Sunday, November 21, 2010

David F. Nolan, RIP

I just received word from two mutual friends that David F. Nolan (known to many as either "Dave" or "The Nolan") passed away suddenly last night, two days shy of his 67th birthday.

An Arizonan since 2005, most recently Nolan was the at the top of the Arizona Libertarian Party's ticket, running a respectable and visible 3rd-party candidacy for the U.S. Senate. He was the principal founder of the Libertarian Party and also known for proposing what came to be known as the "Nolan Chart", one of several two-dimensional descriptors of political belief or tendency.

My sincerest condolences go to his wife Elizabeth.

I will follow up with information about the memorial service and where to send donations in lieu of flowers.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Trash and tradeoffs: or the feral Tea Partier of Fountain Hills

Once again a post certain to annoy or offend some of the readers. But if you wanted someone to stroke your prejudices, you'd be reading Blog for Arizona, Sonoran Alliance, or whatever Ernie Hancock is promoting these days.

Arizona policy has once again caught national attention, and not because Russell Pearce--the man more responsible for getting Arizona thought of as the new capitol of bigotry than any other-- was elected to preside over the state Senate. No, it is because the "Tea Party", formerly reserving its vaguely paleoconservative populism for Federal and State concerns, has taken a stand on a local matter.

As reported in the Arizona Republic, on Thursday 4 November the Fountain Hills town council voted to amend the town code to allow selection of a single trash hauler. Previously, individual residents contracted individually with one of several haulers. Now all will receive weekly trash pickup services plus curbside recycling for $11.44 per month.

The local Tea Party group announced a 16 November "town hall meeting"--despite nearly 5 hours of public comment at the meeting at which the vote--announcing it as follows on their(amusingly Geocities-esque) website:
"Talkin' Trash"

On Thursday, November 4 the Fountain Hills Town Council decided, by a 4-3 vote, to take away your ability to choose your own trash hauler.

Councilmembers Brown, Dickey, and Leger, along with Mayor Schlum, voted for this action. Councilmembers Contino, Elkie, and Hansen voted to preserve your freedom.

Once more, government is trying to interfere with free market economics.

Our goal: let the people decide!

What the Tea Partiers are not discussing is price. I made a few phone calls to get a sense of what the private haulers charge. Waste Management service costs $19.50 per month plus a few dollars extra for fuel and environmental (dump) fees. Allied Waste (formerly Red Mountain) charges $55 every three months, which works out to $18.34. Due likely to economies of scale, Fountain Hills's new service will save residents $7 per month.

And those savings do not take into account the externalities. The Arizona Republic reports claims of a savings of nearly $100,000/year in street maintenance. In addition to that, there'll be less air pollution--start-and-stop driving of high-torque diesel engines like those in garbage trucks is very dirty--and less early morning vibration and noise.

The loss to the individual? Nothing. As long as it's equally clean and equally quiet trash pickup is trash pickup. Unless we somehow price into things the mental anguish a right-winger or right-wing "libertarian" must feel, given the reaction, when forced to re-evaluate very simple heuristics, everybody benefits and nobody loses. This looks like a clear example of one of those win-win transactions of which--pace Richard Epstein--coercion is an ethical and practical no-brainer. Worries about a "monopoly" are misplaced, as the area's various waste haulers can still compete when the contract is up for renewal.

Waste hauling is not health care, nor is it health insurance. There's no third-party payments problem, no moral hazard problem (except in clever hypothetical scenaria) and no price:utility tradeoffs with extreme implication for quality of life or even life-and-death. One's life, livelihood, and liberty are at stake when a "single-payer" or "single-payer"-like plan (such as the one passed by the Democrats early this year, which forbids insurance companies from competing on product) drives up costs and then reins them in with rationing. They at best only trivially at stake when trash-hauling contracts are made at the municipal level, bringing savings, reduced externalities, and extra benefits such as recycling. "But I want pickup on Wednesday." "But I want the company with the pretty purple trucks." "But I want a more expensive service without recycling because recycling is only for non-jerks and I am a jerk."

