November 25, 2014

Thoughts on Ferguson

Let's suppose next spring I return to Ohio and while I am in Cleveland escorting my father to the VA Clinic I find myself in a confrontation with a black police officer. There are a couple of things I am not going to do. For starters, I'm not going to try to beat him up, not even if he is much smaller than I am and looks like an easy target. Nor will I pull out my concealed carry permit and demand to be treated like a colleague fighting for justice on the often violent streets of Cleveland's east side. Instead, I will inform the officer I have a CCW but I am not armed because while at the VA I am not allowed to be. I will cooperate with all of the officer's demands, no matter how ridiculous or humiliating. If required, I will allow myself to be handcuffed and arrested until the facts of our altercation can be made clear. I won't do these things or behave this way because I am afraid of blacks (I'm not), afraid of the police (laughable idea), or because I hate all forms of authority (even though I most certainly do). I will comply and not resist because that uniform and that badge represents a civic authority backed up by the voters of Cleveland and the taxes paid by hardworking Cleveland citizens. That cop represents the will and authority of the sovereign people of Cleveland City and beyond all else, I respect that sovereignty.

Forensic science and eyewitness testimony has now made it clear that Michael Brown did not respect the sovereign authority of the people of Ferguson, Missouri. He believed that Officer Darren Wilson had no right to accost him while he was walking down a sunny city street, no right to question his intent by walking in the middle of the road, and no right to order him on the ground and attempt to place him under arrest. Michael Brown believed his personal sovereignty outweighed the will of the people of Ferguson, so much so that he was not required to pay for merchandise in their shops, not required to obey their laws, and not required to respect the symbol of their sovereignty, namely, a uniformed law enforcement officer appointed to represent their will. Michael Brown's inability to respect the sovereign power of the people of Ferguson and his refusal to obey the requests and requirements of their appointed representative meant he was subject to arrest. Instead of allowing himself to be arrested, he chose to violently oppose Officer Darren Wilson. According to Officer Wilson's testimony, Michael Brown not only resisted arrest, he struck Officer Wilson repeatedly, then withdrew, then charged at him again.

So why in the name of all that is holy are the people of Ferguson, Missouri fighting in their streets and burning down their local shops? Seriously. I cannot grasp the immense depths of delusional thinking required to assume that a Grand Jury decision not to prosecute a police officer exercising the authority they gave him somehow justifies destroying the businesses they depend on as well as the livelihood of their neighbors. This violence makes no sense to me at all. I don't care how angry they are. It is their votes that put the mayor and the city council in office and it is their taxes that pay the police force. If they don't like the Grand Jury decision (a decision made by their neighbors after two weeks examining the evidence) then circulate a petition, make some speeches, write a letter to the editor of the paper, another letter to the mayor, one to the chief of police, and one to the local city council representative. Vote against all of them who appear on the ballot in the next election, or better yet, organize a political campaign and run against them. This is your town, your police force, and your city government. You voted for it. You pay the taxes that go to their salary. Why would you loot the store Michael Brown robbed? Why would you burn the local grocery store you depend on to feed your family? Why would you burn the inventory of a used car lot owned by your neighbor? How does simple anger justify destroying your own home?

The problem in Ferguson, in Cleveland, in Detroit, and in every other city where "race relations" are tense is not black versus white or vice versa. The problem is not oppression of poor blacks by rich whites. The problem is a community of ignorant people who do not understand the real power they wield with their votes and their taxes. How many of those protesters voted in the last election? If they didn't vote, then why do they believe they have any right at all to be angry with the city government and the local police force? If you refuse to participate in the process then you cannot complain the process ignores you! That is completely delusional!

This case, along with the Trayvon Martin case, completely baffles me. I don't understand the reaction of the black community. They vote people into office and then complain the person they voted for does not represent them, so they vote for the same person again! Vote for someone else! If there is no one else, then run for office yourself! Stop burning your own neighborhood, fighting with your police force, and calling in outsiders like Al Sharpton who have no vested interest in your community. It's your city. Take charge of your life, participate in local politics, and stop acting like spoiled children. You are not children anymore. Stand up, be counted, and abide by the requirements of fair play. Stop hiding behind your emotions and be realistic. Channel your anger into research, politics, and realistic expectations. Of course you feel like you're the center of the universe. So do I. So does everyone. That does not make it real. Stop burning down your city. Do your homework and vote for people who represent your interests. This burning, looting, and fighting with riot police is childish. I don't care what color your skin is. Yes, you deserve better, but you won't get anything better unless you learn how the world works and then work within the system to make things better.

