Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Don't Quote Things You've Never Read

Despite his every effort to delay the process, the House Ethics sub-committee hearing the charges against Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) finally ruled today.

Rangel, who chose not to be present for the final sub-committee proceeding now claims that he was denied the right to counsel which he claims existed "ever since Magna Carta".

Video here. The money quote is around 3:25.

Bad news congressman: the right to retain counsel is not contained in Magna Carta. Do you have even the slightest idea what you are talking about or our you just trying to make yourself the object of pity? Is that the only defense you have for your egocentric sense of entitlement?

Never mind that you weren't denied the right. YOU CHOSE not to exercise that right, slimeball.

Friday, November 12, 2010

How Not to Write a Constitution: Part II - Rights

Prior to World War II most Americans understood the word "rights" in the Jeffersonian-Madisonian construction of what are now called "natural rights". These are liberties that all human beings are understood to be in possession of by the fact of being. No other conditions need exist.

"A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate."

In my life time, the meaning of the word "rights" has been confused with the Marxist conception wherein a person is somehow entitled to receive some good or service from another person. These are very different from rights. The so-called "right" to "health care" is one of these. This can't come from nature, because you don't necessarily possess it. Rather, to get "health care" you have to live in civilization and there has to be someone knowledgeable enough to provide it. That is, health care is a service. You don't have any more right to it then you would to a Rutti-Tooti Fresh and Fruity breakfast at IHOP. You can get one, but they aren't required to let you have it for nothing. You get one by making a contract with IHOP to trade it to you for some money.

Moreover, as preconditions, you have to be in an IHOP. If there's not one near you, there's no imperative someone transport you to one, nor to build one conveniently located for your dining pleasure. In other words, it is a precondition to obtain this good that you have to live in a place where someone can actually own and operate such an establishment. They must necessarily have access to electricity, water, sewer service, trash removal and food distribution. All of those goods and services have to be bought as well. None of it adheres to anyone in the chain of transactions as a fact of nature.

Likewise for "health care". A lot of people have to do and have to possess a lot of goods and knowledge to provide it. They might occasionally provide it as a charitable gift, but if they are not in general, being compensated for their efforts then there will be no health care for you to partake of.

Anyhow, in today's America, when you talk of "rights" you have to make this distinction. Too many people have grown accustomed to the phrase "I have a right to" being applied to things that, without a doubt, Jefferson not only never conceived of, but would not have agreed met the definition. The left has, predictably, developed a very self-serving terminology for the distinction. They term natural rights as "negative rights" and stuff the government is supposed to give you in its eternal benevolence "positive rights". A more accurate way to say it to call natural rights "rights" and the other kind as "not rights". Think of it this way: the eternal benevolence of government is the empty set. So if "positive rights" is the set of things you can receive from that set then it is likewise empty. Ergo, there is no such thing as a "positive right".

The easiest way to tell the difference is this: if a person has to give it to you or trade it to you or you have to take it from them (steal it in other words) then it's not a right. If you can do it without taking from anyone else and the only question is whether some force is going to act to prevent you, then it's a right.

Alright then, what does it matter? Well... let's have a look at the constitution of a failed state. One of the most notorious kleptocracies in the Western Hemisphere.

The State recognizes the right of every citizen to decent housing, education, food and social security.

The State has the obligation to ensure for all citizens in all territorial divisions appropriate means to ensure protection, maintenance and restoration of their health by establishing hospitals, health centers and dispensaries.
According to Wikipedia this document is modeled on the US Constitution. Apparently the person who wrote the Wikipedia entry as well as the editors who ultimately control content never read Jefferson or Madison. Perhaps when they say "modeled after" they mean "someone took the time to write it all down in one place."

So everyone in this country has the "right" to food and health care. The place must be paradise on earth, n'est-ce pas? Mais, non désolé! Considering their geographic location, and that they've been a "free" country for nearly 200 years, there's really no reason other than a faulty political philosophy for Haiti to be as broken as it is. Their constitution, I argue is the key.

