The suggested list of books for a high school government class

Rear view of class raising handsIf you’re wondering why the younger generation blindly supported Obama through two elections; why they are reflexively hostile to conservatives and Republicans; and why, even though Obama has dismally failed them, they are incapable of considering another, less intrusive, approach to governance, just contemplate the list of books a local high school Government teacher recommended for the class’s mandatory reading requirement:

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I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking most (or all) of those books hew Left, way, way, way Left.

Since the list is supposed to consist of suggestions only, I’m trying to think of a few counter suggestions.  I need books that present conservative approaches to government and economics. Moreover, to the extent that a high schooler is going to be reading the book, I think my counter suggestion should be eminently readable and entertaining.  Of course, since I’m trying desperately to think of something quickly, before the weekend is over, I’m pulling a big, fat blank.

Still, keeping my requirements in mind (accessible, entertaining, easy-to-read), my top choice for a suggestion is Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change, which I think is one of the most readable political books out there. Goldberg has an incredibly deft touch. He makes his points lightly, often humorously, without ever resorting to browbeating.

What do you guys think?

The DemProg’s love of government

dmv-line_100369529_mOne of the reasons I didn’t write anything yesterday was that we went into the City to have lunch with friends. The food was wonderful, which I knew would be the case, since Yank Sing is my favorite restaurant. The conversation was frustrating.

It all started when someone tried to look something up on the California Department of Motor Vehicle’s website, only to discover that it’s a terrible website. I pointed out that, being a monopoly, once the DMV created a somewhat functional website, it had no incentive to create a better one. A DemProg at the table, who works in the private sector, instantly defended government workers.

“I know government workers,” he said, “who work crazy hard.”

“So do I,” I replied. “I’m not talking about individuals; I’m talking about a systemic problem.”

“So you’re saying no government workers can do a good job?”

“No, I’m not saying that at all. What I’m saying is that when there’s a monopoly, which is always the case when government is involved, you only need to get things functional and no more. You’re not going to lose business, after all.”

“That’s not true!”

(It occurs to me as I write this that the DemProg took my argument as a veiled attack on the Obamacare website, although that hadn’t even crossed my mind at the time.)

The argument volleyed back and forth for a while, with the DemProg insistently saying — and me agreeing — that there are wonderful government employees out there. I kept repeating my point, though, that the system discourages hard work and innovation because there are no rewards for either.

Since we were at an impasse, the DemProg switched to another argument:

“It’s not the workers’ fault and it’s not just because no one else can compete with them. It’s because of the regulations that limit them.”

“That’s my point exactly! The nature of government is such that every agency, from its inception, is prevented from growing, innovating, and creating. It’s designed and limited by committees that have nothing to do with it’s actual functioning.”

I’m a bit muddy on where the conversation went at this point. We definitely touched upon government unions, which he said were necessary to protect workers, and which I said were corrupt ab initio, because the people whose money is at stake (i.e., taxpayers) are the only ones not at the table. Instead, I explained, although I doubt he or the other DemProg guests understood, unions pay money to elect politicians who ensure that they get insane benefits, far better than in the private sector, because the politicians know that a portion of those same benefits will be turned into cash to re-elect the politician. No taxpayers — the ones who fund this corruption — are involved. I especially flummoxed my audience when I added that Progressive icon FDR feared public sector unions.

I suggested a thought experiment: Imagine that the DMV is divided into two separate entities, one of which serves all state citizens whose last names end with the letters A through L and the other of which serves all state residents whose names end with M through Z (and we’re assuming that pretty much divides the state population in half). Both DMV entities are given the same goal — do DMV stuff — but they’re not explicitly told how to do that. Moreover, they are told that, at the end of each year, there’s going to be a customer satisfaction survey. Whichever DMV department wins that survey will be rewarded: The employees will get significant bonuses. The other DMV won’t get any bonuses and, if the survey answers are really bad, people will get fired and salaries will be docked.

I then asked, “Would the above scenario improve performance?”

To which my DemProg friend said, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

Hobby Lobby reveals how public and private spheres have changed in the last few decades

Church rejects Obama as GodBack in the 1980s, when I was a good ol” liberal Democrat (sort of in the Kennedy mold), I kept hearing those Bible Thumpers in the Moral Majority bandy about a word: “Secularist.”

What the heck was that? Nobody I knew (and everyone I knew was a person of the sort-of Left) called him or herself a “secularist.”

What in the world did those zealots mean by labeling me that way and pretending that I’m doing something damaging to them? I understood what was really going on:  Very religious people were abnormal, and then there were the rest of us who were non-religious, or slightly religious in a genteel, non-obtrusive fashion.  The fact that our “religion”  closely paralleled the Democrat Party platform, meaning that laws were informed by our “religious” values was just a coincidence.

We were not foisting anything on them.  If anything, they were the foisters, especially with their stupid pro-Life values.

I’ve obviously come a long way from then, haven’t I?

One of the things that helped me on my journey to rationality was Stephen Carter’s The Culture of Disbelief. It was he who explained to me that to hold values in opposition to traditional Christianity is itself a value system.

