The Problem with Libertarianism

Libertarianism has created some excitement among the American masses recently in lock-step with the perception that government interference in citizens' lives is on the rise. However, opponents like to point out that libertarianism is not a panacea to societal ills, that there are problems with the philosophy. At least one of those problems, even among journalists, seems to be that no one can agree upon what it actually means or what its adherents stand for...


Obamacare Proving My Point Better Than I Ever Could

I have spoken unfavorably about Obamacare many times on this page. While I didn't like the voting process related to it, the forced coverage language or the taxes and the rising costs that would necessarily be associated with it, my real core argument against it was always a little more nuanced. After all, single-payer systems (I know Obamacare is not that; maybe that is part of the problem) in some places work well, are viewed favorably, and are entrenched as critical safety nets in the societies they exist in.

No, my problem with Obamacare was not that it existed, or that some were daring to dream about universal(ish) coverage, but rather that the United States would be running it. Evidence since its inception has done nothing to change my viewpoint, and it has indeed made more 'nuanced' and practical opponents out of many people who opposed it simply on gut previously. The process itself is doing more to prove my points than my limited writing skills have allowed for. As the lawyers in the crowd might say, res ipsa loquitur...


The Price of Liberty...

I had to make a quick stop into the office this morning. Unfortunately, part of the Metro system I would have taken was closed. Fear not dear readers - this was due to weekend track work, not a lesser-reported government shutdown!

Instead of taking the shuttle that was on offer, I decided instead to walk the rest of my trip as it was nice out and as it was less than two miles (if I am being honest, I could probably use the exercise as well). On the way, and on a piece of granite in front of the National Archives I have probably passed dozens of times in a cab or else otherwise too preoccupied to notice, was a quote: "Vigilance is the price of liberty".

While it is a nice quote, and probably wouldn't look out of place on a t-shirt or a bumper sticker on a pick-up truck, I began to wonder something very simple; on whose pick-up truck?

Indeed, the quote could mean very different things to different people. To a Supreme Court justice, it could mean being vigilant in the face of unconstitutional laws. To a border patrol agent or DEA agent, it might mean being vigilant at our borders. It would have obvious implications for a Senator on an oversight committee, or a Secret Service agent or a soldier or any number of people who pass through Washington, DC on a regular basis.

However, to me it holds a special resonance simply as a citizen. In the face of NSA surveillance, drone activity, Google data collection, internet scams and everything else that could put our liberty at risk, it is particularly important that citizens remain vigilant. While there have been some signs of this in recent times, it is clear that not enough of a tax is being paid for the benefit of liberty in America today. Maybe laziness or apathy is to blame. Perhaps it is a ratings and agenda-driven media.

In any case, if the quote is to ring true, it must start, as a baseline, with the people. Otherwise its intended meaning (there are many variations and many attributions; I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that most who are presumed to have uttered the words have something in line with my meaning in mind) will become so bastardized as to be rendered irrelevant.


Two Very Different Perspectives on the IPCC Climate Change Report

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released its fifth report on climate change. From The Huffington Post:

"Since 1988, the IPCC has been compiling reports (this is the fifth) documenting the physical science behind climate change. In essence, it measures the extent and severity of global warming and its attendant impacts, and analyzes it alongside the global response to the problem.
Scientists work in tandem on the report; findings are collected based on group consensus. The science community studies articles on topics covering a continuum of subjects, including the impact of extreme weather occurrences (floods and droughts) on world poverty and hunger. The goal is to help shape international policy based on the substantiated data. The report is broken down into four components:
• The science of climate change
• Reports on the impacts of climate change
• Ways to moderate climate change
• A summation and integration of the previous three topics
The conclusions showed that there is no doubt about the reality of climate change; it is caused by human action. Directive: Immediate response is essential. Sea levels are rising, sea ice is declining, oceans are acidifying, and precipitation patterns are changing. There will be more severe floods, storms and droughts."
While the report has provoked a lot of responses, there have been two in particular which have caught my eye. One was tears, the other laughter. Tears of a clown anyone?


Live from Lebanon

Long-time readers may perhaps be familiar with the blog NOW. which covers social and political issues in the Middle East. Co-founder Anthony Elghossain recently sent his readers (including me) an email blast highlighting some of the stories he has been working on. Anyone who is interested can check out his note, as well as the highlighted posts, below.


What Makes Work Rewarding?

A friend of the site recently sent me a video clip of a TED speech by behavioral economist Dan Ariely. It is worth a watch for anyone who has had to navigate any bumpy roads in their professional life (and who hasn't?)


Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right (or Left)

Can police officers guarding closed national monuments be anything more than a shameless political stunt? For the skeptical, the following data points might be helpful. First, while I don't have first-hand knowledge, there were supposedly no armed guards on duty the last time there was a government shutdown. Nor are there typically multiple guards, on horseback or otherwise, congregated around the Lincoln Memorial.

However, there have been officers on horseback in front of the Lincoln Memorial at least some of the time since the shutdown. In addition to these officers, who need to be paid and supervised, there were crews (which also cost money) putting up barricades all last week around various National Mall attractions.

Some people call the government shutdown democracy in action under the premise that a minority has been able to hold up the governmental process. Others have derided the Tea Party contingent for putting everything from credit ratings to livelihoods in jeopardy. Even those of the latter persuasion will have to admit that spending money to prove a point when spending has supposedly been suspended is shameless and petty. Are there no grown-ups left in DC?

Let's Give this Another Shot...

It has certainly been a while since I posted anything of substance on this page. Indeed, this post, and those which will follow it, will mark my return from the longest layoff I have had since starting Blawgconomics - longer than pauses for final exams, moving, starting new jobs, taking the bar, or any other of the roadblocks which life has placed before me.

