kavanaugh-related example of the problem, from a piece on civil judgments pursuant to rape allegations. I agree with the author that people acquitted of crimes shouldn't face a lower standard of proof in subsequent civil actions based on the claim that they're guilty, but then he goes on to write:

For us to live in an open, liberal society, the presumption of innocence has to exist as a social idea as well as a legal one. We need to recognise that people should not be branded guilty of serious crimes unless judged to be so by their peers, against a high standard of evidence.

No. It is not that way. It's never been that way. It's never going to be that way. And it shouldn't be that way.

"Presumption of innocence" in the absence of proof beyond a reasonable doubt is a standard/threshold for formally (through e.g. a criminal court proceeding) penalizing someone for a crime he or she is accused of committing. That's all it is, and demanding that its application be expanded to social interactions in general isn't just silly, it's dangerous.

If you think you saw me put something in your drink, you don't have to give me the benefit of doubt and consume the drink in the absence of video footage confirming that I did, witnesses credibly testifying that I did, and a jury of my peers unanimously concluding that I did.

Thing Two: "Due Process"

Brett Kavanaugh was being considered for appointment to the Supreme Court, not being tried for sexual assault. Vis a vis the sexual assault allegations, some people managed to convince themselves that in order for him to not get the job, "due process" required that he be "convicted" of those allegations by a reasonable doubt standard after a thorough criminal trial style proceeding.

"Due process" for a SCOTUS position is as follows: Presidential appointment and the "Advice and Consent of the Senate." That's it. That's all. There's nothing else.

On the "advice" end, presumably the Senate might send the president a list of people they think would be good for the position. On the "consent" end, there's absolutely, positively no standard whatsoever concerning how Senators may or may not vote. A Senator can vote yes because he likes the the nominee's hair color. A Senator can vote no because she doesn't like the nominee's shoes. Or, more to the likely end, a Senator can vote yes or no based on the nominee's perceived political affiliations.

Once Trump nominated Kavanaugh, the only thing Kavanaugh was entitled to was for the Senate to vote yes or no on his nomination after considering his fitness in whatever manner they chose, and to whatever standard they damn well felt like applying. And even that is far more than any other applicant for any other job is entitled to.

Monday, October 08, 2018

More Medical Meh

This morning, it was the hepatologist. Result: "You'll be getting a call to schedule your needle biopsy."

Tomorrow morning, first an echo cardiogram and then a radioactive isotope/heart-rate-increasing drug injection.

Then, Wednesday night, I have a tentative date scheduled with Hurricane Michael. Hopefully that won't turn medical.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

All Aboard -- or Maybe Not

I don't know if I've touted Caryn Ann Harlos's new podcast, The Big L Podcast, -- "your unofficial source for Libertarian Party news, arcana, and information for the liberty-minded political junky" -- here on the blog yet. If not, that's an oversight for which I apologize. If you dig the Libertarian Party at all, you'll dig The Big L Podcast.

The latest episode is part two of a three-part series on "The LP and the Enduring Importance of the Statement of Principles." Caryn Ann is doing some groundbreaking historical preservation work, both with the podcast and with other efforts. I don't always agree with her conclusions, but she's doing something most of us have done little or nothing like, which is finding source documents to support those conclusions.

I do want to take issue with one thing in this latest episode. It's not an historical claim I'm interested in disputing, but a common metaphor that I consider inadequately explored. Here's Caryn Ann's version of the metaphor, with one alternative to the usual understanding:

This legitimate disagreement [between anarchists, minarchists, classical liberals, et al.] is actually so tiny and so far off, the differences are so trivial when it comes to the ultimate goal of all human interactions being voluntary and peaceful, that absolute cooperation between us makes perfect sense. And this is where the metaphor ... comes into play... that is that we are on the same train head headed northward. Some of us will get off sooner than others. But this ... idea is disturbingly being denied by some within the party. It is claimed that no, it's like one train is going to New York from Florida and one is going to California from Florida and we can't travel together because our destinations are so different.

Caryn Ann disputes that. As a practical matter, so do I. That is, I figure that among those choosing to work within the American system of electoral politics, it makes sense for all those in favor of more freedom to establish common cause and cooperate with each other and to work together in support of whatever seems to move things in that direction at any given moment.

But, there is another way to look at the train metaphor, and that is that some of us are on a train chugging slowly in the right direction, while others among us remain back in Florida building a rocket ship for which we don't yet have a working engine or sufficient fuel.

In fact, we don't even know what the engine will look like or what the fuel will be. But we don't think the train is ever going to get where it's going (in fact, we expect it to end up a lot like the coal-powered locomotive that tries to make it through a long tunnel in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged), and we hope that circumstances -- political disintegration and revolution -- will provide the engine and the fuel at some time and in some manner which we can't venture to predict. At which we will leap-frog the train, land in the ruins, and build the free society.