Bingo! Light bulb moment. As of 1994, I finally understood what the Moral Majority was complaining about. I didn’t yet agree with the values they advanced, but I instantly became much more sympathetic to their complaints about Leftist, secular culture encroaching upon them.

The societal change Carter noted — that the absence of religious values (as opposed to religious doctrine) was taking over the public forum — has only accelerated in recent years. I actually hadn’t thought about it in any specific way until I read Megan McArdle’s very thoughtful post about the Left’s hysteria in response to the Supreme Court’s extremely narrow, common-sensical Hobby Lobby ruling.

For conservatives, even non-religious ones, the ruling’s correctness was a no-brainer:  The holding that government cannot compel people to purchase a product inconsistent with core doctrinal beliefs is true both to the Constitution and to the traditional American ethos of keeping the state out of people’s religion.

But what if the state itself is the people’s religion? McArdle believes that this trend, which sees public space co-opted by non-religious beliefs that have been themselves elevated to absolute “values” explains much of the hysteria, not among the professional Left, but among ordinary DemProgs.  The change in attitude McArdle notes explains both why Leftists cannot appreciate the seriousness of the issue for religious people and why they do not view the Obama administration’s actions as coercive.

I’m quoting McArdle at some length here, because the logic underlying her theory is so tightly constructed, it’s difficult for me to quote her without doing damage to her reasoning.  I urge you, though, to read the whole thing:

I think a few things are going on here. The first is that while the religious right views religion as a fundamental, and indeed essential, part of the human experience, the secular left views it as something more like a hobby, so for them it’s as if a major administrative rule was struck down because it unduly burdened model-train enthusiasts. That emotional disconnect makes it hard for the two sides to even debate; the emotional tenor quickly spirals into hysteria as one side says “Sacred!” and the other side says, essentially, “Seriously? Model trains?” That shows in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent, where it seems to me that she takes a very narrow view of what role religious groups play in the lives of believers and society as a whole.

The second, and probably more important, problem is that the long compromise worked out between the state and religious groups — do what you want within very broad limits, but don’t expect the state to promote it — is breaking down in the face of a shift in the way we view rights and the role of the government in public life.

To see what I mean, consider an argument I have now heard hundreds of times — on Facebook, in my e-mail, in comment threads here and elsewhere: “Hobby Lobby’s owners have a right to their own religious views, but they don’t have a right to impose them on others.”As I wrote the day the decision came out, the statement itself is laudable, yet it rings strange when it’s applied to this particular circumstance. How is not buying you something equivalent to “imposing” on you?

I think you can understand this, however, as the clash of principles designed for a world of negative rights, in a society that has come to embrace substantial positive rights — as well as a clash between old and new concepts of what is private and what is public.

All of us learned some version of “You have the right to your beliefs, but not to impose them on others” in civics class. It’s a classic negative right. And negative rights are easy to make reciprocal: You have a right to practice your religion without interference, and I have a right not to have your beliefs imposed on me.

This works very well in situations in which most of the other rights granted by society are negative rights, because negative rights don’t clash very often. Oh, sure, you’re going to get arguments about noise ordinances and other nuisance abatements, but unless your religious practices are extreme indeed, the odds that they will substantively violate someone else’s negative rights are pretty slim.

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Alongside this development, as Yuval Levin has pointed out, we have seen an ongoing shift, particularly on the left, in the balance between what constitutes the private and the public spheres, and who has powers in which sphere. There’s a reductive tendency in modern political discourse to view public versus private as the state versus the individual.

In the 19th century, the line between the individual and the government was just as firm as it is now, but there was a large public space in between that was nonetheless seen as private in the sense of being mostly outside of government control — which is why we still refer to “public” companies as being part of the “private” sector. Again, in the context of largely negative rights, this makes sense. You have individuals on one end and a small state on the other, and in the middle you have a large variety of private voluntary institutions that exert various forms of social and financial coercion, but not governmental coercion — which, unlike other forms of coercion, is ultimately enforced by the government’s monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.

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[O]utside of our most intimate relationships, almost everything else is now viewed as public, which is why Brendan Eich’s donation to an anti-gay-marriage group became, in the eyes of many, grounds for firing.

For many people, this massive public territory is all the legitimate province of the state. Institutions within that sphere are subject to close regulation by the government, including regulations that turn those institutions into agents of state goals — for example, by making them buy birth control for anyone they choose to employ. It is not a totalitarian view of government, but it is a totalizing view of government; almost everything we do ends up being shaped by the law and the bureaucrats appointed to enforce it. We resolve the conflict between negative and positive rights by restricting many negative rights to a shrunken private sphere where they cannot get much purchase.

Put another way, once upon time, things not directly within the government purview were neutral territory in which I didn’t impose upon or demand from you, and you didn’t impose upon and demand from me.  We might have thought the other excessively moral or immoral, but we danced together in uneasy harmony.

Beginning in the 1980s, though, the Left co-opted the public space, declaring that it was not neutral territory but was, instead, government territory.  Further, because Leftists deny that their belief in non-Christian values is itself a value, they insist that by doing so they’re not infringing on First Amendment rights.  They insist upon this denial even as they promote and guard their own secular faith with all the vehemence of a true religious zealot.

