Monday, April 11, 2016

Human Rights

We’ve all heard the screams of anguish. North Carolina and Mississippi are denying homosexuals their human rights. Companies and entertainers refuse to have anything to do with those states because of their “crimes.” The heinous “crimes” include not forcing people to violate their religious beliefs, and not forcing young women to share restrooms and shower facilities with men.

Let’s look at what human rights really are.

First, most of us in the U.S. believe that we have a constitutionally protected right to free exercise of religion. Note the wording; that amendment tries to protect not just belief, but exercise of that religious belief. As long as the religious exercise does no overt harm to others, it is to be protected.

Second, most of us believe it a human right to not expose our private parts to members of the opposite sex unless we chose to do so voluntarily. That requires restroom and locker room facilities separated by sex, and that sex is to be determined by body construction. A man or teenage boy who “identifies” as a woman does not thereby obtain the right to share a shower or restroom with our teenage daughter. The irony is that many claim that a constitutional right to privacy allows for unrestricted abortion, then they turn right around and deny right to privacy to women in restrooms and locker rooms.

Sadly, many today claim that “human rights” include the right to force people to act contrary to conscience, to photograph or bake cakes for homosexual weddings. That is true even though the “aggrieved” could easily find another photographer or baker. They also claim that it is a human right for a biological male to claim to identify as female and enter the precincts where real females should be able to expect privacy.

This would be laughable if the results weren’t so serious and if the proponents of these new “rights” weren’t 
so successful at publicizing their ideas. The promoters of these new “rights” are making inroads on the real human rights we all should have. They use law, money, and celebrity to convince people to ignore the obvious and support this nonsense. That will continue unless those who believe in our true human rights speak out – loudly and often.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Living in a Fantasy World

Fantasy can be fun. Movies, books etc. that show life outside what we live on a daily basis entertain us. They are especially attractive to children who do not yet fully understand the world we live in. Who among us, when young, did not think that maybe we could learn to fly like Peter Pan or to use magic to get what we wanted?

That is normal for children. Adults however, if they want to live reasonable lives, must face reality. Tinker Bell will not sprinkle pixie dust on us, nor will we find any magic wand capable of creating the food or anything else we want. As we grow up, we should learn that we get what we need by understanding reality and working with it, not by trying to change that reality – or worse, by pretending that reality is different from what it really is.

Sadly, many “adults” today do not seem to understand those simple facts, and their fantasies do more than their share of damage. We have just seen this in Belgium as Islamic fanatics murdered people at the airport and a metro station. Much of Europe has swallowed the line that, if only treated kindly, those fanatics will become good, law-abiding people. That is an attractive fantasy, but reality refuses to go along. If those European rulers were to look at the record they would see that the fanatics have never changed their goals nor their willingness to use violence to achieve those goals. Their pixie dust is an illusion. Those fanatics believe that they have a divine mandate to impose Sharia law on the world, and they are willing to die to reach that goal. No amount of kind welcoming will change that.

Nor is our U.S. president immune to such magical belief. He wants to admit Islamic “refugees” by the thousands, but offers no way to separate the dangerous potential terrorists from the real refugees. That kind of magical thinking gets people killed.

But why do we have leaders living in Fantasyland? In a democratic system there is an obvious reason: too many voters live in Fantasyland, voters who think government has some magical solution to all our problems. They fail to notice that:

Government has no magical source of goods or services to provide to the people. It only has what it takes from those people.

Government has no source of wisdom beyond that of ordinary people. Imperfect people select government functionaries from among the imperfect people actually available in this imperfect world.

Government has no greater integrity than that of those imperfect people who select other imperfect people to hold power.

Voters must think reality, not fantasy. Our security, our economy, and our freedom depend on it. We must reject the pie in the sky fantasy that many politicians promise. Those promises may sound attractive, but the real world rejects them.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Presidential Elections: The Longest Lasting Consequences

There are many issues for voters to consider in any presidential election. However, the longest-lasting legacy of any president must be among the most important. Most presidential decisions can be changed a few years down the road but there is one exception: Supreme Court Appointments.

