Grateful I Don’t Live in California

Sometimes it’s hard to remember to be thankful for life’s little blessings. Recently I was reminded to be grateful I don’t live in California.

My electricity went out for a little while a few days ago, but the power company was on the ball and power was restored in no time; long before it could have become inconvenient for anyone but the least prepared among us.

By contrast, the electric utility in California plans to shut off power to hundreds of thousands of its paying customers. On purpose. For hours or days or however long they feel is necessary — without much warning or a chance to properly prepare — to prevent their substandard system from starting wildfires.

Do you think this will cause many Californians — both those personally affected and those who aren’t — to start taking the idea of “prepping” seriously? I have my doubts, but I’ll hope.

For most of my life, people have either joked about those who prepared for emergencies, calling them paranoid, or they quipped “If society collapses, I’ll just come to your house.” Showing up empty-handed at the house of someone who has spent years of planning and piles of money for just such a crisis will only be welcomed if the residents of the house are out of meat and hungry enough to consider adding you to the menu.

If you don’t value your own life enough to plan for emergencies and put those plans into action, why should anyone risk their own life and the lives of their children to save you?

Anyone should be able to see the value of preparing for natural disasters, and political disasters — like the one playing out in California — may become more common in the coming years. “It’s not political,” you say? Sure it is. When political deals grant a power utility a monopoly over an area, and state laws and “green energy” policies prevent proper infrastructure, capacity, and maintenance, then the problem is political, no matter who you would rather blame.

It’s even more directly political when laws require a prepper to handicap himself by staying hooked to the electrical grid and shut off his system in the event of a blackout so as to not have an advantage over his less-prepared neighbors — as is the case in California.

Any real solution begins with barring politics from the discussion. Then, plan for what happens if politicians interfere anyway. And take a moment to be grateful you don’t live in California.

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Coming Sooner or Later: Elizabeth Warren’s Mondale Moment

“Let’s tell the truth,” said Walter Mondale as he accepted the Democratic Party’s 1984 presidential nomination. “It must be done, it must be done. Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won’t tell you. I just did.”

That comment looms large in popular memory as the cause of Mondale’s crushing defeat that November. Of 50 states, he carried only one, his home state of Minnesota, polling only 40.6% of votes nationwide to Ronald Reagan’s 58.8%.

More than three decades later, Democratic presidential candidates continue to cower in fear of another “Mondale Moment.” They tiptoe around tax issues, generally promising to raise taxes only on “the rich” and sometimes even mulling tax cuts for important voter blocs (usually a vaguely defined “middle class”).

US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has spent the last few weeks running from her own Mondale Moment, refusing to answer the straight-up question from debate moderators and interviewers:

“Would funding your Medicare For All proposal require a middle class tax increase?”

She bobs. She weaves. She clinches. She tries to change the subject. There’s seemingly nothing she won’t do to avoid giving a straight answer.

Why? Because the only plausible straight answer is “yes.”

This is not an “anti-Medicare-For-All” column. I’m not a fan of the proposal for various reasons, but it is obviously on offer from two of the Democratic Party’s three presidential front-runners. Over the next 13 months, Democratic primary voters will be, and the American electorate may be, asked to accept or reject it.

Since it IS on the table, the candidates supporting and opposing it owe those voters clear explanations of what it entails not just in terms of benefits, but costs.

According to the Urban Institute (generally regarded as a moderately “left”-leaning think tank) what it entails is an increase in federal government spending of $32 trillion over ten years.

That’s an average of $3.2 trillion per year. In 2018, the federal government’s total revenues came to $3.3 trillion.

So what we’re talking about here is doubling the federal budget — which means either doubling tax revenues or quintupling government borrowing.

There aren’t enough “rich” people to cover that tab, even if Warren’s other plans didn’t already tap them as a significant revenue source.

Therefore, middle class and working class Americans are going to have to pay higher taxes if Medicare For All is going to happen.

Warren claims that those middle and working class Americans are going to save money anyway. Her logic is obvious: She believes that Americans’ healthcare bills will go down more than their taxes go up.

But she refuses, presumably in abject terror of facing her own Mondale Moment, to come right out and say it that way.

Sooner or later, she’s going to have to say it that way and find out if the voters believe her.

The longer she waits to do so, the worse for her presidential aspirations. American voters like straight answers. Heck, they’ll even make do with obvious lies dressed up as straight answers if necessary. But they loathe prevarication.