The Obama healthcare mandate reflects the fact that, for the Left, the distinction between your private religious space and all the other public government faith space has morphed again.  Now, as a person of faith, the only space you have that’s yours is within the four walls of your home.  Everything else is within the public purview, meaning that it’s under government control and government values (which are, by definition, statist, hostile to matters of faith, and identical to the Democrat platform).  With this rejiggered view of public and private, the government is not infringing upon your religion if it imposes obligations on you (even obligations that directly contradict your faith) as long as it is not constraining you within your own home.

Put another way, the DemProg interpretation of the First Amendment’s promise that the government cannot prohibit the free exercise of religion boils down to this:  I can’t force you to pay for or perform an abortion on your own daughter (provided she lives in your house), but I am not impinging on your faith if I force you to pay for or perform an abortion on your neighbor’s daughter.   Under this definition, your objection to paying for or performing that abortion on the neighbor’s child constitutes an unreasonable attempt to enforce religious values in the public arena.

Thoughts about my traffic travails; or denial ain’t just a river in Egypt

Getting a ticketI’m still brooding about the craptacular implosion of my 36 year run without any driving violations.  This is not something I take lightly.  It disturbs me on two levels.

The first level is my self-confidence. By the time you reach the middle of middle age, shading into the dark side of middle age, you’re reasonably confident that you’ve mastered life’s basic skills. You can shop, prepare yourself some basic meals, get your laundry done, pay your bills . . . and drive your car.

Now, when I get on the road, I recoil from every chimerical possibility of accident or ticket. Contrary to the police’s claim about the intended purposes behind the sting and the red light camera, I am not a safer driver now than I was before, unless you count as safe a driver who constantly second guesses herself and is as skittish as long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

The last time I felt this bad as a driver was when I started driving again after an accident that saw the car in which I was a passenger plummet off an overpass and land upside down 20 feet below. This time, I’m not scared of the car; I’m scared of everything around the car. I do not think this is, or should be, the law’s purpose.

My theory about the law’s purpose gets me to my second point, which is that I feel that both the tickets violated a sort of unspoken social contract I’ve always felt as a driver with the rules of the road. Warning: I strongly urge readers in law enforcement to cover their eyes at this point. What I’m going to say will not make them happy.

To my way of thinking, both my traffic violations involved slightly different violations of the social contract. The purpose behind traffic regulations is to protect people and property, while keeping traffic moving as efficiently as possible. I wholeheartedly approve of this purpose. What regulations are not meant to be is a source of revenue for cash strapped states and municipalities or some sort of lesson created in false, laboratory-like circumstances. Increasingly, though, that’s what they’re becoming.

The cross walk sting I got the other day seems to me to violate the spirit of the law, as well as the letter, insofar as the law is aimed at protecting people and property. If you read the statute (Calif. Vehicle Code sec. 21950), what comes through loud and clear is that it relies heavily on common sense, situational awareness, and individual discretion:

(a) The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.

(b) This section does not relieve a pedestrian from the duty of using due care for his or her safety. No pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. No pedestrian may unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.

(c) The driver of a vehicle approaching a pedestrian within any marked or unmarked crosswalk shall exercise all due care and shall reduce the speed of the vehicle or take any other action relating to the operation of the vehicle as necessary to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian.

As you can see, the statute states no specifics. That is, it doesn’t say that, when a driver is 100 feet from a marked cross walk, if he sees a pedestrian within 3 feet or less of the cross walk, or in the cross walk itself, he must immediately apply the brake and remain stopped until the pedestrian is more than 3 feet from the cross walk. It also doesn’t express any specific times within which a driver must act (e.g., within 3 seconds of having a clear view of any pedestrian less than 3 feet away from the cross walk, etc.).

Instead, the statute says that it’s the driver’s responsibility to protect the pedestrian. I agree. It says, despite the driver’s primary obligation to protect the pedestrian, the pedestrian cannot behave irresponsibly. I agree. And finally, it says that the driver has to exercise “due care” and must reduce speed “or take any other action relating to the operation of the vehicle as necessary to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian.” It’s the driver’s decision how to act in a specific situation. And unless the driver is a psychopath, his decision will be to do everything possible to avoid that pedestrian.

I know my car, I know my intersection, and I know the way normal adult pedestrians behave. (When it comes to children, I slow to 5 miles an hour if they’re on a side walk within 20 feet of my car whether or not they’re at a cross walk. Like drunks, their behavior is totally random, and “due care” requires extraordinary caution.) Normal adults stop at the curb, look both ways and, if they see a driver coming, carefully check the car out before leaning their bodies forward into the intersection.

When I am about 100 feet from an intersection and see an adult pedestrian engage in normal behavior, I take my foot off the gas to reduce speed and, if necessary, gently touch the brake while I assess the situation. If it’s clear the pedestrian’s going for it, I stop. Because I’m familiar with my car, I know that this “reduce speed, observe, and stop if needed” technique will invariably have me stopped at least 30 feet from the pedestrian.