The Supreme Court is effectively the last word, accountable to no-one. Five justices form a majority on that court, giving them the closest thing we have in this country to dictatorial power. Indeed, at times they do seem to have dictatorial powers. Their decisions stand, and the voters have no means of changing those decisions.

Voters must consider carefully what kind of justices the next president is likely to appoint. That president will probably appoint at least three new justices. Obama's two appointees, Sotomayor and Kagen, will likely remain on that court for decades, as will those three new justices. If the new appointees are similar to the Obama appointees, that will give them decades of absolute majorities on that court, the ability to impose unchangeable rulings on the people.

So which candidate is most likely to appoint good justices, rather than leftist sycophants? Certainly not either of the democratic candidates. Clinton or Sanders would appoint leftists to that court. Trump? That is essentially unknown, the only hints we have are his history of supporting things like condemnation of private property to give it to other private entities, and federally controlled health care. The probabilities do not look good, it is doubtful that he would appoint defenders of constitutional freedom to any court.

Of course there are always a lot of unknowns in electing a president. However, I believe that the candidate most likely to appoint good justices is Ted Cruz. Of all the candidates, he is most committed to the constitution. Voters must consider that when deciding how to cast their ballots.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Cutting off Your Nose to Spite Your Face

Voters are angry, justifiably so. They gave control of both house and senate to the Republicans on the promise that those elected would do things like stop executive amnesty, funding of Planned Parenthood, stop Obamacare, etc. The Republicans then turned around and acted like Obama sycophants. Their campaign promises were as trustworthy as a Hillary Clinton claim. They betrayed the voters who now want revenge.

Unfortunately, that anger is not a good guide for voters. In their desire to strike back, many of those voters are harming the very causes they support. Let's face it, Donald Trump is unlikely to do any of the things voters supported in 2014. Even his main issue, the promise to build a wall along the border, is in serious doubt. Allegedly, in an off-the-record interview with the New York Times, he said he doesn't really believe what he is saying about stopping illegal entry. The fact that he refuses to have the tape of that interview released leads me to believe that the claim is true, he has no intention of building a wall or otherwise restricting illegal entry to this country.

If we make the mistake of electing Trump, I doubt we will see much of anything different than if we elect Hillary Clinton. Reacting in anger can cause us to jump from the proverbial frying pan into the fire.

Related to the issue of illegal aliens are the job losses and underemployment many families face. That is partly, but not totally, due to illegal aliens taking jobs otherwise available to citizens. Again, reacting in unthinking anger is national suicide. That is reminiscent of the way Hitler took power in Germany. As I wrote in my book, Freedom or Serfdom?:

How could Hitler get enough voter support to become chancellor? The answer is that the Germans were desperate, and desperate people may grasp at any straw. The Treaty of Versailles imposed onerous reparations on the country. That and other problems devastated the economy. Formerly prosperous families found themselves with little or nothing. As Hayek puts it, “It should never be forgotten that the one decisive factor in the rise of totalitarianism on the Continent, which is yet absent in England and America, is the existence of a large recently dispossessed middle class.”[1]

As I write this, the American middle class is under siege. Should much of that middle class fall on hard times, that could open the way for a demagogue to take power .”

When I wrote that, I had no idea that Trump, who I consider to be very much a demagogue, would seriously contend for the presidency. I did suspect that another demagogue, Hillary Clinton, would be the democratic candidate but it had not occurred to me that voters in November might face the choice between two such demagogic candidates. I do not want to claim the mantle of prophet, but I'm afraid we might face exactly that. I may vomit in the election booth.

Let us hope that voters will wake up and not let their anger do the voting, rational thinking is much better.

[1]      Hayek, op cit, p215

Friday, February 26, 2016

A Potential Nightmare

Do we want a psychopath as president? I make no claim to be qualified to diagnose that condition, nor can the experts make such a diagnosis from a distance. However we have reason to be concerned. Here is a snippet from Chapter 22 of my book, Freedom or Serfdom?
How can we, citizens untrained in psychology, recognize the psychopath? Sorry, we can't. Even those qualified to diagnose the condition cannot do so at a distance. That is the bad news. The good news is that we do not need a solid diagnosis. We need only know that a candidate has signs consistent with the condition. Any candidate having most of the characteristics of psychopathy is qualified only for rejection, be he a true psychopath or not.