If I were a Tea Partier, and I'm not, I'd be wary of calling this "socialism" as people interviewed in the Republic--and commenting in the 'blogosphere--are doing. Socialism (euphemistically called "progressivism") and leftism more generally involves win-lose transactions, sacrificing some for the short-term benefit of others and the long-term detriment of all. Remember that poll that had 33% of Americans--who are these people--having a positive impression of "socialism"? Don't start associating "socialism" with common-sense, and still free-market, changes for the better.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

On Propositions 301 and 302: No recommendation.

Like previously covered Proposition 302, Proposition 301 sweeps voter-allocated funds into the general fund for the purpose of balancing the budget. In this case, it is monies from the Land Conservation Fund, set aside as 11 years of $20MM appropriations (plus private donations) following 1998 approval of the "Growing Smarter Act" by the electorate. The remaining balance of the fund is to be swept into the General Fund.

I know how I am going to vote on this one, and I'm less wishy-washy about it than I am about Prop. 302. Those of you who are in favor probably think I am against it and those of you against it probably think I am in favor. Like Proposition 302, deciding how to vote on this proposition involves balancing competing values. I do not think I can help the reader through that. I give no recommendation.

For decency's sake, vote "yes" on Prop. 203

I've been more often than not surprised by just who I meet who would benefit from legalization of use and distribution of marijuana (cannabis, pot) for medicinal purposes. None have been hippies, slackers, or never-do-wells. I will not say that all patients everywhere are categorically model citizens, but the patients or would-be patients that I have met are moral and productive members of society.

The most recent: a coworker, an elderly office clerk with a very conservative manner and the work habits to match, very cautiously sought my opinion on Proposition 203 and on learning that I have long been a supporter of legalization (for any use) shared that (from her experience) medical marijuana would be the best medicine for her PTSD, that she would take would even a petty conviction not imperil her husband's business. Legal marijuana would enable a good night's sleep without the side-effects of prescription pills.

I didn't even know at the time that marijuana was therapeutic in PTSD. Surely enough, there is plenty of research to corroborate one patient's anecdotal evidence.

I find that many of the opponents of legalization of medical marijuana are simply ignorant and arrogant. A case that will forever stand out in my mind is that of an MD I knew as a teenager who called cancer patients' claims that medical marijuana would benefit them "nonsense". It turns out that this MD didn't bother to learn why the claims were being made and merely assumed that it was being argued that marijuana cures cancer. I do not know how I knew that marijuana was a potent anti-emetic, allowing chemotherapy patients to eat healthily instead of vomit uncontrollably, and an MD did not. But yes, a little hit of cheap, common marijuana smoke goes far in easing cancer patients' suffering and contributing to their health and recovery--and to suggest a THC pill would be stupid. Not only is THC not the only active constituent of marijuana, but people who are puking nonstop cannot take a pill!

Add PTSD to the list of conditions for which marijuana is therapeutic, which isn't limited to uncontrolled emesis due to cancer therapy. Marijuana reduces retinal blood pressure in glaucoma patients (helping to save their sight), controls spasticity caused by primary progressive or late-stage relapsing-remitting MS (there's one that hits close to home for this 'blogger...) and many other conditions, and reduces tremors caused by Parkinson's and other neurogenic movement disorders. And we can laugh all we want at the "munchies" in healthy people, but in patients with HIV-related wasting disease and other wasting conditions it is a lifesaver.

Opponents of medical marijuana legalization think it will send the wrong message to youths. What message is that? That our forbears who banned the stuff in a moral panic having something to do with miscegenation, Reefer Madness, and the Hearst family's interest in the pulp paper business made a mistake? That their DARE-participating schoolteachers and policemen lied to them? That for generations we've not only incarcerated people for eating or smoking something more mild than beer but locked up the ill for treating themselves? To not send this message is arrogance. We owe the young this message and a sincere apology.

They gripe that teenagers smoke more marijuana in states where medical marijuana is legal and that marijuana will be more widely available? So what! If keeping kids and adults from getting a mild buzz that generations of experience has shown us is at its worst a very mild social problem--more mild than alcohol overindulgence or tobacco smoking--really outweighs treating (and not arresting, fining, or incarcerating) the ill, perhaps one has had too many bong hits lately. They need to get out of the house more and go to places where medical marijuana is legal (e.g. New Mexico). Far from being populated with stoners and slackers, I'd call e.g. similarly-sized Albuquerque classier than Tucson. The bill is full of safeguards against recreational use--for example, plants must be grown in locked areas--to an extent that looks ridiculous to a legalization proponent, meaning that concern over recreational use is unjustified on yet another level.

