Grumble, grumble, overregulated, grumble, grumble

Los-Angeles-building-inspection-manMany years ago, we were contemplating building a separate mother-in-law unit on a back part of our property:  one room, a bathroom, a little kitchenette, etc.  There were several reasons why the plan wasn’t feasible, but the major one proved to be the requirement that we had to make the whole thing wheelchair accessible, something that added tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of the plan.  None of us need wheelchairs. And of course, the unit would never be open to the public, unlike a store, so we had no concern that someone needing wheelchair access would have a right to enter the property.

Even if I knew then what I know now, which is that there are times in your life when you wish you could use a wheelchair in your own home, I still wouldn’t have invested tens of thousands of dollars in a relatively small project because of the off chance that, for a month or two, I might prefer getting around with a wheelchair or a walker.  If it subsequently turned out that I would permanently need wheelchair access, then — and only then — would it make sense for me to invest tens of thousands to upgrade the property.  Likewise, if subsequent buyers wanted to make that mother-in-law wheelchair accessible, let them bear the cost.

But nooooo.  Thanks to the bureaucratic who write regulations, and who have an endless desire to control and perfect everything, I was being forced to spend tens of thousands of extra dollars for something useless to me.  The net result was that we built nothing at all.

I raise this bit of ancient history because I’ve once again learned that, because of some remodeling on our property, I have to spend several thousand dollars to comply with safety regulations that confer no benefit on me, my family, nor those who visit our property.  The regulations are inconvenient, expensive, and, as to me, entirely unnecessary — but the entire project must come to a halt if I don’t comply.

There’s nothing that brings out the libertarian in me like a municipal code.

Having had my grouse, let me say that I’m not entirely opposed to building codes and inspectors.  There are definitely things that can and should be standardized for the greater good.  Having standards for plumbing, electricity, weight-bearing, etc., all makes good sense, especially in earthquake country.   A good building inspector can also help protect a homeowner from a bad contractor, and that’s nothing to be sneezed at.  Having mandatory access laws for politically correct reasons, though, is something entirely different.

Also, for those who are familiar with my community, I feel I should say that, when it comes to dealing with my local building department, they are nothing but pleasant:  from the front desk to the back office, they’re polite,  helpful, and responsive.  My gripe isn’t with the my local building department, which is just doing what the law requires it to do.  It is, instead, with the governing principle that says that this kind of micromanagement is acceptable.

The problem with being on a pedestal is that, when you fall, you fall hard

Destroying Stalin's statueWas it only yesterday that I posted about the young woman who burned her Obama shirt in a frenzy of betrayal?  She isn’t just done with Obama, she’s done with government.  Her ideology, most of it foolishly Leftist, hasn’t altered one iota.  What’s different is her belief that government is an engine of change.

But, but, but, I hear you asking, “How can you be a Leftist without believing in Big Government?  Leftism is predicated on a Big Government doing the right things.”

You’re absolutely correct, of course.  She’s suddenly a young woman with a heart full of anti-government animus, and no functioning ideology to go with it.  My suspicion is that, if she ever votes again, she’ll pull the lever for a libertarian.  Perhaps in 2016, she’ll be another Rand Paul voter.

That inflamed young lady isn’t the only one who’s shattered to discover that her idol had feet of clay, and bad clay at that.  Will Pitt, notorious for years as one of the more rabid anti-Bush haters and one of the utterly fatuous, strung-out Obama worshipers, has also been slapped in the face by ugly Obamacare reality.  At Newsbusters, P.J. Gladnick details Pitt’s disillusionment, which set in very quickly once Obamacare failed to work as promised.

Within months, Pitt went from saying that a few glitches with Obamacare were “No. Big. Deal.” to castigating Obama as a “piece of sh*t used-car salesman.” Needless to say, his friends in the Democratic Underground are not happy with him.

When it comes to these two people and all of the others like them, their sudden epiphanies about Obama, about Democrat policies, and about Big Government can easily be described as too little, too late. They’ve already visited upon us eight years of what will quite possibly be recorded in the books as the worst administration in American history, one that devastated not only America but the whole world.

