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A necessary evil? Minarchy, anarcho-capitalism and the state.

Some minarchist libertarians say that while they like anarchy as an ideal they’re not anarchists because they still see a role for the state, and that while it may be evil unfortunately it’s a necessary evil. Anarcho-capitalists reply, quite reasonably, that a necessary evil is still evil and that the state can never coexist with truly free individuals. That’s kind of where it grinds to a halt because even minarchists who agree that a true anarchy based on non-agression and property rights would be the most fair, free, just and desirable system might simply be unconvinced that that ideal is achievable in reality. Or not with social groups larger than a few dozen like minded people, which is few enough that you could probably make pure communism work as well.

Is there any way that free individuals can live not under but with the state? I think it might be possible – I don’t say is possible because I don’t think its been tried – and I think it depends a lot on how the state is viewed. Frustratingly for anyone with libertarians leanings many people regard the state as just the thing we have to have to run the country, or even as a benefactor who looks out for us all and does its best to take care of us. You’d have to be pretty cynical to believe that everyone in government is evil but it’s a pretty common view among libertarians and anarchists that the institution of government is inherently evil. For someone who’s spent a lot of time bagging governments this doesn’t come naturally, but I’m going to write here in grudging defence of the state and argue that while it has very often been evil it might be something we still need for the time being.

Sharp intakes of breath all round: how can you possibly suggest that, Angry? States all have a monopoly or a near monopoly on force and have always been depressingly willing to use it. Surely if you believe that the use of force on unwilling law abiding individuals to acheive an outcome, even a good outcome, is always wrong then the idea of states is wrong as well. That’s what they do and it’s what they’ve always done, so unless we’re going to enter the murky waters of ends justifying the means they must be inherently evil even when they’re trying to do something beneficial.

Well, yeah, that is what states do and always have done, and left to their own devices I’m pretty sure that’s what they will continue to do more or less indefinitely. Or until they spend themselves into oblivion, which is looking likely for some if they insist on growing and having ever greater influence over the minutiae of their citizens’ lives at the expense of the citizens themselves. And sure, yes, it’s evil to force money out of rich and poor alike in the name of providing various things and claiming that they’re all “free”, and I’d say even more evil to monopolise education so that many people can be made to to believe the “it’s all provided by the government for free” lie.

But is no state at all the only alternative and is it really possible to for free individuals in an anarchy to provide for themselves the useful things that we get from the it at the moment? I think the answer to both, at least for everyone who’s alive right now, is no, and I think so because one thing a state can do – possibly even the only thing it should even attempt to do or be allowed to do – is to defend itself so as to ensure the liberty of the people in it. Yes, I’m talking about the minarchist’s wet dream, the so called night-watchman state, or “Break Glass In Case Of Emergency Government” as I’ve always thought of it.

Literally

When you look critically at what you get from the state that you couldn’t possibly provide for yourself or go out and shop around for in its absence lots of things that you think really have to be state funded, which is a polite way of saying citizen-robbed, lots of sacred cows start to look pretty unholy. Education, healthcare, transport, even policing and law – they’ve all got non-state alternatives or could happen without a government being there, say the ancaps.

That may be true, although persuading the millions and millions who have been conditioned to believe that such things are provided “free” is another matter.* Defence and disaster management is something else. These functions, or function if you think the latter is part of the former, are something that states are… well, not necessarily good at since we can list endless examples of defence projects that have either delivered a poor product, been late, been over budget or all three. But if defending the country so as to ensure the liberty of the people in it requires a dozen frigates plus many more smaller ships, half a dozen submarines, and nearly 100 F/A-18s, not to mention dozens more helicopters, transport aircraft, maritime patrol aircraft, and any number of tanks, troop carriers, wheeled vehicles and small arms for all the people who ride around in them, then it’s hard to see how even a fraction of that lot would ever be bought, maintained and particularly manned in an anarchy.

The defense function is the one reserved most jealously by the State. It is vital to the State’s existence, for on its monopoly of force depends its ability to extract taxes from the citizens.

Murray Rothbard

Ah, the ancaps might say, but in a peaceful anarchy there’d be no need for a formal organised defence force. That can as easily be used to attack as to defend and so its existence is a threat to others, who have to raise their own armies and perpetuate the miserable cycle ad infinitum. Sure, they concede, that’s not the only reason why an opposing state might want to invade but without a state usurping the natural right to defend oneself by whatever means seem appropriate many free citizens will be armed anyway and able to offer resistance to invaders. Some anarchists even suggest that the difficulties faced by Allied forces in Afghanistan show how effective armed resistance by the people who live there can be against an external enemy.

Well, maybe that would work in some places. Maybe if you’ve got enough people fighting against an invader and something about the country – its size, terrain, whatever – favours the defenders then that might be possible. But that doesn’t prove that it’d be possible everywhere. That list of planes, ships and tanks I mentioned a couple of paragraphs back is a very rough inventory of the Australian Defence Force, and I used it for a reason. Three of the four most populous nations on the planet are to Australia’s north-west, and while Australia has peaceful trading relationships with them you couldn’t exactly describe any of them as being libertarian utopias. A resource rich, lightly populated and minimally defended nation with, since there’s no state, little or nothing in the way of alliances and mutual defence treaties might look tempting to a larger nation with a well equipped standing army.


See?

I’ve seen ancap arguments that adequate defence, at least enough to give potential enemies a bloody enough nose to make them wonder whether it’s worth the effort, is possible in an anarchy or a near anarchy, and as I said just now I’ve seen more than one point at Afghanistan as evidence for this. True enough, Afghanistan has proved a monumental pain in the cock for the US and its allies, Australia and the UK included, over the past decade despite the large number of troops sent there and the huge technological advantage they enjoy, and it’s not even the first time in recent history this has happened as anyone old enough to remember the Soviet occupation or bright enough to Google it already knows. However, I have two objections to this argument. Firstly, Afghanistan may be relatively lawless but it is in no way an anarcho-capitalist society unless the scope of ancap is broad enough to include warlords and an authoritarian theocracy. That might not make a practical difference, but the second objection is that any reputation Afghanistan for being difficult to conquer and a nuisance to invade utterly failed to prevent the Soviets in the 1980s and George W. Bush more recently from doing exactly that. On top of that Afghanistan differs from our hypothetical ancap Australia in another important way.

Oz-Afghanistan-size-comparison

Afghanistan’s population is nearly half as large again while the country itself is smaller than all but one of Australia’s mainland states. Neither are densely populated but assuming around a third of the population is willing and able to fight there are about fourteen or fifteen defenders for each square kilometre of Afghanistan. In Australia it’d be just one.

Have a look at a map of Australia’s population centres. Now have a look at the minerals and resources that an invader might think about helping themselves to rather than trading for. Notice how much there is where there’s really not anyone there to defend it. Notice also how the vast majority of the armed to the teeth free citizens in our hypothetical anarcho-capitalist Australia live on the opposite side of the country from where any invasion would probably come from. Short of penguin hostility and the threat of Tasmanian secessionist breweries there are no enemies to Australia’s south. Now consider how well armed the inhabitants of Darwin in particular and the Northern Territory – where the fifth largest town has a population of just 5,000 – in general would need to be to deter nations numbering in the millions. I suppose if every third person had either a tank, a tankbusting jet aircraft or an Iron Man suit then maybe, but the problem is that individuals and small groups just can’t afford either that stuff or the time to learn how to use it properly.

And even if that problem could be solved what’s to stop an invader simply bypassing Darwin completely, landing forces on the most convenient and least defended piece of Australia’s 25,000km of coastline, grabbing whatever it was they came for and simply starving out Darwin later? Not much in our scenario, but in reality Darwin’s defended by the ADF and all its expensive gear, paid for the rest of the country because the government insists it’s in everyone’s interest for all of Australia to be defended by well armed professionals who do that for a living so the rest of us can produce beef, mine coal and iron, sell over priced houses or whatever each individual decides to make a living out of.**

So while an anarchy might still be able to provide a good enough defence to deter external aggressors if there wasn’t a really strong motive for invading to begin with or if there were enough defenders to make an invader pay a bloody price for every rock, but there’s no guarantee it’d apply to really motivated invaders or where defenders are spread so thinly that they can be picked off fairly easily. Really, if you want to know how easy it’d be to knock over an Australia inhabited by people living in peaceful anarchy, or something very close to it, you need only ask an Aborigine. They’d probably tell you that it’s already happened once before.

And if one nation feels the need to maintain a standing defence force, wouldn’t its neighbours do likewise just in case a future leader got thoughts about a good offence being the best form of defence? And in turn wouldn’t their neighbours do likewise, and their neighbours and their neighbours? Probably, human nature being what it is, which makes it hard for anarchy to take root and easy for it to whither before it can mature and become stable – another reason why I think it’s unrealistic to think we can get there from where we are now even if it’s where we should be aiming to get to eventually.