Normal pedestrians don’t observe a car coming down the road and, when it’s 100 feet away, suddenly step off the curb into the street without any other body “pedestrian body language.” And they don’t, as the driver draws near, but is still about 60 feet away and not accelerating, hop like a bunny back on the curb. In other words, all of the ordinary signals were wrong. That’s why I didn’t instantly stop. Or — until I see the video and confirm that this is how things really played out — that’s the story I’m telling myself for why I didn’t stop.

Even if my perception of the event is somewhat off, the sting’s scenario wasn’t a real driving scenario. It applied an objective test (must brake and stop within “X” number of feet of the supposed pedestrian) to an extremely subjective event, one that depends on the by-play between both driver and pedestrian, and on the driver’s knowledge of the terrain and her car.

In its effort to apply an objective test to a situation that his subjective both in law and in fact, this sting differed a great deal from other police traffic activity I’ve seen. Alcohol check points depend subjective things (smelling of booze, being unstable), clinched by an objective breathalyzer test (although even that is dependent on the size of the person and the way they metabolize alcohol). Speed traps depend on your speed, measured by a relatively proven technology. Traps at school bus stops use real school buses that really stop, and ticket people who engage in a behavior that’s highly objective — they drive by the stop. None of these stings operate within the shade of gray of an arbitrary distance for action, with that action dependent on the enticing behavior of an actor who may or may not behave in a way that would demonstrate to a real driver in real-time that the person intends to enter a cross walk.

The right light camera is just as bad in terms of applying an objective standard to a subjective situation. I’m not talking about driving straight through an intersection. I’m talking about right turns on yellow.

Let me begin by saying that I’m an almost excessively law-abiding citizen. I always use my cruise control so I don’t speed. If a sign says “no left turn,” I obey it. I don’t litter. I’d never dream of shoplifting and didn’t even do the stupid thing of trying it when I was young. I don’t use illicit drugs.

When it comes to yellow lights, if I’m heading straight, and if I’m not going to get rear ended by doing so, I stop for them. Doing that isn’t just because of the written rules. It’s because, in those circumstances, the law’s purpose is manifest: stopping decreases the chance of a collision, as laggards try to clear the intersection before the light changes red or eager bunnies try to start driving before their light changes green.

Making a right turn on a yellow, even one that’s shading into red, is a different proposition. At a large intersection, unless the traffic coming from the left uses warp speed, there is no possibility of a collision. And if I’ve been paying attention, and I know that there are no pedestrians either ahead of me or to the right, that turn cannot put anybody at risk. Moreover, if I’ve gotten into my turn by the time the light changes, I’m heading in the direction of the green light and I’m not running anything.

Again, as with the pedestrian situation, I’m applying my discretion to a situation because I know absolutely that there is no danger attached to what I’m doing. I’m also counting on the fact that I can get away with it. It’s a neat, quick little maneuver that a police officer probably wouldn’t catch because, in my opinion, it’s safe and, if I finish angling my turn by the time the light changes, I’m traveling with not against the green light.

The problem with the red light camera is that it has no discretion. It sits there and churns out tickets despite the fact that the driver is engaged in a manifestly risk-free activity and, moreover, is moving with the traffic, not against it by the time the light changes.

The Vehicle Code, surprisingly for a government code, vests a lot of discretion in drivers. They’re supposed to calculate whether activities are safe or dangerous, and behave reasonably under such circumstances. Even some of the ostensibly black and white things aren’t really. For example, about that speed limit: yes, normally you’ll get nailed for exceeding the speed limit, but officers actually have discretion. If driving at the posted speed is unsafe, whether because traffic should move more slowly or is, in fact, moving much more quickly, you’ll still get ticketed.

So what I’m complaining about here are policing activities — cross walk stings and red light cameras — that violate the spirit of the law by imposing arbitrary constraints on situations that vest the driver with discretion. And worse, with the cross walk sting, the police try to imply objective standards (braking within X number of feet) to a situation that is inherently subjective.

This might be my last word on the subject unless I brood some more.

My traffic karma sucks (pardon my language) — or life with red light cameras *UPDATED*

Red Light Camera(UPDATE:  Aargh!  I was able to view the video on line, and I didn’t stop.  The light had just gone from yellow to red, which would explain my decision.  I know you can still move on a yellow, but not on a red.  I was really scooting to catch the yellow and I clearly decided not to slam on the brake when it turned red.  UPDATE II:  I deleted the word “dishonest” from my post caption.  All I can say is that, when it comes to busting my perfect driving record, I’m nothing if not efficient. I also do wonder how long that yellow light was.  It turns out that cities shorten them to increase revenue from red light cameras.  Oakland probably didn’t do that, but thinking that it might have done so gives me a comfortable sense of denial.)

First, an update to the traffic post I did a couple of days ago: Yes, it was definitely a sting.  I know this, first, because a friend got stung too and, second, because a police officer I spoke with confirmed that they were using actors as part of a cross walk sting.  The police department did make a public announcement through social media that it was going to be cracking down on pedestrian violations, but I didn’t check social media and, in any event, the police didn’t announce that they’d have people jumping in and out of intersections.