If you are a taxpaying citizen who votes in every election then you have power far beyond anything you can achieve through violent street demonstrations. Real power comes through intelligent participation in the political process. Real power does not come from the barrel of a gun and it does not come from burning down the local grocery store. Real power comes when you walk into the office of your local city representative and with one look at your voting record he or she knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that you put them in that office and you can take it away just as easily. That, people of Ferguson, is real power.

Politico: Congressional Black Caucus Denounces Ferguson Grand Jury
Time: Outrage and Calls for Calm on Twitter as Violence Escalates
LA Times: Ferguson Shop Owner Suffers a Second Round of Violent Protests
Washington Post: Darren Wilson's Testimony
Fox News: Nationwide Protests Following Ferguson Decision

November 12, 2014

Net Neutrality is a Lie

More government regulation is never the answer to any problem. In very rare cases some very limited government regulation might help keep access to a resource or a market fair and equitable, but those cases have already all been regulated and in many cases are badly over-regulated. Consider the internet, without any government control or oversight (except for policing of child pornography, consumer fraud, etc.) the internet has grown from a handful of academic databases to a global telecommunications network that touches every country on Earth. The foundation of this success is complete freedom from government oversight. The only reason love, hate, courage, cowardice, and all the other elements of the human experience are readily available here in cyberspace after a mere two decades of growth is because governments around the world have not been able to create some functional method for controlling it.

Do you understand this? Seriously. Do you truly understand the power of this? The success of the internet is the direct result of zero government control!

There is a lie that has begun circulating recently. This lie basically goes, "Big companies are limiting access to the internet so we need the government to step in and protect us from the big companies."

Think about it. If you don't like your internet provider and you don't live in some place like France or China, all it takes is one phone call to change your internet provider. Right here where I live I can choose between MCTV (my provider), Time-Warner, Century Link, Armstrong, Enterprise, or half a dozen other companies. I live in rural Wayne County, Ohio. My four acres is surrounded by corn fields. Even out here in the middle of nowhere I have around a dozen internet providers, three television providers, and about two dozen telephone providers to choose from. This does not even take into account mobile phone companies all of whom offer smart phones and tablets with internet access. Why in heaven's name would I want the government to step into this wonderful array, pick out the "reliable" companies and force the "unreliable" ones into bankruptcy? I am being very serious here! Why would I want the government deciding that MCTV is too small to provide me reasonable service and therefore I must use DirectTV with Century Link and Verizon?

Even worse. If President Obama's FCC package is implemented and the internet becomes regulated under the same provisions as electricity and gas, then suddenly the FCC is now in a position to arbitrarily shut down internet providers they don't like while charging usage fees on those internet companies they allow to exist. Take a look at your cable/satellite television bill. On that bill you will see USF fee or something similar. This is the tiniest tip of an iceberg of FCC fees that are paid every step of the way to bring you a television program. The networks pay FCC fees per kilowatt of broadcast power, per minute of broadcast time, and per channel of broadcast use. Mobile telephone providers pay all of those fees, plus tower placement fees, bandwidth usage fees, and bandwidth control fees. All of these FCC fees are determined arbitrarily by the FCC without Congressional oversight or Congressional approval. If the President orders the head of the FCC to double usage fees, then usage fees double. If the head of the FCC decides independently of the President's office that they need to double usage fees, he does so, and only afterward goes to the President to request approval. If President Obama's "Net Neutrality" is implemented then the FCC can charge up to 16.7% of collected revenue for bandwidth on top of what they already charge telephone and television providers for the very same bandwidth!

If the FCC is allowed to regulate the internet then they can arbitrarily determine any differences between household access, commercial access, mobile access, fixed access, access speeds, access bulk, and all the myriad of other variables involved when you open a Facebook app or Facebook in your browser. Not only does the government now have the final say in who accesses Facebook, they also have the freedom to charge Facebook for each person who accesses it and for the amount of bandwidth they use during that access. The government already charges the telephone company that owns the lines for bandwidth usage. If they gain control over the internet itself not only will they continue to charge the telephone company but now they can charge the internet provider along with each and every internet content provider! Each and every one! All of those added costs will be passed directly on to you, the user. Content and access providers will have no choice in this. They must maintain profit margins to make payroll, cover the cost of maintenance, cover the cost of innovation, and pay dividends to their stockholders. Facebook will be forced to charge a subscription fee just to cover the combination of FCC bandwidth charges they pay directly along with those they must pay to whoever controls the servers that make Facebook work. Facebook, Twitter, every search engine you depend on, Wikipedia, Blogspot (who carries this blog), and all of the other "free" internet sites you use everyday will be forced to charge you for access because suddenly they must pay the government for access to you!