So I’m for the nightwatchman state, then? No, not quite. As I said near the beginning of this blog I think a change in the way we view the state would help us manage it. If we agree that the concept of the state is inherently evil, or at the least inherently dangerous, then thinking of it as something akin to a friendly tea drinking man with a torch and a whistle who keeps an eye on our property for us may be almost as grave a mistake as thinking the state is your friend. I feel a better way to look at it is like a large and especially vicious dog, one that can serve a purpose guarding the gate but which you know damn well would take your hand off if you let your guard down. You might be willing to keep and feed such an animal because it does have a use to you, but you’d keep it on a very strong chain or loose in a well fenced yard and would never ever under any circumstances let it into your home.*** Inherently evil? It might not be intelligent enough to be evil, which is fair given the amount of stupid governments are capable of, but it’s certainly inherently dangerous and you probably wouldn’t let your kids within a hundred yards of it.

If we looked at states like that we’d very quickly reach the conclusion that allowing it to govern us is naive bordering on insane, and would instead insist that though we have a use for it we control the state rather than the other way round. What kind of legal and financial means to control it – the type of fences and lengths of chains for the vicious guard dog – I’ll blog about next time. Hopefully I won’t be so busy earning enough to feed my share to the real life state that it’ll take as long to get round to as recent posts have.

* A side reason why I’m more a minarchist than an anarcho-capitalist is that while I’d agree it’s an ideal I don’t think that it’s possible to get there from here. I think it’s likely that minarchism will be a necessary intermediate step, though even that seem likely to be so difficult, what with so many hundreds of millions unweaned from their government tit and unaware that they’re actually being milked more than fed, that I’m not optimistic about living to see it.

** And of course even all that expensive gear might not be enough. I’m no expert but against a large invasion I imagine we’d need to scream for help from allies and/or trading partners, though if the ADF had the means to go scorched earth on some of the resources I imagine trading partners might step in to help voluntarily just to prevent those resources being put beyond use for any length of time.

*** Although the use I’m talking about here is defence I want to make it very clear I am not likening defence forces or anyone serving in them to a vicious dog – I am likening the institution of government that tells the defence forces who to shoot at and drop bombs on to a vicious dog.

Money money money

I saw this headline and had a brief moment of confusion. How on earth could the black economy make Victoria lose $620 million a year? Was all the money going abroad or interstate? I read on to find out and it wasn’t long before the answer was apparent. Victoria isn’t losing $620 million a year at all.

A report by the Australia Institute think tank says cash-in-hand payments are stripping at least $2.7 billion from state governments each year by reducing the pool of goods and services tax with a cost to the Victorian government of at least $620 million this financial year. The federal government is also being deprived of billions in income tax revenue.

So what’s happening here? Is this equating of the state of Victoria with the government of Victoria as if they were one and the same just a bit of journalistic licence to save space? I’d grant the possibility but for the fact that there seems to be enough room there to add an ‘n’ to the end of ‘Victoria’ and follow it up with ‘govt’. Who knows, perhaps it was necessary to accommodate the article in the print version. But is there also some tinfoil-hatted theory that we’re being subtly programmed to accept that they are one and the same thing after all? Or worse (because it seems so much simpler and thus more likely) do so many people really not see the difference that there’s actually not much point in adding ‘n government’ to any part of that headline?

I worry that even if there are sound journalistic reasons for not distinguishing between Victoria and the government which rules sorry, I mean serves it, there might actually be something in that last one. And that’s a depressing thought because it means that few people will challenge what’s being said and point out that there’s an alternative way to view this situation:

Victoria is retaining $620 million a year that would otherwise be lost to the state government.

That is, of course, a huge oversimplification. Firstly, it ignores the possibility of value coming back in exchange for that money. We might criticise the efficiency of a system where a sales tax to create income for the states involves the rate being set for all states by the federal government in Canberra and the money being sent there by taxpayers before being sent back to their respective state governments – less various deductions for the feds, no doubt. We might argue about how much value comes back from government and how much it spunks away on needless crap and vanity projects (I’d say way too much of the latter – the $50+ million p.a. Grand Prix springs to mind – but I wouldn’t claim nothing at all for the former) but if you want a government that does stuff then it needs income. Even the very smallest government providing the most minimalist services would require a certain amount of income, and it’s naive to think that taxing something wouldn’t be the way to provide it. Even the Break Glass In Case Of Emergency minarchist state of my fantasies would need a tax, and GST might be it.

Secondly, it ignores the fact that governments are all too happy simply to run up debts to be repaid by future taxpayers when the tax revenue isn’t as much as they hoped. Government running on deficit spending is practically a hallmark of the evolution of western democracy as electorates have learned to vote for whoever most convincingly promises to give them expensive stuff to be paid for by someone else. State and local governments are different from national ones only in scale, and Victoria is no exception.*

But allowing for that, and assuming (incredibly generously) that every dollar of tax returns somewhere near a dollar of value, it’s still nonetheless a fact that individuals in Victoria are better off in the short term by an average of about $125 each. More realistically, many aren’t GST registered and more of us probably pay our taxes than don’t anyway, so some are thousands better off while others gained a big fat $0.00.** And, of course, that too is an oversimplification since it ignores the fact that those individuals will have more to spend. Even if it’s at second or third or Nth hand some of will end up with those of us who didn’t pay cash in hand to cheat the taxman. The builder who gets paid $1,000 cash in hand this week will have $91 more to spend on whatever he likes in November after he’s sent the Australian Tax Office a cheque for the GST he collected for them.*** Or he does the job for, say, $950 and both parties benefit.

Am I saying we should all not pay our taxes or that I approve of or condone tax evasion? No, not at all. Never mind the rights and wrongs, the morality of abusing a monopoly on force to take money at gunpoint from millions of people, many of whom are on below average incomes, to do what the government has decided in the hubris and arrogance it often mistakes for all knowing wisdom is in the best interests of everybody, tax evasion is a crime and you will never hear me say that anyone should do it no matter how much it might leave in the economy. If you believe there should be more money out there instead of wasted by vainglorious but clueless politicians then look at legal tax avoidance or vote for politicians who’ll actually shrink the state instead of the usual left/right dickheads. Dodging what  current laws say you absolutely must pay is Not A Good Idea.

But what I am saying is that money hasn’t just vanished from the economy, and that even if a government or supporters of big state government in general want to think that lost tax revenue is the same thing actually it isn’t. It really isn’t.

The average official salary in 2011 was equivalent to $2 per month while the actual monthly income seems to be around $15 because most North Koreans earn money in illegal small businesses: trade, subsistence farming, and handicrafts. The illegal economy is dominated by women because men have to attend their places of official work even though most of the factories are non-functioning. It is estimated that in the early 2000s, the average North Korean family drew some 80% of its income from small businesses that are legal in market economies but illegal in North Korea.

Wikipedia

And I’m also saying that maybe, just maybe, we might be a bit better off if that $620m a year could remain out there legally.

* The article does mention that the Victorian government is on track to return to a surplus of about $144 million this financial year, but since its debt is currently $15.2 billion the remaining debt will still be well over 100 times greater than the predicted surplus.

** I am scrupulously honest for several reasons, not the least of which is that I feel it gives me more right to bitch about taxes if I pay all I owe.

*** Yes, this does mean I have a quarter of records to go through, an ATO form to fill in and a cheque for GST to send by the end of the month, hence my current inclination to punch cute kittens until my own fists are bloody stumps when the subject comes up in the news.

A plague on both their houses

Despite still being fairly busy I’ve made time to return to blogging, and the theme of this somewhat lengthy comeback is the perennial one of nearly all politicians and their parties being nigh on inseparably awful. Inspired by some recent Twitter and email conversations with people who (I’m guessing) might not particularly support Mitt Romney but fear Obama* and with people who (I’m also guessing) might not particularly support Obama but fear Mitt Romney** I thought I’d spend a little time doing some comparisons. And I think the fairest way to compare is to see how often they do things that, depending on your left vs right politics, are frightening or A Good Thing.

Starting with the easiest to find and one of the most recent things I got into on Twitter, use of the Presidential veto. I’m not going into threats to veto legislation as firstly that’s going to be something they all do, secondly it’s only politicking, and thirdly it’s not going to be consistently reported. Actual vetoes are a matter of record so we’ll go with that, and it is a fact that Obama is extremely reluctant to use his veto. At the time of writing he’s been President for 1,329 days and has vetoed only two pieces of legislation, and in neither case did Congress overrule it and pass the law anyway. That’s an average of one use every 21 and a half months. Quite a contrast, say some Obama supporters, with Bush’s 12 vetoes (about a third of which were overruled by Congress), and in fact excluding the half dozen or so US Presidents who never used their veto Obama is the least veto prone President they’ve ever had.

But Bush was in office for 2,922 days, making his veto record about once every eight months. Much more frequent, yes, but objectively it’s hard to accuse Bush of having his veto button on a hair trigger, especially when you consider that Clinton, Bush the Elder, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, Eisenhower and Truman – all the Presidents since Dubbie was born – all used the veto with much greater frequency. In fact, and again excluding those who never vetoed anything at all, Dubya is the second least veto prone President behind Barack H. Obama. The third place, in case anyone’s interested, goes to Warren Harding, who was in office ninety years ago, while the most frequent vetoers were Grover Cleveland, a Republican, and FDR, a Democrat, who vetoed legislation on average once a week and once every five days respectively.