Psychopaths are described as “without conscience, incapable of empathy, guilt, or loyalty to anyone but themselves.”1 They will have most of the following traits:

Lack of remorse
Lack of empathy
Refusal to accept responsibility
Lack of goals
Poor behavioral control
Adolescent antisocial behavior
Adult antisocial behavior2

Those traits are red flags, the growl before the dog bites. They warn us to avoid the candidate, though the personality of the psychopath distracts from that warning. Note, however, that lack of goals will not show up in the political psychopath. That psychopath does not lack goals, he has very ambitious goals – all relating to himself.

I believe readers will see the resemblance with the leading candidates for president in each of our major political parties. I believe that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are superfici8al, grandiose, and deceitful. Both seem to lack remorse and refuse to accept responsibility. I do not know either well enough to know if they lack empathy, but their disregard of others suggests that they do. Both are irresponsible, refusing to accept blame for anything. That is enough to raise a red flag, nay a crimson flag!

Note also: Not all psychopaths are violent. Some are white-collar criminals. Some stay within the law, though seldom within normal ethical boundaries – and they fool people with ease. The white-collar psychopath is a talented deceiver. He uses his personality, his mind, and his silver tongue to separate people from their money, to acquire high-paying jobs, or to reach positions of power. He is the ultimate narcissist; and as far as can be determined he has, literally, no conscience. He is, however, charming, persuasive, often charismatic – and a world-class liar. He could run a red light, hit your car, and convince you that it was your fault.

I do not know if either Trump or Clinton is a true psychopath. However, there are enough warnings that having to chose between the two for president is a nightmare.
1 I Paul Babiak, PhD and Robert D. Hare, PhD, Snakes in Suits, When Psychopaths go to Work, Harper 2006, p19
2 Ibid, p17

Monday, February 15, 2016

Replacing Justice Scalia

With the untimely death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, we can expect a major discussion (near war might be a more appropriate description) about his replacement. The statists are salivating over the possibility of another justice such as Sotomayor or Kagan, justices who would rubber stamp big, intrusive government. Freedom lovers, on the other hand have reason to fear such a new justice. There is little doubt that President Obama will try to put another of their ilk on the court; the only hope for liberty is the Senate.

Supreme Court justices have lifetime tenure, barring retirement or impeachment – and we have never impeached one of them. Each is effectively one fifth of a dictatorship since five justices can make a rule from which there is no appeal.

We must get the right people on that court.

Sadly, in recent years the biggest absence in the Senate has been Republican backbone. Republicans won big in the 2014 election, primarily on the basis of voter opposition to Obama's overreach. Yet they have failed to use their majority to block that overreach. Indeed, earlier they could have blocked Sotomayor and Kagan. They had the votes, along with reason to believe those two would be exactly the kind of justices they have turned out to be. Yet the Republicans acquiesced like a drunk giving in to the offer of another drink. Checks and balances were AWOL.

Our senators take an oath to defend the Constitution. They have not only a right, but a sworn duty to reject any prospective judge who is likely to weaken that Constitution. That duty is especially important when they consider Supreme Court appointments. They must insist on the following requirements before they approve any judge:

Absolute integrity
Commitment to Constitution and Law
Subordination of Personal Belief to Law and Constitution
Intellectual ability
Knowledge of law and Constitution
The inner strength to stand up for what is right.
(Detail and reasoning behind those requirements is found on pp132-134 of my book, Freedom or Serfdom?).
There must be no compromise on those requirements. Any prospective justice who fails in even one of them is not qualified to occupy the bench.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Legitimate Sphere of Government

Just what is the legitimate sphere of government? Let's look at a few examples:
You go on vacation, driving on an interstate highway built under government direction.

The fire department responds to your neighbor's house fire.

Burglars would break into your cousin's apartment, except the police caught them during a previous crime and they are now in jail.

A foreign tyrant looks enviously at Alaskan oil, but leaves it alone when he sees the ability of our military.

Your nephew lives downstream from a factory that might pollute the river if it were not for the laws against that pollution.