When the government is under a constitutional mandate to provide a service, it is necessarily under a constitutional mandate to confiscate the means of providing it. It's a perpetual justification for theft, and the government of Haiti indeed excels in that. Yet, does this government ever succeed at providing the mandated service? No, and it won't. It's not in the interest of those in power to succeed at that. They have a monopoly, and a mandate to steal in its name. You get what you get and they can always cry "we need a bigger budget, so we need to raise your taxes." Sound familiar?

Haiti is by no means unique in this either. The Soviet Constitution of 1936 makes a few high-minded promises as well. This was written by Stalin's administration. Yes, the same one that purposely starved the populace of its biggest food-producing subject nation. Did they create paradise? Um... no.

The founders of our nation understood that government is ultimately the use of force. Consequently the main thing you have to compel government to do is leave people alone. People are quite capable of and quite motivated to provide for themselves and others. That only breaks down when a more powerful force than the individual interferes, for example by setting up a monopoly by force of law.

The last things you want your government to be are: unrestrained or a service provider. Even when the intent is completely honorable the results are ultimately foul. Governments just aren't good at the whole "service" concept. In part it is because governments do not perceive themselves as mortal. Customer complaints don't appear to endanger the livelihoods of people in government. So they go mostly ignored, or else they serve as an excuse to rob your neighbors to serve you better.

FedEx provides superior service without having to rob from the treasury. This isn't by accident. The owners of FedEx understand that their customers could go somewhere else, and as such, they have an incentive to provide a good value and good service. If a FedEx employee ever treated you with the disregard displayed in the average post office he'd be out of a job. Only government "enterprises" can stay open without serving their customers well or courteously.

It is the nature of the beast. It is the fundamentally about incentives. The post office doesn't get budget increases by working within its budget. No government operation does that. In government you get budget increases by doing your job poorly. Private enterprise works on the opposite proposition. Do your job poorly and or inefficiently and you drive the money away.

Given the choice between a government employee and someone who gets paid more if they do their job well, who would you rather have take you to the hospital when you're bleeding to death? Seriously, if the number of people who die on the way to the hospital is an incentive for a bigger budget to a government agency, there will be a lot of bleeding to death. Whereas if people are competing for the privilege, the one whose customers don't die so often is the one you're going to hire.

Knowing that, a rational people would never transfer responsibility for any good or service to the government unless there was some compelling reason why it couldn't be done any other way.

Our founders understood this, and generations before mine did too. Now we all need to start making ourselves so well informed. We who are living today need to understand where all these ideas came from and reject the bad ones. At the same time, people wrongly described as "constitutional scholars" are trying to tell us that our constitution is incomplete because it does not address "positive rights". Make sure you understand what they mean when they say that. The life you save could be your own.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How Not to Write a Constitution: Part I - Freedom of Speech

See my previous post for the full text of the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution. (The one that does not contain the word "separation".)

Now have a look at this from another constitution. This is not the original text, but the closest thing to an "official" translation to English (found here).

Article 7 [Expression]
(1) No one shall require prior permission to publish thoughts or opinions through the press, without prejudice to the responsibility of every person under the law.
(2) Rules concerning radio and television shall be laid down by Act of Parliament. There shall be no prior supervision of the content of a radio or television broadcast.
(3) No one shall be required to submit thoughts or opinions for prior approval in order to disseminate them by means other than those mentioned in the preceding paragraphs, without prejudice to the responsibility of every person under the law. The holding of performances open to persons younger than sixteen years of age
may be regulated by Act of Parliament in order to protect good morals.
(4) The preceding paragraphs do not apply to commercial advertising.
See the problem?

It only protects from prior restraint. It lacks any clause about abridging the free practice.

Consequently, all that this protects is a person's right to physically speak the words without clearing it with the government first. It does not prevent the government from enacting arbitrary penalties based on content.

