Sunday, August 13, 2017

Charlottesville and the Alt-Right

I know a number of people angered by the events over the past few days in Charlottesville. Rightly so. I am sure there are a number of people-hopefully, far fewer-emboldened by those events. In case you live under a rock or outside of the US, I'm talking about the protest and counter-protest swirling around Neo-Nazis and Confederate symbols in Virginia. Oh, and the violence that happened. Politically motivated violence. Terrorism.

Let's look at the definition of that last word, shall we? Terrorism: n., the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

Sure, the lawyer in me says we need to wait to see if the young man who killed a counter-protester is guilty of murder, blah, blah, blah. The realist says that a man photographed with the Vanguard America folks absolutely intended to inflict harm in furtherance of his twisted ideology. Don't worry, the link is to the info page about the group created by the Anti-Defamation League; I wouldn't send traffic to a Nazi group.

Here is where it gets tricky for me. I firmly believe that the ideals of our country militate for supporting the right to spew this sort of ideological hogwash. The right to be politically, and actually, hateful does not mean they are right. I think all Americans in their right mind can agree that Neo-Nazis are wrong. The fact that they pretend to represent the ideals of the conservative right should mean that conservatives need to be even more vocal in expressing opposition to this sort of repugnant creed.

To be clear: I am conservative. The beliefs and hatreds fundamental to the white supremacist and Nazi movements are abhorrent. Left and Right, Democrat and Republican, we can-and should-all be able to say that they do not represent us and the hatred they espouse has no place in our Republic.

Let me just remind you, in closing, calling for people to "punch Nazis in the face" is also a call for terrorism... But, this is a topic for further discussion.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


A few rudimentary thoughts on economic theory forthcoming. I say rudimentary because I am a little fuzzy on my econ classes from well over a decade ago and I don't feel like putting the extra time into brushing up while my brain is turning this into words. Therefore, any mistakes of fact or logic are all mine. Correct me if you care.

As the election cycle has churned on, the rhetoric and vitriol remains far more important than persuading the voters of the wisdom of the party platform. Emotion trumps reason in most of the population's mental decision tree. But isn't there a very good reason for this, at least when dealing with economic policy?

As I see it, economic analysis and projection work very well when viewed through certain, objective, criteria. For example, assuming that a given population behaves in a rational and self-interested manner, various economic projections can be accurately made. Supply vs demand, production in comparison with consumption, etc. The problem arises when we start trying to determine what those rational, self-interested people will deem is rational self-interest.

Here is what I mean: Every single one of us determines the value of every transaction we enter into (or abstain from) based on extremely personal factors. If we assume every person is alike, we can accurately gauge and predict outcomes. Once we have individuals in the mix, every rational outcome is different. Yet we try to make those predictions and policy decisions anyway. Perhaps we can accurately say, "The majority of people would choose x over y. Therefore, x policy choice is more likely to have the desired outcome." But I doubt it.

Reagan's trickle down economics makes perfect sense using certain assumptions about people and businesses. However, those assumptions turned out to not have the effects that were thought. Communist command economies work under another set of assumptions about personal and collective behavior. Those assumptions have also shown to be erroneous. In short, no economic model can actually be accurate for long, given the fluid nature of human interest and fickle thought.

That leaves me one conclusion: policy must be made based on the policy maker's own moral compass. If a person believes that an action or policy is the right one to take in order to gain a moral good (not necessarily the same as a religious goal, mind you), then take the stand. Do the right thing.

Yes, I understand that policy makers are making calls that affect a wide swath of people and they must keep that in mind. But that does not change the fact that whatever assumptions they use to model the effects of their policies will reflect their own moralities. All I'm saying is own it. Believe in it. And explain to the masses why you are right. Or, at the very least, not a raving lunatic trying to burn the world down.

In the end, even the powerful must be able to live with themselves.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Seriously Syria

I know I'm a little late on the Syria post, given some of the recent news that might diffuse the situation, but I think a word or two is still in order.

First, should we take military action in Syria? No. I'm not saying this from a "look at the polls" perspective, though the overwhelming distaste of the American public should say something to the administration. I'm saying this from a realpolitik perspective. Attacking Syria serves no national interest of the United States. In fact, attacking without international support (more than "moral support" from some nations) and direct opposition from international giants like Russia could hurt US interests abroad.

