Something Orwell Missed

In his seminal work 1984, George Orwell imagined a dystopia where “Big Brother” government monitors every aspect of society.  The technology of the surveillance state is here and becoming ever more pervasive.  But Orwell missed something: the state didn’t get a lock on the technology, and now it’s being used by regular folks to surveil the state right back.

There’s a lesson here somewhere

By Mike Cronin

Teachers in my state are currently pushing for higher salaries and better funding. For they most part, they do deserve higher salaries.  But there are some education and teaching realities that our governments, our public education system, and teachers’ unions would rather we not notice.

We are supposed to believe that public schools are the best place to put our kids, yet homeschooled and private school kids generally do better on the SAT.

We’re supposed to believe that public schools have such a dismal record on test scores because they are so under-resourced, yet public schools have the highest average per-student spending of the three. And federal spending, which went up 375% over 30 years, has done nothing to improve test scores. And private school teachers make less money and have fewer benefits.

We’re supposed to believe that only a qualified, professional teacher is capable of teaching our children, but we’re supposed to ignore that parents can and do teach their own children just fine – else the kids wouldn’t generally be speaking or potty-trained before they get to pre-school or kindergarten. We’re also supposed to ignore that “Research over the years has indicated that education majors, who enter college with the lowest average SAT scores, leave with the highest grades.”

We are supposed to lament that a teacher might pay a few hundred dollars out of her own pocket for materials she desires in her classroom, but we’re seldom informed that a mechanic, welder, plumber, or electrician fresh out of trade school has to spend $7-10,000 or more on tools, or that a new cop might have to spend $2-3000 for her body armor, weapons, footwear, and leather gear. And an independent trucker? A new semi runs $115-125,000 off the lot, but runs to $400,000 for parts, tires, and service over a 15-year expected lifespan. And that doesn’t include fuel, taxes, insurance, or other expenses. Our independent trucker may have to gross $180 K in order to bring home less than a teacher’s salary!

We’re supposed to believe that public school teachers deserve more money – but we aren’t supposed to suggest that yes, the good ones do…but the mediocre ones don’t, and the bad ones need to be fired. We aren’t supposed to suggest that merit-based versus tenure-based compensation and career progression might stimulate performance and hiring, even though it works quite well in almost every other occupation.

IT MAY BE VULGAR, BUT IS IT INACCURATE?

By Mike Cronin

The commentariat are in an uproar over President Trump’s alleged use of the term “shit-hole” to describe Haiti and parts of Africa.  They say it’s a racist slur.

If the president did indeed use that word in a public setting, it’s noteworthy for its vulgarity, but is it really a racial slur? Is it even wrong?

Let’s consider Haiti. It is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.  Right next door to Haiti – on the very same island – the Dominican Republic has the largest economy in Central America and the Caribbean, and it enjoys a much better standard of living. Why?

When the January, 2010  7.2 magnitude earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, nearly a quarter of a million people died because something like 60-70% of all the buildings were severely damaged or collapsed outright, including the presidential palace.  Compare that to the exponentially more powerful earthquake that hit Chile that same month, where less than a thousand people died.  What accounts for the different results?  Form of government, property rights, building codes, and insurance. Chilean citizens have a semi-capitalistic country, a decent economy, property rights, and insurance, so they built their buildings to be earthquake resilient – and survived the more powerful quake in much better shape.

What is now Haiti, on the island of Hispaniola, was the first place Christopher Columbus landed during his first voyage in 1492.  Within the first decade, the Spanish began bringing in African slaves, and within 25 years, much of the natives were either enslaved by the Spaniards or killed by diseases brought by them…and the Spaniards were themselves being killed by tropical fevers. Before long, the Spanish were more concerned with conquering the mainlands of North and South America, and began to lose interest in Hispaniola. Haiti became a haven for pirates in the interim, but by the late 1700s, France was a power, and Spain ceded the western third of Hispaniola to the French. (To this day, Spanish is spoken in the Dominican Republic, while French-influenced Haitian Creole is spoken in Haiti.)  Napoleon sent French troops to enforce French rule, but many of them succumbed to tropical fevers, and in 1804, after a successful revolt against the weakened French forces, the slaves declared themselves free and named their nation Haiti.  It was one of the few bright spots in the history of this place.