This is the reason why a man speaking truthfully about islam can be hauled before a tribunal in Holland. The government has made it a crime to hurt the tender-feelings of islamists. Don't call them "violent" or they'll riot.

In a similar way this doesn't cut it either:

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.
Why not? Well, without being a lawyer and without being well-versed in the circuitous mass that is this particular constitution, I nevertheless observe that there is no text which prohibits limitation or abrogation of these rights. Now there might be text somewhere in this constitution that does that, but it is demonstrated that such a clause is regularly ignored if it does exist.

My evidence for this is that so-called "Provincial Human Rights Commissions" in the country from whose constitution that is taken have tried and condemned Christian ministers for teaching parts of the Old Testament and roundly harassed columnists and publishers for quoting muslims on the subject of muslims. Again this was done on the justification that one must not hurt the tender feelings of islamists.

The underlying point is that you can't trust governments to restrain themselves. The restraints have to be explicit and proximate to the language regarding that from which you wish to restrain them. Otherwise the the most inspiring statements about what rights citizens possess eventually become just worthless ink on worthless paper.

More Examples:

Article 5
[Freedom of expression, arts and sciences]
(1) Every person shall have the right freely to express and disseminate
his opinions in speech, writing and pictures, and
to inform himself without hindrance from generally accessible
sources. Freedom of the press and freedom of reporting
by means of broadcasts and fi lms shall be guaranteed.
There shall be no censorship.
...so far so good.
(2) These rights shall fi nd their limits in the provisions of general
laws, in provisions for the protection of young persons,
and in the right to personal honour.

I'm sure they meant well here, but the problem is that they created an ambiguity that can be, and in fact now is being abused. This is actually one of the better ones out there, but unfortunately, it was apparently not written by people who understood the how and why of governments becoming tyrannical.

Here's one of the worst:
Statutes shall guarantee the expression of diverse opinions and the equitable participation of political parties and groups in the democratic life of the Nation.
So only by statute is there any guarantee at all, and what you're guaranteed is some statutory definition of "diversity". There is no guarantee that you will get to express your opinion unless some bureaucrat decides it fits within their understanding of the statutory definition of "diversity". The very idea should make you sick to your stomach... and that my friends, is just one more reason why France is most assuredly not the pinnacle of Western Civilization.

Here are some more links for further reading:

Constitution of Spain
Constitution of Portugal
Constitution of Austria (horrible)
Austria's "Bill of Rights"
(British) Constitution Society's Webpage
European Convention on Human Rights (orig. 1950)
Constitution of the Czech Republic
Constitution of Sweden
Constitution of Norway
Constitution of Denmark
Constitution of Australia
Constitution of New Zealand
Constitution of India
Constitution of Japan
Constitution of the Philippines

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election Wrap-Up

Well for a start my predictions were much too optimistic. I have begun to re-assess my analysis of the whole business of opinion polling. More on that at another time.

A shift of more than 60 seats in the House, is a big deal making this a "historic" election by any stretch of the imagination. What is the actual historic significance, is a much harder question to answer. The outcome of the next election will tell us a lot about that. So get back to me in two years on this question.

The shift in the Senate was indeed much smaller than anticipated and for reasons I've noted previously, that's a good thing. Tactically, assuming that two years from now I'm still on the side of the Republicans, I want them where they are: very much able to control the Senate, but not in the position of looking like they are responsible for what goes on there. To have the roles reversed at this time would be a very very bad thing.

About the races I was following: Maine 2 went to the Dem. This for me was the first indication that the Republicans were not going win as big as I'd predicted. On the good news side, Dem Congressman Bob "Drunken Brawler" Etheridge lost. Unlike Massachusetts voters, those in North Carolina at least seem to have a sense of decency.

Lt. Col. Alan West won in FL 22. Yay Col. West! It's really going to be fun to watch him in the house.

Here in Arizona, the Republicans won every state-wide race except the one for US Senate, in which there was no Republican. Best of all, Terry Goddard has to go look for a job. Good riddance for now. He's one of those people who never goes away even though they should. I'm confident he'll run again.

