Friday, August 15, 2014

The terrible choices Detroit confronts as it cuts off water to its own residents - The Washington Post

I think this is a pretty good example of how silly it is to give government the job of delivering water to humans.  How the heck are politicians supposed to manage this nonsense and do what they are really good at - get re-elected?
The other noteworthy point - the race to the bottom effect and the "entitlement mentality bites back." This city has been nursing the entitlement game for a long time. The outcome will be bad for all.

People gather to protest against the mass water shut-offs to Detroit citizens behind in their payments during a demonstration in downtown Detroit on Friday, July 18, 2014. (Rebecca Cook/REUTERS)
On Friday in Detroit, hundreds of local residents and activists — and, somewhat inexplicably, Mark Ruffalo — gathered to protest what has become an only-in-Detroit kind of crisis: The city's water utility has been shutting off service to thousands of homes, many with the elderly, the poor and children inside.
The story of how this has happened — and on the shores of one of the largest bodies of freshwater in the world — is not as simple as one of government incompetence or indifference to the poor.
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department says that nearly half of its customers haven't been paying their water bills, for a total of about 90,000 delinquent accounts, leaving the public utility with some $90 million in debt. But in a city of abandoned properties, squatters and tremendous poverty — 38 percent of Detroit lives below the poverty line — the department has had a hard time distinguishing empty homes from occupied ones, and customers who legitimately can't afford to pay from those who've simply opted not to.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Property and Peace | National Review Online

How painfully true this is.

The foundation of classical liberalism, and of the American order, is not the rule of law, a written constitution, freedom of speech and worship, one-man/one-vote democracy, or the Christian moral tradition — necessary as those things are. The irreplaceable basis for a prosperous, decent, liberal, stable society is property. Forget Thomas Jefferson's epicurean flourish — John Locke and the First Continental Congress had it right on the first go-round: "Life, liberty, and property." Despite the presence of the serial commas in that formulation, these are not really three different things: Perhaps we should render the concept "lifelibertyproperty" the way the physicists write about "spacetime."
But we do not have any property.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tenterhooks of Tyranny

Colleges have been "discovering" for a long time about the perils of getting in bed with the government, for example, the requirement to admit females into military, and traditionally all male colleges/universities. Gordon, you made the bed, better get horizontal and try to enjoy it.

A Christian college in Massachusetts requested the freedom to live out its ideals, and since some powerful people don't share those ideals they're set to destroy Gordon College—unless it agrees to retreat to the closet.

In June, Gordon's president added his name to a public letter asking President Obama to not force religious organizations into hypocrisy. Obama plans an executive order that would be the equivalent to many organizations of forcing Human Rights Campaign to hire adherents of Westboro Baptist Church. It would force anyone who receives federal funds to hire people whose sexual conduct disgraces all the world's major religions.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Michael Brown: Unarmed man killed by police (Opinion) -

I wonder if this man (the author of the article below0 is for more government, just not the "more govt" that kills people like him?

I wonder if this man is for the drug war?  Or if he's just as tired of all the black people being killed by other black people? Or why he can't discuss the whole tragedy - the drug war, blacks killing blacks over drug matters, and the fear cops have of the folks in those wars - in the same piece?  Why do people with non-black skin have to be the only ones in the wrong?  

I've talked to police officers, and been a police officer.  Cops are all too human.  They fear known risks, of which, the drug trade is a large one.  They fear getting shot.  They have been shot at.  They know the skin color of those who shot at them.  They know the gender of those who shot at them.  

Can this author allow himself to acknowledge that certain behaviors incur greater risk?  And that if a lot of folks of identifiable characteristics - skin color, gender, style of dress, etc - present an excessive risk to those not like them, others of the same characteristics will suffer?  You know, like day follows night.  

When agents of the state kill unarmed people it is WRONG.  It is a gross tragedy.  It is wretched and scary.  Blaming it on racism misses the point.  There are racists of all races, but luckily not too many of any kind of racists in the places I live.  But racism doesn't kill.  The drug wars kill, the governments kill, and the chaos created by prohibition kills.

The author asks a stupid question, "How many unarmed people have to die?"  The question he seems to mean is "How many unarmed people like me have to die when shot by agents of the state who are frightened as a consequence of the drug wars?"  I want to know how many have to die in the name of a drug prohibition that doesn't stop people from getting drugs?  And since drug prohibition is supposed to protect "us", why do we keep it up when it puts us all at risk?  And why can't smart writers at CNN see the obvious difference?