While Haiti began as the first nation founded by slaves who had “freed” themselves via revolt…they never truly freed themselves. The leader of the revolt, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, declared himself Emperor Jacques I in 1804. The first “free” Haitians simply traded their physical chains and European masters for a succession of Haitian masters and the chains of varying degrees of dictatorship. Except for a brief period around the last two decades of the 19th Century, Haiti has never been a prosperous country, partly because Haitians themselves have never maintained the kind of rights-respecting government that allows prosperity, and partly due to massive foreign debt.

Indeed, at the behest of US banks to whom Haiti was deeply in debt, the US military occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. The US occupation had mixed results.  There were some republican reforms to the government and much improved infrastructure, which was often accomplished by impressing locals into labor gangs in lieu of charging taxes, which of course generated resentment and resistance from the local population. Between the end of the US occupation in 1934 and now, the history of Haiti amounts to a succession of “presidents” with dictatorial powers enriching themselves and their cronies on the backs of the Haitian people and at the expense of Haiti’s natural resources, peppered with coups and revolts and foreign interventions.

The history of Haiti is one of slavery, disease, dictatorships, piracy, environmental destruction, foreign intervention, abject poverty, neglect, exploitation, corruption, and natural disaster. Shit-hole may be a rude word to describe it, but is it inaccurate? And how is it racist?

ANOTHER LOOK AT NET NEUTRALITY

By Mike Cronin

So, the FCC decided to end Net Neutrality, and now there is an uproar. The main objection seems to be that now internet service providers (ISPs) like Cox, Comcast, and Verizon will be able to charge whatever they want for their services, block whatever sites they like, and throttle unprofitable traffic in favor of profitable traffic.   Net Neutrality prevented ISPs from doing this…at the cost of allowing the government to decide what private businesses did with their own property – namely the cables, switches, servers, and fiber optic lines they send their signals over. When people are allowed to own private property, but it can only be used in a manner specified by government, you have fascism.

Ending Net Neutrality is taking a step back from fascism, but it does not alleviate the concerns of individual/residential ISP customers.  Now we are back to the big private ISPs being able to run roughshod over us and treat us like our business doesn’t matter, right?  How can our business not matter to them? (Actually, it does matter, just not so much at the individual level, but as a mass.)  Even so, that’s not the real problem.

The real problem with internet service is that the ISPs, through agreements with various governments and established back in the pre-broadband days when they were just cable TV providers, usually have local monopolies.  That means if you want broadband internet service via cable, you usually only have one ISP option in your area.  That means you generally can’t take your business elsewhere if you are dissatisfied – which means you have little or no leverage over the ISP, unless you are willing, and financially prepared, to take them to court.

In short, Net Neutrality was a hackneyed, fascist government intrusion necessitated as a “solution” to a more basic hackneyed, “crony-capitalist” (i.e. corporatist) government problem.

Here’s an analogy. Let’s say you buy your groceries at Safeway.  They disappoint you in some fashion, so you decide to shop at Super Walmart instead, then you switch to Fry’s (or whatever).  If grocery stores were like ISPs, there would not be any other stores in your area. Safeway (for example) would be in cahoots with your local government, and you would only have one choice. Now, suppose more and more people complain to the government about how terrible the service is at the local Safeway store. The store charges different prices based on whether a given customer buys in bulk or not. In other cases, the Safeway refused to carry some customers’ favorite items, because they are obscure or hard to obtain and don’t sell at a profit. The local government decides it has to do something about the problem.  They enact “Grocery Neutrality.” They tell Safeway that they can’t discount prices to customers who buy in bulk (or they must sell to everyone at the bulk discount price, regardless of how much they actually buy). They also tell the Safeway that they must order anything a customer wants, unless it’s illegal, regardless if it will generate profit or not. Would it not be simpler and more in keeping with the spirit of a free country for the local government, instead of dictating to Safeway what it can and cannot do with its own property, to simply end Safeway’s monopoly and let in any grocery company?

The same is true of ISPs. The solution to the problem of ISPs treating smaller customers poorly (because the ISPs have a government-sponsored monopoly over the local market) isn’t more government interference in the form of Net Neutrality, it’s monopoly dissolution!

My World View, Pt. 1

sed_wall_1920x1200

By Mike Cronin

Every so often it helps to re-examine one’s goals and purposes.  My goal and purpose for this blog is to help others learn to look at the world through the lenses of reason and liberty.  Sometimes that means offering dry descriptions of how things are vs how they ought to be, other times it means promoting an independent viewpoint on a hot-button political issue. No doubt I have appeared to be a right-wing radical to someone on the left, while I might seem to be a leftist to the right-winger. To others, it might seem like I’m simply sitting on the fence and refusing to take sides.