The bottom line there is that there is no relationship between a President’s party affiliation and his use of veto powers, not even when you take into account an opposition controlled Congress. The most and least veto happy Presidents are/were Democrats while the runners up in both categories were Republicans. Romney has not been President so we can only go on his record as Governor of Massachusetts, in which he used his veto about 800 times, more than twice as frequently as even FDR, though this is likely to be due in large part to a heavily Democratic state legislature which, predictably enough, overruled nearly all the vetoes anyway. Did he veto all that legislation for good reasons, or just because it made him look like he was trying his best to stick to policies in the face of determined and overwhelming opposition from the legislature? Does it mean that as President Romney would be even quicker on the veto draw than FDR? Probably not, but who knows?

So what do these numbers tell us? Not a bloody thing. If you don’t look at exactly what got vetoed by whom you can’t say whether you agree or disagree with its use, and once you do look it becomes subjective anyway. About all we can say objectively is that apart from the reasonable expectation of more vetoes when Congress is controlled by the other party there’s really no reason to suppose a President of one party is any more or less likely to veto legislation than a President of the other party.

Okay, so how about Executive Orders, something else that all Presidents can use and something I brought up in a Twitter conversation. Bush’s were Executive Order numbers 13198 to 13486, which makes 288 over his term or about one every ten days. Clinton managed 363 – one every eight days – over the same period of time, while Bush the Elder managed 165 – one every nine days – in his single term and Reagan’s record (380) over his two comes out at one every eight days. So far so similar. Carter was a bit keener, with 319 in a single term working out to one every 4-5 days. As of now Obama has issued 134, or one every ten days, about the same as his predecessor. Again, hard to get a comparable record for Romney but I can’t see any reason for thinking he’d buck this trend, and again I don’t think the bare numbers say much anyway. An Executive Order supporting a pet project or fulfilling a campaign promise is one thing, albeit something that arguably is not overtly supported by at least the majority who didn’t vote for the President (when was the last time any President had a majority of those eligible to vote, not just those who actually did vote?) but once more this becomes subjective. And while it’s subjective of me to maintain that Obama’s use of this tool to authorise the extra-judicial killing of his own citizens by means of drone launched missile attacks inside the borders of nations with whom there’s no formal declaration of war is pretty fucking iffy, not to mention beyond even where Dubya took the War on A Vague Feeling of Unease, I’m sure I’m far from alone. To be fair he issued one to close down the camps in Guantanamo Bay as well, but it’s hard to credit him for something that still hasn’t  happened yet and when the US continues to add to the numbers held without trial by sticking them somewhere else.

Among Obama’s inaugural executive decrees was a pledge to close the Pentagon’s notorious military prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, within a year. Today it’s still open with 169 prisoners. The administration’s policy has been to send no new prisoners there, but instead to expand its prison at the U.S. airbase in Bagram, Afghanistan, where some 2,000 languish further from public attention and without a pretense of any rights.

The order’s fine print made clear the president was not challenging the indefinite detention of detainees without charges. Inmates “not approved for release or transfer,” the order said, “shall be evaluated to determine … whether it is feasible to prosecute” them.

Two months later the administration was filing its first court brief defending indefinite military detention for Guantánamo detainees under executive wartime powers. In May of that year Obama defended his prerogative to indefinitely hold those “who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger.” His administration has designated 46 prisoners for detention without trial.

And then there’s those drone strikes, on which, unusually for me, I’ll turn to CIF (links are CIF’s, emphasis is mine):

Yet, contrary to his campaign promises, Obama has left most of the foundations of Bush’s counterterrorism approach intact, including its presumption of executive privilege, its tolerance of indefinite detention in Guantánamo and elsewhere and its refusal to grant prisoners in America’s jails abroad habeas corpus rights. While the language of the “war on terror” has been dropped, the mindset of the Bush approach – that America is forever at war, constantly on the offensive to kill “bad guys” before they get to the United States – has crept into this administration and been translated into policy in new and dangerous ways.

This fact is clearly demonstrated in a recent New York Times article, which details how President Obama has become personally involved in an elaborate internal process by which his administration decides who will be the next victim of America’s drone strikes. The article itself – clearly written with the cooperation of the administration, as the writers had unprecedented access to three dozen counterterrorism advisers – was designed to showcase Obama as a warrior president, thoughtfully wrestling with the moral issues involved in drone strikes, but forceful enough to pull the trigger when needed.

What it instead revealed was that the president has routinized and normalized extrajudicial killing from the Oval Office, taking advantage of America’s temporary advantage in drone technology to wage a series of shadow wars in Afghanistan, PakistanYemen, and Somalia. Without the scrutiny of the legislature and the courts, and outside the public eye, Obama is authorizing murder on a weekly basis, with a discussion of the guilt or innocence of candidates for the “kill list” being resolved in secret on “Terror Tuesday” teleconferences with administration officials and intelligence officials.

The creation of this “kill list” – as well as the dramatic escalation in drone strikes, which have now killed at least 2,400 people in Pakistan alone, since 2004 – represents a betrayal of President Obama’s promise to make counterterrorism policies consistent with the US constitution. As Charles Pierce has noted, there is nothing in the constitution that allows the president to wage a private war on individuals outside the authorization of Congress.

[…]

Together with the bland assertion that the US has the right to self-defense against al-Qaida under international law, these legal arguments have enabled the president to expand drone operations against terrorist organizations to Yemen and Somalia, as well as to escalate the campaign against militant networks in Pakistan. To date, Obama has launched 278 drone strikes against targets in Pakistan. The use of drone strikes is now so commonplace that some critics have begun to wonder if the administration has adopted a “kill, not capture” policy, forsaking the intelligence gains of capturing suspects for an approach that leaves no one alive to pose a threat.

This vast, expansive interpretation of executive power to enable drone wars conducted in secret around the globe has also set dangerous precedent, which the administration has not realized or acknowledged. Once Obama leaves office, there is nothing stopping the next president from launching his own drone strikes, perhaps against a different and more controversial array of targets. The infrastructure and processes of vetting the “kill list” will remain in place for the next president, who may be less mindful of moral and legal implications of this action than Obama supposedly is (I’m far from convinced Obama is all that mindful – AE).

[…]

Also in contravention of his campaign promises, the Obama administration has worked to expand its power of the executive and to resist oversight from the other branches of government. While candidate Obama insisted that even terrorist suspects deserved their due process rights and a chance to defend themselves in some kind of a court, his administration has now concluded that a review of the evidence by the executive branch itself – even merely a hasty discussion during one of the “Terror Tuesdays” – is equivalent to granting a terrorist suspect due process rights. With little fanfare, it has also concluded that American citizens may now be killed abroad without access to a “judicial process”.

Oh, and those American citizens don’t even need to be of voting age. Not even a year ago one US citizen, Abdul Rahman al Awlaki, died on the receiving end of a drone launched missile at the age of sixteen years, though the administration initially suggested he was around twenty and therefore of fighting age as if being older and able was the same thing as being found guilty of an actual terrorist offence by a court and jury. Turns out that one birth certificate, issued in Colorado, did exist to trouble the Obama administration. Might al Awlaki have been involved even at that young age, especially as his dad and uncle were – or at least were also killed by drone strikes, which is as much due process as Abdul got? Possibly, who knows? The point is that Saint Obama of Democrats has been at least as keen to use the same tools, legal and technological, to blow up brown kids as teh ebil demon Bush of GOP. In fact so keen has Obama been on drone strikes that he’d authorised more of them by the time he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize less than a year into his presidency than Bush did in his whole eight years in the White House.

Nor is it just extra judicial killing via drone strikes. Obama has used Executive Orders to impose sanctions, “block” property and freeze assets, just as Bush did before him. Having been only a state Governor it’s hard to compare Romney but again I struggle to see any reason to expect him to be noticeably different.

Okay, so what about money and the economy? Republicans in general and Bush in particular are blamed by supporters of Obama and the Democrats for creating the GFC because it’s generally assumed that Republicans are the same thing as free market capitalists, and it’s strongly implied that Romney would be more of the same. Although I don’t doubt that Romney would be broadly similar the rest is bullshit for two reasons. Firstly, Republicans like Bush and Romney, big government Republicans, are no more capitalists than Obama is. Call them corporatists if you like and I’d be inclined to agree. Call them crony capitalists and I’d certainly be nodding. But free market capitalists? Let me put it this way, would a real free market capitalist bail out corporations who’ve fucked up so badly that they’ll go to the wall without state help? Would a real free market capitalist reward failure with money either taken by force from taxpayers or borrowed in their name without asking them?

Secondly, what free market are we even talking about here? The banking and finance industry? The one regulated by the SEC, FSA, ASIC and so on and strongly influenced if not controlled both by governments (both Dems and GOP in the US and both left and right of centre elsewhere) and by their various central banks plus a couple of supranationals? Free market my left ball. Amidst all that regulation and oversight where’s the free bit? It’s a myth – there is no free market. Freeish is not free, and operating under the strong, and as it turned out 100% correct, assumption that there’s a government provided taxpayer funded safety net is certainly not even remotely free for the simple reason that freedom necessarily includes the freedom to fail. Risk assessment changes not just with the risk itself but with the consequences of things going wrong, and when governments allowed corporations (it’s not just banks that have been bailed out or allowed to run for many years on subsidies) to believe they were protected from failure it was inevitable that they’d view risks differently and make products without customers or, as in the case of the banks, lend money to people who could never repay it. Absent the government protection there might be a few less options to choose from when buying a car due to unpopular models being dropped, but there probably wouldn’t have been as many subprime mortgages either. Blaming the free market for the GFC is like blaming Santa Claus for not getting the pressies you wanted at Christmas or complaining that the tooth fairy is getting stingy.

