a pop quiz on campus health insurance.

You attend a Catholic university.

Your university offers a health plan that covers everything but contraceptives and abortions.

The current administration pushes legislation through Congress that requires all health plans to cover contraceptives.

Your school decides that rather than making their health plan compliant with the law, they’ll drop it altogether.

Has the legislation in question improved your access to health care, or hurt it?

(Disclaimer: I am not a Catholic—or a Christian of any flavor—and I have my problems with the Church’s hostility to contraceptives. But I knew that stance ahead of time, and that’s one of the reasons why I chose not to attend a Catholic university.)

(Via Popehat.)

they should have stopped at “congress shall not.”

I think that public office should require a civics test, particularly testing the candidates’ literacy regarding the Constitution. I f you can’t pass a college-level forty-question test about the document that makes up your job description, you don’t get to be in Congress.

That would cut down on the number of times I want to punch my TV because some candidate, Congresscritter, or other Public Servant™ states that “the Constitution gives/doesn’t give  people the right to do XYZ.”

Technically speaking, that’s a correct statement. The Constitution doesn’t give any rights to anyone. The Constitution doesn’t address citizen rights at all because the Constitution isn’t a List Of Things Allowed To Citizens. It’s a List Of Things Allowed To Government. It lists all the things we let our government do on our behalf, and it lists the exact ways in which the government may do so.

The Bill of Rights, being a list of amendments to the Constitution, does address individual rights, but not in the way a lot of people erroneously presume. If the Constitution is a List of Things Allowed to Government, the Bill of Rights is a List of Things The Government May Definitely Not Fuck With, Ever. It doesn’t “give” those rights, it just enumerates them, and it restricts the government, not individual citizens.

That’s how we roll in this country, at least in theory. We don’t need government permission to do stuff—the government needs permission from us to do stuff. And if it’s not listed in the Constitution, that doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to do it, but that the government doesn’t have the delegated power to do it. Of course, the employer/employee relationship has gotten a bit muddled in the last few decades, hasn’t it? These days, it’s a sign of dangerous extremism when you suggest that our government has only limited powers, and that there’s some sort of document about that somewhere.

on libertarianism and house fires.

The South Fulton Fire Department in Obion County, TN is making the news again because yet another non-subscriber in the county had their place burn down with the Fire Department standing by and not putting out the fire.

A lot of people in my Twitter stream–mostly my liberal-leaning writer friends–are linking to that article with comments like “The Libertarian dream”. I know that these folks are smart people, and seeing them boil the issue down to its emotional basis like that ticks me off a little.

Let’s break it down for a moment. There’s a town–South Fulton–with a fire department that is financed by the taxes of the townsfolk. The fire department provides coverage for the people of the town (not “for free”, as the article says, but paid for by their taxes). If you live outside of the town limits, the South Fulton FD does not provide coverage unless you pay an annual fee of $75, to cover the costs of out-of-area service. Gas is expensive, firemen want to get paid, someone needs to keep the lights on in the fire station, and all that. Fair enough, right? The FD is, after all, a resource of the town of South Fulton, paid for by its residents, and can’t be expected to provide services free of charge to people who don’t pay to support the fire department.

The two incidents so far where county residents had their houses burn down without help from the fire department–those were people hedging their bets. They chose to not pay the $75 for annual coverage for whatever reason, and they lost the wager. (Some people will say that these people probably couldn’t afford the coverage, but if you own a house, you can afford $75 a year for what is essentially insurance. I bet I could sift through the ruins of the latest burned-0ut house and find a fair number of items that are both a.) non-essential, and b.) worth more than $75.)

Now, why exactly is that such a horrible thing? What case could you possibly make for the Fire Department to put out the fires for people who chose not to pay the fee that wouldn’t result in a collapse of the system? If they had put the fire out anyway, few county residents would have paid the fee next year, knowing that when push comes to shove, the FD will turn on the hoses and go to work for free anyway. Then the only alternatives for the town of South Fulton are to either subsidize the fire service for the entire county, or cancel the scheme altogether and keep their services strictly for the taxpayers of South Fulton. In an ideal world, city and county could both afford all the fire trucks and manpower they need to service everyone. As things stand, the resources are limited, and they’ve made a reasonable compromise–the current “pay to spray” option. Which is the better alternative for the county folk–optional fire service at $75 a year, or no fire service at all for free?