But here’s the deal: It’s not too little, too late. There are local, state, and federal elections coming up this year and next year and the year after that. Although our ship of state has had eight years to sail this disastrous course, it is still afloat and can be turned around. The process will be laborious, it will go very slowly, and the damage will be significant, but as long as we’re above water it still matters that we get rid of as many loathsome barnacles as possible. These former Obama fanatics were barnacles. It remains to be seen whether, as I once did, they’ll turn around politically or whether they’ll just slink off and leave the body politic alone. No matter what, we’ll be better off without them.

The only way to cut government spending is to cut government

The Cato Institute is putting together a series of videos to identify government agencies that are not merely wasteful, but are also destructive to our country’s well-being.  This video, attacking the horribly misnamed Department of Education, is one of the five videos Cato has already created:

Of course, the above video brings coals to Newcastle.  Those who watch it already agree with its premise, although it’s nice to have hard facts to back up our sometimes inchoate sense of outrage.  What I would love is to see every liberal I know watching the video.  Sadly, though, I know with absolute certainty that none will dare. They are resolute in their desire to avoid contact with any information that might disrupt their New York Times world view.

Hat tip: Power Line

Is there such a thing as “Big Government Done Right” or is that an oxymoron?

Big BrotherOne of the things I’ve noticed tracking my few conservative and my many Progressive friends over at my “real me” Facebook is the difference in their approach to government.  My conservative friends are consistent:  They want to confine the federal government to its traditional constitutional boundaries:  national security, including managing a standing army; preserving interstate commerce, including maintaining America’s roads and airways; economic dealings with foreign powers; etc.  They’re not opposed to a welfare safety net, but believe it should be limited in scope and duration, and that the best safety net is a strong, free-market economy.  They heartily approve of immigration, but want it to be legal immigration, not an illegal free-for-all.  They support law and order, but not a militarized police force.

These conservatives are appalled by Obama’s lawlessness, as seen in his executive orders seeking to undercut the Second Amendment and his almost-daily ukases changing Obamacare so as to minimize the PR fallout from that misbegotten law.  Looking overseas, they support our traditional allies, including beleaguered little Israel, and find shocking Obama’s free-fall into the arms of bad actors such as Iran, Vladimir Putin, the Muslim Brotherhood, Bashir al Assad, the Taliban, etc.  When it comes to “women’s issues,” conservatives believe that the U.S. should stay out of women’s uteruses, in that it should stop telling Americans, nuns included, to pay for other women’s birth control and abortions.

They also believe that “global warming” has always been an anti-capitalist hoax meant to slow down Western development and redirect funds to Third World nations that get the Left’s stamp of approval.  They accept that climate changes; they just don’t think it’s America’s fault.  We are responsible for pollution, and we have a duty to be a good steward for the natural world around us, but our puny efforts are not changing the world.  (In that regard, I’ll note that the heat and drought in the south and the snow and cold in the north are nothing new.  The papers breathlessly report that they’re the worst in 100 or 1000 years, as if that proves anthropogenic climate change.  To me, the comparisons to the same events in the pass simply prove that Mother Nature is fickle and always has been.)

Conservatives support gun rights, not because they’re crazed killers, but because both logic and real world data regularly shows that a free, armed population is the best defense against crime and government overreach.  They believe that there’s a reason for the Second Amendment’s explicit language holding that the federal government cannot touch people’s guns.

My Progressive friends present a mirror image, albeit one that fails to be consistent.  As far as they’re concerned, the bigger government is, the better.  Obamacare is horrible, not because it sees the government take over 1/6 of the economy by trying to control the healthcare market, but because healthcare isn’t fully socialized.  They hate Obama’s border policies, not because he’s stopped enforcing immigration laws, but because he hasn’t successfully done away with immigration laws.  They think our best national security plan is to intervene only in those countries where America gets no benefit from that intervention; anything else is imperialism.