That didn’t happen on Bush’s watch or on Obama’s, yet they’ve played their part in the crisis all the same. There’s no doubt that Bush spent a hell of a lot of money, firstly on the War on Tourism*** and then on those bailouts. But then 2009 came and he left, and Barack Obama arrived promising change… and four years later he’s saying there’ll be some, honest, if America just sticks with him. Seriously? I know Congress hasn’t always been on his side but the last four years have been largely characterised by carrying on where Bush left off: spending a hell of a lot of money on war and bailouts for corporate fuck ups.

It’s harder to argue that the president hasn’t been a radical departure from previous presidents with respect to spending, debt, and deficits, but here goes. As a starting point, let’s have a look at the chart below, which shows federal outlays as a percentage of GDP.

The first year of the Obama presidency, 2009, is the largest year in decades, with federal outlays totaling a whopping 25.2 percent of GDP. Since then, federal outlays relative to GDP have fallen, but they are still incredibly large. In fact, you have to go back to 1946 to find a year when federal outlays were as large as they have been every year of the Obama presidency.

Having said that, it is impossible to look at the chart and not to see a large ramp up in outlays under George W. Bush — the president who reversed the direction of federal outlays, which had been falling. Indeed, it is perfectly reasonable to argue that much of the responsibility for 2009’s 25.2 percent rests with President Bush, and not with President Obama; in January 2009, before President Obama took office, the CBO released its forecast that fiscal year 2009would see outlays of 24.9 percent of GDP based on pre-Obama policies.

Don’t get me wrong: President Obama bears responsibility for federal outlays being larger for each year of his presidency than at any time since 1946. If George W. Bush bears a lot of responsibility for FY2009, then Mr. Obama bears even more responsibility for the three years that followed — responsibility for both the very high spending and the questionable composition of the spending.

So is Mr. Obama’s performance on spending quite bad? Yes. But a difference in kind rather than in degree? Over his four fiscal years as president the average outlays-to-GDP ratio is 24.4 percent. During the Reagan years the average was 22.4 percent. Given the Great Recession, this two percentage point difference, though deceivingly very large, isn’t enough to claim that President Obama represents a radical departure from post-war presidents with respect to spending.

What about the deficit? Here’s the picture.

This chart is startling. It shows that President Obama walked into a massive budget deficit and he made the situation worse. Prior to President Obama’s inauguration, and in the absence of any of his policies, the CBO estimated that the FY2009 budget deficit would be an incredible 8.3 percent of GDP. George W. Bush again bears a lot of the responsibility, and as with spending, President Obama turned bad into worse.

Each of Mr. Obama’s annual deficits has been larger than any since the 1940s. Deficits aggregate into debt, and as I have previously written it is reasonable to think of President Obama and George W. Bush as each being responsible for roughly one-third of the debt — with all presidents from George Washington through Bill Clinton responsible for the remaining third. (In the absence of George W. Bush, it would of course be much harder, perhaps impossible, to argue that President Obama has not been a radical departure from previous presidents on debt.)

 

Get that? Obama’s administration is responsible for about a third of America’s debt, and Bush’s for about another third. But Bush isn’t the GOP candidate, Mitt Romney is. And Mitt Romney delivered on his promise to get the deficit under control in Massachusetts, and claims he did so without raising taxes. Whether you consider a government imposed fee a tax or not probably determines whether you entirely buy his claim, as does your view on Romneycare, the Massachusetts health insurance scheme that has been likened to and even described as a predecessor to Obamacare, and whether federal money Massachusetts received (this is during the Bush era, remember) to help with this means that Romney is not the fiscal conservative some would like to believe. On top of that Romney has said little to nothing about rolling back the size of America’s federal government apparatus and come out in favour of things that seem likely to maintain if not increase it. PATRIOT Act? Yeah, he’s a fan. Bailouts? Well, he may have opposed Obama’s but he supported Bush’s so he’s clearly alongside the principle of rewarding failure with money taken from taxpayers. War and foreign policies? According to Wikipedia he “has stated that Russia is America’s ‘number one geopolitical foe’, and that preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear capability should be America’s ‘highest national security priority’. He plans to label China a currency manipulator and take associated counteractions unless that country changes its trade practices. He has supported the War in Afghanistan Romney supports thePatriot Act, existence of the the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and indefinite detention of suspected terrorists without trial, and use of enhanced interrogation techniques for interrogation of suspected terrorists.” As far as I can tell he, like Bush and Obama – and Clinton and Bush the Elder and Reagan etc – would also continue America’s ludicrously expensive and pointless War on Drugs Which Aren’t Ciggies Or Booze Because America Still Hasn’t Got Over The Last Time It Tried That. As a devout Mormon he may even want to extend it, but again with Obama attacking medicinal marijuana usage it’d stil be a case of meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Just like it was 1,329 days ago.

All of which I’d call change I can believe in – namely none whatsoever. America decides, as does Australia and the UK next year and the year after, but we need to wake up to what we’re really deciding. If all we’re voting for is who gets to be warden of our multi-million square mile prison camps then what’s the fucking point? Bush or Obama, Obama or Romney, Gillard or Abbott, Cameron or Miliband… all will change details, yes, but it’s clear that all will maintain vastly more just as it is now. One or other of them may do a slightly better job at maintaining the gilding on the bars but none of them wants to, probably can’t even conceive of, doing away with the cage.

Well, almost none.

So am I saying Americans should vote for Johnson? No, it’s their choice to make, but I will say that at this admittedly long distance it really does look to me that voting for Obama because you fear Romney or voting for Romney because you don’t like what Obama’s done really isn’t going to change a great deal. No criticism of America intended as both the country of my birth and the one in which I’ve made my home suffer from the same problem. Christ, on some issues you can’t get a fucking cigarette paper between them. My personal opinions may be slightly closer to Ron Paul’s than Gary Johnson’s, but he’s not on a ticket and as I have no say in America’s elections this is all academic anyway.

But crazy ideas like politicians not bankrupting their countries and not accumulating debt for taxpayers not yet even born and fighting unnecessary wars and letting us all live the one life that each of us get as free individuals… well, I’d vote for Australia’s or Britain’s Gary Johnson in a picosecond. And I can’t help but feel the best chance of there being an Aussie or British Gary Johnson to vote for is if a fair number of American voters decide to reject the usual Republocrat/Demlican suspects this November. I don’t imagine he’ll actually win, but at this stage getting noticed and getting on the ballot has been enough an achievement that just taking a decent number of votes off the other two would be a small victory.

Good luck @GovGaryJohnson, and if you don’t win is there any chance you could move here and not win as well. Because at least you’re getting the idea of real change into people’s heads.

* He’s a muslim/commie/wasn’t born in the US/pot smoking hippy/Chicago lawyer/socialist healthcare advocate/pinko/freedom hater/terrorist sympathiser/Zionist – circle all those you personally believe in and which you think make him unfit to be President.

** He’s a mormon like Bill Paxton in Big Love/rich guy’s friend/socialist healthcare advocate/as bad as Bush because they’re both from the same party, you know, so despite  differences in the way Romney ran his state as Governor he’d run the country the same way Dubya did/terrorist sympathising Zionist… I’m going to stop taking the piss out of Obama and Romney’s respective detractors now. You get the picture – as far as I know nearly all the guff I’ve written in both these footnotes is complete bollocks and what isn’t is irrelevant, but all of it or stuff very much like it has been said either online or in the MSM. What amuses me is how some of the things they’ve been criticised for are actually things they have in common.

*** Not a typo: fly through Los Angeles airport and you’ll see what I mean – seriously, America, I’d love to visit again and spend money seeing various bits of your country but last time there the TSA made me feel about as welcome as a tumescent priest in a boy’s dormitory.

Naked lies

Tee shirt design – click for linky

Back in February I wrote a very angry sweary blog post about airport scannersand about how the Australian federal government had decided that they’d be installed at all Australian international airports, and I explained, not for the first time, how that would influence my travelling decisions in the future.

PASSENGERS at airports across Australia will be forced to undergo full-body scans or be banned from flying under new laws to be introduced into Federal Parliament this week.

Well, if that’s the attitude then I bloody well will drive, fuck you very much. Well, really I mean I’ll carry on driving because this airport security theatre bullshit has been building up to this for several years, and since I really object to paying a lot of money to be treated as a potential terrorist instead of a paying customer I’ve sworn not to fly unless it’s really urgent and/or there’s an ocean in my way. If I can plan ahead I’ll go overland, even if it takes a few days.

Fuck. You. All.

I think one of the things that particularly infuriated me was the knowledge that my action alone, and that of the relative handful of other people who recognise this kind of security theatre for the useless unnecessary charade it is – well, perhaps not useless if you’re a politician with shares in the companies that make this stuff – also avoid flying if at all possible, is pretty futile if it doesn’t catch on. And sadly I think we can take it as read that as we head into the northern hemisphere’s summer hordes of people will soon be marching meekly through these electronic sheep dips at major airports all over the US and Europe, and in six months or so the same will apply here as people on their way to family holidays at the Gold Coast’s resorts stand tamely in line to have their children’s gonads lightly irradiated in the name of assuring everyone that they and their glowing, ah, I mean growing offspring will not explode en route. Even though any such assurances are questionable at best when they’ve failed to detect a fucking gun down someone’s knickers.