Those represent legitimate functions of government. They provide what economists call external costs and benefits, or externalities. Externalities are defined as costs or benefits accruing to someone not directly involved in the transaction. Your cousin is not involved in the burglars' “business” but he would pay if government didn't enforce the law. As citizens we are not involved in the tyrant's “business,” but we lose if government fails to defend the country. Individually, you paid next to nothing to build that freeway, but many people travel on it. Those are all externalities. Externalities and nothing else are the properly the domain of government.
However that does not mean that government should automatically meddle with all external costs and benefits. It should determine if a proposed action is really worth doing, fair, and worth the cost. For example, it should not build the new road that primarily benefits the mayor's cousin, nor should it build a fancy stadium that brings minimal benefit to the people. Government should also avoid actions that unduly restrict freedom, even if those actions fall within the sphere of external benefits. Some would claim that government should do things like dictate the colors houses should be painted. Free men, however, would object on the grounds that people should make their own choices in such matters, not force their idea of beauty on others. We should remain free unless there are strong and compelling reasons to impose a restriction.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Government by Delegation

Where does any government get the right to exercise authority over citizens? Prior to 1776 most in the western world thought that kings had some divine right to rule. That made sense only if you both believed in God and and believed that He had somehow picked the king of your country. Most today would reject that concept. In fact our Declaration of Independence rejects it, as indicated in the following from pp127-128 of my book, Freedom or Serfdom?

“ 'That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.' “That stood previous ideas of government on their heads. Government exists, not for kings and other rulers, but for and at the pleasure of the banker, the farmer, the garbage hauler, etc.

“That phrase deserves special attention. Government power comes from the consent of the governed. In other words, we the citizens delegate our power to the government. It becomes our agent, to act in our name with such power as we choose to allow. That simple phrase not only means that the people are to rule, but adds another requirement for limited government. We can delegate only the powers and rights we ourselves possess. We have a right to defend ourselves; let's delegate at least part of that right to the police and the military. We have the power to build roads and bridges; let's delegate that power to government. We have a right to demand that a factory not dump mercury into our waters; delegate that to government as well.
“There are, however, rights we do not have and therefore cannot delegate to government or to any other entity. We do not have the right to hold other humans as slaves, therefore we cannot delegate to government the right to approve slavery. We have no right to force our neighbor to paint his house the color we prefer; therefore we cannot delegate that right to government. We have no right to force our neighbor to buy the insurance we think he should buy; therefore we cannot delegate such power to government.”

This concept is at the root of limited government – limiting even democratic government. If 99% of the people want to enslave someone, decree how houses shall be painted, etc., they have no right to do so. Numbers may make strength but they do not make right. That which is immoral for an individual remains immoral for a democracy.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Why Trump and Clinton Lead in the Polls

Related to my last blog (“The Sound, the Fury, and the Important”), just what is driving Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to in the polls? That I can answer in one word: Media. Each gets so much media attention that they have an advantage with voters.

Both Hillary and Trump were already celebrities, well known and with lots of media coverage. Trump had been famous for his so-called business success (though an examination shows that success to be overblown, since he inherited his business, then faced multiple bankruptcies). Hillary rode to fame on the coattails of her husband. Both enjoyed celebrity status long before they even announced their candidacies. The news media, which fawns over movie stars and other celebrities, naturally gave them more valuable publicity than it did to less famous people.

The other effect, the reason that extra media coverage is so important, is that it is human nature to trust the familiar more than we trust the unknown. The devil you know is better than the devil you don't know. That is a well documented fact, cognitive psychologists have long understood the phenomenon. It affects everything from race relations to food preferences – and it affects voting. Similarly with politicians. If we recognize a politician's name and face we can develop a trust in him, a trust lacking in his less well-known opponent.

That is the reason we see so many political ads that emphasize the name of the candidate but say nothing about his qualifications. Candidates know that many voters tend to support someone they recognize, even if they really know little about him. That is a dangerous tendency in any democratic government. The demagogues use it to manipulate voters.