I have never claimed to be unbiased.  In fact, I have described my bias on more than one occasion, but I haven’t ever really described my full worldview.  I thought I might do so now:

It starts with reality. As Ayn Rand said: “Existence exists, and only existence exists.”  Carl Sagan said that the cosmos is “all that is, all that was, and all there ever will be.”  The evidence that existence exists is axiomatic:  If it did not exist, there would be no one to ponder its nature – there would be no nature.

Speaking of nature: Humans are part of nature. Everything humans have ever made, from bone tools and mud huts to spaceships and iPhones, and every action humans have ever taken, from procreating to mass destruction, is ipso-facto natural. That is not to say it is good or bad.

Evil exists.  There are good people and bad. Context matters: good people are sometimes capable of bad things, and evil people may sometimes perform a benevolent act.  Hitler might have treated a pet well, for instance…but that cannot begin to atone for the fact that he inspired and led the industrialized murder of millions. Because Hitler was human, his actions were natural…but because he failed to credit whole segments of humans with having any humanity, he dehumanized himself. He became a monster of natural, not supernatural origin.

Nor was he the only one. Stalin. Pol Pot. Mao Tse-tung. Saddam Hussein. Every era of history has its brutal dictators and ruthless rulers who don’t hesitate to bathe in the blood of millions.  The rational failing of all of these monsters is their inability or refusal to recognize the worth of other humans as humans, or to even recognize other individuals as human at all.  They have actualized the ultimate expression of collectivism: the subsuming of the individual human being into a collective. Collectives that can be branded sub-human and disposed of at whim.

Humans have been ruled by such men as could take control of the levers of power since we were clans of hunter-gatherers.  Every so often, a breakthrough would occur and the building blocks of civilization were laid, even if technology advanced at much more stately pace. The Mesopotamians or other earliest civilizations gave us agriculture and the division of labor.  The Egyptians gave us paper and the concept of a massive library to store the sum of human knowledge.  The Greeks gave us the concepts of reasoned philosophical debate, and democratic and republican forms of government, and more.  The Arabs gave us Algebra, the concept of zero, and names for many stars we see in the night sky. The Persians or their predecessors gave us Indo-European languages, the wheel, chess (probably by way of India), and more. Largely unbeknownst to the west, the Chinese developed many of these same foundations earlier, or at roughly the same time, as their Western counterparts.

All throughout history, threads bind early developments to later ones.  The Greek concepts of democracy and republicanism found a circuitous path that eventually led to the founding fathers and the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights…and the United States of America. An imperfect country, established with imperfect, yet eloquent documents, written by imperfect, yet remarkable men…the first country ever founded on the basis of an ideal: recognition of individual rights, liberty, and the rule of law, protected by a government chartered for that sole purpose. Imperfect though it is, via the combination of the freest form of government, ample natural resources, and the best geographical location, the US rose to become the most dominant economic and military power in the world, and to raise the standard of living for more people than any other nation, empire, or civilization in human history. That much power attracts pathological personalities –both to wield it, and to destroy it.  Thus it became inevitable that the US would make enemies. No matter how benevolent the US might be or might have been, our very existence as de-facto world hegemon is a threat to those who aspire to great power, such as Hussein or Osama bin Laden. To wit: something like 9/11 was inevitable.

As beautiful as the founders’ vision of the US was, the implementation of their vision was flawed from the start by four major areas of dysfunction, which I examined in five posts in 2014.

Slavery was chief among those, as it was incompatible with the spirit of the Charters of Freedom.  Our earliest Congress partook of the same sin as Hitler, if perhaps to a slightly lesser degree and without the nationalistic zeal: they justified slavery by willfully neglecting to grant the status of “human being” to slaves. It took nearly 3/4 of a century from the founding to end slavery, and nearly 200 years to reverse most of the direct damage of that failure. We are still dealing with the indirect damage to this day.

This is not to say that things can be put right by going the other direction. Dehumanizing and hating whites, especially white, middle class males, cannot free the long-dead slaves of times past, nor can it improve the lot of the descendants of slaves living today. Holding inter-generational grudges leads to incessant conflict – such as that between the Israelis and Palestinians, which is but a proxy for the much older conflict between Arabs and Jews.

