When Pandemic Was Our Neighbor

I’ve been reading “The British Are Coming,” by Rick Atkinson, a history of the American Revolutionary War, which is a fantastic book.1 One thing that has struck me was how precarious life used to be. Of course, I know how disease and death was much more common in the past, from plagues and pandemics and accidents and war and childbirth. But as Atkinson relates the story of the Revolution, he always lists alongside the casualties from battle, how many more men and women died from disease. Almost 3 times as many Americans died of disease as from battle.2 Smallpox, typhus, dysentery, and other diseases were rampant in both prison camps and army bivouacs.

Summer was not the idyllic time of vacation then as it was it now because summer was when pestilence and vermin ran rampant. Winter was no respite because of the threat of cold and starvation. (Imagine never being able to get warm enough to sit anywhere without being bundled up.)3 Childbirth was fraught with danger and maternal mortality was a constant threat as was the death of newborns and children from all kinds of dangers.

And yet much of that has essentially disappeared in our modern age, at least in the developed world. Our medicine today would seem like magic to our colonial forebears and we are relatively free from the kind of mortality and suffering that they endured. (Relatively).

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Incrementing the Nanny State

January 1 is a traditional date for new laws to go into effect, 21st century humans being all about segmenting and notating things, and so I find myself perusing the latest new laws our overlords in Washington and Boston have seen fit to burden us with.

One that catches my attention is a new Massachusetts law that bans idling of car engines. While this linked page is about idling in Boston, it’s a new statewide law. The summary of the law is that you can’t leave your car unattended and running for more than five minutes. There are limited exceptions, like when you need the engine to do some necessary task like operating a lift. I’ve seen other descriptions say that letting an idling unattended car defrost the windshield is also permitted, but the law doesn’t explicitly say that .

But of course I’m also thinking of a different case. We’re now told by all the relevant safety figures that we should not buckle kids into car seats in bulky winter coast as it’s not safe. But if we can’t heat up the car on sub-freezing days, what are we supposed to do? Should I put my kid in a dangerously cold car with no coat on? If the goal is to prevent idling the engine to avoid pollution, sitting in the car with the child in a coat and unbuckled until the car is warm before taking off the coat and buckling him, then we’re not really saving any gas. We’re just creating frustration.

This is yet another law that adds to the thousands of laws on the books where many of them don’t think through all the possible consequences and just put us on the wrong side of steep fines.

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More Nonsense about Free College

Progressives/liberals are obsessed with the idea of free college for everyone, probably because it’s an electoral winner. What it is is another trillion-dollar boondoggle. Here’s the latest proposal from the op-ed pages of the Boston Globe.

Marcella Bombardieri of the Center for American Progress pushes the group’s new plan that would give free in-state public college tuition, room, board, transportation and other expenses to students from families that make less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Middle-class families would pay up to 10 percent of their income. Upper income would pay 20 percent. (There’s nothing to indicate what they mean by “middle” and “upper”.) If they go to private schools or out-of-state public schools, they would pay “slightly higher.”

For their part, schools would be given golden handcuffs of promises of more federal and state funding in exchange for certain guarantees of quotas filled and “benchmarks” reached, i.e. “teach this in this way and enforce these social engineering rules, follow these government mandates, etc.”

What would be the cost of this little plan? Just $60 billion per year, they claim, a pittance compared to … name your big federal program here. But of course, the real cost would be more than that. Way more than that. Why?

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The New Censorship

Bill of Rights

I find the mass banning of Alex Jones of Infowars from nearly every online media platform to be chilling. Sure, the case can be made that InfoWars is the source of a lot of crap online, conspiracy theories and lowest common denominator misinformation that contributes to our dark times. That’s what makes it so easy to overlook the seriousness of the current situation.

This past Monday, Apple, Facebook, Google’s YouTube, and even LinkedIn all banned Jones’ InfoWars from their platforms. Twitter is expected to follow suit. This effectively muzzles Jones, preventing his video podcast from reaching the mass audiences he’d been reaching before. Sure, he still has his web site—for now—but without YouTube, he’ll have to put together a complex and expensive streaming video solution to replace it.

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Education is Not About Making Better Workers

US Department of Education

While I am on record about favoring smaller government and in general I applaud President Trump’s recent proposal to downsize and merge some federal cabinets and agencies, something about the merger of the Departments of Labor and Education stuck in my craw.

What bothers me is how the idea betrays the current belief—which crosses party lines—that education is about raising a new generation of employees and workers.