I checked the law and discovered that it’s very touchy-feely. The California Vehicle Code doesn’t specify distances (i.e., driver must stop so many feet from the pedestrian or cross walk) or times (driver has so many seconds to react). Instead, section 21950 basically says that pedestrians have the right of way, but they can’t throw themselves into the street, and drivers must take all reasonable steps to avoid hitting a pedestrian:

(a) The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.

(b) This section does not relieve a pedestrian from the duty of using due care for his or her safety. No pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. No pedestrian may unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.

(c) The driver of a vehicle approaching a pedestrian within any marked or unmarked crosswalk shall exercise all due care and shall reduce the speed of the vehicle or take any other action relating to the operation of the vehicle as necessary to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian.

My contention is that the police decoy was not wearing bright clothes, did not use body language indicating he intended to cross, and stepped into and out of the crosswalk so quickly I had no time to or reason to stop.

The good news is that the police took videos of all the stops. I’m going to make an appointment to view the video.  If I’m wrong, I’ll take my licks because I deserve them. And if I’m right, well, the police might reverse the ticket then and there, or I’ll have good cause (in my own mind, at least) to take the matter to court.

So that’s bad traffic karma number one. Here’s number two (and keep in mind that, before a couple of days ago, I’d never before had a moving violation):

I received in today’s mail a notice from the Alameda County traffic division telling me I was cited for running a red light. What? I was in Oakland last week, but I have no memory of running a red light — and you’d think that would be something I’d remember.  Before I even studied the pictures included in the citation, I studied my memory.  I know that sometime last week, either in Marin or in the East Bay, I was in an intersection when it turned yellow, but I got out before it turned red, so that couldn’t be the reason — unless the camera cheated.  I also asked myself whether I could have been so clueless that I not only ran the red light, I didn’t even realize there was a light there. That’s not likely either, because I’m hyperaware driving in that region of England because the traffic is aggressive and the intersections are vast, requiring attention.

Since the memory banks didn’t yield any useful information, I careful studied the small, somewhat blurred photos included with the citation.  They’re clear enough, though, for me to believe that this is the sequence of events photographed:  (1) My car stopped at a red light (you can see my brake lights on) and (2) my car making a right hand turn at a red light.

Here’s what the DMV’s own website has to say about right hand turns on red lights (italicized emphasis mine):

Right turn against a red light – Signal and stop for a red traffic light at the marked limit line. If there is no limit line, stop before entering the crosswalk. If there is no crosswalk, stop before entering the intersection. You may turn right if there is no sign to prohibit the turn. Yield to pedestrians, motorcyclists, bicyclists, or other vehicles moving on their green light.

No turn against a red arrow  –  You may not turn right or left against a red arrow.

And here’s a very nice Google Earth picture of that intersection (27th St. and Northgate Ave, Oakland, West Bound):

Google Earth picture of 27th and Northgate WB Oakland

When I look at that picture (which, admittedly is three years old and things change), I do not see either a no turn arrow or a no turn sign.  What I do see, ironically enough, is a person making a right turn on a red light.  I have to go to Oakland this afternoon anyway, so I’ll go to that intersection and see whether, since Google Earth took that picture, Oakland has added a “no turn on red” sign.  If it has, it’s my bad, and I take the consequences.  If it hasn’t, I take a picture and head to court.  Grrrr.

This just sucks. Sorry for my language, but I really am feeling reduced to high school epithets.

Do you ever feel as if you’ve been worked over by your government?

Getting a ticketI am very disgruntled. I got a moving violation today and have the strong feeling that I was set up.

There is a road near my home that I travel frequently. It’s a familiar road and, in its own way, a fun one:  Many people in my community travel that road on foot and I like to keep an eye out for friends.  Seeing them always gives me a comfortable, small town feel.

Given my dual reasons for keeping an eye out for pedestrians (safety and small town friendliness), you can take my word for it when I say that, as I neared a specific cross street, there were no pedestrians drawing near and, as I drove past that specific cross street, there were no pedestrians heading towards it from the opposition direction. Indeed, the only pedestrians  were two men nearing this particular intersection as I drove towards it.

Just as I entered the intersection (going the speed limit), one of the men walking north towards the corner suddenly swerved east towards the cross walk and stepped off the curb. I had a split second to figure out what to do. In that split second, he looked over his shoulder, up the cross street, and then stepped back onto the sidewalk. I had my foot hovering over the brake, ready to plow my passenger into the dashboard, but his change of plan made me change my plan.  I decided that he’d changed his mind about his impulsive decision to cross the street (because there was no indication that he was previously contemplating doing so), and I drove on.

Fifteen seconds later, I saw a motorcycle police officer coming up behind me with his lights on. An officer wearing a uniform from a police department two towns away from mine approached and asked politely if I had seen the pedestrian. I said that I had, but that he’d stepped into the intersection when it was too late for me to stop safely for the passengers in the car — even though I was going the speed limit — and, since he’d obviously then changed his mind and turned around, I kept going.  The officer informed me that I had enough time to stop and issued me a moving violation.