Since we all want the cops to stop shooting us, let's give the cops fewer reasons to do anything to us at all.  Let's give them fewer rules to enforce, and fewer jobs to do.  Let their job be - keep me safe from you, and you from me.  The drug war has become a war on people, citizens, who would largely be of risk only to themselves.  When it ends we'll all wonder why we didn't learn the lesson from alcohol prohibition.

Emotional Quicksand

An actor recently died of apparent suicide.  I was reminded of when a famous race car driver died.  I read of a lady who spent three days crying in her room after that.  She had never met the driver.

On deployment to the Arabian Gulf in 2002, two of my crew mates were discussing Ozzie Osbourne. One held Oz in a very high esteem, the other - not so much.  At one point in the discussion, one cremate, about to fly into a combat zone with the other, threatened physical violence of the expressed poor opinion of a musical/life performer.  It was a joking expression but nonetheless caught my attention.

It made me wonder why we can create the pseudo relationships with people we've never met, people we will never meet, people who wouldn't know us if they saw us, people who won't answer our letters/emails/calls/instagrams if we sent them.  We can care about and think we "know" people who don't even know we are alive, and who's careers and livelihoods depend upon our favorable opinion of them.  How?  Why?  It's so weird it should be in a movie - "hey, this person has imaginary relationships with people they have never met!"  But we all seem to do this.

My best guess is that this is some version of orientation to power.  That is to say, we perceive that "stars" or celebrities have social power.  As tribal humans it was important to be aware of and orient to those tribal members who were powerful.  We needed to be able to behave around those with power in a way that was helpful to us, and did not accidentally get us into bad favor with the powerful.  Or, we needed to be able to oppose those with power, knowingly, cunningly, effectively.  And live to tell the tale.

For the actor, one could think many things about his death.  "He quit on life, he quit on his family.  His pain is over, thankfully, but I will use his choice as an example of how to not hurt others."  Or, "poor guy, don't want to believe he was in such pain and despair."  Some comments I've seen spoke of how open he was with his life's struggles, but I wonder if all those folks who read all those stories wouldn't be better off if they'd never read the carefully crafted story released by the PR agent designed to get attention to the actor when he needed to sell some product to someone.  As far as I an tell, just as politicians have to lie in order to be able to convince all of us they'll serve only us at someone else's expense, actors are constantly in need of image crafting.  They must say and do what is necessary, whatever is necessary, to get our favorable opinion, so another 1% or so of us will go to their product and pay for it.

So to me it seems like they need us, and they shape their public image to suit what they think, what they hope, we want.  And we find ways to either like, or dislike, these public folks - whom we neither know or will know, who will never either like or dislike or know us.

What a weird dance.  What I find is that the only way I can avoid the dance is to shut out the noise that all the actors and singers and politicians are always playing in order to get us to react towards them like humans naturally react.  I'm not savvy enough to participate in all of that noise and not get drawn into it.  The only way to stay clean is to stay away.  It's nuclear.

So this actor, were he alive today, would fulfill all of our imaginary notions about what his life means in the context of our own lives.  We wouldn't know what he was doing, who he was hurting, who he was loving or anything.  We would just hold this imaginary creation we have of who he is in a way that seems to serve us, a way that seems to help us.  I don't think that's bad per se, I just know it is bad for me.  It is a distraction.  It is a dilution of the energy I have for people I actually see and touch and love every day.  I'm not going to give that energy up that way.  I'm averting my eyes, I'm leaving the actor for his family to bury and grieve.  And I'm going to figure out a way not to hurt the people that I love, how to not be "that guy" as I face down life's never-ending choice to find despair or joy in the natural cycles of both we all seem to experience as we live and learn.

Controlling the Past | National Review Online

What is the law? What is the relationship between law and good intentions?

'He who controls the past controls the future," observed George Orwell. "He who controls the present controls the past." This, in one pithy, symmetrical little maxim, has been the story of Obamacare from its conception to the present day.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Watergate and the Abuse of Power: A Lesson Unlearned | The Fiscal Times

In this case, I think it's Obama's desire to show his own, and big government's, competency that is driving his willing to act in ways that corrupt the office.

"The New York Times' Ross Douthat called it "Caesarism," but most call it an abuse of presidential authority. In our constitutional system, Congress passes laws and the executive branch enforces them.  Even in agency law, where those powers are shared to a certain degree, the executive cannot exceed the grant of authority from Congress, as the Supreme Court just reminded the EPA in June. A stalemated Congress "doesn't grant the President license to tear up the Constitution," The Washington Post editorial board warned this week

"Taxes are another area in which Obama supporters are urging "Caesarism," and sometimes worse. The byzantine and burdensome US corporate tax system has prompted a wave of "inversions," where corporations relocate overseas in acquisitions and mergers to avoid paying taxes in America. Obama began warning that this violated his sense of "economic patriotism," saying, "I don't care if it's legal" – which is exactly what the executive in the constitutional model should care about. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Lack of Funding Isn't the VA's Problem | RealClearPolitics

The author's main point is that the VA should be run with more skill, or competence or something like "better oversight" vice getting more money.  That has worked when with regard to government bureaucracies? The DoD for years could even account for its spending.  More oversight?  What a joke.