My Progressive friends fear a free market, because it allows corporations to get bigger, and they all know that the greatest threat to each American’s wealth, health, and happiness is corporations.  They think Israel is evil because she refuses to turn her country over to a group of people who make no secret about the fact that their goal is to massacre every Israeli.  They support Obama’s foreign policy in other respects simply because it’s oriented away from traditional Western imperialism.  It’s irrelevant that these nations engage in their own forms of imperialism, and that they routinely trample on the rights Progressives hold most dear:  womyn’s rights, LGBT rights, and, where there are blacks (as in the Sudan) people of color’s rights.  To them, global warming is a revealed truth that cannot be questioned and that appropriately seeks to stop the West’s development because, they believe, it harms the Third World.  They are unmoved by data showing that ethanol development, by diverting food crops to fuel, is starving the Third World.

And of course, when it comes to guns, Progressives know they’re evil.  Data to the contrary is irrelevant.  Guns exist only to kill, and their role in preventing or diminishing violent crime, or in protecting people against their own government, is irrelevant.  Facts must bow down before ideologically driven fear.

The one tie that binds both conservatives and Progressives on my “real me” Facebook is that they’re both horrified by the scope of the NSA’s spying on American people.  Each recognizes that this is a staggering infringement on American freedom.  To all of them, the knowledge that Big Brother has been watching them is almost too terrible to contemplate.

Summed up, Progressives believe that there is such a thing as “Big Government Done Right,” while conservatives believe that this is an oxymoron. I side with the conservative view.  The very nature of Big Government is abhorrent to individual liberty and free markets.

The fact that history repeatedly shows that freedom drives economic progress and individual liberty, however, never shakes a Leftist’s faith in the theory that there is such a thing as “Big Government Done Right.”  My Dad was raised a Communist and eventually ended up as a Reagan Democrat.  To his dying day, though, he believed that Communism was the answer.  The problem was that it had never been done right, no matter where it was applied.  In his heart, the theory lived on.  Americans, with their vague feints to Leftism under Carter weren’t doing it right, so Reagan (who was pro-Israel) was a better bet to deal with the misbegotten American system.  The Soviet Union wasn’t doing it right, because it relied too much on oppression.  Brilliant man though he was, he couldn’t be brought to understand that it’s the nature of the state to oppress.  It’s a “bear hug” that, whether aggressive or loving, still smothers you.

Anyway, that’s what I think.  Would any of you care to make a counter argument, to the extent that Big Government Done Right isn’t invariably an oxymoron?

A little gadget to confuse government spies

SpyingA long time ago, I became friends with a man who worked as an electrical engineer in the aerospace defense industry.  Beginning in the 1980s, he told me that the government was spying on us — and he knew, he said, because he worked on the technology that made it possible.  I assumed that he was (a) paranoid and (b) boasting about a skill set I wasn’t sure even existed back in the day.  Over the years, he continued to tell me that the government was monitoring my land line and my cell phone.  I scoffed.  My attitude changed after 9/11, when it became a reasonable certainty that the DHS was indeed monitoring people’s calls.  With revelations about NSA spying, I’ve finally come full circle and believe everything this guy was telling me thirty years ago.

Let me say here that I don’t think governments should never spy.  If our government thinks that bad actors are planning to do bad things against America, it should be all over the situation, like white on rice.  What I find disturbing is the completely indiscriminate net that the NSA has spread.  It’s spying on everyone.  Since there’s no way it can monitor all that information in real time, the likelihood of the government using this data to stop a terrorist attack is small.

Look at England, for example.  The prevalence of CCTV’s means that England is the most heavily monitored First World country in the world — and yet its crime rates climb higher and higher.  The cameras do nothing to prevent crime.  Their utility, which is limited, is to try to catch criminals after the fact.  They don’t always catch the criminals and, when they do, their multiculturalist, PC values are so warped, they can’t adequately punish them anyway.  The result is that criminals don’t care that they’re being watched, while people of good will are afraid that anything innocent they do today can be used against them tomorrow.

