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Here is the very first edition of my new Antiwar.com column, “The War at Home.” In the column I intend to write about drones, propaganda, police, feds, spying, and anything else that makes sense under that domestic-leaning banner.

First off, a plea for caution about still more militarization of the border. Border advocates should reconsider how comfortable they are with drone fleets and scores of thousands of Border Patrol officers. So should the folks who are so keen on amnesty. They may accept some bad legislation that makes that problem worse.

For months, Senate Bill 744 – which would reform immigration and make citizenship possible for some of the 11 million individuals living illegally in the U.S. – has been stuck in the House. Generally, Republicans think it is too soft. Democrats have pushed and compromised. But the bill is bad. Not because granting amnesty is bad, but because the border issue is already intruding into the lives of average Americans as well as migrant workers. The last thing we need is more money and more high-tech toys spent in the name of paranoia over “security.”

This bill increases all sorts of things of which we already have too many. Back in 1992, there were less than 5,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents. As of 2013, there were 21,000. S.B. 744 increases the number of Border Patrol agents to 38,000, mandates building enough fencing to cover 700 miles, and includes a strategy to make the border secure at last. All this at the low, low cost of 46 billion dollars. And all for “security” and for a projected 90 percent success rate in catching immigrants who mostly just wish to work and better their lives and the lives of their families.

Like all government agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will never decide on its own that it’s funded enough. It will keep keeping on in order to feed and justify itself and keep growing at a “reasonable” rate. But when will the border be sufficiently militarized? When there are 50 drones instead of the current 10, which occasionally crash? Small government advocates – or anyone skittish about open borders – should consider the inevitably of mission creep in all government endeavors – particularly the militaristic type. And pro immigrant-activists must seriously consider how much amnesty is worth, and whether they’re willing to trade it for a border that even more closely resembles a Maginot Line. The question of what to do with the areas between the U.S. and its neighbors affects both lawless migrants and legal U.S. citizens.

There’s a long line of legal precedent that says the borders don’t count in terms of Fourth Amendment protections. Though the drug war and the war on terror have cut many privacy protections off at the knees, they were always more ephemeral at the border. There a search simply has to be “reasonable.” And though the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) gets awfully intimate in airports, mild groping still pales in comparison to how close some Border Patrol agents can get to your private parts while searching for illicit items. Back in 1985, United States vs. Montoya de Hernandez confirmed the Border Patrol’s right to detain you until you defecate if they have a reasonable suspicion that you might be carrying drugs and you refuse an X-ray. More recently, a New Mexico resident who crossed the border near Ciudad Juarez was taken to the hospital and subjected to a cavity search and a CAT scan after she was suspected of drug smuggling.

The rest here.

Photo via Flickr user Karen Neoh

Photo via Flickr user Karen Neoh

Here at The Stag Blog we love Philip Seymour Hoffman and mourn his passing. I also believe that legalized heroin would save lives, especially those of the less privileged addicts or sometime-users of the drug. The idea that anyone has to weigh the fear of arrest and prison with the fear of them or a friend overdosing is a horrifying one. Those laws need to be changed now, not a few more decades after the David Brookses of the world accept that their marijuana hypocrisy might be excessive.

The below VICE piece doesn’t even cover the (also important) point that some people can do heroin or other hard drugs and not become addicted (check out: Jacob Sullum’s phenomenal Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use) and that all of this should be a personal choice, and morally speaking it is one.

When people talk about ending the drug war, they usually mean “no one should go to prison for marijuana.” There’s no doubt the public has shifted its collective opinion on pot—currently, a majority of Americans believe it should be as legal, regulated, and taxed as tobacco and alcohol—and naturally, politicians are beginning to sense the way the wind is blowing. But elected officials, like people at large, are less gung-ho about legalizing the harder drugs.

First, let’s clarify that no one is recommending that we all follow Philip Seymour Hoffman’sexample and start shooting up. Heroin is awful. Don’t do heroin. It fucks up your life. But as the case of the fentanyl-cut heroin that has killed 22 people in Pittsburgh illustrates, the only thing worse than legal heroin is illegal heroin.

The rest here

Since their founding in 2010, San Francisco-based car service Uber has made advances into more than 30 cities around the world. Staying there, however, is often an uphill slog as they battle regulators and buddies of the taxi or limo industries.

Objections to a service that allows consumers to order a car through a Smartphone app that come from trade groups, regulators, or other anti-capitalist capitalists are’t surprising, though their transparency on occasion is darkly amusing. It’s the objection from the common man, blogger, or journalist that is baffling. Uber, unlike taxis and their fixed rates, changes their prices based on weather, demand, and other logical economic factors. They do this to make the trips worth it for their drivers — thereby preventing a shortage of Uber cars when the demand is high. And that doesn’t mean they’re going to subsidize for those of us who can’t accord to pay $47 for a 2 mile cab ride. They have neither reason, not obligation to do so.

Pricing this honest makes some people unhappy. Indeed, hundreds of dollars for short rides during the recent winter stores, or during New Year’s Eve in New York City sound shocking, but these fares are based on high demand.  There some allegations that consumers weren’t warned ahead of time what the increase might be (though a commenter who professes to be an Uber driver disputes that). If so, that’s not going to win them good press. But most accounts of fare-shock don’t include specific allegations that say they weren’t warned about the jump in prices.

In fact, perhaps to sooth some of the recent backlash against them, just yesterday Uber announced they were experimenting with temporarily lower prices in 16 cities. This means that the price of an UberX car — a less fancy type of vehicle than Uber often sends — in some cities will fall below that of taxis. And taxis, for all their ills, do tend to be pretty cheap rides. The problem tends with them tends to be an almost complete lack of them in certain cities (like Pittsburgh), or a shortage of them made artificial by caps the drivers or on starting a new company all together.