Baaaaa, baaaaa.

I despair, I really do. I mean you do get the occasional reaction, the odd burst of noise, from the herd when the cast and crew of the security theatre do something particularly stupid and/or egregious. You hear complaints when exactly the kind of abuse we were told would never happen does in fact happen. You hear them when kids – even babies barely able to crawl and kids in frigging wheelchairs, for Christ’s sake – get patted down by the security drones. You hear them when cancer survivors are left humiliated thanks to hidebound, unthinking and almost robotic adherence to badly written rules, or just covered in their own piss through pure ham-fistedness. You hear them when they loudly ask septuagenarian women if they’re wearing a sanitary towel. And then the next episode of Your Country’s Masterchef’s Got A Talented Voice Factor appears on the magic fishtank and the complaints fade. A relative handful carry on objecting, either writing about invasive searches afterwards, refusing to fly and encouraging others to do the same, or actually pitching up and the airport and then publicly refusing to be scanned or treated like a recent arrestee. But the majority just grumble before falling silent and accepting their new role as guilty ’til screened sufficient to be presumed innocent again, if not enthusiastically embrace their loss of liberty and presumption of innocence.

Did I mention that I despair? I did? Oh good.

And I will despair even more if Australia doesn’t go completely screaming batshit over the latest development. Because back in February we were told that in the interests of privacy, though not actual fucking liberty, the scanners to be installed in Australian airports would be the ones that display the stick figures on the screen. Not that that cuts any ice with me.

It’s also keen to allay concerns raised on travel online forums that passengers would appear nude on security screens as they had when similar scanners were introduced at US airports.

The technology will show passengers on a screen as stick figures of neither sex.

Not the point. As I’ve explained above and at some length in the past, my objection was never that someone might see my knob or my wife’s tits, it’s that neither of us are terrorists and there’s not a single goddamn thing in the whole fucking universe to suggest that we are. …I feel that it’s not unreasonable that I don’t get treated as a possible member of Alkyfuckingaida at airports, especially when the bastards know who I am well before I fly and can assess my potential risk in advance, leaving not much more than a need for me to satisfy them that I am, as I claim, Mr A Exile who’s never been in trouble with the police and was vetted before getting an Australian visa.

But with the Anglo-Saxon nudity taboo that’s relatively strong in western societies I’m sure for most people, and perhaps especially for women, it was indeed the thought of their personal sweater kittens and other bits being up on someone’s screen somewhere in the airport. Yes, we’re assured that staff wouldn’t be able to record images or identify who they were looking at, but the problem there is that as I recall the same assurances were made everywhere that has in fact happened. So the gingerbread man scanner was a sop to keep those folks happy. I can only hope that they find the rage coming back and, for a change, remaining as they realise that this too has turned out to be a false promise. Because the stick man scanners are still going to reveal more than some people would wish.

CONTROVERSIAL full-body scanners due to be introduced into Australian airports next month will identify prosthesis wearers, including breast cancer survivors and transgender passengers.

Earlier this year the federal government announced the new scanners, to be installed in eight international terminals, would be set to show only a generic stick-figure image to protect passengers’ privacy.

But documents released under freedom of information show that, in meetings with stakeholders, Office of Transport Security representatives confirmed the machines would detect passengers wearing a prosthesis.

Like I said, I hope those concerned about privacy will get angry about this, but I can’t help but note the time of year that this news comes out and that the scanners will be installed: the Australian winter, when fewer people are flying. Is it paranoid of me to wonder about this? Would there be anything in the idea that doing it several months ahead of the summer rush would give people time to forget about the scanners until they were at the airport in December, by which time it’s too late to buy your scanner proof undies or really do anything at all unless you’re prepared to write off the cost of your flights?

Stakeholders, including Muslims and civil libertarians, were consulted by the Office of Transport Security and raised numerous concerns.

[…]

The policy to use generic stick-figure images was introduced to placate these privacy concerns.

Internal documents also revealed a proposed privacy quality assurance program to check privacy issues was scrapped late last year.

Scrapped. Got that? Even something to address the bit most people are getting worked up about has been quietly ditched. I wrote more than two years ago that this would continue and even escalate unless everybody began voting against airport security theatre with their wallets, so if you don’t like it cancel your summer holiday plans NOW and go local instead.

This is not about making you safe, it’s about making a quid for companies that can jump on the bandwagon with products that gullible politicians can be persuaded to spend your taxes on to create an illusion of safety. As has been pointed out about a squillion times, even if the scanners were completely effective they’re going to look pretty stupid reduced to a smouldering heap of twisted wreckage the first time someone sets off a bomb while standing in the queue to be scanned. The only way to prevent that will be the next escalation and loss of privacy and dignity.

Flight number QF1984 to an unpleasant future is now boarding at gate 14.
You won’t be fully naked as you’ll be made to wear a taser bracelet – sadly not made up.

And part of me suspects we might have got to this point already if it wasn’t for the fact that there’s money to be made selling security technology in the meantime, though I suppose the taser bracelet might still be an option for the security theatre mob even when we are all expected to fly in the nip.

Ah, this’ll be those not-at-all-nanny-state Tories, will it?

Jesus wept. I know I’ve said this about eleventy squillion times already, but it really is like Labour never left office.

Children who appear on television talent shows or reality TV programmes will have to be licensed under Government plans to prevent them being exploited for ratings.

Anyone under 16 who appears in front of Simon Cowell and the other judges on Britain’s Got Talent will have to be cleared in advance by their local council under an overhaul of rules on child performers.

The local council. Well, that’s a relief. I was worried that the job might get handed to a bunch of witless, rubber stamping, chair polishers who’d just cash the cheque and send back an approval or a rejection depending on whether the requisite number of boxes are ticked. But if it’s going to be the councils, the same mobs who’d reject a planning application on the grounds of a Tree Preservation Order on a tree that isn’t actually going to be cut down, then I’ve clearly been worrying for nothing. Yeah, I can’t think of anyone better to take up the new and hitherto unneeded role in deciding whether an under 16 can appear on Simon Cowell’s freak show than a bunch of local government officials who don’t know the kid from Adam.

Tim Loughton, the Children’s Minister, said on Thursday that the current rules, drawn up more than 40 years are no longer “fit for purpose” in the era of reality television.

Ironically “not fit for purpose” has become such an overused phrase in politics, and has whored itself to promote new legislation that some government shitwit deemed desirable so fucking often that it itself is no longer fit for purpose. When you hear “not fit for purpose” the subtext is usually “we’re going to make a pointless change that will expand the size and role of the state and its ability to interfere with your life, and we want you to think that it’s necessary because one politician once said ‘not fit for purpose’ about something that really wasn’t”.

Tim Loughton, incidentally, is allegedly a Conservative. To be fair to him he probably believes he is, and since the Tories have a long and less than illustrious history of being paternalist bastards this might even appeal to him as a Conservative. But the people who run the government department that he’s the nominal head of probably aren’t and since they were there for the last lot and will mostly be there for the next lot, whoever the next lot turn out to be, you have to wonder whether this is a Conservative/Cobbleition policy or a policy of the real party of government, the Civil Service. And you also have to wonder if they have to do much more than dream up some shit, plonk the draft policy in front of the minister, and give a nice, long pull on the talk cord in the back of his head.

“New policy needed… no longer fit for purpose… I love you, mummy… let’s play…”

‘Kinell!

The state is mother…

I’ve often wondered who our bodies really belong to. I mean, if you as an adult don’t get to decide its fate and what gets put into it or on it because the state has made the decision for you do you really own your body? Or, if it can set limits on what you may do with it beyond using it to inflict harm or loss on someone else, does the state have ultimate ownership? I’ve long lent towards the latter, and that states can often be fairly inconsistent about it – e.g. this drug is banned while that drug is legal, though quite possibly increasingly frowned upon, and women may earn as much money as they like with their arms or brains but nothing at all with their vaginas – doesn’t do much to change my opinion.

I’ve also wondered who are children belong to as well. Of course children begin being less ours with each day of their development and eventually will belong to themselves – or I ought to say they should belong to themselves because in practice the state will step in and exert ownership over them just as it does us, and I think in all likelihood to an even greater degree – so the question of whether our children are ours is more in the sense of a responsibility than a possession. But it’s still a question I ask every time the state steps in and takes a little bit of that responsibility away from parents and insists that children be raised its way. I began asking when one of the mother’s-milk-is-best brealots suggested, apparently in all seriousness, that formula milk should be banned, and I ask again because of a recent article from the UK and another from here in Oz (pics can be clicked for links).

The warning, from academics involved in an EC-funded project to make nurseries healthier, comes amid growing fears that too many children are overweight or obese when they start school.

EC? Is there still such a thing? I thought it was EU now. Or does it stand for something else?

The “ToyBox” survey found that obesity among European pre-schoolers is at record levels.
Nearly 40 per cent of pre-school girls in Spain are now classified as overweight or obese, it found.
In Britain, more than a fifth are overweight or obese by the time they start school, according to official figures.

