Friday, July 31, 2009

Nick Coons to attend healthcare tea party

I just received word that Congressional candidate Nick Coons will make a campaign appearance at the health care "tea party" rally at Harry Mitchell's Scottsdale office, 7201 East Camelback Road, Suite 335, on Saturday the 8th of August at 9 AM.

If you'd like to meet Coons, shake his hand, get him to kiss your baby, and maybe even pick his brain re: health care reform, this would be a good place to do so. +1 to Coons for showing a bit of leadership on this--and extra points to anyone who shows up with a good Nick Coons for Congress sign or T-shirt.

Two First Amendment violations in one year at University of Arizona

It's getting to the point where the University of Arizona could offer to its undergraduates a three-credit course in U.S. First Amendment law based around its own willfully negligent missteps.

Back in March I remarked several times on the University's holding of a plebiscite to decide whether or not to fund a chapter of PIRG. A solid series of precedents established that distribution of student fee monies to clubs and advocacy groups must be viewpoint-neutral and that plebiscites are not viewpoint neutral at all. The University went ahead with the vote in spite of this--perhaps whoever the responsible parties were didn't know the law (when one is so obviously "close" to First Amendment issues, there's no excuse to not look) and the U's counsel was asleep at the wheel. I (still a PhD candidate) was on the phone a few times with FIRE getting ready for possible legal action if PIRG proponents won. Fortunately for the University and the taxpayer, they lost.

Now Evan Lisull at the Desert Lamp reports on further First Amendment-violating shenanigans last Spring. Apparently, because David Horowitz is "controversial", the University of Arizona felt it should charge his hosts at the U a large "security fee". As explained in a letter sent by FIRE to UA president Robert Shelton, such practices run afoul of established First Amendment law--most directly, the precedent in Forsyth County, Georgia v. The Nationalist Movement, 505 U.S. 123 (1992)--as they burden expression based on its content. In response to FIRE's letter, the University refunded the fee.

Colleges have for a long time given those best at a sort of ritualized histrionics of faux-victimhood a heckler's veto over others' expression, including over the exchange of ideas. What happened to Lawrence Summers at Harvard was the most prominent and perhaps nastiest example--there's no way he could even have predicted his remarks could have offended, unless he had a thorough understanding of how unreasonable people think. The problem there was akin to predicting the actions of a retard on amphetamines. The real trouble is with the low-profile cases: "political correctness" persists. Offend someone who's learned to play the game, and you're in for much waste of your time if you are a student or loss of your job if you are staff. Better to exercise caution keep those ideas to yourself.

The First Amendment, although routinely ignored, at least in theory limits the extent to which state universities may hinder free speech. Private institutions should maintain similar standards simply because anything else is incompatible with intellectual life. If one must self-censor because another to whom the administration is sympathetic is good at throwing a fit and will be "offended" by something with which he disagrees, there is no free exchange of ideas. If nothing else, a BS or BA should leave college with two things: intellectual humility and a tendency to critical thought. (Mathematical skills and logic are probably number 3.) When the "victim ritual" is part of the "hidden curriculum", reactionary tendencies become validated and even encouraged; both humility and critical thought go out the window.

But the University of Arizona, in levying that fee, went beyond validating encouraging the reactionary "victim ritual". It gave a sort of heckler's veto to a hypothetical violent mob. That is the antithesis of higher education. And the implications would make a great topic for a freshman termpaper.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Stand and be counted: Health Care Reform "tea parties"

Via Americans for Prosperity, this announcement. The "Tea Party" group is putting on demonstrations in favor of market healthcare reform and against government takeover at nearly all Congressional offices in the state on Saturday, 8 Aug.

Especially important is influencing Harry Mitchell, Anne Kirkpatrick, and Gabrielle Giffords, who have expressed concern about the mainstream Democrats' plan. We can count on all of the state's Republicans to at least oppose the truly bad ideas out there on this one. Since Giffords has started leaning in the wrong direction thanks in part to heavy lobbying from would-be "progressives" in the Tucson area, and Grijalva is ideologically committed to single-payer, those of you in Grijalva's district should consider augmenting the crowd at Giffords's office.

The "tea party" is a little too tin-foil-hat (and see their totally repugnant sixth talking point!) for me to be associated with as a professional, but I'd make an exception for this event, however, I'll be in Palo Alto on the 8th. Let me know how it goes.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Throw Blue Dogs a bone: call Giffords, Mitchell, ask them to support market reform, trigger

A few weeks ago I recommended that readers living in Gabrielle Giffords's district phone her Tucson office and ask that she support the Blue Dogs's draft statements on health care.