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Excuses, Excuses: Now Hillary Clinton’s Attacking Her Own Party’s Candidates

“I’m not making any predictions, but I think [the Russians] have got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate,” said Hillary Clinton on her former campaign manager’s podcast.  “They know they can’t win without a third party candidate.”

Was Clinton referring to US Representative Tulsi Gabbard, CNN asked? “If the nesting doll fits” her spokesperson replied.

Nearly three years after losing the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton’s still trying to find someone other than Hillary Clinton to blame.

If it’s not women voting the way their husbands tell them to vote, it’s James Comey’s unconvincing job of “exonerating” her for her grossly negligent handling of classified information.

If it’s not the media taking too much notice of her scandals, her health problems, etc., it’s Bernie Sanders supporters staying home instead of going to the polls for a candidate who hated them as much as they hated her.

Whatever it is, it can never, ever, ever be the fact that she’s among the most disliked and distrusted politicians of the last century, or that she ran an incredibly inept campaign, or that she failed to pay sufficient attention to Rust Belt voters upon whom Donald Trump lavished attention and promises to “bring the jobs back.”

And sooner or later it always comes back around to !THEM RUSSIANS!

!THEM RUSSIANS! spent a miniscule amount of money (a fraction of a percent of what Clinton’s campaign spent, and far less than !THEM RUSSIANS! donated to Clinton’s family foundation) on cheesy Facebook ads.

Donald Trump made a secret deal with Vladimir Putin! He’s a Kremlin “asset!”

!THEM RUSSIANS! backed a third party candidate (Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party), who “stole” enough votes from Clinton to throw the election to Trump.

And now !THEM RUSSIANS! are at it again. The long arm of the Kremlin is reaching into the very heart of the Democratic Party itself to once again wrest a  presidential election away from Hillary Clinton (or from someone, anyway).

There’s no obvious evidence that Tulsi Gabbard plans to defect from the Democratic Party and run for president as an independent or on another party’s ticket.

On the other hand, given her treatment by the Democratic National Committee — including gaming polls to try to keep her out of primary debates and out of the running — and now by Hillary Clinton, who could blame her if she did?

Furthermore, in what universe is an independent or third party presidential candidacy any less legitimate than a Democratic presidential nomination?

Votes belong to voters, not to parties. Democratic and Republican candidates aren’t magically entitled to your vote. Whether or not they’ve earned that vote is your call and no one else’s.

If Democrats are interested in winning next year, they might want to consider publicly dissociating themselves from Hillary Clinton, who’s gone in a mere three years from even whinier than Donald Trump to even loonier than Lyndon LaRouche.

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Bojangles vs. Bureaucracy

I swung into Bojangles this morning for a box of hot chicken and biscuits.

When I realized the meal I ordered didn’t come with quite enough for everyone, I went back to buy a few extra biscuits. The woman at the counter waved my credit card off and said, “I got you honey”, and added a few biscuits free of charge.

The error was mine, but she easily and gladly bore the cost and made sure I was happy.

I’m also dealing with the SC dept of revenue this week. Some clerical error has them believing that all of the 2017 revenue for Praxis was to me personally, and that I owe unpaid taxes on it. I can show them articles of incorporation, bank documents, and every other proof that it was company income which was taxed and reported already, but since some form two years ago had improperly been tied to me, they can’t just fix it. It’s still unclear whether the mistake was on me, them, or Intuit Quickbooks. But even though the rep there knows it’s not correct, she’s powerless. I can show her stuff but she can’t undo the paperwork. I could offer her money to fix it and she still couldn’t.

Unlike the Bojangles employee, the woman working for the bureaucracy has no agency. She has no ability to read the situation, adjust, and do the simple thing that gets the spirit of the law right despite errors in the letter.

This is what drives people to madness when dealing with bureaucracy. They aren’t dealing with humans or common sense or decency or logic.

Bojangles is better than the government. Why? Competition. Voluntary entry and exit. The need to win customer dollars instead of take them with armed agents.

That’s it. All the other stuff emerges out of that ugly fact.

Bojangles doesn’t throw you in a cage if you don’t buy their product. Government does.

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They Know Better

Moral reasoning is hard.  It’s so hard, in fact, that most people do little moral reasoning.  Instead, as Daniel Kahneman would expect, they perform a mental substitution.  Rather than wonder, “What’s morally right?,” they ask, “What’s socially acceptable?”

In decent societies, this seems fairly harmless.  When your society is even selectively evil, however, the substitution is disastrous.  Strictly following standard social norms in Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, or Maoist China is murder.