The two congressional seats on the border are currently very close but look to both end up in the hands of the Dems. There is certainly enough Dem fraud in border areas to keep these seats Democrat. In case you didn't know, non-citizens vote in Arizona. Of course they're not supposed to, but complaining about it or trying to stop it is "racism".

Overall the election went well, but not in all quarters, and the real issue isn't what happened in the election, but what happens in DC starting in January. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Random Thoughts: Election Day

22:34 EDT

No one's called it yet, but it looks to me that the Republican Rick Scott is going to win the race for Florida's Governor. That's very good news. From what I'm hearing Florida is going R overall as well. Among others, Alan Grayson, the Democrat Congressman from Batshitcrazyland is out and the challenger he went out of his way to slander is in.

Lt. Col Alan West looks like he's doing well but the returns are slow coming in. Maine 2 is coming in even slower and so Michaud's lead doesn't yet indicate much.

Congressman Bob "WHO ARE YOU!" Etheridge is in a squeaker. Currently he's trailing by 59 votes with 85% reporting.

I decided to start following Texas 23 which covers El Paso and the Big Bend. The Repbublican Canseco has a small lead at the moment. The incumbent is long time Dem Congressman Ciro Rodriguez. This is a district that I'd normally expect to stay blue.

21:35 EDT

The House seems to be shaping up well, but it remains to be seen whether it will go anything like the way I predict. Of the races I've been watching, unfortunately, Barney Frank, who has more responsibility for the mortgage crisis than anyone else in congress has been re-elected. Massachusetts proves again that you can't fix stupid.

With West Virgina going for Joe Manchin, and the Democrats getting their turn out in Delaware, it is probable now that I will get my wish that the Republicans will not gain a majority in the Senate. I'm relieved. In a closely-divided Senate, being in the majority is the same as having a job where you've got no authority but full responsibility.

20:01 EDT

Now that actual returns are starting to come in here are the races I'm watching:

Maine 2: This is the more rural and less Dem of the 2 districts in Maine. IMO it makes a fair bellwether for non-urban, blue-state districts. One thing that sets it apart from other parts of the country is that apparently you have to be Acadian to be a candidate.

Massachusetts 4: The sick ego-maniac Barney Frank vs. a US Marine. This one I just have to watch.

North Carolina 2: This is the seat currently held by the drunk old guy who assaults college students who have the nerve to ask him where he stands on issues. Bob Etheridge is his name. Watching because he's another guy I would really like to see lose as a matter of justice.

Florida 22: This is the seat for which Lt. Col. Alan West, USA (ret) is running. This man, IMO could change politics in this country. Early returns have him leading the incumbent 55/45.

Florida Governor: This is a big deal. Florida is one of the states the Dems have been working full-time to take control of for more than a decade.

18:05 EDT

Not a single poll has closed and the so-called election coverage has started. Ugh.

17:33 EDT

Problems With Voting Machines

The latest reports of "problems" with voting machines are from Minnesota. As usual, those on the short end are complaining and those on the long end are saying "nothing to see here, move along."

In any of the reports of problems with voting machines, the problem is the same: the very fact that you are using voting machines at all.

Let me be clear. If your system of balloting does not require you to fill out a piece of pre-printed card stock with a permanent marker, then your voting system is an open invitation to corruption. Voting Machines of every description are just too damn easy to rig.

There are many more features of what would constitute a verifiably honest election system, and that is appropriately the topic of a much longer and more-involved post.

Nevertheless, you need the paper ballots (actually medium card-stock) as a pre-requisite, and every voter needs to be required to use them. If you are one of those unfortunate citizens who is using any sort of machine, internet voting, or punch-cards and not a pre-printed paper ballot, then you need to start agitating for a change. I assure you that if you are using any of the above then your elections are already corrupt.

15:06 EDT

Don't Give up on Delaware!