The so-called "progressives" are lobbying hard to get the Blue Dogs to support Obama's plan. It's important that those of us who understand and support free-market healthcare reform lobby as hard. I'll repeat my suggestion with an update: If you live in either Giffords's (8th) or Harry Mitchell's (5th) district, phone your Congressman's office, express your thanks that he (that's the "he" that includes "she") is standing with the Blue Dogs on health care, and if asked, recommend
  • That any bill with a "public option" be restricted by a "trigger" whereby government participation only occurs if private sector reform targets not be met
  • For insurance to be decoupled from employment
  • That the third-party payments problem be taken up in earnest, that overinsurance to the point of insulation be discouraged and HSAs encouraged.

It won't hurt to call your representative if you live in other districts, but don't expect to get anywhere with Grijalva, a committed ideological proponent of single-payer.

Giffords's Tucson office can be reached at (520) 881-3588 . The phone number to Mitchell's Scottsdale office is (480) 946-2411. Be polite and upbeat. No need to tell them that Kalafut sent you, either--office staff are known to take messages more seriously if they are not part of any obvious campaign of duplication or repetition.

Put more recommendations and the responses you receive in the comments section.

Economics to be required in Arizona high schools.

A few years ago the entrance of a center-liberal party called "Civic Platform" to a coalition government in Poland caught my attention--I'm always interested in seeing what the world's liberal parties are doing right that that libertarian party is doing wrong. One of their more notable platform planks was that economics be taught at all levels in schools. (An aside: If you're thinking about leaving a comment or sending me an e-mail in Polish, don't. The combination of the last two sentences and my obviously ethnic surname might get you thinking differently, but I neither speak nor read the language. European political parties have an interesting habit of translating some of their Web content into English.)

That's an idea we should try here in the States. Students, most of whom still go to public schools, grow up to be voters, and voters who believe strange things about how the economy works tolerate politicians who believe strange things, the equivalent of witch-doctoring about how the economy works. Beyond this, an economic education will likely enrich the students personally, by having them see opportunity in a world that would otherwise seem stifling, and having them think of themselves not as belonging to some class (workers, etc.) but universally, no matter how they put food on the table, as capable entrepreneurs seeking their comparative advantage.

It's gone largely unnoticed, but Arizona has partially adopted this idea. The state standards set forth an ambitious program that has students as early as the fifth grade thinking of their history lessons in economic terms (e.g. "Describe how specialization (e.g., division of labor) improved standards of living in the three colonial regions and the Pre-Civil War North and South.") and has high-school students expected to learn things most college-educated adults don't know (e.g. "Explain the effects of monetary policy on unemployment, inflation, and economic growth.")

I can't determine when it was decided, but just stumbled on a remark from a very credible source--the Arizona Freedom Center, which is affiliated with the University of Arizona's Department of Philosophy--stating that starting in 2012 Arizona's high school students will be required to take one semester of economics to graduate. (The standards I quoted appear already to be in effect, but no separate economics course or unit is required.)

Both this and the inclusion of economics in the "social studies" standards is a great idea, and if I could figure out who is responsible, praise would be in order. My only concerns are that schoolteachers lack enough prior exposure to the subject to meet the standards, and that some will take the mainstream ideas required by the standards to be some special ideological "free market economics", mistakenly think they're being required to propagandize, and either interject their own beliefs indiscriminately or simply shirk their duty.

I've dropped in on Arizona public-school classrooms as a guest speaker on two subjects, and think that despite social promotion, low expectations and an anti-intellectual culture (sometimes encouraged by parents--one of these days I'll pass on a story about this) students are capable of learning the material. My question to readers is: How is this working out? Are teachers following the standards? Are kids learning the material?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dana Kennedy fundraiser, tonight.

This is not an endorsement; I do not know enough about the race, and to be clear, I would almost certainly not endorse this candidate were she seeking a seat in the Legislature. But the issues of concern at the municipal level and the policy questions considered by city councilmen are different than those heard at the Legislature, and fair-mindedness requires that differences of position on matters irrelevant to the race be set aside.

This is being posted for the benefit of readers who might support this candidate advocating tolerant social policy and fiscal restraint in the face of Phoenix revenue shortfalls, passing along a bit of information I just received. A fundraiser is being held tonight, Wednesday 22 July, in support of the campaign of Dana Kennedy, candidate for Phoenix City Council, District 6, at At Ticoz, 5114 N 7th St. (North of Camelback), from 6-8 PM.

Sal DiCiccio, Nathan Oshop, and Barry Pacely staff and volunteers are, of course, welcome to send me announcements if they like, as is anyone else with news on any other campaign. But they didn't.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why "third parties" are third.