It’s really easy to look at this purely from the emotional angle and say stuff like “Libertarian dream” with a sarcastic inflection. Yes, it’s bad that those people lost their house, but they rolled their dice and took their chances. Shield everyone from the consequences of bad decisions–and make no mistake, forgoing fire coverage over the price of a tank of gas is a monumentally bad one–and you take away the incentives to make good decisions. If you roll your eyes at anyone in that scenario for being “Libertarian”, it should be the homeowners, who acted in the most libertarian way of all–they were presented with a voluntary contract option, they chose to keep their money and reject the contract, and they got to live with the consequences of their decision, without the community having to shoulder the financial burden of their selfishness.

well, as long as your intentions are pure.

Back in college—meaning “a few years ago” for me—my English teacher was a pleasant older woman who was married to an Iranian national. I had many discussions with her on politics, education, and the general state of affairs in this country.

Once, we were talking about the different mindsets in the Middle East, and the American tendency to go into a place and expect the folks there to think like we do. She told me of a student from an Arab country she once had. One time he didn’t show up for an exam. When she later marked his grade down for the absence, he protested.

“You weren’t there, so I had to mark down your grade,” she told him.

“I was at the library and I was running late. I meant to come to class.”

“Well, you still weren’t there, so I really have no choice. You missed the exam.”

“But I meant to come,” he insisted, quite upset that the teacher wouldn’t change her decision.

When she later discussed the incident with her husband, he explained that it’s a cultural thing. He explained that in the student’s native culture, intent is as important as–and sometimes more important than–results. He missed the exam, but his intentions had been good, so to him, the teacher marking down his grade was profoundly unfair.

I find that this explanation helps me understand the ability of so many people to dismiss the negative effects of certain policy decisions. In some ways, they have adopted the same sort of mindset that intent trumps results. That’s how we end up with rising food prices because so much of the country’s farmers are now growing government-subsidized corn to turn into fuel ethanol, for example. The intent was to help the environment and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The results are the aforementioned rising global food prices because of all the crop acreage that is now re-purposed for fuel. (The net result for the environment has been negative in the end, because the agricultural runoff from the nitrogen fertilizers needed for all the corn has a bad impact on the Gulf of Mexico.)

That’s how we ended up with egregious systematic abuses of power like RICO and asset forfeiture excess–because the intent of the law was good (reducing or eliminating the negative effects of drugs on society), the people who voted that kind of stuff into place can hold fast to it because the actual results of the policy are not as important as its intent. Conversely, measures specifically designed to eliminate the negative results of the War on Drugs don’t stand a chance of success with the same crowd if the intent of the measure is perceived wrongly. (“You want to make cannabis legal to stop stuffing the jails with non-violent drug offenders? Are you insane? What kind of message does that send?”)

How many public policy measures have been kept in place even though they have achieved the opposite results of those desired because they were well-intended? The list is a long one, and it’s not limited to only liberal or only conservative hobby horses. Gun control, welfare, drug policy, defense policy, education, health care…it seems that too many politicians (and voters) of either party are more interested in doing what sounds right than what’s actually effective. The system is set up to favor the sound bite and the “common sense solution” because it gets more votes—and is more defensible in a campaign debate—than the ideas that are focused on producing results without giving a handy “perceived intent” adapter for the proponent.

That’s how voters can re-elect a guy accused of taking bribes or diddling interns—because his public policy efforts have the proper intent, his private transgressions are irrelevant. And that’s why they can dismiss the good results achieved by the Other Guy’s public policy efforts—because those policies don’t have the proper intent, their results are irrelevant.

one set of laws for the peons, another for the king’s men.

In my time as a gun store clerk, I would have gotten a ten-year sentence in Club Fed for knowingly letting a gun walk out of the door in the hands of a felon.

The ATF clowns in charge of “Operation Fast and Furious” let thousands of guns walk out of the door in the hands of known felons…and what’s their punishment?

They get reassigned…to a different division. Not only do they not have to eat expired hot dogs or take care not to drop the soap in the shower, they get to keep their government salaries and bennies. The same people who would jack Joe Citizen up and send him to jail for a few years for having the wrong piece of metal on the muzzle of his rifle do not have to suffer any serious consequences for letting felons walk off with weapons that were then used to kill a bunch of people.

Some animals are indeed more equal than others.