How can we overcome the pain of the past without inflicting all new pains now and in the future?  More on that next week.

Another Crack at Illegal Immigration

170126-mexico-us-border-wall-1214p_b70d64f76c9ced7e1290cdbc853a4d16-nbcnews-ux-600-480

Mike Cronin

This is a revision of my post dated November 23, 2014.

President Trump has partially fulfilled one of his most controversial campaign promises.  Earlier this week, he signed an executive order to build a wall along the Mexican border, and his administration floated the idea of a 20% tax on Mexican imports to pay for the construction.  The mainstream media is predictably up in arms.

While I am encouraged by Mr. Trump’s attention to the illegal immigration issue, I find myself in disagreement that a wall is the right solution – but not for the same reasons as the crowds of critics assailing the president.  I’ll explain in a bit, but let’s untangle the knot a little first:

If you are an elected Democrat, the illegal immigration “problem” is: how to make it legal for illegal immigrants to vote? There are millions potential voters out there who cannot legally participate in national elections. How to solve that problem? Adopt narratives that simultaneously paint the illegal immigrants as victims who need rescuing and those who see things differently as racists. Then legalize the immigrants (or some portion of them) somehow, and/or prevent the passing of laws that require voters to produce a photo ID proving their eligibility.

If you are in one camp of elected Republicans, the illegal immigration problem is that there are millions of potential Democratic voters out there who might vote illegally or who might become legal voters at the stroke of a pen. How to solve that problem? Adopt narratives that illegal immigrants are by definition criminals just for being here, and who steal jobs from American citizens, who vote illegally, and who cost us a lot of money in “stolen” benefits and entitlements.

If you are in another camp of Republican lawmakers, the problem of illegal immigration is that you are fearful of alienating constituents of Latino or Hispanic origin, so you go along with Democrats on immigration issues.

If you are in yet a third camp of elected Republicans, the illegal immigration problem is that you receive significant campaign funds from donors who employ illegal immigrants, so you also tend to vote along Democratic lines on immigration.

If you run a manual-labor intensive business that can’t afford to pay the minimum wage, paying an illegal immigrant in cash under the table is an attractive option.

If you are a desperate person from Mexico or an impoverished country to our south, getting to America for the opportunities and freebies is an attractive option.

If you are a cunning and morally flexible person, exploiting the stream of immigrants headed north is an attractive option.

I believe the real problem with illegal immigration is: too much government.  Here’s what I mean:

  1. Our federal and state governments blatantly disregard current immigration law via policies like “Catch and Release,” “sanctuary cities,” and the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” directive (i.e. President Obama’s executive order that established the so-called “Dreamers”). Our federal government maintains at least two federal police agencies (Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol) charged with enforcing those same laws. In so doing, our lawmakers are essentially telling our protectors: “Your written job description says ‘enforce the law,’ but your real job is just to have a job so that I can tell voters I did my job by creating your job.” How dysfunctional is that?
  2. In addition, our current immigration law is too byzantine and restrictive. Currently, it’s fairly easy to visit the US, but unless one can claim to be one of the “Three R’s” (Related to a citizen, Rich, or Remarkable), it is extremely difficult to attain a green card or citizenship.

I think Mr. Trump’s actions show promise for resolving the dysfunctional aspect of immigration enforcement, but a wall is too dystopian, sinister, and unnecessary. Functional enforcement policies and increased presence all along the border will reduce the flood of illegal immigrants to a trickle. On the other hand, the bureaucratic burden to those aspiring to remain here longer than a visa allows still remains to be addressed.

So how do we solve such a multi-faceted problem?  With a multi-pronged strategy that is consistent with limited government:

  1. Enforce existing law
  2. Control the border via increased presence
  3. Update the law to minimize bureaucracy and maximize freedom – by addressing all of the competing interests and reducing or eliminating the motivations that lure our government into violating its own laws:
    • Make it much easier to become a legal “permanent resident” and moderately easier to become a citizen. This benefits immigrants wishing to live and work here permanently, and it would benefit lawmakers in both parties who represent immigrant constituencies.
    • Create a migrant worker visa AND migrant worker wage scale & tax status. This legitimizes hiring migrant workers and paying them less-than-minimum wages. This would benefit migrant workers by making it legal (and safer) to do what they are already doing, and it would benefit industries that can’t be profitable paying the regular minimum wage to unskilled workers. It will be perceived and promoted as a threat to citizen minimum-wage earners…but that is another Gordian knot – which I addressed here.