And that may be so, though I do wonder if kids’ actual weight hasn’t changed that much and the definition of obese has changed. Not beyond the realms of possibility that the goalposts may have been widened, is it, if only because someone in power believes the fat kids don’t fit between them anymore? Still, I’m prepared to believe that pre-schoolers are, on the whole, a bit heavier at that age than my or my parents’ generations, and I wouldn’t be all that thrilled if I had a child at a pricey kinder (is there another kind?) and found out they were being parked in front of the idiot’s lantern all day.

Yannis Manios, assistant professor at Harokopio University, Athens, who is co-ordinating the project, said: “We need a new approach to prevent obesity.
“We found that many countries are lacking clear guidelines on healthy eating and active play.”

And if that ‘many countries’ bit bothers you a little it probably should, because the EC mystery is cleared up at the end of the article.

The brief of the project, which has a £2.4 million grant from the European Commission, is to “develop and test an innovative and evidence-based obesity prevention programme for children aged four to six years”.

Reagan was wrong. The most frightening sentence in the English language is not “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” It’s actually “I’ve been sent by the European Commission and I’m here to see that you are helped” and is usually translated into half a dozen languages. Anyway, back to Yannis Manios.

“… television watching in kindergartens should be replaced by more active, non-competitive, fun activities which will promote the participation of the whole class and help children to achieve optimal growth, health and well-being.”

Oh, how right-on can we get? Active and non-competitive? Participation of all? Optimal growth? Firstly, although I don’t have kids I’ve been one, remember what it was like, and have met various others (sometimes with considerable reluctance from me and apologetic whisperings of “He’s really not like this usually” from the parents). And the names of all the totally non-competitive kids I recall encountering could be written on the back of my ear. The rest just sounds like a mixture of the usual prizes-for-all that’s been going on for a good couple or three decades and the worrying Strength Through Joy stuff that’s been coming along lately.

“Parents should also remember that their role is not only to provide healthy food and drink options but to act as a role model themselves, since kids are copying their behaviours.”

And again, I’m not disagreeing as such but I do wonder why there’s this thought that this finger wagging and TV banning is necessary. Why, for instance, can’t there be a simple informative message that if your kid ends up being a fat fuck like you then you might have something to do with it, but if the kid’s not actually spherical and gasping for breath then just let things be? Why the desire to go running round all the kinders ripping their TVs out? And why are governments, remembering that the European Commission is a government too, so keen? Bearing in mind that they’re no more capable of feeling a parent’s love for a child than they are of procreating themselves (if anything the reverse; states are keener on making fewer states by absorbing other states and are highly reluctant to split themselves up so as to create more states) am I cynical to suspect that their concern is for their future tax base? They can crunch the numbers, they know that their predecessors promised too much and that they will eventually be unable to meet the bills. The thing they need most is able bodied workers to tax, and that pool is shrinking as it is. The problem is insoluble but it’s a can that can be kicked down the road a bit first, hopefully for someone else to deal with later on, and so the last thing they’d want is anyone contributing less than all the tax they can. A generation of fat kids might mean being having to pick that can up instead of being able to kick it one more time.

And if there’s anything in that at all then it’s only natural that it would extend from pre-school to pre-natal…

… though doubtless it’s also a chance for a bit of smoker-bashing, the last acceptable form of discrimination now that we can’t even take the piss out of gingers rangas the titian haired.

Pregnant women could be breath tested to see if they smoke so that health professionals can help them quit, a leading anti-tobacco crusader says.

Some readers will have already guessed who.

Director of Quit Victoria Fiona Sharkie said although pregnancy prompted many women to quit, research also suggested some chose not to discuss smoking with midwives and doctors because they felt guilty about continuing.

Orly, Fi? You don’t think it’s because they’re expecting to get given a lot of earache about it and would prefer to avoid that if possible? For Christ’s sake, if they felt guilty about it they’d be asking for help to quit, or more likely (I believe) quitting successfully on their own. No, of course not – all smokers must want to quit, especially if they are expecting a new taxpayer. Nobody ever carries on smoking simply because they enjoy it. Nobody ever weighs the risks and decides that the pleasure they get is greater. And no woman ever smokes for a few weeks without even realising that she’s pregnant. No, if you girls smoke then you light up as soon as you’ve finished the big O and don’t have another ciggie until a test stick’s given you the all clear, isn’t that right?

And it had damn well better, eh?

This is the view of the anti-smoking lobby and therefore it must be the correct one, and since some women who are guilty of, and therefore feeling guilty about, smoking are inexplicably reticent to admit it all must be breath tested to identify those who must be shamed need help. And sod the feelings of all those expectant mothers who go to their GP having either never smoked, given up ages ago or even given up the instant they found out.

Bollocks.

And it was at this point that I was about to concede a point to Pat Nurse, who regularly accuses Australia of nazism when it comes to tobacco, that maybe there’s something a little bit nazi-ish about this. I say ‘about to’ because of where Sharkie appears to have got this idea from.

For this reason, she said Australian health authorities could follow the UK and use breath tests for carbon monoxide so that all women are tested and prompted to discuss the issue during pregnancy.

It’s roughly the same everywhere. This country is first to introduce smoking bans, that country beats the rest to introduce plain packaging legislation, the other begins breath testing pregnant women. Healthism is the new ism, and it has to be if states are to continue to be able to, well, not afford their largesse but kick their cans along the roads a little while longer. And before long healthism will join the other political isms with something similar to the two cows model, but with one important difference.

Healthism: you have two kids, the government taxes you for money to give to you for their upkeep as long as it thinks you’re keeping them healthy. Otherwise it takes them into care. The few cows that survived the BSE scare have been shot to protect them from foot and mouth instead.

If it’s broke fix it with the thing that broke it*

Both my readers (hi Mum) will recall that since the UK election nearly two years ago I’ve often said that the Cobbleition government really doesn’t seem all that different from the Labour government that preceded it. I can’t be bothered to look back and see when it was that I began saying that it was like Labour had never lost the election but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t long. However, I can recall exactly when I said that the country may as well bring back Gordon Brown, which was late last November, my reasoning being that if all politicians who can attract enough votes to win power are hell bent on wrecking the place then real change can’t happen until things have got so bad that the people who voted for them can no longer ignore it, so you might as well have the worst of the bunch in charge so as to get the painful wrecking part of the process over and done with quickly. Not a new argument – Obonoxio the Clown was saying something similar even before the election, and I don’t think he was the only one. But what persuaded me that the current incarnation of the Tories, which at its best has only ever been a party that likes to boss people around about different things from those which Labour likes to boss people around, really are doing nothing more than prolonging the agony was Camermong’s announcement that he was going to fix the economy with the very thing that, in America, fucked the economy right in the eyes.

The Prime Minister and his deputy, Nick Clegg, will unveil proposals to help first-time buyers of new homes by carrying part of the risk of their mortgages.

Dave, Nick, say it ain’t so. Tell us that even you aren’t so monumentally stupid that you can’t see that it’s precisely this kind of policy – using taxpayers’ money to underwrite loans for overpriced housing to people who are at higher risk of being unable to repay them – that led with grim inevitability to the fucking subprime mortgage crisis in the fucking first place. And what did that lead to in its turn? Oh, yes, that’d be adding to an unsustainable bubble with a bonus prize of a banking crisis, wouldn’t it? And you two freak shows are now standing here telling us that you want to fucking do it all over again in the deluded belief it’ll get the economy moving. Folks, I think this year’s Jeff Buckley Award for being the Public Figure Most Hopelessly Out of Their Depth may end up being shared.

But no, they did mean it. And today it turns out to be even worse.

Up to 100,000 people will get Government support to buy homes worth up to £500,000 in a Coalition move to revive the middle-class dream of home ownership, ministers will announce.

I just want to draw attention to the maths here. £500,000 times a hundred thousand people is fifty fucking billion pounds. Fifty billion! Has the country that’s recently fallen behind Brazil in the ranking of world economies actually got fifty billion to spare? Without adding to the already mind-fuckingly huge debt that’ll need to be repaid by future taxpayers?

The guarantee will allow people buying new-build properties to borrow up to 95 per cent of the value of their new home.
Since the credit crisis that began in 2007, most people seeking to buy a newly-built property have been able to borrow no more than 80 per cent of the sale price.

Can someone explain to me why this is necessarily a bad thing? Surely if you’re borrowing less then your ability to repay is easier, giving you either a cushion or the option of early repayment or more disposable income. And if being able to borrow less means you can’t afford it at all, couldn’t that possible indicate that despite adjustments property in Britain is still too fucking pricey by far?

Some estimates suggest that the average deposit required for a mortgage is close to £38,000.

This is telling. When I bought my first house, which was back when the housing market was only silly and not outright batshit insane, I think the rule of thumb was being able to borrow triple your salary. The thing is that a little googling finds that the median UK salary is in the mid £20K area, meaning that a median salary earner needs either to scrimp and save or borrow about 50% of their salary just to get the fucking deposit together. Not the mortgage, the bloody deposit. Surely that screams ‘over priced housing’, and surely this move of Cameramong’s is only going to exacerbate it. I’m no economist but I seem to recall hearing that encouraging too much money to chase too few goods is inflationary.

Though of course it might not be in the longer term if it means loans being made to people who can’t afford to repay them.

… it could also raise fears that the State could end up guaranteeing more risky borrowers.