Syria is in a civil war. Interjecting ourselves has a real possibility of destabilizing the Middle East further, depending on the reaction any military incursion might illicit from Iran and Russia. Just because the Syrian government used chemical weapons during the fighting does not mean we should be supporting the other side-who might not be squeaky clean on the weapons front either. This is not a case of enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend.

Second, how can those who supported the invasion of Iraq be against intervention in Syria? Easy, in Iraq there was a UN mandate telling Hussein that military repercussions were available if he continued to stall and delay weapons inspectors. I can elaborate further on this aspect, if readers so desire.

For further reading go here, here, and here.

Edit: I'd also like to add Putin's NYTimes Op Ed as required reading.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Why not politics?

I believe I have used before the words of Daniel Webster: 
There are men, in all ages, who mean to exercise power usefully; but who mean to exercise it. They mean to govern well; but they mean to govern. They promise to be kind masters; but they mean to be masters.
This (almost) sums up why I have often said I will not go into politics. I have been asked many times and by many people, some of whom I did not even know, whether I would become a politician. I have been told I should try to fix the errors I perceive in government. I have been told that my education (political science and law) should be put to good use. That platitude "be the change you wish to see in the worlds" has been thrown at me countless times.

I decline to do so.

Webster had it right, in many ways. However, I do not entirely agree with the quote. I firmly believe that most politicians go into politics because they hold a set of ideals, a goal, a belief that they can do some good for our country by being elected. They run, not to restructure or destroy our country, but because they have a vision to make our country a better place. Obviously, many politicians and people have different ideas about what makes our country "a better place." But the fact remains that I believe they generally have the same goal and generic reasons for becoming politically active.

I would be no different. I have my idea of what is good political theory. I have my idea of what makes for good policy. I have my idea of in which arenas the government should mettle and which arenas should be sacrosanct. Most importantly, I am arrogant enough to believe that I might be good at it.

When President Jefferson was first inaugurated, he said, "Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others?" This is the real reason I decline to work in politics. I do not trust myself to ignore the pull of power. This is why I believe so many of our politicians are so disliked. The exercise of power is enthralling. 

Perhaps politicians need to remember that not every problem can be solved by the government. Perhaps politicians need to remember that not every problem should be solved by the government. Perhaps politicians need to remember that electing not to use power may be the best use of the trust that voters have placed in them. Perhaps we need politicians who do not wish to use the power they have been given. Perhaps I should be a politician after all.

Monday, February 11, 2013

I've Said It Before...

... and I'm sure I'll say it again. Anti-corporate personhood movements show a supreme lack of understanding of the underpinnings of corporate law. Also, they show a lack of understanding of the reasoning behind Constitutional protections for the individual.

I ran across this today. I know it isn't new. I know it isn't news. It is, however, noteworthy.

Why? Let's see if I can break down the problems with this proposal. Right off the bat, I have problems with the drafting of the proposal. The first section is designed to strip Constitutional protections from corporate entities. Just take a moment to consider what Constitutional protections companies currently enjoy. We have the controversial right to free speech-political or advertising, both have some significant restrictions. We have the famous freedom of the press (almost exclusively corporations, up until the advent of the blogosphere). We have the protections of the 4th Amendment against unreasonable search and seizure. We have the protections of the 5th Amendment, though only the takings clause really applies to companies.

Certainly, one could argue that corporate owners could protest things such as governmental seizures without just compensation. But the arguments to get there if the assets are in the corporate name get murky quickly. Absolutely, one could say that Freedom of the Press should apply when the corporation is a publishing company. The words are not its own, but rather those of the authors it publishes. But, it could just as easily be argued the other way. It could easily go the other way in the 4th Amendment context, given that amendment specifically says "person." Therefore, no company could complain if the police rifled through corporate documents without giving even enough reason to get a warrant. Oh, but don't worry, the information in corporate documents wouldn't violate private rights. Go ahead and look through the corporately held documents of that bank, or Facebook.

Furthermore, some problems would arise from this. First, federal judicial power is restricted to citizens. Currently, calling a corporation a fictional person also makes the corporation a citizen of a state. Strip that fictional status, you leave the corporation the ability to claim the federal judiciary has no jurisdiction over the corporation. It is, admittedly, a stretch to argue. However, get the right judge (perhaps one who disagrees with the amendment) and you can get the case tossed.

Lastly, a goodly portion of the Constitution is directed toward disallowing the various States from imposing laws that restrict or impair trade between the States. I'll end by asking: what do you think disparate corporate legal protection-especially given the words of the full faith and credit clause-would do to trade across state borders?