I cannot quite say why it has been so long since I have posted. I suppose a combination of work, some random adventures and plain old life have conspired against me. One thing that has most certainly not contributed is a lack of topics to write about; on the contrary, politicians behaving badly, the state of the economy (still) and geopolitical issues among other things have certainly provided enough fodder for a curmudgeon such as myself to pontificate on.

I will do my best to post on a number of things that I have been mulling over throughout week. In sitting down to begin that process, I can say that it feels good to be back. Typing at a laptop might not capture the nostalgist's imagination like putting quill to parchment, but there is a familiarity in embarking upon a series of posts which I have missed and which comforts me, like rekindling an affair with an old paramour. I hope readers enjoy the resurgence as much as I do...


I'll Be Back Soon...

To the extent that I have a consistent enough readership base that people notice when I haven't posted in a while (I know there are a few of you) it has likely become apparent that I have been focusing on other endeavors in recent weeks. Quite simply my real job has been taking up a lot of my free time in addition to my regular hours. However I have a few posts in the queue and plan on publishing again soon.

In short, please keep checking in - there will be new content up within a few days.


Old Thoughts on Zimmerman Still Apply...

It seems incredible for so many reasons that I first published the reprinted post below over a year ago...

The Dual Critical Role and Culpability of the Media in State v. Zimmerman

After it was widely reported last week that George Zimmerman had posted bail and would be free while waiting for his trial to begin, I resolved for the umpteenth time to write a bit about the situation. It only seems right to tackle one of the biggest legal stories of the day on a legal blog after all. Indeed it might be fair to ask why I haven't yet.

To be honest, I have found it to be incredibly difficult to form and express an opinion on this case. The main reason is that I was uncomfortable doing so without knowing all of the facts. The fact is, I didn't know what happened between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin in the aftermath of the shooting. Maybe Zimmerman was a racist, intent on killing an African American for sport without fear of retribution. Maybe Zimmerman was afraid for his life after a youth he had been following as a neighborhood watcher attacked him. I just didn't know.

As both of those versions of the events of that night made the rounds once the story went national, it would have been easy for me to grasp onto one version or another. Maybe this would have been influenced by my own prejudices. Maybe it would have been influenced by the websites I tend to visit, or the channels I tend to watch, or the commentators I tend to read. The fact is, the stories that were coming out were so self-serving to whatever side was writing the script that I refused to buy either version.

Now, it has become clearer with the passage of time that something happened between Zimmerman and Martin which, at the very least, requires the opinion of a jury to sort out. It is likely at this point that no one, aside from Zimmerman himself, has a clearer picture of the events of that tragic night than the prosecution. Once the prosecution elected to forego the opinion of a grand jury and went directly to pretrial with a second degree murder charge, it became much clearer to me that, in the eyes of the law, Zimmerman at the least has some questions to answer. And, if it is found that Zimmerman has acted outside the law, I would like to think that most people would be united by a hope that justice is served.

At least some of what has developed to this point in the case can be attributed to the role of the media in making sure the story made it to the public eye. Without media coverage of the Justice for Trayvon movement, the story likely would have died. This clearly would have been a negative for our society and our justice system if it is found that Zimmerman acted outside the law. This is a point which is critical, and I hope that nothing I write suggests that I don't believe the media should have reported on this case.

However, it is my opinion that the media did more than report in this situation and I am still left wondering if the media's involvement in the case has hindered justice or helped it. I haven't been to Florida since the shooting, but my sense is that opinions in this case vary widely with a gap that only became more pronounced as the media inserted itself into the debate. If Martin was entirely innocent, and the Skittles and iced tea image is the correct one, certainly jurors who would want to believe otherwise will now have phantom gashes-on-the-back-of-the-head to grasp onto. Conversely, even if Zimmerman was justified under Florida law in protecting himself, there are those who will be certain to convict him anyway, remembering pre-trial, quietly recanted Today Show videos which seemingly proved racism.

As is often the case in our hyper-polarized society, these very different versions of the story were available depending on whether one chose to receive their news from the peacock or the fox. Of course this isn't a new phenomenon, it is just one more in a parade of situations where the media has drifted away from traditional standards of reporting facts as facts and speculation as speculation, or not at all. Aside from shunting aside standards of ethical journalism, this could have some real world implications.

I don't know who was at fault for Trayvon Martin's shooting. As I am not a Florida resident, there is no possibility that I will have to decide. However the Floridians who do have to make some very difficult decisions about what justice means in this case will have to do so after being barraged with 'facts' from the media for almost a quarter of a year. The media, on both sides of the debate, has exerted a type of power which means that they might have a significant say over the outcome of this situation. And that is unfortunate for all Americans who truly care about justice.

Morris On Immigration

Long-time readers may remember a series of video guest posts on the Drug War that I posted on behalf of friend of the site Rob Morris. Mr. Morris is back, this time with his thoughts on immigration:

NoCo, Or: The Fifty First State

From CBS News in Denver:
"There’s a growing effort to create a 51st state out of parts of northeast Colorado.
Ten counties, including Weld and Morgan, started talking about seceding last month. Now some people Lincoln and Cheyenne counties say they want to join a new state they’d call “North
Organizers of the secession effort say their interests are not being represented at the state Capitol. Representatives from the 10 counties held a meeting on Monday in the town of Akron in Weld County to begin mapping the boundaries for the new state they say will represent the interests of rural Colorado."
This isn't the first state secessionist movement I have ever heard of, nor will is it likely to be the last. However, it does seem that, during an era of hyper-partisanship, splits might become more likely (if still relatively unlikely) to actually occur. We will be keeping an eye on this one...