Cheering for the underdog is an American pastime, but what if one finds out that the underdog isn't hapless, but instead is fumbling deliberately, and being a bit of a jerk, too. That's not a 100% unfair description of the Arizona Libertarian Party.

Now I happen to be what could be called a libertarian and someone who'd like to see a libertarian party succeed. And there are quite a few people--including my co-'blogger--doing a lot of work to get that libertarian party to succeed. But that libertarian party is so culturally out of whack, one sometimes wonders if it would be best to simply let the elderly ideologues have their way and turn it into the Cult of Noninitiation of Force. Let us proclaim the Mystery of Faith: we can have property without force and liberty without law, forever and ever, Amen.

So what's really on my mind? Greater than two thirds of one percent of registered voters must be registered Libertarian, that is to say, must be members of the Arizona Libertarian Party, for the Libertarian Party to have ballot access. So far, the LP hasn't used that ballot access for much in Arizona, but one can't help but think that credible, intelligent, realistic candidates like Nick Coons, Rick Fowlkes (before and after he switched to the Republicans), and Joe Cobb at least change the tone of the public discourse for the better, and their campaigns help to build an organization which can start taking more votes from Democrats and Republicans at the margin.

The Arizona Libertarian Party has been spending thousands of dollars of contributors' money and directing activists' time to maintaining registrations. Yet the chairman of the Pima County Libertarian Party, David F. Nolan, goes on record once again showing most members of the party the door. To quote:
No, the most important principle, for libertarians, is the principle of self-ownership, as set forth in the Preamble to our Platform, and our Statement of Principles. These are the standards by which every policy statement and every campaign must be judged. Anyone who is uncomfortable with this yardstick probably ought to be in another party -- one where "the most important principle is winning."

To be comfortable with the Libertarian Party Statement of Principles, one would have to believe in individual sovereignty ("sole dominion" over one's life), a total end to all taxation, and that there exists in American political life a "cult of the omnipotent State". At best that Libertarian Party's Statement of Principles is a relic of the time before the "free minds and free markets" position was back on solid intellectual ground, protected by an unfortunate 7/8 supermajority requirement.

But back to Arizona matters: in recommending that what amounts to all non-anarchists leave the Libertarian Party, Nolan is working against his Party's efforts to maintain ballot status. And perhaps because the Libertarian Party was founded in his living room back in the Nixon era (when the Statement of Principles might even have been respectable), nobody in the Party organization has the cojones to tell him that he is, once again, undermining his cause.

Full disclosure: This 'blog is nonpartisan, but I remain a Libertarian Party precinct committeeman.

Best Arizona-related Wikipedia entry

From Interstate 10 in Arizona:
The section of Miracle Mile West stretching between Miracle Mile and the Southern Pacific overpass was signed as Business Loop 10, State Route 84A and State Route 93 in the 1960s. It is now marked as the southern leg on State Route 77, the new designation for US 80-89 north out of Tucson. The Business Loop was dropped in 1998, as many of the business entrepreneurs in the area were practicing a very-old roadside business indeed.

Those last sixteen words violate at least three Wikipedia policies. I could "fix" it. I won't. And as far as I know--not firsthand!--"business" goes on as usual.

Signs of life.

Those of you who are curious as to what I've been up to in the past two weeks ought to keep an eye on Proceedings of SPIE for a paper entitled "A method for quantifying the force dependence of initiation by T7 RNA polymerase," which quite obviously has nothing to do with Arizona policy aside from showing off some of the cutting-edge biosciences funded in part by that sales-tax surcharge approved at the ballot way back in 2000. Readers of this 'blog probably oppose such things--the (Pareto-) optimal science subsidy is probably nonzero but who's to say if this particular scheme was fair to the individual taxpayer. But at least now you know that some of it went to one of the Good Guys.

Back to the last question, the Legislature didn't take up stranded bills, meaning, among other things, there will still be no campus concealed carry.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Special Session

The legislature's special session began a few minutes ago. They're ostensibly there to work on the budget, maybe even to work out a genuine compromise with the governor. Imagine that! No word yet on whether or not they'll take up some of those stranded bills in addition to revisions to the budget.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Independence Day in Tucson: A celebration of civil society.

Quite a few Tucsonans, having heard that the City government will not fund a fireworks display this year, think that the city will not see a major fireworks display on Independence Day. They're in for a surprise tonight: according to the Daily Star, Tucson Electric Power, the Arizona Builders Alliance, Cox Communications, the Tohono O'Odham Nation, the Pasqua Yaqui tribe, and several anonymous donors, on hearing this news, contributed more than enough to fund the the traditional fireworks show at Sentinel Peak.