Quite. Because that’s exactly what happened in the US to spark the whole bloody GFC off in the first place. Put a big government made and taxpayer funded safety net under businesses and eventually some of them will forget to take as much care as they should, and so inevitably banks made bad lending decisions while feeling safe and secure in the knowledge that Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac would take care of things if they went tits up. Can someone tell me how what Cameramong and Cleggie are doing is fundamentally different?

Formally launching the mortgage guarantee today, the Prime Minister will today pledge that the NewBuy scheme will help repair a “broken” housing ladder.

“It’s no good hoping people will climb the property ladder if the bottom rung is missing. Affordable properties and available mortgages are vital,” he will say.

You’re not repairing it, you tool. You’re fucking extending it and weakening the remaining lower rungs still further. Oh, and that name? Sounds a little familiar. Not thinking of yourself as an English Roosevelt, are you? I ask only because among other things FDR’s New Deal created Fannie Mae. If you mention the hand of history I swear I’ll get on a plane, come over there, and twat you heavily about the head and neck with Tony Blair’s autobiography.

And your drones are just as moronic, by the way.

Grant Shapps, the Housing Minister, said the guarantee scheme will help unlock a housing market where for many people, owning a home is “no longer a dream, but a distant fantasy.”

Turning it into a fucking nightmare should fix that.

“We want to help everyone achieve their aspirations, and feel the pride of home ownership. The NewBuy Guarantee will give thousands of prospective buyers the chance to buy a home with a fraction of the deposit normally required.”

Yeah, because you wouldn’t want to let a market of an overpriced good fall to a natural level. Oh, no. Far better to keep those prices unnaturally high by pulling magic money out of your arse with one hand while writing out “IOU – We’ll pay for everything no matter what it eventually costs. Love, the Taxpayers” with the other. Have none of these self described conservatives thought that maybe if they didn’t keep interfering with markets and pushing up prices as well as adding to the taxpayers’ bills then maybe those same taxpayers would have a better chance of being able to afford these things without help?

And this kind of shit is why this blog is beginning to swing towards overt support of Labour. Not because I have any respect or faith for that party, and certainly not in the expectation that they’ll be a significant improvement on with the Cobbleition or either of the parties in it. In fact I expect Labour to be even worse and possibly to have the capability virtually to destroy Britain even more quickly than the other two. And I’m coming to believe that virtual destruction is not only inevitable but is necessary to wake up the majority of the 26,146,419 people who voted for the Big Three for no better reason than their family has always voted that way, or because they didn’t want the other lot to win, or because they’d vote for fortnight dead roadkill if someone dropped the right colour rosette on it. It’d be far better if they’d realise the damage they’re doing by prolonging the paradigm of incompetent and destructive politicians and just start voting for someone else (though I still have concerns about them UKIP is currently my least worst option, but Christ’s sakes, anyone but the Big Three really) but I’m afraid that the majority of those 26,146,419 will carry on as they have been doing until one day dawn breaks on a Britain that is completely bankrupt, probably in more than one sense.

Only then will those destructive political parties be destroyed themselves, or at least made electorally irrelevant, because all will finally be clear and in the wreckage there will be very very few who will ever forgive the Big Three. What will happen then is anyone’s guess, but I’d very much hope it’ll be the beginning of several generations with an inherent distrust of government and big stater solutions. I can’t help but feel that if destruction is indeed a necessary condition for recovery then why put it off by voting for someone marginally less catastrophically incompetent?

That said, if destruction can be avoided altogether it goes without saying that we should, so although I’m pessimistic I really hope an alternative presents itself. Besides, voting Labour would make me want to go home and wash for about a month.

* Title from The Daily Mash.

If you read just one more post today…

… make it this one of Bill Sticker’s.

No less a body than the FBI is posting dire warnings about people it calls ‘Sovereign Citizens’ and how they are becoming a ‘Terrorist threat’. Now I realise this is more Ranty’s territory than mine, but I’d like to write down what thoughts I have on the matter.

Now the FBI say that this movement poses a ‘threat’, forming an extreme ‘right wing’ grouping. In their press releases they attempt to link the Sovereign Citizen movement directly to the actions of the Oklahoma Bomber Timothy McVeigh, with a sly nod of the head towards the loose but highly influential American anti-tax alliance, the Tea Party.

Of course it’s all propaganda. Assailed upon all sides by the tactics of tax and revenue denial, the powers that be will want all those who don’t like having their pocketbooks raped for last red cent classed as ‘terrorists’. Even if the individuals concerned are nothing of the sort.

Seriously, do go and read the whole thing.

Timely

Via the Eye.

They just can’t stop, can they?


Click images for links.

In his long-awaited Autumn Statement, the Chancellor will outline a £650 million scheme to provide free “early education” for about 40 per cent of two year-olds.

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, will today announce a £1 billion scheme to pay firms more than £2,000 for each young unemployed person they hire.

And all this at a time when some think the UK is already back in recession and may need a decade of austerity to really recover. So what’s the Cobbleition’s response? Copy the policies of the deranged madmen who fucked the country into this hole in the first place, that’s what.

I can’t carry on with this, I really can’t. I’ve said umpteen times that they’re as bad as the last lot and that there’s no appreciable difference between the the main parties anymore with the possible exception of how quickly they’re going to fuck the country into a hole. The issue of how deeply they’re going to fuck it into a hole has long had cross party support. If I blog this again anytime soon something is going to get fucking broken. Instead I’ll just point out that Douglas Carswell, the Tory party’s favourite for MP Least Likely To Be Given A Front Bench Job, has been wondering what the government would be doing right now if it was still a Labour government with Gordon Brown leading it. His list looks depressingly like the actual policies of the Cobbleition.

A modern parable

Spotted by Fausty.

Once upon a time the government had a vast scrap yard in the middle of nowhere. Parliament said, “Someone may steal from it at night.” So they created a night watchman position and hired a person for the job.

Then Parliament said, “How does the night watchman do his job without instruction?” So they created a planning department and hired two people, one person to write the instructions, and one person to do time studies.

Then Parliament asked, “How will we know the night watchman is doing the tasks correctly?” So they created a Quality Control department and hired two people. One to do the studies and one to write the reports.

Then Parliament said, “How are these people going to get paid and administered?” So they created the following positions, two time keepers and three payroll officers, and then hired four human resources consultants and five health and safety executives.

Then Parliament said, “Who will be accountable for all of these people?” So they created an administrative section and hired fifty people including administrative officers, assistant administrative officers, legal secretaries and a chief executive on £250,000 per annum.

Then Parliament said, “We have had this in operation for over one year and we are £25,000,000 over budget, we must cutback the overall cost.”

So they laid off the night watchman.

True, that.

There are no winners, only victims of the security state

Via Longrider at his own place and at the Orphanage a couple of days ago, news that Muslims Against Something That Ended In The Thirteenth Century were leant on by Her Majesty’s Home Secretary and Official Speech Permission Granter, Teresa Maybe, is being banned for being not nice enough. Longrider points out an obvious problem, though clearly not so obvious that Teresa Maybe was able to see it.

Home Secretary Theresa May is banning Muslims Against Crusades, a group planning an anti-Armistice Day protest.

Despicable though this group is, abhorrent as its message may be, their liberties are our liberties and holding a protest no matter how distasteful, is a basic civil liberty. In banning them, May hands them a victory without them lifting a finger, she does their work for them far better than they ever could.

Agreed, and via Trooper Thompson I see that this has been followed by a mass arrest of English Defence League members, for… well, since the now banned Muslims Against Historical Catholicism weren’t there as planned absolutely nothing at all as far as I can see.

Scotland Yard said the group were detained “to prevent a breach of the peace” at a pub near the Cenotaph in Whitehall.

Doesn’t this seem a bit like crushing your car to prevent speeding? Technically they can probably do this if this is anything to go by.

A breach of the peace is not in itself a criminal offence, but the police and any other person have a power of arrest where there are reasonable grounds for believing a breach of the peace is taking place or is imminent. The Court of Appeal defined a breach of the peace as being ‘an act done or threatened to be done which either actually harms a person, or in his presence, his property, or is likely to cause such harm being done’ – see R v Howell. This power of arrest will, of course, be closely scrutinised in connection with [The European Convention on Human Rights] Article 5 (the right to liberty and security), Article 10 (the right to freedom of expression) and Article 11 (the right to freedom of assembly and association).

And of course the ECHR being the pale imitation of a Bill of Rights that it is, doesn’t really seem to prevent this either. Article 5 guarantees no deprivation of liberty except for various reasons including (my bold)…

“c. the lawful arrest or detention of a person effected for the purpose of bringing him before the competent legal authority on reasonable suspicion of having committed an offence or when it is reasonably considered necessary to prevent his committing an offence or fleeing after having done so;”

… while Articles 10 and 11 both say freedom of speech and association respectively is guaranteed unless it’s felt necessary to restrict it. These are the worst kind of rights: positive rights, permissions to do things as long as someone says you’re allowed. They aren’t liberties, they’re just lip service to the idea of liberty. So with the ECHR being as much against you as for you, all the police need in order to arrest people who’ve done nothing for nothing is a semi-plausible story that it was “reasonably considered necessary” to prevent something they might have been going to do.

So this is liberty in modern Britain. Where NuLab started the Cobbleition has carried on, and in order to prevent you from damaging it your freedom is taken and locked in a cage. But at least they’re doing to everybody, so that’s alright, isn’t it?