What can we do about it? I know of no solution other than to understand the problem and make deliberate efforts to overcome it. As citizens, we must look beyond the surface of political campaigns. We must learn about each candidate's honesty, ability, commitment to our way of government etc. We must vote on the basis of those qualification and do our best to ignore name familiarity, physical appearance, etc. Only by so doing can we reject the demagogues and elect men and women who will serve us well.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Sound, the Fury, and the Important

The Sound, the Fury, and the Important

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: They lead the polls for their respective party presidential nominations, but what do most people really know about them? How many prospective voters can name even one of Hillary's accomplishments as Secretary of State? (Don't feel bad, she couldn't either.) How many could describe Trump's stance on such things as abortion, big government etc? (Don't feel bad, hardly anyone else can either – at least with any confidence of being right.) They lead in the polls, not because of reasoned voter decisions, but because they get so much publicity. And that publicity is essentially independent of the important issues.

What gets publicity? The celebrities, spectacular, the event that will draw people to pay attention to the news and thus to their advertisers. Meanwhile, the important but less spectacular passes unnoticed. For example, I have been involved in mountain rescue for nearly 30 years. During that time I have participated in several widely publicized searches, even been on TV and been quoted, in large type, on the front page of the state's largest daily newspaper. By searching in the woods and mountains I have helped save a few people, which is great. However, what is undoubtedly my most useful “rescue” activity goes completely unnoticed, and even I have no idea how many people I may have saved. That activity is participating in our rescue team's public education program, providing information on how to avoid trouble. That program attracts no media attention, the person who avoids trouble because of what we taught him does not make the news. Yet that program almost certainly saves more lives than we do tromping around the woods. Its effectiveness is completely unrelated to the publicity it receives.

Both Trump and Clinton remind me of Daniel J. Boorstin's quote that “a celebrity is a person who is known for his well-knownness.” Both are very well known and attract a lot of attention, especially from the media. (One recent cartoon showed Trump as the pied piper, leading the news media. In my opinion a very appropriate image.) But what have they done for the country? What would they do for or to the country if elected? Few if any people can answer those questions.

Publicity, news attention etc. are nearly independent of importance. We pay a lot of attention to entertainers, sports figures and other celebrities, but little to people like scientists and engineers who advance our technology. We pay lots of attention to things like the hair style or speaking ability of political candidates, but much less to their records and how they are likely to govern.

This is dangerous to our country. Any representative government depends on voter knowledge and wisdom. Voters distracted by the irrelevant are more likely to fall for demagogues than to vote wisely; and that will lead to turmoil or tyranny, maybe both. And relevance is essentially independent of how much publicity something gets.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Scandal Saturation

What effect will a single scandal have on a politician? How about multiple scandals? Surprisingly, the single scandal seems much more likely to purge the powerful. Nixon, for example, fell victim to the Watergate break-in, even though he apparently participated only in the cover-up, not the original crime. That caused him to be the only president in history to resign from office. The scandal became so well-known that, today, a host of major and minor scandals having nothing to do with the Watergate office building get the suffix “gate” attached to their names.

On the other hand, look at the scandals in the life of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Insider trading, perjury, lying about the cause of the Benghazi attack, risking sensitive national security information on a private server, abuse of women, and on and on and on. Almost any one of the Clinton scandals is as shady as Watergate – yet most of the news and many voters ignore those scandals. Why?

I am no psychologist and have been unable to find anything on line to back this up, but my theory is that multiple scandals diffuse the response. People concentrate on a single scandal and the target of their anger cannot escape. However, the more scandals there are involving a particular politician, the more thinly spread is the reaction. That seems to me to be happening with the Clintons. Whether deliberately or just because of their lack of character, they have created a whole herd of scandals. Now, except for their enemies, people pay little attention to any of those scandals – and even their enemies are diffusing their attacks, some concentrating on the abuse issues, some on the email scandal etc.

I do not know the reasons why, but I suspect people are just so overloaded with scandal news that they are starting to ignore it. Of course that combines with the media obsession with making Hillary president. This bodes ill for the country. It means that we will reject someone who may be a basically good person with a single flaw while accepting the real scoundrel because we cannot keep track of all his nefarious characteristics.

I hope some psychologist can enlighten us on this matter. I hope even more that voters will wake up and pay attention to all pertinent information, even if they seem to face overload.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Who Decides? Who Pays? Who Benefits?

(Note: This is a direct quote from Chapter 15 of my book, "Freedom or Serfdom?)

