How much government is too much?

We are proud to have a guest post from longtime reader and “commenter”, Ted. Enjoy!

I am very libertarian in my views toward government, having often said that I want the least amount of government possible without Anarchy. But what does this mean, and what would such a government look like?

Mark recently wrote about efficiency of government, and this is something that most Americans can agree on; we don’t want government to waste money. The philosophical conflicts arise when we ask “what should government do for us, and what should we do or ourselves?”

In order to promote honest and open discussion rather than the name calling and ad-hominem attacks commonly found in political discussions, let’s discuss the legitimate role of American government from several points of view and where each party stands on these issues, giving each side the benefit of the doubt about their motives.

First, and most important to me, is Justice. I believe that the government has a legitimate role in promoting justice, even “at the edge of a sword” as the bible says. This means that a court system, trial by jury, Miranda rights, and some form of prison system is a legitimate role of government. Those on the Right tend to favor quick, inexpensive trials, limited appeals and harsh punishment for those convicted; those on the Left generally advocate taking as much time and money and as many appeals as necessary to ensure the innocent are not wrongfully convicted, and tend to view the prison system’s purpose as rehabilitation rather than punishment. I come down at odds with both parties, believing that only felonies should go to court (misdemeanors could be handled with small fines and infractions such as parking or speeding tickets should be completely eliminated), the prosecution should have a very high bar to satisfy before a conviction, but once convicted, our prisons should look more like a scene from “Beyond Thunderdome” and less like “The Shawshank Redemption”.

Second in a free society is protection of individual liberties, including but not limited to those found in The Bill of Rights. Our Founders believed that these rights devolved from God rather than from government, and both political parties seem to have forgotten this to some extent; those on the Left believe in the freedom to marry someone of the same sex or abort an unwanted fetus, but don’t believe in the freedom to carry a loaded weapon or do what you want with your own property. Those on the Right support property and gun rights but many take a dim view of illegal drug use or expressing opinion through offensive art. I believe that the government’s legitimate role is securing individual rights, and that it may infringe on these rights only when one citizens expression directly harms another citizen- this means your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose, and that some form of police organization to protect citizens property and safety is a legitimate role of government. It does NOT support or condone generalized arguments limiting the rights of one group in favor of the rights of another. Therefore helmet laws, seatbelt laws, smoking bans, etc. are expressions of the tyranny of the masses and are illegitimate in a “free” society. Abortion is complicated, but in general I think our right to life begins at conception, and should be protected even when it inconveniences the mother to do so, but not when it threatens her right to life.

Third, and finally for this essay, is the Post Office. While this is not a concept such as liberty or justice, it is expressly mandated by the Constitution, and unquestionably a legitimate role of government. The constitution does not mandate daily mail delivery, or a vast money-squandering bureaucracy that is our modern post office however. Many on the Right have called for elimination of the post office entirely, and fulfilling the constitutional mandate via privatization of postal services with companies such as FedEx or UPS. The Left defends the status quo, largely because of the large number of unionized postal workers that form their political base and would b out of work if we had a rationally sized post office. I think that our country could survive mail delivery three days per week and with half as many post offices, which would dramatically cut the cost of this service. Further, I think that the current bulk mail rates are a form of corporate welfare subsidized by the taxpayer solely to keep postmen employed. The environmental damage of the millions of tons of paper and ink dumped on every American home far outweighs the jobs created by such a scheme. In the name of government efficiency if not any more compelling reason, the bulk mail rate should be eliminated. That the bulk rate exists is proof hat our two parties collude to the detriment of the country and it’s citizens.

There are many other areas open for discussion, such as governments role in healthcare, education, national defense, environmental protection, etc. but these will be saved for another day. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on these issues, if they can be elucidated without vitriol.

Efficiency vs. Protectionism

I was recently catching up on some reading and was caught by a section in my BusinessWeek called, “What Works in the USA”.  It was compiling stories of best practice from around the nation of where governments have done innovative and thoughtful things to actually improve their communities and save money, time, or provide a needed (emphasis on needed) service.

The one that stood out to me was about Philadelphia’s Savings in Fleet Management.  This short piece documents how the fleet management department eliminated non-emergency vehicles, and instead starting renting from Zipcar.