At this point, I might have thought the whole thing was my bad luck, but then something happened that got me wondering: About four minutes after the policeman stopped me, I saw another car in my rear view mirror getting pulled over. I’m betting he got pulled over for the same infraction because the office went out of his way to tell me that they were cracking down on cars that didn’t stop for pedestrians.

The crackdown might explain that another car got stopped immediately after I did, except for that information I opened the post with:  There were no pedestrians near that intersection other than the two men I mentioned, one of whom got me in trouble.  Perhaps — and I’m just say perhaps – that same pedestrian did the same thing to the other driver that he did to me: Looked as if he wasn’t going to cross, waited until the driver got into the intersection, stepped into the cross walk, then stepped back onto the curb, right in front of another motorcycle cop.

There’s no way I can ever prove this, of course. I just think it’s a remarkable coincidence that, within four minutes, on a street with only two pedestrians at a corner where police were hiding as part of a crackdown, two people got ticketed for moving violations.

It’s not the end of the world, of course, but I don’t like being made a fool of, especially when it costs me money — and being caught in a con (a scam? a sting?) does make me feel as if I’ve been played. Whatever the cost, I can afford it, thank goodness. Others who travel the road can’t (and I wonder if the police let them off with a warning, since the whole infraction is, I believe, a man-created offense).

Aside from the cost of the ticket (and I don’t know yet what it is, but I’m sure it’s not cheap), if I want to avoid seeing my insurance going up, I have to go to traffic school. The county makes that expensive too:

In addition to the bail, you must pay a non-refundable administrative fee of $52 when requesting traffic violator school. The Court accepts certificates of completion from classroom and online traffic violator schools accredited by the Department of Motor Vehicles. You will also be required to pay the fee at the traffic violator school you select. You must submit satisfactory proof of completion to the Court by your due date. If you do so, your citation will not be reported on your driving record. If you sign up for traffic violator school and fail to submit the certificate of completion to the Court by the due date, the Court will notify DMV of your conviction and this conviction will be added to your driving record.

You know what else irked me? The ticket itself. The useful information on the back is illegible, light gray on pink.  I could see that it said “IMPORTANT — READ CAREFULLY,” because that was in 10 pt text and all caps, but everything else was not only in faded gray on pink, but was also 6 or 7 pt text.

If a business handed out a document with important information in illegible text, not only would people not be bound by the information, but the business would be sued under all sorts of consumer protection acts. One of the mandates the law imposes on businesses is that they must ensure that important information in documents that they give to consumers is in dark ink and uses a readable font. Our government, however, is free to hand out unreadable traffic tickets. Fortunately, I was able to access the information I needed on the internet.  Not everyone, though, is as internet savvy as I am, something that’s especially true for older people.

I’ll get over this, but as someone who’s not fond of government at the best of times, I really didn’t need to be on the receiving end of this petty exercise in police power.  I was just speaking today with a contractor about building codes.  He said that inspectors don’t have to have any building experience.  Instead, they can just be any old person who takes a class on how to read the code and apply it to a building site.  This means that the inspector is going to be absolutely inflexible.  Since he has no knowledge, all he can do is paint by bureaucratic numbers.

Take wheelchair ramps, for example.  I like them.  They’re useful for all sorts of people, from the disabled to mothers with baby strollers.  My problem is that codes don’t say only that the ramp has to be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs of a specific width, that it cannot have a grade greater than “X” or less than “Y”, and that it cannot force the disabled to wend their way through garbage piles.  Architects, engineers, and contractors can then act creatively to meet those parameters while still respecting the space or design of the building project.  Instead, codes spell out rigidly what the ramp must be like, even though it might be impossible or cost-prohibitive to fit that specific, code-defined ramp on the project, and even though an equally useful ramp might be built a different way.

I have the same problem with the ticket I got.  There was not the smallest likelihood I would have hit the man, who turned back to the curb the second his foot hit the road.  There’s also no indication that I was driving so recklessly or fast that I would have been unable to stop had it been apparent that he was bound and determined to cross.  The rule didn’t provide any flexibility for me to read the entire situation:  the passengers in my car, the other drivers on my tail, and the pedestrian’s actions, moving both forwards and backwards.

Instead, because the pedestrian (whether he was a plant or not) decided on the spur of the moment to step into the street, I was expected to stop immediately, sending my passengers flying and risking that another car would rear end me.  Keep in  mind that, as the situation played out, I could have hit the pedestrian only if I suddenly accelerated from 30 mph to about 70 mph (which I could do in a Tesla, not my Mom car), or if he had sprinted at warp speed to get in front of me.  Keep in mind too that, if the pedestrian was a continuing into the intersection, or was a child, I would have slammed the brake so hard, I would practically have moved backwards.

Grumble, grumble, grumble.  Grumble.

Found it on Facebook: People are beginning to catch onto the scope of the Obamacare fraud

obama-doctor-needleNo matter where you are in America, the definition for fraud is pretty consistent: Making intentional misrepresentations to people in order to induce them to change their position to their detriment and your benefit. Since October 1, growing numbers of Americans are realizing that they have been the victims of fraud on a spectacular scale, thanks to Obama and the Democrats.  That’s why it’s so ironic that Republicans have suddenly decided that Obamacare is here to stay.