The Desecration of Independence

LifeLibertyPursuitofHappiness

By Mike Cronin

Really, America?  Is this what you want?

 

IN SHAME, July 4, 2016.

The Desecration of the Independence once valued by the united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for ignorant people to encumber themselves with the chains of political bondage and to abdicate the powers of freedom, liberty, and individuality, in respect to the demands of power-mad politicians and demagogues, requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to their servitude.

We hold these fallacies to be self-evident, that all people must have identical outcomes, that they are given by their betters certain revoke-able Privileges, that among these are the claim to other’s Life, Liberty and Property.–That to secure these rights, Governments are inflicted on people, deriving their powers despite the dissent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes conducive to these ends, it is the Demand of the Ignorant to expand upon them, and to institute more Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Servitude and Misery. Ignorance, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that people are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their desire, to expand such Government, and to provide more Guards for their airport security.–Such has been the dream of these collectivists; and such is now the necessity which compels them to expand their rapacious form of Government. The history of the present government is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations to its original establishment, all having in direct object evolution to an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let the character of the credulous and sycophants and quislings be exposed to a candid world:

Scared of dealing with an opinion you don’t like?  Run to your “safe space” and call the whaaambulance. Then get the offending sentiment labeled as “hate speech.”

Can’t be bothered to earn a living for your family? Use SNAP for groceries, then spend your cash on booze, tobacco, tattoos, and “bling.”

Can’t get your mall built without Mrs. Smith’s property? Get city council to condemn it and force her out.

Believe it’s the state’s responsibility to educate your child? Get the government to confiscate your neighbors’ wealth to pay for your kid’s indoctrination…and despise the parent who takes it upon themselves by teaching at home or who pays for private school.

Can’t sell your sculpture of an octopus romancing a bagpipe to your neighbors? make them pay for it anyway by  getting government to install your gleaming atrocity.

cocoon

Can’t make a good product and sell it cheaper than an importer? Get your congressman to impose heavy tariffs.

Can’t offer a service at a better value than the up-and-coming competition?  Get your state to set ridiculous training and licensing requirements to make it difficult to enter the market.

Decide it’s too hard to work your way up from entry-level to supervision or management? Demand ridiculous minimum wages.

Unwilling to take responsibility for your own self defense? Work to deny that right to everyone else.

Don’t like your neighbor’s flag? Get the homeowner’s association to ban it.

Don’t think people should ingest substances you don’t approve of? Get government to ban them.

Scared your kids’ faith might be shaken before it’s ingrained? Get the school district to teach “intelligent design” as an alternative theory to evolution.

Can’t abide the idea secular law was influenced by scripture? Get the Ten Commandments banned from public display.

Feel compelled to save your neighbor’s soul, even if he’s not interested?  Have the government ban his vices.

Can’t stand the thought that you might be wrong about global warming?  Paint your critics as “deniers” (AKA “heretics”) and have them burned at the stake.

Can’t pay for your upside-down mortgage? Is your company “too big to fail?”  Get a bailout from Uncle Sugar.

Jealous of the wealth created by someone more inventive or industrious than yourself? Call him greedy and demand your “fair share” of his property.

Don’t think your favorite government program gets enough funding? Install politicians who will tax our earnings, tax our spending, tax our property just sitting there, and steal value from our money through currency devaluation…and still need to borrow more money from our children in order to overpay for it.

In every stage of these Oppressions Individualists have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: such Petitions have been answered only by further descent towards tyranny. A Government whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is fit to be the ruler of an indentured people.

We, therefore, the Masses of the Socialist State of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to Anyone in Authority for the rectitude of our intentions, do, without consent from the good People of this land, solemnly publish and declare, That this Socialist State, and of Might ought to be a dependent State; that they are Commanded to Allegiance to such tyrants that will own them, and that all political connection between them and Independence, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as a Socialist State, they have abdicated their power to the government in order to levy endless War, pretend Peace, contract entangling Alliances, destroy Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which tyrannical powers may of might do. And for the support of this Desecration, with a firm reliance on the protection of capricious enforcers, we mutually pledge to sacrifice the Lives, Fortunes and Honor of our neighbors.

I think the real thing is much better.