Friday, January 11, 2013


I found this through a friend today and thought I should share. ~ P

I keep hearing people say they want to regulate guns the way we regulate cars.  They don't really mean that, of course.  What they mean is they want to make it acceptable to find more ways to intrude on the right to keep and bear arms.

I propose instead, we regulate cars the way we regulate guns.  Let's start:

To buy or operate a standard car, one will have to be 18 years old.  Under that age, adult supervision will be mandatory.  This means the adult must be in the vehicle with the underage driver.

To buy a sports car, you will have to be 21.  A "Sports car" will be defined as any combination of any two of the following: 2 doors instead of 4, spoked rims not requiring hubcaps, aerodynamic effects such as spoilers or air dams, a wheelbase under 100 inches, a manual transmission, a curb weight under 3000 lbs, fiberglass or other non-metal construction, or painted logos. 

For every purchase, you will have to fill out a questionnaire confirming you're a US citizen, do not use drugs or abuse alcohol, have never had a conviction for alcohol related incidents or reckless driving.  Lying on this form will be punishable by 10 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

New cars will only be purchased from Federal Automobile Licensees who must provide fingerprints, proof of character, secure storage for all vehicles, and who must call the Federal Bureau of Motor Vehicles to verify your information before purchase.  They may approve or decline or delay the sale.  If they decline, you may appeal the decision in writing to a review board.  If they delay, it becomes an approval automatically after 10 days. However, the dealer may decline to complete such a sale in case of later problems.  

Additionally, the purchase of more than two cars in a given year will require signing an understanding that buying cars in order to resell them without a license is a crime.  There is an 11% federal excise tax on all new vehicles, plus any state or local tax.

Federal Automobile Licensees must agree to submit to 24/7/365, unannounced, unscheduled searches of their entire homes, businesses and any relates properties and personal effects to be named later.

Then you will be eligible to take your drivers' license test to determine your eligibility to operate on the street.  Rules will vary by state, with some states requiring proof of need to own a vehicle for business purposes, and up to 40 hours of professional education.  Also, not all states will accept all licenses.  You will need to keep track of this information. Additionally, speed limits will not be posted.  It is your responsibility to research the driving laws in each area you wish to travel through.  Some communities may not allow out of state vehicles, sports cars, or even any vehicles at all.  Violation of these laws will result in confiscation and destruction of your vehicle by crushing.

To have a turbocharger, supercharger (External Engine Compression Devices) or a muffler will require an application to the Federal Bureau of Motor Vehicles.  A $2000 tax stamp will be required for these High Performance Vehicles.  Your request must also be signed by the local chief law enforcement officer, and you must provide fingerprints.  If approved in 10-16 weeks, you will be responsible for keeping your High Performance Vehicle in secure storage, and request permission in writing to take it out of state.  You will need to carry this documentation with you.  There are 13 states that do not allow possession of High Performance Vehicles.  Be sure you are aware of those laws before planning your trips. (But really, what do you need such a vehicle for anyway? Who really needs to drive that fast? You must willingly accept and adhere to the socially accepted idea that you are inherently evil for merely possessing such a fast, high powered automobile.)

Additionally, superchargers and turbochargers must be manufactured before June 1, 1986. They may be sold and refitted by a FAL who also has a Special Occupational Tax license authorizing him to work on these.  New superchargers, however, are a violation of federal law, except for use by the police or military, or specific government contractors. Expect to pay $15-$30,000 each for these items.  Mufflers will only cost from $250-$1000, plus the $2000 stamp.  However, once the muffler is damaged, it must be disposed of by cutting it into three pieces. Failure to do this may result in your family going through the next decade only knowing you in a prison jumpsuit and all your bank accounts seized and never replenished.

Imported sports cars will be prohibited. You may purchase other items from foreign manufacturers, but your automobile is in a special class of prohibition due to its inherently evil and sinister nature. The frames may be imported, cut into three pieces, and reassembled with US made engines and suspensions, as long as 60% of the parts are American.  Shortly, though, the Transmission Loophole will be closed.  The purpose of allowing imports is for spare parts, not to build more destructive "race vehicles.”  Transmissions will have to be US made.

Repairs may only be conducted by a licensed FAL, who will send a truck to retrieve your vehicle.  It must be a flatbed type truck, winch/dolly trucks are not allowed, under 10/$10,000 penalty.  You may work on your own vehicle, but any repair that exceeds emission or performance standards will be subject to federal criminal charges. And violation of this reasonable regulation could result in not only your imprisonment and the confiscation of your assets but imprisonment of any employee or family member who was insane enough to repair your “race car” for you.