In any event, my understanding is that the best way to stop terrorism is still the old-fashioned way, beginning with human intelligence and common sense.  To the extent our government is indiscriminately collecting everyone’s data, it is doing so not to prevent future crimes, but to prosecute past crimes — including words and activities that weren’t actually criminal at the time people acted or spoke.

This knowledge is why I’m intrigued about something that’s being voted on at Quirky.  If you watch Jay Leno, you know what Quirky is.  People submit ideas for inventions and the public gets to vote on whether they think it’s a good idea or not.  Some of the ideas are brilliant and some are goofy.  If enough people like an idea, Quirky will work with the inventor to bring it into being, from the patent process to the manufacturing to marketing.  Quirky naturally takes a cut, but the Quirky people claim that some people have become millionaires.

The idea at Quirky that intrigues me is one that my friend’s acquaintance came up with.  The Yosemite Box is a device that, when you turn it on, instructs your cell phone to say that your GPS coordinates are in Yosemite:

The Problem

Many governments are spying on peoples’ cellphone metadata, and this makes many people feel that their rights to privacy have been invaded. They object to having their movements and location recorded by the government, 24 hours a day (perhaps from a lovers house?). This device makes their spying incapable of tracking peoples movements through their GPS location on their cellphone – a service which cannot be turned off. If all cellphones sent the same constant address, then no one could be tracked. If you do need the GPS service, turn off the Yosemite Box.

The Solution

The Yosemite Box emits a GPS signal that gives the GPS coordinates of Yosemite National Park, maybe at the top of Half Dome. You simply keep the device near your cell phone when you do not wish to be tracked. If all cellphone metadata had the same address it would make the collection effort worthless. It would be low power so as to get under FCC regulations. Yosemite of course is just a random choice but a nice place for people to think you are visiting and besides you can say that you climbed Half Dome.

What an elegant solution to a 1984-ish government.  If you think it’s a good idea, head on over to Quirky and vote for it.  When it receives 200 votes in this preliminary round, it will go up to the next round.

What should Republicans do to ensure that this serious Democrat crisis doesn’t go to waste?

Epic fail
Rahm Emanuel famous said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”  As of today, Avik Roy explains that the Obama administration is facing a serious crisis when it comes to Obamacare:

It’s hard to come up with new ways to describe the Obama administration’s improvisational approach to the Affordable Care Act’s troubled health insurance exchanges. But last night, the White House made its most consequential announcement yet. The administration will grant a “hardship exemption” from the law’s individual mandate, requiring the purchase of health insurance, to anyone who has had their prior coverage canceled and who “believes” that Obamacare’s offerings “are unaffordable.” These exemptions will substantially alter the architecture of the law’s insurance marketplaces. Insurers are at their wits’ end, trying to make sense of what to do next.

That’s just the intro.  In paragraph after paragraph, Roy details the disaster facing the administration as it makes up rules on the fly.  Like the hydra, every time the administration thinks its lopped off a problem, two or three more pop up in its place.

Presumably, when the dust settles and the private insurance market is destroyed, the Democrats will say, “See, we told you that the private market couldn’t be fixed.  It’s time to socialize our healthcare system.”  That will be their version of not letting a crisis go to waste.  It’s scary to think that Americans have been so brainwashed that it’s entirely possible that, rather than recoiling in horror and saying, “We will never let you brainless, tyrannical incompetents touch our healthcare again,” Americans will instead say, “D’Oh!  You’re right.  You’d better take over the whole thing.”

All of which is to say that Republicans and other conservatives ought to figure out ways to capitalize on this crisis too.  My instinct is that it’s best if Republicans in Congress don’t act.  After all, when your opponent is busy digging a deeper and deeper hole, you don’t throw them a rope ladder.  To the extent that Obamacare can never be made workable, Republicans would do well to keep their fingerprints off this disaster.  But that doesn’t mean they should keep silent.

So, what should Republicans say that will best enable them to capitalize on the Obamacare debacle, not just in the area of healthcare, but regarding Big Government itself?