Or something like that. Obviously there are variants, e.g. "build the newworld in the shell of the old." What those variants have in common are that they don't take for granted a linear, measured progression from Point A (where we are) to Point B (where we want to go), a progression with stops along the way where people can get off when they decided they've had enough of the progression and are right where they want to be.

That mindset makes involvement in electoral politics generally and the Libertarian Party specifically somewhat tricky. Should the LP be chipping away incrementally "in the right direction," or should it be more or less monkeywrenching stuff in order to bring about the desired collapse so that the real work can get started?

My opinion on that is that the LP's own structure and its situation within electoral politics dictates the former. Not because I think the "train" metaphor is correct versus the "rocket ship" metaphor, but because electoral politics as such is based on slow trains ... and big tents.

The LP does need to be right both on the whole (its vision/goal) and in detail (its actions vis a vis specific issues of the moment). But it needn't abandon train in favor of rocket ship, and in fact it wouldn't make sense for it to do so.

Anyway, that's my "making a mountain out of a molehill" contribution to the latest episode of The Big L Podcast. The rest of the podcast is much more fun, interesting, and informative than the part I chose to nitpick. You should listen to it.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Kavanaugh and the Midterms, Part 2

So, it looks like Brett Kavanaugh will squeak across the finish line and onto the Supreme Court this morning. In my last post, I mused that some Senate Republicans might be secretly hoping for a defeat here (at the hands of Flake/Collins/Murkowski), just to mobilize the GOP vote in November at his expense.

If so, they aren't getting what they wanted. Flake and Collins have announced they'll be voting to confirm. Murkowski says she'll vote "present." More on them in a minute.

West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin is breaking the Democratic line to vote for confirmation too. Not really surprising. He might well have done so even if it was clear that Kavanaugh was going down. Manchin looks like he's in good shape for re-election -- Real Clear Politics has him up by an average of 9.4% over GOP horse Patrick Morrissey -- but as the RCP updates on the polling note, there are lots of undecideds out there. A no vote on Kavanaugh's confirmation could turn the race into, well, a race.

What are the political angles on Flake, Collins, and Murkowski?

Flake isn't running for re-election. He's campaigning for some as yet unannounced position -- a Trump appointment in the executive branch (ambassador to South Africa, perhaps), or president in 2020 or 2024, or whatever. He's trying to cut this baby in half, Solomon-style. He conditioned his Judiciary Committee vote on a half-assed FBI "investigation" (pleasing Democrats, enraging Republicans) and is now pretending that an actual investigation took place and exonerated Kavanaugh so that he can vote to confirm (pleasing Republicans, enraging Democrats). Will that work out to his benefit? Who knows?

Collins and Murkowski aren't up for re-election this year. What do they hope to get out of a Kavanaugh confirmation? A Senate where they remain powerful as "swing moderate" votes. If the Republicans pick up seats in the Senate, Collins and Murkowski become less powerful, less important, less well-positioned to demand concessions in return for their votes on other things. Sending Kavanaugh to SCOTUS maximizes the Democratic vote in November, reducing the chances of big GOP gains in the Senate. And they have a couple of years for controversy over their yes/present votes to fade from the minds of voters.

As far as Kavanaugh getting onto the court, my own feelings are mixed. In the short term, his big-government, anti-freedom, screw-the-constitution orientation seems likely to produce ugly results that will affect me as much as any other American, so I can't say I'm happy about it. On the other hand, his mere presence on the bench will tend lower the court's reputation even further and call its credibility into question even more. As an anarchist, I'm certainly OK with that.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Kavanaugh and the Midterms

My general prediction for the midterm elections has been:

  • No "blue wave." That is, the Democrats are unlikely to seize majorities of both houses of Congress.
  • If they win a House majority, it won't be a majority of more than a couple of seats.
  • There's even a significant chance of a net Democratic loss of seats in the Senate, simply because the Republicans have fewer seats to defend (nine of 34, IIRC) than the Democrats, and there are several distinctly un-safe Democratic incumbents (McCaskill in Missouri, Donnelly in Indiana, Nelson in Florida, Heitkamp in North Dakota, Tester in Montana).
I made those predictions before Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court became a much uglier thing than I expected. So here's an update on my predictions:

  • They remain pretty much the same. Not completely, but pretty much.
  • I'd say that Heitkamp, whose re-election was doubtful anyway, is toast now. That's going to be a GOP pickup.
  • Whichever party wins on Kavanaugh will do worse in the midterms than it would have otherwise -- the other side will have it as a king-hell Mobilize the Base/Get Out The Vote tool. That might swing some of the otherwise "too close to call" races.
In fact, on that last point, I think some Republican pols may be hoping like hell that Kavanaugh goes down by a vote or two. Not badly enough to vote against him themselves, but badly enough to hope that e.g. Collins falls on her sword and votes no on confirmation (after which they will promptly blame the Democrats, not e.g. Collins).