As an example of people’s growing disaffection, I offer a Facebook thread from true blue Marin County. In order to protect people’s privacy, I’ve changed their names and slightly altered wording so that a computer search cannot tie this post to their Facebook accounts. Subject to that non-substantive massaging, the following is an entirely accurate replay of a post a Marin friend put up this morning, followed by comments from friends and neighbors (myself included):

Unhapppy Customer: My Blue Cross insurer is now the worst. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am, because I used to get wonderful insurance from this company. Thanks, Obamacare!

Friend 1: Oh, dear. That’s my insurer too.

Friend 2: I get my insurance from [a non-Blue Cross company]. I make too much money to get an Obamacare subsidy, but I cannot afford very good coverage. I make too much money for Obamacare, and not enough to afford really good coverage. I just had an outpatient surgery the other day, and it’s going to cost me almost $9,000.

Unhappy Customer: I’m really sorry to hear that, Friend 2. I also don’t get subsidies, so I have to pay for everything. The promise was free preventative care, but that’s not what’s happening. Instead, I’ll have to pay out-of-pocket if I want to see my long-time doctors, because none of them are in the Blue Cross network.

Friend 3: I couldn’t agree more. I used to like my Blue Cross Plan. Under Obamacare, though, almost none of my medications are covered. Worse, my deductible has gotten so high, it’s the same as being uninsured for most things.

Friend 4: It wasn’t the recession that killed America’s middle class. It’s Obamacare that’s doing the job.

Bookworm: It’s shocking that, back in 2009, people actually believed the government could mandate vastly more coverage (a lot of which people don’t want), plus huge subsidies, while simultaneously lowering everyone’s premiums by $2,500 per year, not to mention promising that they could keep their doctors and their hospitals.

It’s especially amazing that we were supposed to believe all this could happen when it was overseen by the same state and local governments that destroyed Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and that gave us the wonders of the DMV.

The con should have been obvious, but everyone was so swept away in the rapture of the moment, they couldn’t or wouldn’t acknowledge the problem.

Since I put the above into this post, someone added the usual comment insisting that we should go to Medicare entirely.  She backed off, though, when I pointed out rampant fraud in Medicare (do we really want more of that?), as well as the fact that those countries that have single payer have better access but worse outcomes. I then suggested to everyone in the thread that the open market, where consumers are more in touch with costs — a marketplace without layers of employers, insurance, and government regulations — could lead to both better service and lower costs. The person in favor of Medicare actually thought that the open market wasn’t a terrible idea.

I’ll keep you posted if any other interesting comments pop up on that Facebook thread.

Cliven Bundy’s racist, or stupidly racially-tinged, rhetoric is irrelevant to the core issue of government overreach

AmericaThe best thing that happened to the Left in the last few days was the fact that Cliven Bundy couldn’t keep race out of the conversation.  It really doesn’t matter whether he was making a valid point about slavery by any other name or if he was making as invalid a point about race as the MSNBC crowd does on a daily basis.  What matters is that his stand against the government correctly brought to people’s attention the fact that our federal government has completely forgotten that it is the people’s servant, not their master.

To use an extreme example, the fact that Hitler was a vegetarian doesn’t discredit vegetarianism.  There may be other, nutrition-based or resource-based, grounds to discredit it, but Hitler’s food predilection says nothing about the merits of vegetarianism or vegetarians.

The same is true for Bundy’s stand against the federal government’s overreach.  There may be reasons to complain about his stand (e.g., “even though the federal government stole from him, the law is still the law, at least if you’re not President Obama”), but Bundy’s inept racial observations have nothing to do with the practical merits of the government’s conduct.

For more, see JoshuaPundit and Noisy Room.

IRS correspondence seems to reveal conspiracy to criminalize conservative speech

Obama-IrsThe IRS’s job is to collect the taxes that Congress demands the American people pay. Under Lois Lerner’s guidance, though, the IRS’s job, apparently, was to identify potential conservative targets for Department of Justice criminal investigations. Hmmm.

PJMedia currently has running two excellent posts on the subject. The first is J. Christian Adams’ “A new, more sinister IRS scandal.” The second is Bryan Preston’s “The terrifying implications of the IRS Abuse-DOJ connection.”

Preston opens his post with this compelling paragraph:

Thank God for Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George. His investigation of what turned out to be the IRS abuse scandal may well have saved the Constitution and the nation.

I hope Preston is correct.

Adams closes his post by saying, “Just wait until the American people learn more about the modern American version of history’s speech regulators.”

Sadly, I think Adams is wrong. The ones who never pay attention will continue not to pay attention. As for the man-in-the-street Democrats, the ones who are unthinking, not activist, Leftists, I’m sorry to say that they won’t suddenly think, “Oh, my God! What have we become? This has to stop.”