And if that question is too easy for you, here’s a harder one:  Even though the media is disappointed with Obamacare, that doesn’t mean that its members won’t protect Obama and the Democrats to their dying breath.  They are the living embodiment of that hackneyed saying “Nobody gets to pick on my little brother except for me.”  How, then, should Republicans who are saying the right things make sure that the public hears what they have to say?

Another prescient post from the past

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve been trolling through my old posts with the idea of putting out another Kindle book, and I’m impressed by the number of my past posts that either predicted today’s political problems or explain them.  As always, I’m not boasting about my exceptional perspicacity.  All of us knew what was going on.  It’s simply that I happen to have written these things down.

My latest foray in the past yielded a post from a year-and-a-half ago about the way a Democrat-run federal government ensures that no one ever takes responsibility for anything.  My starting point was the fact that, after dining at a breakfast spot with two service men, Obama left without paying the bill.  I didn’t fault him for that.  Rather, I faulted his minions, none of whom stepped up and took responsibility for that commonplace inevitability.  It was in that context that I wrote:

The Democrat desire to avoid personal responsibility goes all the way up the ladder to the top man, the guy in the White House.  Obama avoids personal responsibility like the plague and is beginning to get mocked for that, even by his own party.  But why are his compadres surprised?  The entire Democrat ethos is based upon eating the food and having someone else pay the bill — and then expressing surprise when the bill goes unpaid.

To skip to another scenario (this is the scenario equivalent of mixed metaphors), think back to the last CPR class you took.  I always forget the number of pumps and breaths (and understand that they’ve now simplified it down to a Bee Gees song).  What I do remember, though, is that the one thing you should never do is holler out a generic “Call 911!”  This makes everyone responsible for making that call and experience has shown that if everyone is responsible then no one is responsible.  Instead, you have to tag someone.  “YOU, the guy in the black shirt, call 911.”

The same principle of failing to invest specific people with responsibility — and thereby creating a responsibility vacuum — holds true when the government sucks responsibility away from people and distributes it into its vast machinery.  Suddenly, individuals aren’t responsible — and you can’t find the clerk with the cash when you need him.

My sister once worked with a secretary who felt put upon.  No matter what one asked her to do, she came back with a single answer:  “That’s not my job, man.”  Since she was working for a private company, she was fired as soon as the company felt that it had protected itself against a potential wrongful discharge lawsuit.  In the federal world, this same gal would not only have lifetime employment, she’d be teaching taxpayer-funded seminars on avoiding direct responsibility for anything.

I wrote those words long before the Obamacare fiasco revealed itself in its full glory to the American people — and long before we learned that part of the problem was that no one was in charge.  Obama didn’t talk to Sebelius, Sebelius didn’t talk to her people, and the people tasked with the work were pushed aside when they tried to talk to anyone.  For each of them, when it came to taking responsibility, the controlling ethos was “That’s not my job, man!”

The FBI and your computer

Computer security

From Instapundit (not just the link, but his comments):

CREEPY UNCLE SAM: FBI can turn on your Web cam, and you’d never know it. As I’ve said before, hardware on-off switches for cameras and microphones may come back into style. Plus this: “The FBI can also burrow into a suspect’s computer and download files, photographs and stored e-mails.” If they can do that, of course, they can also plant evidence without a trace. . . .

Obamacare versus arithmetic, with a side trip into the nature of disengaged consumers

Charlie Martin, who has a real knack for simplifying fairly complex mathematical concepts, has a post today about the fact that, when it comes to Obamacare versus math, math wins every time.  I’d like to add my mite to that, which is that, when you have no dog in the fight, you don’t care how expensive the fight is.  As you’ve gotten used to, I’m going to make the journey from the specific (that would be me and my experiences) to the general (a wholesale condemnation of big government, which is the same as bad economics.)

I go to a different dentist from the rest of my family, because I started going to him 15 years ago, and never saw any need to change when they jumped ship to a different guy.  I like the man, I like his office staff, and I like the care I’ve been getting there.