The Parable of the Pie
Polly's Pie Parlor has an unusual business model. You pick the pie you want, but Polly delivers it to the customer who comes in half an hour later. You get the pie someone ordered half an hour ago; I hope you like his taste. And you won't pay for either of those, instead you pay for the pie somebody ordered two hours ago. No trading of pies is allowed.

That is obviously a silly example – or is it? It is an instance of what is called third-party decision making. One person decides, someone else pays and yet a third person lives with the decision. Yes that happens, maybe not in pie parlors, but it does happen in business, and especially in government.

Government and Third-Party Decisions
Government decisions are inevitably third-party decisions, made by someone far from the scene and who neither pays the cost nor lives with the results. It is worth looking at the problems this causes.

For any decision we must consider: (1) who decides, (2) who pays, (3) who lives with the results, and (4) who has the most knowledge of the situation. The best decisions are made by someone who pays the price, lives with the results, and is knowledgeable about the issues to be decided.

A person who pays but does not live with the consequences will have an incentive to keep costs down. However, he may not even care about quality or any results that do not affect him.

Someone who lives with the results but does not pay has an incentive to get a good solution, but not to control costs. He may go for an expensive solution that is only marginally better than something much cheaper.

A decision-maker who neither pays nor lives with the solution has no incentive to either control costs or find a good solution to the problem. Note that most government decision makers are in this category. They neither pay the price nor live with the result.

With government decisions, the decision-makers are usually insulated from both expense and results. However they do have an incentive to appear successful, so they tend to be reluctant to change their decisions. A change would be an admission that they were wrong, not usually career-enhancing. A bad decision is likely to remain in effect, much as the fees on climbers of Mt St Helens and Mt Adams remain in effect.

A person who pays and who lives with the decision, and who gets to make that decision, will have an incentive to balance cost and results. That incentive is likely to lead to the best overall decision, especially if that person is knowledgeable. Third parties are unlikely to have the first-hand knowledge possessed by the people directly involved. Those third parties may be 2,000 miles away from the situation. Furthermore, they may impose a “one size fits all” solution, ignoring differences between places as diverse as a big city like Los Angeles and a rural village where a traffic jam might mean three cars at a stop sign.

Third-party decision makers often think of themselves as smarter and more knowledgeable than the average person. They may even be correct, but the third party tends to have a different type of knowledge than the people at the scene. That third party is likely to have a theoretical background rather than the knowledge that comes from hands-on experience. Meanwhile, the people directly involved draw on personal experience and on information from others who have such experience. And those who pay and live with the results have an incentive to get more information if they need it.

For example, a rancher in eastern Oregon may have employees who drive 50 miles from town each day, then 50 miles back after work. Employees soon tire of the drive and of the expense of gas and automobile maintenance. The rancher has a hard time keeping good people, so he decides to provide housing right on his ranch. Not so fast! Representatives from urban/suburban areas dominate the state legislature. They do not make that daily commute, they do not lose employees who hate the drive, and many probably don't even know the difference between a bull and a steer. Guess who gets to decide how to run that ranch? That's right, the legislators from urban districts, people who want to prohibit such housing. Land use restrictions require that “Minimum lot sizes in farm and forest zones range from 80 to 240 acres.”[1] That restricts the number of houses a rancher may have for himself and his employees.

Ironically, many of the people who support those limits also want to reduce driving, yet their rules force ranch employees to commute from town. That is an example of not only third-party decision making but of stage one thinking. The decision makers do not think beyond the initial objective.

As government acquires more power, we find third-parties making more and more of our decisions. The results are predictable. Our only advantage is that we can blame someone else for the mistakes.


Friday, January 15, 2016

Sucker bait - $3 Billion Lost

In recent weeks, Americans have lost over three billion dollars of their personal money, with most of the losses suffered by the lowest economic classes, those who can least afford it – and it is state governments operating that scam. Furthermore, the news media is complicit, giving free publicity to the misleading big prizes, but failing to mention the losses.

