October 29, 2013
In a few minutes we’ll be leaving to take Amanda to the airport. I just set up another blog for her where we’ll try to post her mail: http://amandainbrazil.wordpress.com.
October 19, 2013
The other evening I was helping Andrew with his homework. They’re studying American symbols, and he had a worksheet on the Statue of Liberty. Question 1:
The Statue of Liberty raises a ______________ in her left hand.
“Torch,” he said and wrote that down. Question 2:
The Statue of Liberty holds a _________ in her right hand.
“Book,” he says, and starts to write.
“I think it’s supposed to be a tablet,” I say.
“Nuh-uh,” he replies, “they didn’t have tablets back then!”
So I had to explain that “tablet” meant something different back before we had iPads and such.
September 4, 2013
If I were ever to get myself elected to public office, not that that’s likely to happen, my motto for governing would be: primum non nocere. It’s attributed to Hippocrates, although there’s no evidence he ever said it, and means “First, do no harm.”
People seem to think when something bad happens you have to do something to try to fix it. And so for thousands of years when people got sick “healers” would brew up noxious potions or apply leeches or try other absurd things that more often than not only made the patient get worse. Then a couple of hundred years ago some doctors realized they didn’t know enough, and had the courage to step back and observe the course of diseases, while making the sufferers as comfortable as possible, but without trying treatments they didn’t really know would work. This, along with the discovery of microbes and other scientific observations, led to modern medicine, which actually works in many cases. (People still expect doctors to do something to cure them, though. Many drugs are overprescribed, for one thing.)
The same thing happens in politics. Something bad happens, and politicians and bureaucrats rush to pass a new law or implement a new policy or establish a new government program, because we have to do something even if it doesn’t actually do any good, in fact even if it makes things worse. We desperately need politicians and officials who will follow the example of the early scientific doctors and observe and study before trying to fix things.
August 28, 2013
So, there’s talk going around that we may be on the verge of some sort of military action in Syria. Exciting, especially when one of your offspring is wandering around the middle east.
Anyway, I’ll just repeat something I said earlier:
…it’s a practical mistake and a moral error to get involved in a war unless you’re committed to fighting it to the end. Unless you have a clear goal that won’t be accomplished until your enemy surrenders unconditionally or ceases to exist as a political entity, and you’re willing to put all necessary resources into achieving that goal, you have no business using military force.
Limited wars are immoral wars. If it’s not worth an all-out fight, don’t start fighting.
July 8, 2013
I’m not sure what to think about the immigration bill Congress is currently considering. The biggest problem with illegal immigration is making illegal something that is natural and beneficial. As it stands now, if Joe from Ohio wants to move to Texas to look for a better job, that’s fine, but if José from Oaxaca tries to do the same thing he’s breaking the law. Somehow that doesn’t seem right; everyone should be able to try to find a job wherever they like. On the other hand, Congress is so dysfunctional these days it’s hard to believe that the proposed legislation, another big bill that many Senators don’t seem to have taken the trouble to read, will be any kind of improvement.
Anyway, the real problems that immigration opponents are concerned about don’t really arise from immigration per se. The come instead from “multiculturalism” and the welfare state. “Multiculturalism” pretends to be about respecting other cultures, which of course we should do, but as practiced it’s really more about attacking Angl0-American culture. But people immigrating to a new country should be adopting the culture already there, not expecting those already there to accommodate their preferences. This includes attempting to learn the language commonly used in the host country. (This works both ways; an Anglo who moves to Mexico shouldn’t expect his new neighbors to change to North American values and habits and start speaking English.)
As far as the welfare state is concerned, that’s probably a topic for another post, but while we absolutely have an obligation to help those in need, government involvement always seems to corrupt and distort what might otherwise be charitable actions.
So my immigration policy would be: get the government out of the business of “helping” people, insist that people who move here educate themselves in the principles of American democracy (which unfortunately would put them ahead of a lot of native citizens) and try to learn English, and then let anyone willing to meet those conditions come here and help make our country a better place.
June 30, 2013
One of the (myriad) ways we’ve become a less free society is in the multitude of things for which you need permits or approvals before you can do them legally. This empowers bureaucrats and rule-makers over ordinary citizens, and in some cases comes close to a “guilty until proven innocent” presumption.
One recent example comes from the IRS scandal concerning Tea Party-related applications for 501(c) status. Why should an organization need approval from the IRS before receiving this status? Shouldn’t it work for an organization to just file a promise to comply with the 501(c) rules, and then if in actual practice it violates those rules the IRS could impose fines and other penalties? This certainly wouldn’t eliminate the ability of the government agency to engage in politically-motivated harassment, but at least the people starting these organizations could begin immediately to exercise their rights without having to wait on a corrupt bureaucracy.
Another example is section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which the Supreme Court struck down this week. This section listed several states that had to have all voting-related changes approved by the Justice Department. This section was struck down on the principle that federal laws should apply equally to all states unless there’s some compelling reason. The reason existed when the law was first passed, but the justification had not been updated with any data since 1972. While Holder and other progressives have tried to frame this decision as an attack on voting rights, the sections of the VRA that actually guarantee those rights still stand. Even section 5, that outlines the procedures for Justice Department approvals still stands, and section 3, which as James Taranto points out, allows the government to ask the courts to add jurisdictions that have been proven to engage in discriminatory actions to the list of those requiring approvals, also still stands. All that has been lost is the ability for Justice Department officials to meddle in political decisions made in places that haven’t been shown to discriminate for over 40 years.
There’s an old saying that sometimes it’s easier to get forgiveness that permission, but in the relationship between a government and free citizens neither forgiveness nor permission should be an issue. Actions are either right or wrong, and laws should make behaviors legal or illegal, without a “legal only if we decide to let you” category that makes abuse and oppression easier.
May 21, 2013
While the categories of things that are legal and things that are moral overlap substantially, they are not identical. Some things are legal but immoral, for example, abortion. Some things are illegal but moral, for example, helping escaped slaves back when that was illegal.
When it comes to paying taxes, though, our only moral obligation is to comply with the law; no one should be considered morally obligated to eschew any legal means for reducing their tax obligation. Today Apple CEO Tim Cook will be appearing before a Senate committee, presumably so the Senators may berate him because Apple has structured their business in a perfectly legal way that avoids a higher tax bill. (They “only” paid around $6,000,000,000 in corporate income taxes last year. This hearing seems to have been triggered by Apple issuing something like $1,600,000,000 in bonds because the <2% interest rate is less than a tenth of the ~35% tax rate they’d have to pay if they just transferred some of their foreign profits to the U. S.) Google and other corporations have been facing similar political pressures in Europe. Note that although everyone admits they have done nothing illegal, these politician (who write the tax laws) are expressing outrage because they’re not funneling even more cash into the public coffers.
Ronald Reagan once said that government is like an infant: an insatiable appetite on one end, and no sense of responsibility on the other end. Senators would serve the country better by focusing on spending more responsibly (an actual budget would be a good start) rather than whining about perfectly legal behavior.