Apr 292013

I remember writing the below letter to the editor of the Kalamazoo Gazette, but I had not remembered the topic correctly. I found this one in my e-mail archives, dated August 29, 2004.  I did get a call from the Gazette while I was on the road in northern Indiana, but this letter was never published.

I’ve read and re-read the words from your editorial titled “Campaigns unfit for human consumption,” hoping there is some mistake, but each time I look the words are still there:  “The downside of freedom of speech in this country is that any individual or organization is free to voice its opinions about the government and its leaders.”

That’s not the downside to freedom of speech.   That’s the upside.  As a newspaper, you’re supposed to be reminding us of that rather than creating an environment conducive to censorship.

George W. Bush has said that the so-called 527 groups like the Swift Boat Veterans should not be allowed to put out their ads.  That statement alone shows he is not suited to the role of leader of the free world.  How is he going to bring democracy to Iraq if he doesn’t understand how free speech works at home?   He’s no more fit to be president than John Kerry, who is using the courts to try to suppress the same ads, and who still hasn’t repudiated his wife’s statement that uncivil discourse in politics is somehow “un-American.”

Whatever happened to the old days when people said, “I may disagree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it?”  You failed on both counts.  You failed to say a single word of disagreement that explains why you don’t like the swifties’ ads, and you failed to defend their right to have their say.

Maybe you should mediate on the following quotes from the past, when people still believed in free speech:

“We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.”  — John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty”

“The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion.”  — Henry Steele Commager”

Censorship reflects society’s lack of confidence in itself.  It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime.”  — Potter Stewart

“The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas.”  — Alfred Whitney Griswold

“A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”  — John F. Kennedy

John Gorentz (address redacted)

My home phone is xxx-xxx-xxxxand my office number is xxx-xxx-xxxx.   However, if you want to contact me about this, I won’t be at either of those.  As soon as I click send, I’m heading off on a 2 week bicycle trip.  My cell phone is xxx-xxx-xxxx.   I often need a chance to find a place to pull over before I can answer.


Nov 232012

The Surgeon-General is confused. Thanksgiving is a time for families to sit around and discuss what topics government should be sticking its nose into.  It’s not a time for government to tell families what to discuss.

Surgeon-General Regina Benjamin has declared Thanksgiving to be the nation’s ninth annual Family Health History Day: “An important step in prevention and wellnes is learning about health conditions in our families that may put us at increased risk for diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, mental illness and many others,” Benjamin says. She wants us to track illnesses from one generation to the next so health care providers can predict what may befall each of us.

via Gov’t Tells Americans What to Discuss at Holiday Dinner; Declares Thanksgiving ‘Family Health History Day’ | CNS News.

Nov 192012

This means embracing the sequester, which demands more than $1 trillion in reduced spending over the next decade. The sequester became law in 2011 to resolve the showdown over increasing the federal debt limit. But the sequester’s cuts to both defense and social programs were thought to be so unpalatable to both parties that the pols would be forced to find other ways to reduce the deficit before the cuts begin on January 1. Mr. Obama’s re-election may change the political calculus.

Right now Republicans say they oppose both defense cuts and tax hikes. But most members of the GOP caucus will likely accept a leaner Pentagon to spare further harm to a stagnant economy, and to begin to restrain deficit spending. Says Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, “The only thing worse than a defense cut is no cut at all.”

via Political Diary: Learning to Love the Sequester – WSJ.com.

Oct 142012

The following is from the opening paragraph of a post by Francis Fukuyama.   But later in the article he lists control of corruption as an aspect of state power.  I would have thought it a limit or check on state power rather than a use of state power.   Trying to think this through…

It is a curious fact that in contemporary American political science, very few people want to study the state, that is, the functioning of executive branches and their bureaucracies. … [M]ost people are interested in studying political institutions that limit or check power—democratic accountability and rule of law—but very few people pay attention to the institution that accumulates and uses power, the state.

via The Strange Absence of the State in Political Science | Francis Fukuyama.

Perhaps this is a good time to examine the principle that government can be inefficient or it can be corrupt, but it can’t be neither.

If in the Department of Plumber Licenses you give bureaucrats the power to make decisions on their own, they can act very quickly.  A wannabe plumber calls up saying he needs a license, and the bureaucrat can issue one as soon as he gets the name and phone number.   But if give the bureaucrat the power to make this decision on his own, you also give him the ability to favor his friends or political allies and disfavor the others.  You give him the ability to trade favors.  This is corruption.

The way you prevent this kind of corruption is by making government inefficient.   You create a complicated set of rules to determine who should get a license and who shouldn’t.   The wannabe plumber has to fill out forms to prove that he has been trained in a certified, approved manner and that he doesn’t have anything in his background that would keep the government from giving him its imprimatur. It takes time and money to provide all this evidence.   No one bureaucrat is equipped to evaluate all of these forms, so you institute a multi-step approval process by which the form goes from one department to another for approval.    This all takes time.  And additional questions may come up at various steps along the way.   It’s a way to avoid corruption, but it’s not the path to efficiency.  A process like this can be corrupt, too, but with a proper system for appeals you have a chance of designing it to avoid the corruption by which bureaucrats can arbitrarily dispense or deny favors.

A corruption-free system of plumber licensing is not a system by which the state can operate quickly and efficiently.  This is why I find it puzzling that anyone would list the following items together as “aspects of state capacity”:

  • government effectiveness
  • regulatory quality
  • stability and absence of violence
  • control of corruption

Good topic to be discussing, though.

Oct 132012

This paragraph proves there is an parallel universe that is our inverse opposite.

Since the Republican capture of Congress in 1994, and even before, the Republican side has been characterized by relentless, take-no-prisoners partisanship; the Democratic side by disunity, vacillation, surrender. This is the fundamental fact of recent American political history, and Haidt shows no awareness of it.

via Boston Review — George Scialabba: Head and Heart (Conservatism, Morality).

Oct 122012

I’d think the “correct” number would be the number needed to protect the place.  Maybe the correct number was the wrong number.

“An embassy, a compound owned by us and serving like a consulate was in fact breached less than 60 days before, approximately 60 days before the murder of the ambassador in that facility,” said Issa. “Isn’t that true?”

“Sir, we had the correct number of assets in Benghazi at the time of 9/11 for what had been agreed upon,” Lamb said.

via State Dept. Confirms: Marines on 9/11/12 Were Protecting U.S. Embassy–in Barbados | CNSNews.com.

Oct 022012

You can’t have government funding without government control.

As CNSNews.com previously reported, the public school system in Fairfax County, Va., requires students to select a serving of fruit or vegetables for the reduced school-lunch price to apply.

via Gov’t Urges Parents to Use School Lunches As a Model for Family Dinner | CNSNews.com.