Instead, when you try to convince knee-jerk, unthinking Democrats that their party is using the most powerful government agency in America to shut down political debate and imprison political dissent, you’ll get a shrug, along with mumbled remarks about “conservative wackos are paranoid,” and “these people were obviously breaking the law,” and “the IRS saved us from turning into a Christian Fundamentalist Nation, kind of like Iran.”

Government is the last place in which the war is fought.  The initial battles are for people’s hearts and minds, and the Left started fighting and winning those battles in the 1960s.  Now, as the old saying goes, “it’s all over but for the shouting.”

Why Bundy’s legal position vis a vis the federal government probably doesn’t matter

Charles C.W. Cooke is almost certainly correct that Bundy doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on when it comes to his fight with the feds.  While its disgraceful that the feds own most of Nevada, the fact is that they do, and they get to right the ownership rules for that land.  Nevertheless, Cooke acknowledges why Bundy’s plight makes him a sympathetic figure and these posters (h/t Caped Crusader) pithily sum up what really has people outraged:

America

compare Bundy and Sharpton

The view from the trenches puts the lie to the media’s gloating about 7 million Obamacare new enrollments

Obamacare error 404Rush opened his show today by focusing on the mainstream media’s joyous assertion that, overnight, Obamacare went from a mere 26% in support to plurality support and that, within two weeks, it went from 5 million to 7 million enrollments (with that 7 million number coming from two “anonymous” White House sources).  Rush asserted, and I agree, that this is lies and damn lies, powered through by falsely derived statistics.

Even assuming solely for the sake of argument that there’s any truth to the dramatically increased poll and enrollment numbers, the numbers are still meaningless because the law has failed resoundingly at effecting its primary purpose:  to insure the uninsured.  As of yesterday, based upon the limited data the Obama administration has reluctantly released, only 1.7% of the previously uninsured have enrolled in Obamacare.

If the uninsured aren’t enrolling in Obamacare, who is?  It seems that new enrollees consist primarily of (a) those who were insured but wanted subsidies and (b) those who lost pre-existing coverage because of Obamacare.  Moreover, analyzing enrollment data, it appears that the new enrollees are weighted heavily in favor of those requiring subsidies, as opposed to those paying full fare and funding the subsidies.  Even math-illiterates (i.e., the Democrat party and its MSM mouthpieces) will eventually figure out that this is unsustainable.

The statements I made above are data-based, although the administration’s death grip on actual numbers leaves one unsure even about the accuracy of that information.  Now let me throw in some anecdotal information.  I know that anecdote is not data but, to the extent this anecdote tracks the available data, it’s worth noting.

I have mentioned before that I have a friend who has pursued a very different life path from mine.  We both come from extremely middle class backgrounds, but while I was able to stay economically middle class, my friend made life decisions that saw her sink lower and lower economically.  She now lives in a community where, as she jokes, she and her husband are the only ones she knows who don’t have a parole officer.  (A fact that relates in part to substance abuse problems rife in her community and in part to draconian prosecutorial abuse.)

What distinguishes my friend from her neighbors, aside from her lack of a criminal record, is her middle class values.  She may not live the middle class life, but she still follows middle class rules, one of which is her belief that you pay your bills and you carry health insurance.  Unfortunately for her, she reached a point a few years ago at which she could no longer pay health insurance bills.  Quite reluctantly, she let her insurance lapse.

My friend was therefore delighted when Obamacare finally went into effect.  Because her state’s exchange was dysfunctional, she had to sign up the old-fashioned way (by mail), but sign-up she did.  Moreover, given her dire finances, she qualified for a subsidy.  I don’t have the details, but I believe she pays $50 a month for a Gold plan.  The moment her plan vested, my friend went on an orgy of doctor’s visits to catch up on all the health care (mostly standard tests and procedures) that she missed in the last few years.  While I disapprove of Obamacare, she’s my friend and I’m happy for her.  At least someone’s benefiting from the law.

I was speaking to my friend just yesterday about her healthcare and she offered a very interesting observation:  She and her husband, the only middle class people in a sea of poverty, are the only people she knows, amongst both friends and acquaintances, who have signed up for Obamacare.  The others have no interest in getting health insurance.  Even with a subsidy, they don’t want to pay a monthly bill for health insurance.  Even a subsidized rate is too onerous when they can get all the free health care they need just by showing up at the local emergency room.  Additionally, the ER docs are usually better than any doc who’s willing to belong to whatever plan they can afford.  Nor are these people worried about the penalties for refusing to buy Obamacare, since none of them pay taxes.

Not only are the people in my friend’s world refusing to buy Obamacare, they resent it.  According to my friend, someone she knows abruptly announced that she’s getting involved in local politics, something she’s never done before.  Until recently, this gal was one of those people who just floated along, getting by.  Now, though, she’s fired up.

The reason for the sudden passion is unexpected:  She’s deeply offended by a law that forces people to buy a product they don’t need — never mind that she might benefit from the product, that she would pay far below market value for the product, or that she’s too poor to be penalized for ignoring this government diktat.  The mere fact that the diktat exists runs counter to her notion of individual liberty.  Her view of government is that, while it’s fine if it hands out welfare checks and food stamps, it goes beyond the pale when the government uses its power and wealth to coerce activity.