Because we have dental insurance, I’ve never once written a check to my dentist’s office.  I get my teeth cleaned twice a year, like clockwork, and I have no idea how much it costs.

I went recently for a cleaning (you’d be dazzled by my smile) and, as always, didn’t pay.  My husband also went recently and, as always, didn’t pay.  The insurance statements for both our treatments came in on the same day.  These statements revealed that both dentists charge more than our coverage allows for a cleaning, and that both dentists accepted as payment in full the coverage maximum, even though it was less than their “official” charge.  One could say that this proves that insurance works, since the dentists’ willingness to cut their price to the insurance maximum shows that dental insurance controls costs.  Maybe….

What was just as interesting, though, was the fact that my dentist charges $36 more for a cleaning than my husband’s dentist does.  (If that dollar amounts sounds interesting to you, that’s also the recent decrease in food stamp money for a family of four over the course of a month.)  My husband was upset that my guy charges more.  I wasn’t:  (a) I’m not paying it and (b) the insurance company “stiffed” both guys, so it’s the dentists who should care.

The really important point, and the one that completely eluded my husband was that — and I’m repeating myself here — I didn’t care.  I get the services, but I don’t pay.  I have no incentive whatsoever to shop around for a cheaper, yet still good, dentist, and my dentist has no incentive to change his prices.  Either the insurance pays him his rate or it doesn’t.  If it does pay his rate, his high charging gamble paid off; if it doesn’t . . . well, he tried, so no harm no foul.

This is a marketplace distortion, where there is no connection between services rendered and money paid.  The problem isn’t greedy insurance companies; it’s disinterested consumers.  As for the insurance companies, they don’t negotiate either.  They just set caps and that’s the end of it.

I had the same situation years ago, when Kaiser paid for a jaw guard for me because I was grinding my teeth to dust.  I made two visits to the dentist, the first to get a mold for the jaw guard, and the second to get the jaw guard fitted.  The total time I spent there was about 40 minutes.  I saw the dentist for less than ten minutes, total.  I paid for the guard myself ($250 in lab costs).  Kaiser just paid for the dentist’s time and services.  I should add that this took place in the early 1990s, when money had more meaning.  The dentist charged Kaiser $800 for his time and service — and Kaiser paid every cent. I actually called Kaiser to complain.  I was pleased with my jaw guard, but this was still highway robbery. Kaiser was unmoved.  The dentist’s charge fitted into its chart, and that was the end of that.

That event, incidentally, was when I figured out that the problem with America’s healthcare market wasn’t rising medical costs or greedy insurance companies (although both are factors).  It was that the customer doesn’t pay, so the customer has no incentive to shop around or strike bargains.  Because the person getting the services couldn’t care less about the price (it’s other people’s money), there is no competition and there are no cost controls.

My realization about medical costs twenty years also started my turn towards conservativism.  That’s because I figured out that the more things that the government pays for, the worse the market distortion.  The government is not using its own money, it’s using your and my money.  We care about our money, but the government doesn’t.  If it overspends, it just uses its police power to demand more money from us.  That’s its nature, just like the scorpion’s nature.  The only way to control this is to make sure that government is responsible for paying for the smallest number of things possible.

What frustrates me is that people in my neck of the woods don’t get it.  I suspect we have one of the highest concentrations of MBAs in the world right here in Marin, and that we’ve probably got a fair percentage of American’s with STEM backgrounds too.  But try to explain market realities (engaged consumers, competition, and distortion) to them, and you can see the moment that logic flees and faith takes over.  Their eyes start whirling in their heads and they say “No, government is big enough to force price cuts.”  Worse than this economic lunacy is the fact that they don’t recognize that they are advocating tyranny by applauding government’s coercive power to force free citizens to offer services to the government for lower than market prices.  (In this regard, please note that Democrats now want to force doctors who, last I checked, weren’t slaves, to accept patients who will bankrupt them.)

If you want more information about government’s deleterious role in the marketplace, check out Wolf Howling, who calls Obamacare the “mother of all market distortions.”