As VA reform continues to languish in Congress pressure is growing on members to solve the problem with Washington's oldest solution – more funding.
As Garry Augustine, Executive Director of Disabled American Veterans Disabled Veterans, argued recently in the Wall Street Journal, the VA needs "more money – and a predictable funding stream – to do its job." Augustine and others are right to fault Congress for not doing its job of setting priorities but a lack of funding is not the VA's main problem.
The numbers show the VA has hardly been strapped for cash. Funding for the VA has gone up 57 percent since 2008. And at facilities where the worst abuses occurred, such as Phoenix, funding was ample enough to finance to lavish bonuses for the very officials who should have been held accountable for harming veterans. Across the country, the problem has not been a lack of funds but terrible misuses of taxpayer funds that were already directed to help veterans get the care they need.
Moreover, the problems at the VA are not understaffed and overburdened hospitals as much as much as poor management and a lack of accountability and oversight. While funding increased 57 percent since 2008 the number of patients treated at VA facilities went up only 13.8 percent. In other words, funding growth outpaced the growth in patient load by a more than four to one margin.
Also during this time period, the number of full-time physicians at the VA went up 40 percent – again, far more than the patient load. And these significant funding increases went through even though VA doctors, on average, see half as many patients as their private sector counterparts. Poor management is a problem more funding won't solve.
Members and outside lobbyists are also arguing that the VA needs not only more funding but more earmarks. But the earmark era itself caused congressional oversight to atrophy and abuses to grow unchecked. For decades, Congress ignored repeated warning about delays and dysfunction at the VA while it occupied itself with funding Bridges to Nowhere and Woodstock Museums.
Plus, Congress has already tried – and failed – to fix this problem with "directed" or earmarked funds. In Nevada, taxpayers funded a $600 million "state of the art" medical facility in North Las Vegas, yet Nevada continues to be the state with the longest disability claim backlog in the country. Incidentally, the facility is now costing taxpayers almost $1 billion due to cost overruns and mismanagement. The VA built an emergency room that was too small and the facility was missing an ambulance drop-off ramp. I detailed this example and many others in my recent report, "Death, Delay and Dismay at the VA."
Returning to the era earmark would guarantee that the systematic problems at the VA go unresolved. The sad fact is politicians don't do attention-getting ribbon-cutting ceremonies around unceremonious but essential tasks like reducing wait times or filling potholes. Yet, this is the very kind of tedious, difficult work members are paid to do and will be rewarded for doing by a public that is desperately awaiting results and action.
The benchmark of real reform at the VA is an effort to solve the real problem, which is Congress' failure to empower VA officials to manage, and Congress' failure to give veterans real choices. Both of those problems can be solved by making it easier for VA officials to fire bad actors and by giving veterans real choices and spending power when they face long wait times.
Congress' lack of oversight and unwillingness to tackle real problems with real solutions contributed to the deaths of more than 1,000 veterans. Solving this problem is not as difficult as Congress makes it seem. But falling back on more funding as our default solution is the surest way to cause more veterans to fall through the cracks. 

Big Gubment and IT - Not So Grand

The State Department's visa system is currently offline for weeks, keeping businessmen, tourists and exchange students from entering the country. The FBI had to abandon a massive IT project after spending hundreds of millions of dollars.
These bureaucracies did a good job of delivering passports and maintaining files in the industrial age. But they can't keep up in the information age. Moore's Law says that computer capacity doubles in two years or less. Government procurement cycles are a lot longer than that.
Governors and legislators had reason to fear that state health exchange IT wouldn't work well (as it hasn't in about half the states that tried), and they would get blamed. And blamed for being associated with an unpopular law.

All of which suggests a broader lesson. Government was reasonably good at replicating the bureaucratic processes of large corporations in the industrial age. But it's not very good -- it's often downright incompetent -- at replicating the IT processes of firms such as Walmart and Amazon.
I saw this in person.  Complex, integrated solutions were so difficult to develop that we (in the USN) almost never had them.  We developed local, work around solutions to make our IT problems manageable. But these solutions were always subject to human error.  Much pain resulted.