Under an entrenched system common in many local governments, cars had been assigned to individual employees, who came to view them as their personal wheels. The vehicles often sat idle during the day, even when other workers on city business needed a ride, then went home at night and on weekends.

Faced with a citywide budget crisis in 2004, the Office of Fleet Management (OFM) set up a system under which employees reserve a rental car electronically for official business, specifying the time, date, destination, and official purpose. Cost savings have averaged $1.8 million per year, according to K Wilson of OFM’s budget office, through reduced spending on auto maintenance, fuel, and parking charges. Those costs are now the responsibility of Cambridge (Mass.)-based Zipcar, which took over the contract from a nonprofit in 2008.

I think this is an incredible move by that department.  Governmental agencies are almost always interested in how they can grow their budgets, not reduce them.  And yet, if we are ever to see our governments grow more efficient, this drive for efficiency is almost certainly what we will need to see across the board.  Saving $1.8 million a year is a fantastic start.  Granted that won’t go very far, especially in large metros like Philly.  But it hopefully will breed copycats.

The difficulty I can see similar efforts facing is from unions.  Clearly Philadelphia would have to eliminate many jobs, such as mechanics, fuel pumpers, and other position that catered to caring for that fleet of cars – most likely many of which are unionized.  But it was unnecessary and a waste of resources.

Another thing that came to mind when reading about the program is how they are electronically monitoring mileage and usage of cars still in the fleet.  I’ve read of lawsuits from employees who’s company or government vehicles tracked them at their homes when they were supposed to be working.  So even when you are breaking company policy you still try to get away with it.

We’ll see if there is a trend here – but it is certainly hopeful.  Good on ya, Philly!

I had prepared myself for what I perceived to be the inevitable striking down of the Individual Mandate and most likely the whole Affordable Care Act along with it. I believed that it would be struck down for two reasons:

First, because it’s a conservative court deciding on a very political issue during an election year.

Second, because I did question whether an individual mandate is constitutional.

In truth, I’m not the biggest fan of the Affordable Care Act. Despite the conservative propaganda, it’s actually a huge compromise for liberals. Many of us believe that a single payer program is the only true solution, and while this law makes some very beneficial changes, it ultimately staves off the type of reform I believe would truly fix the problem.

The Affordable Care Act borrows many Republican ideas (it’s modeled after “Romneycare”) and excludes many key liberal ideas (such as the public option) in an attempt to win some bipartisan support. This strategy backfired; however, and Republicans reject it and characterize it as a government take-over. So what I’m trying to say is that I would have preferred that we actually did a government take-over, especially since we’re being blamed for one anyway.

Nevertheless, I’m happy it was upheld for two reasons:

First, because a conservative Justice ruled against his own party on a very politically charged bill. It’s given me some hope that at least one branch of government can make non-partisan decisions. Granted, it was a 5 to 4 vote, so it was mostly partisan. And I will concede that it would be difficult for me to be as gleeful about it had a democratically controlled court ruled against the law.

Second, I’m glad it was upheld because now I feel very comfortable with the constitutionality of the law. Justice Roberts characterizes the Individual Mandate as a tax, and it is within the government’s power to tax for not purchasing insurance.   He did clarify that a person cannot be jailed for not paying the tax, so it’s not really a mandate when you think about it. I guess the decision wasn’t so difficult when you look at it that way.

Republicans also have reason to be happy. For one, the court did strike down the Federal mandate to extend Medicaid benefits. It’s unfortunate for the poor people who would have benefited, but the provision was problematic for many States’ budgets. In Colorado, we were having to take money from education, which also benefits the poor, in order to meet this requirement.

Republicans should also be glad that the individual mandate was upheld because the Paul Ryan Medicare reform will require it.

Hate Crime? No Such Thing

I’ve felt this for a long time – but the Trayvon Martin case has re-upped the quotient of people classifying something as a “hate crime“.  The problem is that there is no such thing as a “friendship crime” or “love crime” – if you commit a crime… you rob someone, or kill someone, you are engaging in hate.  There is no need, or even the ability, to further classify it.

It is not against the law to be racist.  Or homophobic.  Or xenophobic.  But it is against the law to rob and kill.

Is someone more dead if they were killed by a racist?  Is someone less dispossessed of their money if they are robbed by someone who is not racist?