Be aware that an existing HPV may have multiple HP Features.  A new HPV will require a license for each feature you wish to add to it—one each for muffler or external engine compression device. And you must request and receive, in writing, permission from the federal, state and local governing authorities prior to making such modifications.

Converting a standard car to a sports car will require payment of a $2000 tax, even if no HP features are added.  However, if an FAL/SOT does the conversion on a new frame before the vehicle leaves their premises, it will only be a $50 tax.   You will need to carry this documentation in the glove box at all times, the mere failure of which alone can result in an arrest and possible conviction.

There is discussion of closing the Car Dealer Loophole, through which private individuals sell cars to friends without going through an FAL.  It is important we have these background checks.  Surveys show criminals prefer to buy unlicensed to get around their legal liabilities so they can commit crimes in stolen vehicles, which evidence has proven for many years to be true.

Some vehicle law convictions will result in loss of your driving privileges forever.  This includes reckless operation, drunk driving, an incorrect bumper height or attachment, or the wrong type of exhaust.  Collisions may also result in permanent loss of driving, if injury occurs and negligence is proven.  In addition, any felony conviction of any kind--even tax evasion--will mean permanent loss of your driving privileges.  In these cases, it will even be illegal to ride or sit in a friend's car.

There is also discussion of prohibiting brightly colored vehicles. Vehicles are transportation, not toys, and should not be marketed in a way that suggests they are intended for casual use. It is important that everyone be aware of the dangerous nature of cars.

In the future, we may have to consider large displacement engines (anything over 2.5 liters) and transmissions with more than three speeds as being High Performance Items to be added to the federal registry.  There will be a window during which you can register your items for $2000 each, provided you meet the background check.  Otherwise, you will have to immediately surrender them to an FAL/SOT to dispose of on your behalf.  Operating an unlicensed HPV after this date will result in confiscation and destruction of the vehicle, and the 10/$10,000 punishment.

These laws and regulations are due to drunk drivers, reckless drivers and other criminals.  The automobile community should be glad it is allowed to exist at all, given all the deaths and environmental damage caused by these vehicles.

The president said today that he strongly supports your right to own and drive basic, standard vehicles for farm use and carpooling. But he and many other people have made it clear that eventually – maybe this month – we need to cease all manufacturing of such high powered automobiles for the civilian market.

Eventually, we need to move away from the notion that owning and operating a vehicle is a right and entitlement, and limit it to people with a proven, bona fide professional need.  There are plenty of trains and buses for normal people.  This is how most civilized nations are moving and is not a violation of your right to travel.

©2013 by Michael Z. Williamson
Permission to share granted for non profit purposes as long as this notice is included.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Alright, folks, it is getting into the home stretch of election time. That means I get angry at every political advertisement I see.

There is a very simple reason for this problem. Almost every political campaign (and the arguments of the candidates' supporters) relies on heavy use of persuasive language. These efforts at persuasion invariably rely on logical fallacies. Why? Because the audience usually does not know enough, does not pay close enough attention, or is too emotionally embroiled to notice. Once those argument slip into the debate, emotions run higher and tend to leave the combatants even more emotionally strung out and even less able to form logical arguments. Am I guilty of using such tactics? Absolutely. If I can raise some one else's blood pressure enough that they aren't thinking well, I'll do it. It makes them more likely to be flustered and not notice the weaknesses in my arguments.

But, as a public service, I want to run down some of the most common fallacies I see in politics.

1. The ad hominem-the personal attack. If you don't want to argue the point, just smear the opponent... I'm sure no one will notice you refused to actually answer the question.

2. The appeal to authority-ummm, I'm not really sure, but that guy with a bunch of degrees says this is so. He must be right.

3. The appeal to emotion-to prove myself right, I will make you feel sorry for my side of the argument.

4. Begging the Question-Have you stopped beating your wife? Simply, the question assumes a premise.

5. Confusing Cause and Effect-gun ownership and food poisoning are both rising, therefore, food poisoning causes gun ownership. Or do I have that backwards....

6. The Straw Man-by not supporting gun control, my opponent is putting guns into the hands of criminals...

Those are just a few that stand out, even though the examples are out of my imagination.

For more reading on the subject look here, here, here, or just Google "logical fallacies." Or, if you want Wikipedia, go here and here.