The early reports I'm hearing from Delaware are that the Dem precincts aren't turning out the way Dems had hoped.

Delaware more than any other state demonstrates what has become the tired refrain about this election: It's all about turnout.

The official narrative has always been that A-conservative-can't-win-here-you-have-to-run-so-called-"moderate"-republicans-to-have-a-chance.-Oh-you-stupid-tea-partiers-you've-ruined-everthing-by-nominating-a-nut-and-not-the-party-blessed-RINO. Ha-ha-tea-partiers-you've-lost-this-one-before-it-started.

I don't buy that conservatives can't win, even in the bluest of blue states for these reasons:
1. If you've never tried it how do you know what will happen? When was the last time the Republicans put up a credible, committed, conservative in any of these states? [here's a hint: not in my lifetime]
2. Delaware goes by turnout. If the Dem region of the state, that is to say the northern tip, Wilmington and suburbs (suburbs of Philadelphia mind you) turn out then the Dems win. If the Republican region (pretty much everything south of Wilmington) turns out and Wilmington doesn't then the Republican wins.
3. Southern Delaware must necessarily include a share of non-affiliated conservatives.

Who are these "non-affiliated conservatives"? Well they exist in every state, even the very red like mine, but they are more likely to exist in states like Delaware where the party only run RINO's. These are the true-believing conservatives who are so fed up with the BS from the national republican party and that they only ever get RINO's for candidates that they had given up on voting.

When polled about party affiliation these people will respond "Independent" because they don't recognize any of their beliefs being manifested by the actions of the GOP. Some are frustrated that the GOP talks a good game but then never seems to fight over any core issue but rather surrenders pre-emptively. (Think gang of 14.) The '06 and '08 election cycles made a lot of people who would previously have called themselves "Republican" go this way. This has everything to do with the low turnout and low party ID numbers for the Republican party between '06 and '09.

One more thing about this phenomenon: Pollsters and analysts generally assume that all conservatives self-ID as "Republican" and that therefore everyone who self-ID's as "Independent" is a moderate. This is garbage. Repeated surrenders to the left by Republicans in Washington has made a lot of conservatives stop calling themselves "Republicans". I was one of those people in '92. I changed my registration to "Libertarian" until '96 when I was pursuaded that that the only way to get the changes I wanted was to work inside the Republican Party. If the new congress doesn't put up a good fight for two solid years I will again change my registration to Independent until we can create the successor to the GOP.

So, despite all the conventional "wisdom", don't count Delaware out for the Republican party this time. There will be some surprises today. That state could well be a source of 2 or 3 of them.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Time to Go On the Record

The mid-term election is tomorrow. Time to make my predictions, for good or ill.

I don't have any special knowledge or any special sources. I'm not privy to anything any other American can't find on the web. I'll start from the map of house races posted at Real Clear Politics. At the time of this writing they show 224 seats leaning, likely or safe for the Republican Party, 167 seats leaning, likely or safe for the Democrat Party and 44 rated "toss-up".

If we are to assume that the polling is indeed predictive the cautious prediction would be to split the toss-ups in half. That means an ultimate split of 246 R, 189 D. That would be a gain of 68 for the Republicans. That's already huge, and assuming that they do as they have promised and actually fight rather than try to make friends it's a great day.

A more historically-based prediction says that the party benefiting from a "wave" event gains 70% of seats "in play". If we call all the leaners in play as well as the toss-ups then there are 106 seats "in play" for a gain of 74. That's interesting in as much as it's 1 seat shy of the biggest gain in over a century.

My assessment is based on 3 factors:

1. Most polls this cycle are based on turn-out models which either copy or weigh heavily the 2008 turn-out. I can't seen any reason to believe that is right.
2. "TEA Party" voters are a combination of fiscally-conservative Republicans and fiscally-conservative socially-liberal Independents who voted for BHO and disgruntled conservatives who didn't vote last cycle. All three of these categories are going to turn out en masse. The latter of the three can't be accounted for by a turnout model that is based on 2008 nor 2006.
3. A very high-proportion of the toss-ups and leaners are Democrat incumbents who poll under 50%. Think about that, even using a model that clearly gives the Dems too high a turn out and in no way counts the people who sat out '08 and '06 these Dems aren't polling 50%.