That outcome probably wouldn't produce a "red wave," but most of them would trade one SCOTUS pick's misfortune for a likely Senate seat gain seven days a week and twice on Sunday.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Bar Fights: Normal or Abnormal?

Over at Reason, Jacob Sullum writes that "Viewing Bar Fights As Normal Male Behavior Encourages Violence." Naturally, the basis for the piece is Brett Kavanaugh's questioning over one in 1985:

[A]ttempts to use the story against him have provoked a revealing debate about how common it is for young men to get into bar fights. Broadly speaking, Kavanaugh's defenders think bar fights are a rite of passage for men, so they are no big deal, while his detractors say most men don't get into bar fights, so Kavanaugh's involvement in one reflects on his character.

Sullum cites an online survey by Esquire in which 74% of respondents say they've never been involved a bar fight. If 26% of people have done something, can it really be that abnormal? I can think of a lot of things that fewer than 26% of people do that I wouldn't consider violations of social norms. Just as an example, buying a Taylor Swift album. OK, well, maybe a bad example.

Anyway, I'd say that my own bar fight history deserves to be divided into two categories.

Category 1: The Marine Corps

Bar fights were certainly normal in that culture when I was in (1984-95). Especially in base enlisted clubs where the patrons were from rival government organizations (e.g. Marine Corps and Army, or Marine Corps and Navy). I know, it's really hard to get one's mind around the idea of a strong correlation between 1) inviting a bunch of young, mostly male people whose jobs involve killing other young, mostly male people (or at least constantly training to do so) to come together and drink unusually cheap alcohol and 2) brawls breaking out, but in my experience such a correlation exists.

How many military bar fights was I in? Enough that I'm not equipped to offer an accurate count. Enough that at least three in particular stick out in my mind (my first, which also involved crawling across a base in ditches to avoid the base military police; another in which the MPs turned dogs loose on the crowd; and a third which started at an e-club on an Army base with a large Special Forces presence, when a Marine stood up on his chair and sang "one hundred Marines/took a shit today/and wiped their ass/with a green beret"). So definitely more than three.

Category 2: Not the Marine Corps

I can only think of three.

In the first one, I was not yet 21 and was confined to an upstairs "under-age" area of a nightclub/music venue. The exit happened to coincide with the exit from the bar area. A college-age drunk noticed my earring and called me a name. I just answered "f--k off" and was willing to leave it at that. But he took exception and broke my nose. I, taking similar exception, picked him up by his shirt, and used him to put a dent in the open metal door to the bar area, and his friends carried him away (to be fair, they were already mostly carrying him anyway). That dent was still in the door last time I saw the bar, years later (I worked there as doorman/bouncer for a couple of years after turning 21 -- I think maybe the club owner remembered that little dust-up; I only ever had to bounce one guy, and he didn't have any fight in him).

In the second one, I was at a different bar, hanging out with the doorman, Tiny (so-called for being maybe 7 feet tall and 350 pounds). A gentleman in line to enter, already either drunk or high, decided to slap his date around right there. Tiny told him to leave. The gentleman decided to fight instead. So Tiny heaved him through the plate glass door to the bar. The gentleman still wanted to fight, so Tiny obliged. The gentleman's date wanted to fight too, so I got scratched up a little (by her fingernails and by shattered glass) trying to keep her off Tiny's back while he banged the gentleman's head against the sidewalk every time the gentleman tried to get up to fight some more, until the police arrived.

I'm not sure that the third one doesn't belong in the Marine Corps section as well. I was out of the Marine Corps, but at a sports bar right off of an Army base. Another (intoxicated) patron decided to try to slap my (then) wife. So we fought, and genuinely tried to kill each other until security pulled us apart and kicked him out. His fighting style seemed familiar to me, and shortly thereafter when some of his friends came up to let me know they'd be waiting to pound me when I left, I discovered that he was (and they were) Marines who were at the Army base for a school. Once that was clarified, we were good friends for the rest of the night.

I'm open to the idea that bar fights are abnormal. But looking back, I'd have to say that they weren't abnormal for me between the ages of, say, 19 or so and 30 or so.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

So, Just Now ...

Why the Simulation Hypothesis Isn't and Can't be a Bona Fide Scientific Assertion

The Simulation Hypothesis is probably about as old as humankind. There's not really any essential difference between us thinking "perhaps we live in a computer simulation" and our ancestors thinking "perhaps we live in the imagination/dream of a god." But I'll go with Bostrom's trilemma:

A technologically mature “posthuman” civilization would have enormous computing power. Based on this empirical fact, the simulation argument shows that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage is very close to zero; (2) The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor-simulations is very close to zero; (3) The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one.