It's long been known that government crowds out civil society. (See Russ Roberts's Concise Encyclopedia of Economics article on "charity" for a plain-language introduction, and its bibliography for rigorous development.) If nothing else, when government is allowed to attempt to do "good" beyond a limited scope, the individual's sense of obligation is removed. No longer can one assume that if one doesn't support one's causes, the causes will not receive support. It even becomes cheaper to lobby for government expense on the things one values than to self-fund.

But as the scope of government grows, encroaching on the many functions of civil society, government, charity, and civic life are all broken. Throwing money around substitutes for genuine civic interest and compassion for the poor. The level to which causes and interests are funded becomes dependent not on genuine persuasion of those who pay but rather on appeal to the prejudices of a few opinionmakers in the press and decisionmakers in government. And the number of political issues grows to the point where voting is corrupted and ineffective. The voter concerned about civil liberties, the effectiveness of the criminal justice system or the health of the environment may be canceled out by someone who supports the incumbent because he voted to give a few thousand dollars from the public treasury to support basket-weaving or folk dancing or his favorite charitable aid organization.

Civil society's decline, and the associated corruption of the voting mechanism, can be reversed by a controlled withdrawal of government from activities that aren't governance. We've been seeing that happen out of necessity in Arizona. The private takeover of responsibility for the Independence Day fireworks was but the first conspicuous reclamation of civic life by civil society. As reported on the Desert Lamp, (mining firm) Freeport McMoRan stepped up to fund the University of Arizona Mineral Museum. More examples are certainly to come.

After over a year of war, on 4 July 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted to declare independence from a government which no longer served what, to them, was its purpose. This was no mere separation; the Congress's statements and actions, even as they fall squarely within the English liberal or whiggish tradition, were motivated by radical ideas, such as the republicanism popularized by Thomas Paine. The break was not just with Parliament and the King, but also with Man's past. Strongmen, chieftains, and military commanders became monarchs and nobles, over and over. In the new republic, there were no nobles; all were equal before the law.

Nobility throughout history (and before) was privilege and power, certainly, but it would be inaccurate to say that it was nothing but privilege and power. Military service was expected, as were displays of generosity, support for the arts and sciences, and civic festival and ceremony. Send the tax collectors to terrorize, then hand out denarii at the parade. The expectation of conspicuous generosity from strongmen, chieftains, nobles, and the like is so universal that some have it as a human instinct that continues to influence our voting behavior and our thoughts on leadership.

This expectation carried the day at the Arizona Daily Star, which speaks of a duty of the city government to take action for boost civic bragging rights, and plays up the relatively low cost of a fireworks display, as though it were shaming a stingy nobleman. Instinct or not, this line of thought, lamenting that rulers do not do for us what we can do for ourselves in civil society, is servile.

Among what we threw out on 4 July 1776 was the expectation that civic life would be provided for us by the government. That Tucson's festivities are, even accidentally, in accord with the spirit of the day makes the celebration so much sweeter.

I wish the readers of Goldwater State a safe, happy, and free Independence Day. (Take Evan Lisull's advice if you encounter any swarms of officers!)

Friday, July 03, 2009

What isn't going to happen?

Regular commenter Thane Eichenauer asks below:
I am curious as to what _isn't_ going to happen if the legislature refuses to pass the Brewer 18% sales tax hike.

From what I've read so far all the department budgets except for government education were signed. Government education might stop but if the rest of the Arizona state government rolls along like usual there will be nothing to notice.

Aside from framing problems, he has it correct. However, if this webpage's numbers are current, there are well over a million students in Arizona's public grade schools, middle schools, and high schools. That's hardly "nothing to notice".

Eichenauer, by the way, 'blogs at This, that, and the other thing, with a rather interesting choice of URL. It took me a while to figure that out. He'll be added to the 'blogroll soon. The 'blogosphere is at its best when it is conversational. We can thank, among others, Glenn Reynolds, Matt Yglesias, and Megan McArdle for greatly improving 'blogs of nationwide focus. Arizona's 'blogosphere lags behind. It's clear that people are reading each other, but posts about and trackbacks from others' content are in order. This is one more on the "radar screen". Look forward to a unilateral increase in cross-talk in the weeks to come.

Independence Day Double Feature: Winchester '73 and 33 Minutes

It's becoming a yearly tradition, for films with a classical-liberal (or, worst case, paleocon, e.g. Aaron Russo) thesis or themes to be shown at The Loft in Tucson on Independence Day.

