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.

chicom bird farm.

Some of you may vaguely recall this post from 2007, in which I mention that the hull of the former Soviet Kusnetsov-class aircraft carrier Varyag had been purchased by a Chinese company “to turn into a floating casino.”

Well, guess what just left the Chinese Navy’s port at Dalian for sea trials?

Oh, and the PLAN named their new Tool of Imperialism “Shi-Lang” which is the name of the Chinese admiral who conquered Taiwan in the 17th century. That’s totally not ominous at all, right?

China is spending a lot of money and effort building a credible blue-water navy. They’re still a long way from being able to stand toe to toe with a modern Western-equipped Navy, but it’s more than a little telling that the Chinese Navy has put so many eggs into the bird farm basket. Aircraft carriers are not for territorial or coastal defense, they’re strictly for offensive operations beyond the reach of one’s own air power. They’re tools of power projection.

(With the Chinese lack of respect for copyright laws and their astonishing abilities in the field of economic mimicry, I sort of expected the first Chinese carrier to be a bitwise copy of the U.S.S. Nimitz, right down to the hull number, but with slightly misspelled detail markings–BEWARE OF JET BLATS on the side of the carrier island, and so on.)

guns in bars, or ZOMG weesa gonna die!

If there’s one thing I can’t stand in a debate, it’s the tendency to toss out an emotional argument for one side of an issue, and then flat-out refusing to acknowledge that the other side may have a valid point or two as well.

Ohio has passed a reform of its concealed carry laws that allows permit holders to carry their legal guns into establishments that have Class D liquor licenses. Predictably, the people opposing that legislation are calling it the “Guns in Bars” law, to invoke mental images of drunken yahoos having a shoot-out over a ball game score or a sideways glance in a sports bar.

The main reason why gun rights organizations push for such laws has nothing to do with bars. (In fact, even with the new Ohio law, it will remain a felony to drink alcohol at those establishments while armed.) Those laws just make it legal for a permit holder to stay armed while eating at a restaurant (most of which have on-premises hooch licenses), or merely walking into an establishment that has a liquor license. That includes bars, technically speaking, but the intent and scope of the law precludes people getting legally tanked at Big Ed’s Sports Bar while strapped. Those laws just mean that Joe Permit doesn’t have to disarm and leave his gun in the car while eating at Chili’s. It keeps everyone safer because it eliminates gun handling in the parking lot, it doesn’t require a firearm to be left unattended in a semi-public space, and it doesn’t give criminals an obvious target for theft or robbery. (As for the “this will cost a life” argument–I know of at least one well-documented case where a permit holder died because he complied with the law and disarmed, only to be mugged and killed in the parking lot on the way back to his car. That argument cuts both ways.) I repeat: it remains a felony in Ohio to drink in those establishments while toting a gun, and will result in loss of carry rights and imprisonment. Also, the law has a provision for any business to opt out by posting a “No Guns” sign at the door.

Now, the argument that such laws will cost lives and increase deadly confrontations at bars is not supported by the evidence. Many states with legal concealed carry have laws that allow the carrying of guns in places that serve liquor. Some of them, like my own home state of New Hampshire, don’t even specify that CCW holders can’t drink while armed. And yet we make it through life without drunks gunning each other down in the bars and taverns of the Granite State over hockey or baseball scores every weekend. I can go down to the bar in town and legally have five beers and a martini while packing a gun. (Why don’t I do that? Because I have the sense to not intentionally make myself impaired while carrying a firearm–and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have the sense to check or care about the law before I head down to the old watering hole.) Ohio’s law is way more restrictive, so why would you assume that this will be a problem, unless you think Ohioans as a whole are much less responsible and more violence-prone than New Hampshireites?

It’s a patently condescending and classist argument because it assumes that other people can’t act in a smart way (especially those low-brow, Budweiser-swilling, conservative gun-toting rednecks), and that the only people who want to legally carry guns are invariably uneducated, violent morons who just don’t have the good judgment to not drink and tote in public, and to not shoot their seat neighbor when they’re pissed off. (As if anyone prone to that kind of behavior is going to give two shits about the legality of the pistol in his waistband any more than he does about the fact that shooting people dead is illegal outside of legitimate self-defense.) 

I just don’t get how you can call yourself an educated, open-minded person when you’re perfectly willing to boil down an argument to the least honest, most emotional, most willfully misleading implication of the law while completely ignoring the other side of the debate…just because you disagree with the law in question.