Which brings us to a pressing question: How do you know whether your society is evil?  Or to make matters even starker: How hard was it for the average adult in Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, or Maoist China to know that their societies were evil?  If people can’t readily figure that out on their own, what moral questions can they answer?

My claim: Figuring out that Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and Maoist China are evil is an easy task for almost anyone – including lifelong members of those societies.  How so?  By applying two principles that a child can understand.

Principle #1: Turnaround. When a child mistreats each other, adults routinely ask the offender something like, “Would it be all right if someone did that to you?”  When you’re faced with complex moral hypotheticals, this question won’t get you far.  But when you’re wondering, “Is it all right to murder some peaceful but unpopular people?,” you really can fast forward to the right answer just by asking, “If you were a Jew/kulak/money-lender, would it be all right to murder you?”

Principle #2: Bad laws are made to be broken. Virtually everyone in every society regularly breaks the law – and they usually do so with a clean conscience.  This is clearly true when the law inflicts great suffering for no good reason.  Yet people also routinely break laws simply because the laws are obviously stupid.  A few people may claim to “Always follow the law,” but even these stubborn folk spend little time actually studying the laws to ensure they don’t accidentally break one.  Neither do they feel guilty about their lackadaisical effort to master the body of laws they’re nominally determined to strictly obey.  And since people already break the law to cut a few minutes off their commute, the idea that they should disobey laws ordering the murder of Jews/kulaks/money-lenders is only an intellectual baby step.

None of this means that ordinary people in Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, or Maoist China were morally obliged to die as martyrs.  However, it does mean ordinary people in these societies could easily figure out that their societies were deeply evil – and they should at least covertly strive to avoid complicity.  If they failed to figure that out, it is because they culpably failed to apply moral principles they understood since childhood.

The moral standards for people who actually formed and carried out these policies were, of course, much higher.  I’ve quoted Spiderman before and I’ll quote him again: With great power comes great responsibility.  Ordinary people have no obligation to devote their lives to the study of moral philosophy and social science.  But anyone who wields political power over thousands of human beings – much less millions – absolutely does.

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Want Lower Drug Prices? Make the FDA’s Authority Advisory, Not Regulatory

Americans pay more for our prescription drugs than other people do — half again as much as Canadians or Germans, more than twice as much as Greeks or Italians.

In recent years, those costs have become a major issue in the political debate over health care. Proposals to address drug prices range from allowing Americans to buy their drugs from abroad, to allowing government health programs like Medicare to directly negotiate lower prices, to having the government itself manufacture generic drugs.

One suggestion I don’t see very often is reconsidering the authority of the US Food and Drug Administration to bar drugs from sale in the US until they’ve passed an expensive and time-consuming regulatory approval process.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, tens of thousands of babies were born worldwide with birth defects. Only a few of the afflicted children were born in the US, because the FDA hadn’t approved thalidomide (some American women received it through a testing program; others used it abroad).

But then a strange thing happened. Instead of congratulating FDA on the save, Congress expanded its authority even further. Oddly, regulatory agencies tend to ask for, and get, more power every time they succeed … and every time they fail.

This expanded authority made it more difficult and expensive to get new drugs approved for sale in the US. And Congress’s mistake has cost Americans not just money but lives.

Tens of thousands of patients died of second strokes and heart attacks while FDA dragged its heels on the approval of the beta blocker propranolol.

It took decades to get a now common (and sometimes lifesaving) substance — cyanoacrylate, aka “human body glue” — approved. During those decades, it was sold cheaply on store shelves under various “super glue” labels while patients bled out and died of traumatic injuries or internal ulcers it could have been used to seal.

No, we don’t want more patient deaths and injuries. But it’s not clear what a true balance sheet would say about how many lives FDA has saved versus how many Americans its regulations have killed.

Lately, FDA seems more interested in feeding a moral panic over “e-cigarettes” to expand its power even further than in executing its supposed mission of “protecting the public health.”

I am not suggesting that there are no dangerous drugs. Of course there are dangerous drugs. And some of those dangerous drugs are approved by the FDA and the dangers only discovered later.

An FDA with only advisory powers would still be able to monitor the public health and warn doctors and patients about dangerous drugs.

But actual testing of drugs to determine their safety and efficacy is better left to an Underwriters Laboratories type non-profit financed by insurers whose costs go up and profits wane when they pay high prices for bad drugs that hurt their customers — the patients.

Unfortunately, American politicians seem more interested in empowering themselves and the regulatory agencies they oversee than in actually addressing the high costs of prescription drugs.

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