For these reasons I believe that this will be a bigger loss for the Dems than most people are willing to risk predicting.

My prediction is the House will end up 258 R, 177D or a shift of +80 R. That is one seat more than a complete reversal of the '08 result (not of the shift but of the final 2008 257 D, 178 R split.) There it is. I'm on the record. If I'm wrong, then I'm wrong. Wouldn't be the first time.

Now consider this. What if these toss-ups are all mis-characterized and all 44 of them go to the right. In that case the final split would be 268 R, 167 D or +90 R. I think that's possible, but I wouldn't bet much on it.

It's become a tired phrase, but it's true: It's all about turn-out. My feeling is that, especially in light of observation 2 above, the turn-out is going to blow away many many more Dems than most people are willing to admit.

What about the Senate?

The map I'm looking at right now has 45 R, 48 D+I and 7 toss-ups. The toss-ups are: California, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Washington and West Virgina.

Among those there are only 2 in which I hold any doubt. So 50 R and 50 D+I seems the most likely outcome on paper. I would actually like that a lot. I would prefer for the Dems to hold the Senate rather than have Republicans with a bare majority. This is a political calculation. Contrary to popular belief, 51 seats in the Senate is not the condition of being "IN CONTROL". Not at all. There is a reason why the Dems had to steal an election in Minnesota in '08. (BTW Minnesota, congratulations on that Banana-republic election-system you've created for yourselves.) The reason is that since 2000 it's been repeatedly demonstrated that if you have less than 60 seats in the Senate, you are NOT "in control".

I would very much like to see Republicans in control of the Senate, but that is simply not possible in this election cycle. Politically it is a stronger position to not be the party that voters are going to be told every day is "in control" when you are not in fact "in control". Also, I have a lot less confidence in Senate Republicans to be confrontational, and I believe that being confrontational is required to maintain the support of the TEA Party voters through 2012... and they WILL be there in 2012.

So, I actually consider it bad news but I am predicting 51 R, 49 D+I for the Senate. My one hope is that if that happens, Chuck Shumer will do what's best for Chuck Shumer in the most immediate sense and try to peel off a RINO. Honestly I'd like him to go ahead and peel off all four at once, but I'll take what I can get.

Two more issues I haven't discussed here but which I have discussed in the past.

1. Political polling is not an exact science. Not by a long shot. Despite claims of margins of error in the range of +/-3 to +/-4 for the typical opinion poll, they are a lot less reliable than that. Those margin of error claims are based on an assumption that the sampling model is completely accurate. There is in fact no way to assess the accuracy of a sampling model. I know people pretend, but it is simply an impossibility.

This is why you get one polling agency showing a candidate +7 and another showing him -3. The sampling model makes for the difference and they fundamentally cannot both be right. In this cycle the worst offender in oversampling from one side beyond any reason is the polling agency PPP. They are oversampling Dems by pot-head-fantasy quantities.

2. RCP bases its analyses on the average of several polls by different polling agencies. Statisticians should cry "foul" at this. Different agencies use different sampling models so the populations represented by these various polls are in fact quite different. Therefore it is a violation of responsible statistical inference to average the results and attribute any meaning to them.

Moreover this is also very much a matter of "Garbage In/Garbage Out". Once you average in one or two ridiculous samples (like say PPP, Zogby and Newsweek), the number you get out the back end is not merely meaningless, but in fact predictably misleading.

So when you look at some of these Senate race predictions, have a mind to whose polls they are using in their average. Then remind yourself that the average should be suspect to begin with.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Keyword Search This!

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

You may notice that the word "separation" can't be found in there anywhere.

...but you can have been Attorney General of New York and be completely ignorant of that fact.
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