We see it in New York City, where the cab medallions that let customers hail you from the street were capped at 11,000 for 70 years, and there are only a few thousand more today. No wonder they cost as much as condo in New York City. We see it in Pittsburgh, where I have waited for three hours for cabs that didn’t come (waited at a liberal arts college in a nice neighborhood, so let’s go out on a limb and assume minorities in worse neighborhoods don’t bother to call Yellow Cab at all). A few years ago, I drove around for a few hours with a jitney driver(/cartoonist/generally fascinating character). He swore there must be 1000 illegal cabs in the city, mostly serving poor, black neighborhoods, as he does.

The law in Pittsburgh puts the onus on a new, upstart cab company to prove that they won’t take business way from Yellow Cab or which ever company got into the turf first. This makes a mockery of competition, and there’s no way I can think of to sell it as a pro-consumer action, though be my guest if you want to give it a try. Now, I’ve heard people complain about DC cabs, and there are plenty of clunky laws and advocates for worse ones, but coming from Pittsburgh, DC was a joy. I could hail a cab and be in one in five minutes.

Though Uber is currently out of the price range of some poorer folks, railing against their existence is still the privilege of someone with lots of transportation options. Bitching about the convenience-dystopia that Uber is ushering in with the touch of a Smartphone is your prerogative. But like all myopic declarations of how the world should be, the Valleywag piece that said as much neglected to consider the implications of their shitty, no-show cabs paradise. (Valleywag seem to have a bizarrely intense vendetta against Uber, judging by past blogs.) How many of those illegal jitney cabdrivers in Pittsburgh might like to advertise their services and perhaps earn more money by starting a legal company?

It’s hard to argue that multiple cab companies is somehow less safe than hundreds of unmarked cars. Complaints about the standards or the behavior of driver from Purple Cow Cabs can be acted upon by authorities. Whereas, that guy in the unmarked car stole my wallet, tried to assault me, or dropped me on a highway overpass instead of home is a bit harder to follow up on. Similarly, drivers would be safer knowing they can go to police and report robberies or other problems. (Police mostly look the other way about Pittsburgh jitneys, as far as I know, but that’s not the same thing as giving them freedom to advertise their services and grow their business.) Like every other banned substance or service, from sex-for-pay, to narcotics, to abortion, to immigration, transportation happens regardless of restrictions. And like those other “vices”, the safety of those involved in these economic transactions could be heightened by giving people the freedom to work without fear of government crackdown.

So why are so people objecting to Uber? Last month, Slate’s main econ guy Matt Yglesias wrote a surprisingly solid piece on the company, his premise being that yes, they should be regulated, but no more so than regular transports. Emissions, safety, licensing, insurance, and other standards that already apply will apply. Basically:

“You need rules about what’s an acceptable vehicle, who’s an acceptable driver, and what’s an acceptable way to pilot the vehicle.

But you don’t need rules that specifically discriminate against rides for hire.”

Relative to much of humanity and their slack-jawed hunger for more revenue and restrictions, that was a Rothbardian cry of freed markets, ho! Any leftist who has a terror of a world without regulations should at least be able to grant that the ones on taxi cabs are too much. The restrictions favor one business over others at the expense of the consumer, and untold potential entrepreneurs, many of whom are poor minorities or immigrants.

That knowledge is spreading a bit, or at least has become more news-worthy thanks to Uber and its ilk. Even folks with a sad story of Uber surge pricing to tell, like The New York Times’ Annie Lowrey, don’t seem entirely opposed to the company. Lowrey also makes the savvy point that Uber’s painfully honest prices feel particularly bizarre because taxi services have had their prices fixed long before the invention of the car.

On the other hand, pieces like George Mason assistant professor Siona Listokin’s are disheartening. So close, but so wrong; Listokin describes (also in Slate) some of the horrible, stifling, unfair taxi laws currently n existence. And then she writes that Yglesias is wrong about Uber:

[T]here are very good reasons to regulate hired vehicles. Giving my friend a ride somewhere in my car has different economic and social implications for a city than picking up a stranger and driving her someplace for a fee, Uber style. That said, Uber should be regulated differently than other taxi services, for a reason that may seem odd at first: The company collects a plethora of data that has never before existed in the cab industry. For the first time, Uber’s data can allow policymakers to directly measure taxi fares, the availability of cars, and the safety records of drivers without having to control every element of the market. If cities are smart, that could mean better oversight with less regulation.

The entire rest of the piece mixes examples of rubbish laws with a creepy hope that Uber’s data can be used for smart regulations of this industry. Listokin could be a lot worse here, but she could be a hell of a lot better. Her faux-pragmatic call for not less, maybe but definitely better laws, with lots and lots of useful data, will sound good to the people who believe it’s the job of private citizens to ask for permission for every endeavor. (Not ask, why shouldn’t I be free to peacefully pursue this? Prove to me why I shouldn’t be able to do this, etc.)

To Listokin, couldn’t it be argued that since cities all over the country have demonstrated that their regulations are not hands-off, not smart, and not fairly applied among different companies, that it’s time for a change? Let’s do it. Let’s go wild west and let people drive one another two and from destinations for a fee. No Michael Badnarik-esque call to rip up our driver’s licenses, no call to abolish auto insurance, for now can’t we all agree to let people drive each other from point A to point B without rubbing our hands together with glee over what else we can get out of it?

An El Niño is one of Mother Nature’s ways of reminding us who’s in charge.

The complexities of just this gigantic process alone — which basically drives the planet’s climate — is proof of the idiocy and willful ignorance of those who think man’s puny effluents has anything serious to do with global warming/climate change.

It takes some reading, but this is clear and enlightening stuff from WattsUpWithThat.com, where GW BS gets debunked.

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