And what is the purpose of classifying something as a hate crime?   It is to impose stricter penalties against the perpetrators.  So if you rob me, you get 3 months – you rob a black man while being racist, you get 6 months.  Is that equal justice?

I would love to see comments supporting this, because there is no logic behind it in my mind.

Invite David Bazan.

This last Sunday I was fortunate enough to host Mr. Bazan (or Dave as he likes me to call him) at my house for one of his living room shows.  For those of you who don’t know – this very blog is named after one of his songs, so to have the man playing in my house was certainly a highlight.  For the past few years Bazan has been playing these intimate venues with about 40-50 people in attendance – alone or sometimes with a friend backing him.  At our show he played an electric into a tiny amp, no mic, and a simple floor lamp by his side.

Bazan played for a little over an hour, with quite a bit of dialogue in between songs where he would answer questions – a practice that he encouraged, rather than was forced upon him.  It was very refreshing to hear someone speak frankly about the struggles of being a musician – most especially in the financial sense.  Knowing my pride, I would have tried to play it up as if I was killing it, but Bazan admitted to performing these house shows because of the practicality of them being more profitable than traditional shows that require a lot more cost and effort – and that it is needed to be able to keep playing music for a living.

He played a selection of songs from Pedro, Headphones, and his solo albums.  His “$300 guitar” didn’t quite keep tune, and the playing wasn’t flawless by any means – but it was more than made up for with the power of his voice, and the overall coolness of such a rarefied show.

After the show, Bazan stuck around briefly and folks were able to grab pictures and buy some albums.  Though I hosted the event I didn’t really talk to him much, other than a couple phone calls leading up the the show – but he seemed like a very genuine and likable guy, and this night only served to enhance my love of his music.

God bless you, David Bazan – whether you want it or not.

Our dear friends and traitors former writers/co-founders Greg and Elijah recently celebrated the 2-year anniversary of their blog, Lost in the Cloud.  Sharp readers will see the correlation between them leaving and the precipitous decline in CAI’s monthly posts – oh well.   I would be remiss if I didn’t celebrate them – even though they proceeded to write some of the most popular posts on the entire interweb (see link above) that could have made CAI world famous.

If only because Greg is my brother, I can’t hold a grudge.  The twice a year we see each other would be terribly awkward.  (sorry Boog!)  The twice a decade I see Elijah is even worse.

Anyway – if you’ve never checked out their blog, then now is the time.  They’ve even provided quick links to their favorites of the last two years.  Good work, fellas  – we are proud of you and hope you keep it up for another 2 years.  Then it’s probably time to retire… I mean, honestly how many NOTW’s and Fairie’s Aire’s can you have in a lifetime???  At least we got one of them.


I’ve been thinking about this year’s big game a great deal. It’s important to do so, you know.

Anyway, here’s what’s going to happen. Before the game even starts, we’ll run out of 7 layer dip. I hate that. It’s okay, though, because I will have had my fill by then.

A very important decision we’ll have to be made before the game starts, and the outcome of that decision could have broad implications on the entire event — margaritas or beer.

Beer has been my strategy for the entire season. It’s what’s gotten me to the Super Bowl, and there is certainly wisdom in sticking to what works. On the other hand, margaritas go very well with 7-layer dip, and after all, it is the Super Bowl, so I have the whole season to recover.

My prediction is that I’ll probably make the worst of all decisions, which is to choose both. This decision is a lack of decision, and I’m sure I’ll pay for it by the 4th quarter while I’m still trying to act like I care about this game.

I predict that there will be a bowl of nuts, a bowl of chips, a bowl of dip, a bowl of snack mix, and a bowl of candy. All of these bowls will be super. There may even at some point, be a bowl with salad in it. It will not be super; it will be salad — a salad bowl, if you will. A super salad bowl if you rather.

Deep inside, everybody at the party will want to see Madona at half-time, but nobody will admit it, so the host will turn the sound down during half time, and most of us will download her performance later.

At some point during the game, a party guest will make a political joke that will make a different party guest very mad. But we’ll all laugh just to be polite. At some point during the game, somebody will say something about Tim Tebow. If nobody else does, then I will.

What am I forgetting? Ah yes, the winner. I predict the winner will be supermarkets and liquor stores. Unless you live in an area where supermarkets can sell liquor. Then the winner will be supermarkets or super liquor stores.

The loser will be Home Depot.