I am talking about Powerball, though other lotteries are similarly misleading. Look at all the publicity about the mislabeled prize of supposedly a billion and a half dollars. And of course almost nobody looks at where that money came from: it came from losers, people who bought tickets and got nothing in return. In fact those people lost well over three billion dollars to support that alleged billion and a half dollar prize! Only half the money spent on tickets is returned in prizes. Some 40% goes to the states and another 10% to retailers selling the tickets. Since there are also prizes of lesser amounts, the money lost buying tickets has to amount to well north of three billion dollars. And since the lowest income people are the most likely to buy tickets, this amounts to a tax on the people least able to afford it. Then, on top of that, the prize is an advertising scam, payouts being well less than advertised.

In the first place, the big prizes are not cash of the amount advertised. Any winner wanting a cash payout will get only about 65% of the advertised price. To get it all, that winner must accept installments over 30 years, while the lottery collects interest on the money still unpaid. Then of course the tax man will take a big chunk of any payout, probably about half of it between state and federal taxes. That's right, the state that already gets 40% of the ticket prices then turns around and gets yet more in the form if income taxes on the winnings.

Of course, as in the case of this prize, there are often several tickets with the winning numbers, so they split whatever is left of the prize after taxes and the scam of the prize not being paid out immediately. The state is the big winner, while the holders of the winning tickets will probably end up with about 30 to 35% of the advertised prize. This is a sucker play.

Lotteries are, in fact, a variation on the idea of providing well-publicized benefits to a small number of people while ignoring the total cost spread among millions who pay the price. Chapter 13 of my book, Freedom or Serfdom?, discusses this in terms of spending tax money for projects that benefit few. The lottery does something similar, benefitting very few winners at the expense of millions of losers.

I am not naive enough to think that people are not going to gamble, but it is obscene that the state encourages an addictive activity that taxes the poor disproportionately. Nor am I convinced that lotteries are a net gain for the states sponsoring them. Gambling adicts create both social and financial problems. They often embezel to support their habit, and create family problems that damage children and put more people in jail and on welfare. The benefits of a lottery, if any, are miniscule compared to the cost citizens pay.

It is unlikely that we can, in the near future, reverse the trend of states encouraging gambling. We can, however, do our part by refusing to participate in this scam, and by trying to educate our families and friends about just how misleading lotteries are.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Due Process

“No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law...” So says the 14th amendment to the U.S Constitution, expanding rights of the fifth amendment to all inhabitants of the country. That is an important protection for citizens, a protection sadly being eroded today. That amendment should protect against such things as being punished with no opportunity to defend oneself. Today, there are certain accusations regarded as proof in themselves, with the accused either allowed no opportunity to defend himself or allowed only a difficult and expensive defense, and that after the punishment is already in place.

Perhaps the most widespread such abuse is the no-fly list. Almost anybody can accuse someone of terrorist leanings, whereupon the accused is put on that list – usually without his knowledge. The accused learns of his de facto conviction and punishment only when he shows up at the airport. Even members of Congress have found themselves on that list, just because they have names similar to someone else put on the list. And it is easy to get on that list. Previous comments, suspicion (with no solid evidence) of terrorist leanings, your neighbor's revenge by reporting you, any of those and more could land you on that list. Then it is difficult to get off, even once you learn of your punishment. That deprives the accused of liberty without due process.

If the statists have their way, they will also use that list to deprive people of property, specifically any arms those people may have or want to purchase. They want to make anyone on that list automatically ineligible to own firearms, regardless of the reason they are on the list.

Nor is this abuse of power likely to stop there. Some in the Oregon legislature are proposing a law that would allow any family member, medical provider, or college professor to put a person's name on a secret list of people prohibited from buying guns. It would be very difficult to get off that list. The family nut case would have power to deny the whole family their constitutional rights. The professor who does not like comments in class could do the same to students – no due process allowed. The accused would only learn of their punishment when they try to buy a gun. Imagine, a wife tries to leave her abusive husband and he keeps stalking and maybe abusing her, but at the same time puts her name on that list. Fearing for her life, she gets a concealed weapon permit and goes to buy a pistol. Only then does she learn that she is on the list. He can assault, even kill her with no fear that she will be armed.

Nor is the no-fly list or attempts to circumvent second amendment rights the only problem. College campuses are becoming notorious for punishing accused sex abusers with no due process – and that at the behest of the federal government. While they cannot jail the accused, they can keep him off campus, deny him an education, on the word of an accuser – and he is not allowed the normal defense. A coed angry at a young man can effectively get him banned with nothing more than her accusation.