Among the specific proposals outlined is a plan to merge the departments of education and labor into a single Department of Education and the Workforce, or DEW. The combined agency would oversee programs for students and workers, ranging from education and developing skills to workplace protections and retirement security.

We hear all the time that we need to have better schools for our children so that can have better opportunities for jobs. We see parents fretting over pre-school programs in order to ensure their children can go to the right colleges and get high-paying jobs after graduation. But is that really what education is? Is education primarily just another name for trade school?

Yes, I want my kids to have every opportunity to live out God’s plan for their lives as adults, to be able to provide for themselves and their families, to contribute to society. But I also want them to be good people. I want them to be thoughtful, intelligent, and curious about the world. I want them to enjoy the beauty that surrounds them in nature and in music, art, poetry, and books. I want them to know what it means to be a good spouse, a good parent, a good neighbor. I want them to understand history in order to make wise decisions about the future.

Education isn’t about sitting in a school for 12 or 16 or 20 years in order to secure a career. Education is about human formation, about learning to think, to know, and how to ask questions. Education is about becoming a better person.

Government is perhaps one of the worst instruments for doing any of that and the higher up the government food chain you go, the worse that it becomes. Because education is about forming individuals, whereas the federal government only sees statistical millions.

It would be better if the plan was to eliminate the federal Department of Education all together and re-examine how we go about educating children in this country. But, alas, given the state of politics today, we’d be lucky to see these two cabinet agencies merge.

Even When He’s Right, Trump is Wrong

These are strange political times we’re living in. (Congratulate me on stating the obvious.) For me, it’s because we have a president whose policies I think, in general, are taking us in the right direction, but who is personally and politically so off-base that I have a hard time reconciling the conflict. I have a former colleague who insists that stating whether we think President Trump is a good person or not is stupid, when all that matters is his policies and decisions. But the ends do not justify the means and, as was decided by many conservatives in the late 90s, character and integrity matter.

That’s all preface to my main point, which is that the way the media, both mainstream and social, are reacting to Trump is shameful, even given his character issues and boorishness. It’s one thing to to lean one way or the other in your coverage and reactions. It’s quite another to baldy distort reality, to frame every disagreement as evil intent, or to outright lie.

Some examples are in order, but keep in mind that these are by no means isolated. They are drawn at random from today’s news and are representative of the vast avalanche of similar news reports every day.

Choosing His Own People

Here’s one: The superintendent of Yellowstone National Park has been reassigned to Washington, DC, from his current plum posting, but Daniel Wenk doesn’t want to go so he’s submitted his resignation, which is his right. However, he wanted to stay in his job until next March, instead of leaving by the deadline he was given of August. The Interior Department said No and he claims to be ill-used.

Okay, that’s the bare bones of the situation, but the real media bias crops up in the last paragraph:

At least eight other senior executives are being reassigned. Critics say many of the reassignments appear to be motivated by politics, sweeping aside those who disagree with the administration on issues such as climate change, wildlife management, and wilderness preservation.

Well…yeah. Of course it’s motivated by politics. The critics seem to suggest that a President doesn’t have the right to have leaders within the executive branch who will implement his policies. Shouldn’t that be understood? The President gets to make policy. Except when it’s Trump? This is, by no means, the most egregious example of bias, but it highlights how common and mainstream it is.

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Rolling Back the Mandate

The Trump administration will be keeping a campaign promise very soon when it restores the rights of employers and removes the Affordable Care Act requirement that they buy birth control for their employees or their dependents.

This was one of the most contentious provision of Obamacare when it passed half-a-decade ago and has been the subject of lawsuits ever since from religious employers, primarily Catholic institutions, but also private businesses who have moral objections.

Of course, the news coverage makes it sound like employers will now be issuing chastity belts in place of the Pill. They’re using terms like “roll back” and “losing benefits”, as if there were no other way for women to obtain the Pill.

Incidentally, it’s difficult to track down the true no-insurance cost of a month of birth control. Those opposed to the mandate have often cited $9 per month, but much of the media who demand the coverage cite $15 to $50 per month. However, in every story I consulted, that number came from Planned Parenthood, which has a vested interest in making it seem too expensive for poor women to buy it for themselves.

Of course, the reality is that fertility is not a disease and there are lots of pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter remedies and other health and wellness products that aren’t covered by insurance. The simplest remedy to pregnancy is to avoid sex. If you want to get technical about it, you can avoid sex during the fertile times of the month. All it takes is a thermometer and a chart.