If (1) is true, then we will almost certainly go extinct before reaching posthumanity. If (2) is true, then there must be a strong convergence among the courses of advanced civilizations so that virtually none contains any relatively wealthy individuals who desire to run ancestor-simulations and are free to do so. If (3) is true, then we almost certainly live in a simulation.

So far as I can tell, the logic checks out, and my money is on (3).

But I keep seeing pieces that go like this one:

Now scientists are searching for ways to put the simulation hypothesis to the test. Bostrom is eager to see more concrete developments of his idea. Experiments that could distinguish physical reality from a simulation “are what would be needed for it to be a bona fide scientific assertion,” he told MACH.

The difference between a hypothesis/conjecture and a "bona fide scientific assertion" is that the latter is falsifiable. That is, it is possible to show that it is false (if it is, in fact, false).

The Simulation Hypothesis is not falsifiable because if it is true, the creators, programmers, or administrators who created the simulation we live in could have coded rules into that simulation that return experimental results reflecting what they want us to know or not know -- for example, false falsifications -- rather than returning experimental results reflecting the truth. In extremis, they could even re-start the simulation or run it back in time if we conduct an experiment that gets around such rules, and add some new factor to make sure that doesn't happen "again."

Going back to the first paragraph, I find it interesting that attempting to scientifically test the Simulation Hypothesis is not just the equivalent of attempting to scientifically prove the existence or non-existence of God, it is attempting to scientifically prove the existence or non-existence of God.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Jim Geraghty is the Sucker

Geraghty, writing at National Review:

I suspect Flake thought he was doing the right thing by giving Kavanaugh a way to dispel the accusations against him, and also by taking away the biggest argument from the Democrats, that “we need an FBI investigation.” But he assumed what few other Republicans did, that these objections from Democrats were made in good faith. Jeff Flake is a sucker.

The sucker assumption isn't Flake's, it's Geraghty's. It's naive to assume that Flake assumed -- or thought he needed to assume -- anything at all about the Democrats, or that if he did make any such assumptions they were anything other than the obvious one: That, like the Republicans, the Democrats are throwing whatever elbows they can get bent in the right direction at any given moment, for the purpose of scoring political points.

Flake's leaving the US Senate -- walking out of the ring on his own rather than being carried out after an election defeat. So it kind of looks like he's got nothing to prove, no voters to satisfy, etc. Complete freedom to "do what he thinks is right." I suppose we could leave it at that.

But you know me. I'm cynical.

Not running for re-election to the US Senate doesn't mean he's stopped being a politician.

Speaking in March in (ahem) New Hampshire, he took a far from Shermanesque line: "It has not been in my plans to run for president, but I have not ruled it out." And even if he never runs for anything again, there are always possible future cabinet positions, think tank gigs, what have you.

So, here he is, sitting on the deciding Judiciary Committee vote on whether or not to recommend Brett Kavanaugh to the full Senate for confirmation to the Supreme Court.

And, quite possibly, the deciding vote in the full Senate on that confirmation.

He throws Republicans a bone by advancing the confirmation to the full Senate.

He throws Democrats a bone by making it clear he'll vote no in the full Senate unless there's an FBI investigation.

Check out Flake's big bipartisanship on Brett!

And later this week he gets the spotlight again when he announces whether or not he finds the investigation and its conclusions satisfactory (and votes yes), or not (and votes no).

Either way he goes gives cover to two other wavering Republicans (Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska) to go the same way.

If he votes yes, he's back to being a Republican hero with his past anti-Trump transgressions forgotten.

If he votes no, he inherits the title of another (recently deceased) US Senator from Arizona: "Democrats' Favorite Republican."

Either of those will be politically useful, albeit in different ways and for different aspirations.

Just as an example, I happen to notice that he served as a Mormon missionary in South Africa and speaks Afrikaans.

The ambassadorship to South Africa seems to be vacant (Patrick Gaspard left in December 2016 and so far as I can tell the show there is now being run by a charge d'affaires, Jessye Lapenn) ...

If he votes yes on confirmation, perhaps President Trump suddenly notices the vacancy and Flake's qualifications for the position. If he votes no, then perhaps a Democrat elected in 2020 or 2024 decides that "Democrats' Favorite Republican" is the man to make the new administration look suitably bipartisan.

Or whatever. Flake's no sucker. He's playing politics. And he seems to be good at it.

A Book Deal You Won't Want to Miss

Get the Amazon Kindle edition of Basics of Resistance: Book I of The Practical Freedomista -- from Claire Wolfe and Kit Perez -- for 99 cents today, $1.99 tomorrow, or $2.99 Wednesday. After that, it's still a steal at its regular price of $3.99.