And what about discrimination? Racial discrimination is of course wrong, but that is another area where the accusation is considered a conviction. Want to do business with the government? Better be able to prove that you do not discriminate, the flimsiest of evidence will disqualify you.

Unless we fight this, we can expect the problem to expand. This is the perfect tool for the power-hungry. They will find more and more “special” cases for which they will allow no due process. Speak out against the powerful? They will do all they can to deprive you of your rights. If they can, they will put the burden on you to prove your innocence, rather than on the accuser to provide evidence of guilt.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Presidential Qualifications, Part 2

So what qualifications should we seek in a president or other office holder? What we need is similar to what I've previously described as qualifications for judges (See Chapter 10 of my book, Freedom or Serfdom):

Integrity: We must have integrity in any government official. Without integrity, other ability becomes a means to abuse the powers of office. An able but corrupt official will use that ability for his own benefit, not for the good of the country.
Commitment to Constitution and Law: Our elected officials (and the bureaucrats they hire) must be committed to our constitutional form of government, and to constitutional law. We have a representative republic with carefully crafted protections against abuse of power. We must insist that people we elect uphold those protections.
Subordination of Personal Belief to Law and Constitution: Our officials must be willing and able to follow the law and Constitution as written, not dictatorially impose their own ideas on us.
Intellectual Ability: They must have the ability cut through the intellectual fog, and decide on the basis of fact, logic, law and Constitution.
The inner strength to stand up for what is right: Officials are under pressure to go along with their supporters, and with the people who make the most noise. That pressure they must resist. They must decide on the basis of law and constitution and resist government by decibel.
Humility and willingness to listen to good advice: Nobody knows everything so our leaders must seek and utilize good advice. In fact, the Bay of Pigs attack, probably the greatest foreign policy debacle in our history happened partly because smart men in Kennedy's brain trust did not seek advice from people with knowledge they lacked. (Described in Irving Janis book, Groupthink.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Presidential Qualifications

Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others that have been tried. (Winston Churchill)

Every four years in this country we elect a president – sadly, often on the basis of irrelevant characteristics. Charisma gets votes. So does good hair and the ability to act like one of the regular folk. A talent for believable deception can also help. Sometimes people vote for a candidate because of race or sex, claiming that it time for black or woman president. Then, once the president takes office, none of those characteristics does anything to help the economy, stop terrorists, control crime, or any of the other things we expect from a president. The same can be said of congressional representatives, governors, mayors, and other elected officials. Voters should decide on the basis of real qualification, not superficial things like charisma.

“Timothy Judge of the University of Florida business school says that being an extrovert is correlated with being chosen as a leader, but not with being a good leader. “We go for these effervescent leaders when what's really needed is a dull, focused, plodding [type] building effective groups and organizations.”1

Leadership requires two distinct but unrelated abilities. First and most important, the leader must make wise decisions. Second, he must motivate people to act on those decisions. Motivation without wisdom only leads people to Hell faster. It is the demagogue, the potential tyrant, who is most likely to motivate without wisdom.

“Charisma attracts votes. It also causes people to act without thinking. Extroverts are the people likely to win elections, but not the most likely to make good decisions. The only possible solution is for voters to pay more attention to substance and less to image.” (From my book, Freedom or Serfdom? Page 259)

Today, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump appear to be by far the leading aspirants for the presidential nomination of their respective parties. Both reached that position on the basis of irrelevancies. Hillary gains much support from those who believe we should have a woman president. Trump is a master of publicity. In my opinion, neither is qualified to be president. Once we look beyond the superficial, there is little there. Hillary, asked about her accomplishments as secretary of state, could not name even one. Trump, claiming to be a conservative, has proposed increases in government power by such things as government control of health care. I've not heard either of them praise limited, constitutional government.

Another problem with politicians is that they are usually convincing talkers. Yet when we look at their actions we often find those actions unrelated to promises.
I urge voters to look at not only the promises but the record of politicians. Avoid government by the silver tongue, by promises etc. People can lie with words much more easily than they can deceive with actions.

1 U.S. News and World Report, November 2009, p26