There is nothing "neutral" about designating the internet a Title II utility. The only thing it does is destroy the freedom you and I now enjoy. It gives the government the right to deny access to content they arbitrarily determine is "damaging to social mores" and it gives them the right to charge for access to the content they allow. The FCC now becomes the final judge in whether you watch YouTube, NetFlix, Hulu, Roku, AppleTV, ABC, or CNN. Suppose you enjoy NetFlix, a flat monthly fee for all the access you desire to television and movies. That will end. Instead, NetFlix will now have to charge you per show, for the time you spend watching, and for the bandwidth you use watching. Those flat monthly fees will vanish and will become per episode fees that are dramatically higher. NetFlix will have no choice in this matter. They will now be paying huge fees to the FCC and in order to continue bringing you movies and television they will have to charge you the cost of those fees on top of their current operating costs plus whatever they need to keep their shareholders happy.

Online universities and high schools will have to either raise fees or start charging fees. YouTube, Gmail, Yahoo mail, Hotmail, Google, Bing, Yahoo, Vimeo, the list is endless. Everything you now enjoy doing for free will suddenly have fees they must pay and they must in turn pass on to you. Network television, cable television, satellite television, will all dramatically increase their costs and in turn, the fees they charge. You think internet advertising is now endemic? If President Obama and the FCC pass their "Net Neutrality" package internet advertising will become the majority of content you have access to and you will have to pass through endless advertisers just to check your Gmail or update your Snapchat feed. How is that an improvement over what we have now?

Wired Online: What everyone gets wrong about Net Neutrality
Forbes Online: FCC plans stealth internet tax
CNN Online: Will the FCC ruin the internet?
Consumer Affairs: Broadband and Net Neutrality
FCC: National Broadband Plan
FCC: Chairman Tom Wheeler's response to President Obama's statement
Brian's Meandering Mind (December 5, 2010): Some thoughts on Net Neutrality

November 05, 2014

The evil, racist, sexist Tea Party just made history

Tea Party Candidate Tim Scott Becomes First Elected Black Senator in the South
Tea Party Candidate Mia Love Becomes First Black Female Elected to Congress

Ever since the Tea Party Express first took to the road in the run up to the 2008 presidential election Democrats and progressive Republicans alike have labeled the Tea Party movement "racist", "sexist", and "bigoted old white men clinging to their guns and Bibles". Dozens of candidates supported by both the grassroots Tea Party and corporate-backed Tea Party Express won seats in yesterday's election. Many of the new Republican governors, new state legislators, and new representatives in Congress are the product of tens of thousands of manhours spent by members of local Tea Party groups pounding on doors and making phone calls. These are the very same groups Lois Lerner tried to use her position at the IRS to destroy by denying them 501(c)3 status. How ironic, then, that both Tim Scott and Mia Love have from the very first day they stepped on the public stage aligned themselves with both the Tea Party movement and Tea Party values.

If we assume that Tim Scott and Mia Love are genuine, independent, free-thinking adults and not the mere puppets of some hidden oligarchy, then we must also assume there is something in the Tea Party that draws all kinds of different Americans into their fold. So what is the Tea Party then? What does it stand for?

The Tea Party Express Mission Statement says,

"Tea Party Express is proud to stand for six simple principles:
No more bailouts
Reduce the size and intrusiveness of government
Stop raising our taxes
Repeal Obamacare
Cease out-of-control spending
Bring back American prosperity"

I could easily list websites for dozens of local, grassroots groups with no financial or intellectual connection to the original Tea Party Express. The Tea Party Express did not invent these groups, create these groups, nor does it fund these groups. What the Tea Party Express did do is provide a visible validation of something many Americans had realized but could not voice: the country had changed in ways that violated its traditions and founding principles.

The United States of America is not like the rest of the world. Our country was designed from the very beginning on two assumptions: people can rule themselves better than governments can, some government is needed to avoid complete anarchy. Right from the beginning the most powerful internal struggle in the United States has been finding the most practical definition of "some government". Where is the line drawn between total anarchy and complete freedom? The two are not compatible and never can be because anarchy inevitably descends into tyranny as the strongest grab control and use that control to exploit the weak. Complete freedom is not anarchy and anarchy is not complete freedom. The two are diametrically opposed. "The American Experiment" is a 238 year old science project designed from the beginning to locate that line and fix it firmly in place. The one lesson that we can take from this sweeping panorama of people, events, places, mistakes, and victories is that even though there are always some individuals who cannot survive when left to their own devices there are also others can only thrive when left to their own devices. The problem with both individualism and collectivism is that neither one can provide the perfect circumstances for everyone alive to reach their maximum potential. This is why there can be no utopian society. Some individuals thrive in circumstances that are devastating for others. There is no way these two completely different kinds of people can thrive together. When the collectivists thrive, the individualists are restricted and held back from achieving their potential. When the individualist thrives, the collectivist is left so far behind they feel oppressed regardless of whether or not their reality is oppressive.