This year, Emil Franzi of Inside Track and Charles Heller of Liberty Watch Radio are presenting a double feature: the Jimmy Stewart/Anthony Mann classic Winchester '73 and a new Hertiage Foundation opinion piece (erroneously called a "documentary") on missile defense called 33 Minutes.

Word is that Franzi and Heller will be raffling off a (reproduction) Winchester Model 1973 rifle, $10/ticket, with proceeds going to charities of their choice. Given what the American Physical Society, among others, had to say about missile defense, and given the flaky, somewhat dishonest, often anti-scientific source chances are that 33 Minutes is a load of rubbish, but should be interesting rubbish nonetheless.

I'll be in the audience, then headed out to Garden Canyon, Fort Huachuca, for hiking and photography.

Cut-and-pasted event details:
Saturday, July 4th at 11:00 a.m.
Doors open at 10:30 a.m.
Admission: $6.00 general; $4.75 Loft Cinema members

Join Charles Heller of Liberty Watch Radio and Emil Franzi of Inside Track for a special Independence Day screening of the classic 1950 western WINCHESTER '73, starring James Stewart (and shot right here in Tucson)! PLUS, see the new one-hour documentary 33 MINUTES: PROTECTING AMERICA IN THE NEW MISSILE AGE! Enjoy tasty "Freedom Dogs," "Uncle Samburgers" and cool drinks on the Loft patio, and enter a raffle to win a Winchester '73 rifle (made by Uberti)! Raffle tickets are $10 each, and only 225 tickets will be sold, so once they're gone ... they're gone! (Proceeds from raffle sales will benefit selected non-profit groups). To purchase raffle tickets in advance, please call DAN DEWEY at 520-747-5709!

33 MINUTES starts at 11:00 a.m.
WINCHESTER '73 starts at 12:00 p.m.
Double Feature admission, or admission to WINCHESTER '73 or 33 MINUTES only, is $6.00

Sine die

I gave it a few days to see if the legislature's adjournment sine die was merely a maneuver to avoid next-day response to the governor's vetoes. That is probably the reason for such abrupt adjournment, but the special session has yet to be scheduled, and there's no word yet on whether many of the bills left hanging, some of which merely needed to be re-heard in the House or Senate after being amended in the other body, will be considered in addition to budget matters.

So ends the "legislative session from hell", from the standpoint of public oversight and participation. In an ordinary year, hearings are scheduled well in advance and posted to Web calendars, allowing comments to be placed via the ALIS system, citizen testimony before committees, phone calls to be made, letters to be sent, and 'bloggers to provide analysis. Not this session. This year we saw committee meetings canceled or postponed for months while the legislators squabbled with each other and with the Governor on the budget, and then a two and a half week blitz in which bills were heard with 24 hours' notice. To top it off, by the end, they still couldn't come up with a final compromise.

I'd call this session our flirtation with Banana Republicanism, but bananas don't grow here like they do in Venezuela or Nicaragua.

More on a couple good but stranded bills to follow in the next few days.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Governor Brewer's line-item vetoes and statements on the Arizona budget

The governor's office issued eight (!) releases today, seven of which pertain to the state budget:

One would think that in 2009 and in the era of LaTeX, PostScript, and word processors the governor's staff could do better than crooked scans of paper documents.

But back on topic: When Brewer took office there was quite a bit of worry that she'd be a weak governor who would rubber-stamp everything that came from the sometimes wacky legislature. If it wasn't already clear, it should be clear today that this is not the case. This morning, she called their bluff, quite effectively. There'll be no state shutdown, and they will have to more meaningfully compromise.

That having been said, some of (vetoed) the lump sum reductions of allocations to the universities were probably in order. Tuition fees are still too low, and the universities are still lobbying against the rights of their employees and spending taxpayer money on molycoddling--with a special office apiece!--organized ethnic groups. On the other hand, Brewer's statements say that these vetoes come because the legislature went beyond the compromise levels agreed to by her office, so perhaps the reductions were indeed not in order.

Also vetoed are cuts to K-12 education. Like the rest of the country, Arizona could benefit from real education reform--universal parent choice and gradual withdrawal of government from the education services "market". "Starving the beast", so to speak, isn't a means to effect that, but it can certainly deprive students who are already short-changed by being in public schools to begin with. That isn't to say that there isn't room for savings. There is, but the chances the public schools will achieve these savings in a manner that leaves kids still in the public schools at worst no worse off are slim. The incentives aren't there.

SB 1188 is 131 pages long, far too long for me to give it a thorough reading. The amount of Federal money the legislature on pp. 127-129 is counting on to balance the budget amounts to nearly a hundred dollars per Arizonan. If you spot anything interesting, bring it up on the comment thread or e-mail me backchannell.