In short: fuck, no!

Tip of the Akubra also to Quiet_Man in the comments at Trooper Thompson’s for the Telegraph link.

Pre Crime: it sucks

Straight from the Department of Making Everyone Feel Like Labour Won The Last Election comes Home Secretary, Teresa Maybe, and this:

Children as young as three can be identified as violent gang members of the future, according to a new Government report.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, unveiled plans to cut off gang violence at the root by intervening in “problem families” from the moment children are born.
A new Home Office report said the beginnings of teenage violence lie in the “very earliest childhood experience”.
It found warning signs are “already clear” by the time a child enters primary school, including neglect, aggression, absence from class and slow development.
Children identified as “at risk” by the age of three are more than twice as likely to have criminal convictions by the age of 21, the report said.
“Early intervention is absolutely key,” Mrs May said. “That may need to come at a very early age indeed, with toddlers, ensuring they just don’t go down that road.”

So let’s see… belief that one’s life is mapped out almost from birth, check; unshakeable confidence in the ability of the state to predict that accurately, check; implied confidence, equally unshakeable, in ability to correctly identify ‘problem families’, check; repeated statement of a need for the state to ‘intervene’, check. Frankly all that’s missing from the story to give it those last hallmarks of a NuLab policy is the mention of a new database, but since the bastards spent all the money and wrecked the economy the Cobbleition probably can’t afford a new one and probably have to make to with one of the existing ones.

Still, apart from that it sounds awfully like the kind of thing Labour used to love saying, which leads me to wonder… Did anyone check behind Teresa Maybe to see if Jacqui Smith’s hand was up her arse making her mouth work?

Fantasy drugs policy

On this blog I’ve occasionally quoted from Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books since it’s always been less a fantasy series and more a series of parodies, often of parts of the world we actually live in, and there are often bits here and there which align pretty neatly with libertarian positions. I’ve no idea if Terry Pratchett would describe himself as a libertarian but some of his characters certainly are, at least on some issues, and they tend to be the protagonists or people on the same side as the protagonists. So when Mrs Exile bought me the latest one I wasn’t surprised to find in the first few pages almost exactly the kind of drugs policy I’d support for real, implemented by Lord Vetinari, probably the most libertarian tyrant ever, real or imagined.

… Incidentally, sir, we have received a missive from Diamond King of Trolls, thanking us for our firm stance on the drugs issue. Well done, sir.’
‘Hardly a concession,’ Vetinari observed, waving it away. ‘You know my position, Drumknott. I have no particular objection to people taking substances that make them feel better or more contented, or, for that matter, see little dancing purple fairies – or even their god if it comes to that. It’s their brain, after all, and society can have no claim on it, providing they’re not operating heavy machinery at the time. However, to sell drugs to trolls that actually make their heads explode is simply murder, the capital crime.’
Snuff, Terry Pratchett

Seems fair enough to me. What you choose to put into your body should be entirely up to you, though of course you would still responsible for your actions when you’re under the influence of whatever it is you’ve taken, but selling you something that’s certain to kill you on the spot is not on. In reality nobody making a quid either illegally or legally from recreational drugs – and as usual I include alcohol and tobacco, and I suppose possibly caffeine as well – has any interest in killing customers since dead people have a tendency to stop buying the produce. Some of these things are dangerous and may kill some users eventually, though often that’s as much a result of the adulteration that’s commonplace with illegal drugs as a result of the drug itself, but if any drug was both rapidly and universally lethal it would have no market. People want to get high, but very few want to get high so badly they’ll take something from which they will definitely never come down. In fact the only time I’ve heard of a drug being deliberately made toxic it was on the orders of a government who did have a particular objection to people taking a substance that made them feel better and more contented, and, for that matter, see little dancing purple fairies fall over more often.

Frustrated that people continued to consume so much alcohol even after it was banned, federal officials had decided to try a different kind of enforcement. They ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States, products regularly stolen by bootleggers and resold as drinkable spirits. The idea was to scare people into giving up illicit drinking. Instead, by the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people.
[…]
Rigorous enforcement had managed to slow the smuggling of alcohol from Canada and other countries. But crime syndicates responded by stealing massive quantities of industrial alcohol—used in paints and solvents, fuels and medical supplies—and redistilling it to make it potable.
Well, sort of. Industrial alcohol is basically grain alcohol with some unpleasant chemicals mixed in to render it undrinkable. The U.S. government started requiring this “denaturing” process in 1906 for manufacturers who wanted to avoid the taxes levied on potable spirits. The U.S. Treasury Department, charged with overseeing alcohol enforcement, estimated that by the mid-1920s, some 60 million gallons of industrial alcohol were stolen annually to supply the country’s drinkers. In response, in 1926, President Calvin Coolidge’s government decided to turn to chemistry as an enforcement tool. Some 70 denaturing formulas existed by the 1920s. Most simply added poisonous methyl alcohol into the mix. Others used bitter-tasting compounds that were less lethal, designed to make the alcohol taste so awful that it became undrinkable.
To sell the stolen industrial alcohol, the liquor syndicates employed chemists to “renature” the products, returning them to a drinkable state. The bootleggers paid their chemists a lot more than the government did, and they excelled at their job. Stolen and redistilled alcohol became the primary source of liquor in the country. So federal officials ordered manufacturers to make their products far more deadly.
By mid-1927, the new denaturing formulas included some notable poisons—kerosene and brucine (a plant alkaloid closely related to strychnine), gasoline, benzene, cadmium, iodine, zinc, mercury salts, nicotine, ether, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, carbolic acid, quinine, and acetone. The Treasury Department also demanded more methyl alcohol be added—up to 10 percent of total product. It was the last that proved most deadly.
The results were immediate, starting with that horrific holiday body count in the closing days of 1926. Public health officials responded with shock. “The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol,” New York City medical examiner Charles Norris said at a hastily organized press conference. “[Y]et it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible.”

Even now one foreseeable side effect of so many recreational drugs being illegal that they will end up being both more expensive and less safe through being adulterated with Christ knows what, and another is that people will turn to alternative drugs when their preferred choice is either too expensive or too hard to find. Because of this desire of certain people to make everyone else live to their standards rather than live as each chooses* we have almost the polar opposite of Vetinari’s stance on the drug’s issue – the belief is that user’s brains are not their own and society does have a claim on them, and official policy has had the inevitable effect of making drugs more dangerous, sometimes deliberately.

Why does sanity have to come from the pen of a man who writes about trolls and dwarves and magic, and, sadly, who is also suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s? And what does that say about the people who really are responsible for drugs policy?

* As a libertarian I have no desire to force other people to be libertarians as well. I’ll try to persuade them it’s a good idea but if they want to be neo-puritans Tories or socialists dumbly obedient to the state or whatever then that’s up to them. That’s their drug of choice and if they can do it without harming me I have no objection, just as I have no objection to people smoking, drinking or getting stoned around me if I’m not affected by it. The annoying reality is that neo-puritans and statists of all stripes have done me far more harm than drug users have, and much of the little harm I’ve suffered that was probably drug related (losses from a car break in and higher insurance, if you must know) may not have happened if drugs policies hadn’t made the damn things cost more than they need to.

The worst of all drugs

Blogging has again been patchy the last week or so, time being so short for various reasons that I’m very behind on reading my favourite blogs. Honestly, my RSS has bookmark has what could easily be a serial number behind it and if I don’t get either caught up or ruthless about skipping the older stuff I’m worried it might resort to exponentiation. So while I’m getting through some of it, and assuming I don’t get all busy again right away, I’ll resort to a bit of metablogging and bring up a post some will already have found via the Von Mises Institute blog: a moving story of a American who became a user of the most addictive and destructive drug in modern society, and how he’s managed to get clean:

… My addiction to the state started in high school. I saw that all the coolest people — Naomi Klein, Tom Morello — wanted me to drop out of free society and free exchange. They always seemed to know what was best for everybody else, and I wanted to be smart like them. So I started experimenting with statism.

In university, I got into the hard-core stuff: socialism and communism. All my friends were doing it. I thought we were so revolutionary with our union buttons and our “Free Tuition Now” banners. Calling for state intervention to solve every social problem let me avoid thinking about my own problems.

In 2007 and 2008, I got hooked on the hypnotism of state theater. I gobbled up every YouTube clip of the US Democratic nomination fight I could get my eyeballs on. Everyone I knew thought Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton would save the world. And when that nomination bottle was empty of all surprise, I couldn’t stop; I just starting using the Republican nomination to get high.

But somebody had mixed some crazy stuff into that contest, as I bet you know. The clean stuff hit me hard, and I hit rock bottom.

I woke up under my state-funded grad-student desk, heaped high with the papers for my state-policy-recommendation thesis, knowing that my black hole of student debt was papered over only by state scholarships, and I saw what I had become.

All my friends were still users. So it was hard, but on the Internet I found other people who were clean. I started volunteering, getting involved.

[…]

My life has started to come back together. I can spend time with my family now without even getting that itch to regulate something. I feel free again…

I am not an anarchist, anarcho-capitalist or otherwise. For reasons I will one day blog at length I’m a minarchist libertarian, all the same I’d recommend popping over to The Daily Anarchist and reading the whole thing. There’s a particularly good version of the 12 step program among the first few comments.