Politics in America is an endless battleground between those who believe in individual meritocracy and those who believe in collective survival. The Tea Party's six principles place it firmly in the realm of those who thrive when individual meritocracy is allowed free reign. The Constitution of the United States places the entire country in that same realm. This is why Tea Party supporters and candidates consistently claim their primary goal is to "restore the Constitution". Individual meritocracy is the divine principle that drove somewhere around three percent of American colonists to throw out the British crown and declare the entire country free and independent. Unfortunately, that also meant 97% of the people either did not care at all or greatly preferred the comfort of living under a king. Unfortunately for the 97%, the key to the success of the American experiment and the reason that for two centuries we have led the world in economics and innovation is that when individual meritocracy defines society then innovators, dreamers, the greedy and the ambitious are allowed to aim as high as their imagination can take them.

On the domestic front the one genuine role of America's constitutional government is to prevent those who succeed from exploiting those who do not. That's it. Providing food, clothing, and housing to those who fail to succeed, those who have no desire to succeed, or those who are prevented from succeeding is not part of the American constitution. The Preamble to the Constitution establishes the role of the federal government as the guardian and protector of five very limited realms of life:

establish Justice
insure domestic Tranquility
provide for the common defense
promote the general Welfare
secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity

The various parts of the federal government, the Bill of Rights and the other amendments, the carefully defined roles of the Judicial, Legislative, and Executive branches, are all designed to insure the federal government fulfills those five simple tasks while at the same time preventing it from interfering in the lifestyle choices of individual Americans. "Establish justice" does not mean creating laws that punish some people more strongly than others (hate crimes), force employers to hire and promote some people over others (affirmative action), or restrict American people from gathering peacefully to petition the government and express their discontent (free speech zones). Almost every federal law that goes beyond the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments in some misguided effort to define those amendments in reality completely violates those amendments. Eliminating these kinds of obvious paradoxes in the regulatory structure of the federal government is the goal of the Tea Party movement and is the practical reality behind the six principles listed above.

With Tim Scott and Mia Love elected on the basis of Tea Party principles and with the backing of both local and national Tea Party groups, one would hope this silly accusation about the Tea Party being made up of "bigoted old white men clinging to the guns and Bibles" will finally come to an end. Clearly there is something greater moving across our nation than simple bigotry. The social and political movement that has been labeled "the Tea Party" holds the keys to preventing America from following down the path every historic society found itself in. If we are not to follow in the footsteps of the Medes, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the British Empire, and so many others, then restoration and reformation must become the mantra of both collectivists and individualists.

The first reform that must be carried out is the end of crony capitalism. The only way to end crony capitalism is to dismantle the obscenely complex federal regulatory structure and return control of consumer protections back down to the local level where it belongs. One major step down this path would be repealing the Affordable Healthcare Act and replacing it with a simpler regulation that does only two things: prevent insurance companies from denying coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions and prevent states from blocking access to insurance companies in neighboring states. Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution grants the federal government the power to regulate interstate commerce. The purpose of this section at the time was to prevent individual states from blocking access to their internal markets by the surrounding states. New York, for example, could no longer block Georgia cotton from entering the State and Georgia could no longer block handcrafts (especially furniture) made in New York from entering their state. This inability to block products from other states is why the early colonies settled into an interstate trade pattern that eventually resulted in a highly industrialized north and an intensively agricultural south. Allowing individual states to prevent out-of-state insurance companies from operating in their state reduces competition, increases prices, and results in people being unable to get proper medical treatment while they are on vacation or visiting relatives. Healthcare, telecommunications, energy production, even certain agriculture sectors have so many federal regulations governing them that newcomers cannot break into the industry, individual companies can easily set up protected zones free from competition, and consumers cannot choose to drop companies with poor service or excessive prices.

Grassroots discontent has given new life to the Tea Party movement. The election of Tim Scott and Mia Love confirms this grassroots appeal. Now is when things get really tricky. Can this new wave of conservatives reduce the size and cost of the federal government? Can Tea Party principles really work at the federal level? Is the nation ready to downsize the federal government, destroy crony capitalism, and allow those individuals who are capable of reaching great heights to actually achieve those heights?

Only time will tell.