The fact is that this is a symptom of a much larger problem, which is the infantilization of America. Whether it’s birth control or some other basic “necessity”, we keep turning to our employers and the government to provide us with all we need, rather than taking care of ourselves. Frankly, the surest way to make something expensive anyway is to make the government buy it or mandate it.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Or, why you should be opposed to this attempt in New York to get at Trump’s tax returns, whether you think he should release them or not.

The media and the Left1 are pretty much the only ones who really want to see Trump’s tax returns. Ostensibly, they want to ensure that he has no conflicts of interest, but let’s be honest, they wouldn’t mind finding some dirt. But Trump isn’t budging on them.

So New York Democrats have crafted a law that would reveal five years of state tax returns for any President, Vice President, governor, attorney general or senator who filed in New York. Not “require the person to release”, but require the state Department of Taxation and Finance to release the returns without needing the permission of the people who filed them.

Apart from the obvious constitutional problem that this is essentially a Bill of Attainder2 and thus a violation of Article I, it wipes out current protections in the law against the disclosure of anyone’s tax returns.

The Tax Law prohibits the disclosure of information obtained from a tax return or during the course of an audit to any unauthorized person. The Tax Law, however, does permit us to share your tax information with the IRS and other government agencies, within defined standards of secrecy and reciprocity.

And once those protections are gone, then everything is up for grabs. Can you imagine how much data-mining companies would love to buy your tax returns from the government, even in anonymized and aggregated bulk?

In their zeal to get Trump, these lawmakers are putting everyone’s privacy at risk. People need to calm down and move on. It isn’t worth it.

  1. But I repeat myself, hey-o! I’m here all week, try the veal.
  2. A law aimed at the behavior of an individual or group of persons, making them guilty of a crime or imposing a penalty without benefit of a trial.

What They Really Want is Lower Taxes

When conservatives and liberals debate taxes, many liberals often take pride in paying taxes, extolling the virtues of all the services that we receive from government paid for by our taxes. But the quiet reality they’d rather not admit is often that they would rather not have to shell out quite so much to the government.1

To whit, Lifehacker, a reliably liberal lifestyle blog aimed at millennials of the liberal bent, recently had an article titled “You Could Save on Your Student Loan by Moving to a Different State—Here’s How Much.” That’s a bit of a misnomer really. In reality, what they’re highlighting is that different states have different income tax rates and if you move from a high income tax state to a zero income tax state, you can use that extra money in your pocket to pay down debt, any debt, including student loan debt. And suddenly they love the idea of lower taxes!

Except when they don’t. The same writer penned an article yesterday on President Trump’s proposed tax cut that makes it out to be a sop to the rich (who pay the vast majority of income taxes and thus would logically reap the most benefit), but also have negligible economic value while depriving government programs of their funding.2

But where was the concern for people paying lower taxes when Lifehacker and their writer were suggesting readers move to places where they could pay no taxes? Of course, the argument is always that someone else should be paying more, usually those dastardly rich people who don’t deserve it.

  1. At the same time, the dirty secret many conservatives don’t want to admit is that while they want lower taxes, they’re reluctant to give up all those government services they like.
  2. Although, to be honest, I wouldn’t mind the tax cut as I’d end up with a $1,700 per year tax cut.

Why Fund the Arts?

President Trump has proposed de-funding the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and other budget items conservatives have been dying to get rid off for decades. Liberals are understandably upset and the debate has centered around the controversial and offensive artworks that the NEA has sponsored in the past, as well as the weird art they still promote sometimes.

Jazz Shaw at Hot Air says this is precisely the wrong argument to have. He argues that the NEA should be done away not because they supported weird or offensive art, but because the federal government shouldn’t be supporting art at all.

The arts, like everything else in society, can rise and fall on their own merit. The reason that we don’t have tremendous federal funding supporting the creation of blockbuster Hollywood movies is that such offerings tend to be popular and the business of making them is profitable. Creating paintings, sculpture, poetry or theatrical performances may not be as profitable, but if it has value to sufficient people, patrons may be found to support the work. If no such patronage is forthcoming then perhaps the “art” is better left to the lonely artist toiling away in their studio.

Unfortunately, Shaw is wrong because this is precisely why we should have public support of the arts, especially those less commercially viable forms. Look, I think NEA funding can be reduced or even eliminated, because I think having a federal bureaucracy as gatekeeper for the arts has been disastrous (cf. Mapplethrope and Serrano as Shaw references them).

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