And they ask if we want people "just running around smoking marijuana" as though "running around" is what marijuana smokers do--and as though the ill, who are in question here, do much running around. MS patients don't run. Huntington's and Parkinson's patients don't run. Cancer patients puking their guts out thanks to chemo don't run. We'd love for them to run.

If you would like the ill to suffer needlessly, either to oppress them or to facilitate the oppression of nearly 100% harmless others, and to continue to arrest, try, and fine or incarcerate them when they do get effective treatment, then vote "no" on Proposition 203. If on the other hand you support inexpensive and relatively safe treatment of a number of conditions, if you believe that the ill should not be punished for seeking treatment and that marginal increase in recreational use is far outweighed by this, then vote "yes".

Monday, November 01, 2010

Ballot question summaries and recommendations part 1: Propositions 106-113, the Constitutional amendments.

Unlike in years past, I have not had time to cover each ballot question in detail. (Interested in joining this project? Send me an e-mail.)

However, I've had time to read them and to think them over and have received enough requests to do so that I'll provide recommendations for each:

  • Proposition 106, health care freedom redux

    Recommendation: Yes.

    A stand by the people of any state in the union against strong Federal restrictions of individual choice in purchase of health insurance and health care would have been more useful in 2008 than it is this year. Defeat of 2008's Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act, an initiative that this 'blogger strongly supported, may have impaired the Democrat-controlled Congress in its effort to simultaneously ban actuarially fair (risk-based) insurance and mandate purchase of what are essentially privately-run socialized medicine schemes. (Up to small details such as the sneaky new taxes and $600 transaction reporting mandate, that seems like a fair summary of what they gave us.)

    The fight against "Obamacare" in the courts is not over (see Coons v. Geithner, and that "Coons" is none other than Nick Coons) and the passage of Proposition 106 will open up yet another front. It will also protect Arizonans from further destructive government tampering with health insurance and health care.

    Moreover, it does not forbid constructive health care reform. As was the case for 2008's Proposition 101, Prop. 106 protects against two specific governmental actions. One is the compulsory purchase of health insurance or health-insurance-like schemes, mandated by the Democrats' bill, and the other is governmental interference in the ability to directly purchase medical services, the "next step" in socialization of medicine and something that, far from an imaginary evil, has been done to Canadians and others. Decoupling of insurance from employment, changing the tax structure to disfavor "comprehensive care" price insulation packages and favor actuarially fair insurance, allowing purchase of insurance across state lines, and other real health care reform measures are not forbid by the text of this ballot measure. All it forbids is the advance, under the disguise of reform, of socialist restrictions on what products and services you can purchase or choose not to purchase to take care of yourself and your family.

    2008's similar but less well-worded measure lost by under 10,000 votes. Dishonest, bizarre, and potentially illegal electioneering communications by AHCCS head Anthony Rodgers (not prosecuted or so much as investigated by partisan Attorney General Terry Goddard), reported "straight" in the press in a classic case of false balance, may have made the difference. The events of 2010 show 2008's "no" to have been a grave mistake; let's correct it this year, score a propaganda coup for, and open a legal front for health care freedom. Vote "yes" on Prop. 106.

  • Proposition 107: an end to racial preferences in state hiring, education, and contracting.

    Recommendation: Yes

    "Affirmative Action" programs served a necessary purpose, but shall they be now-and-forever set-asides, a sort of pillarization, three generations and almost five decades following their passage? They corrected an injustice at one point but now, carried on too long, they are an injustice themselves--and their supporters are blind or senile enough to think we have made no social progress since the 1960s and there will be an instant reversion to bigotry if Prop. 107 passes. Nonsense. Support racial and ethnic equality by voting "yes" on Prop. 107.

    Read more: I dedicated a full post to this one.

  • Proposition 109: Ensuring conservation remains compatible with hunting and fishing.

    Recommendation: Yes, with reservations.

    This measure's opponents make it out to be the sportsman's SB 1070, a means to filing on lawsuit after lawsuit to harass state government into abandoning all regulations on hunting. And that's the intelligent ones. The stupid ones, for example this year's Daily Wildcat editorial board, make arguments like "First of all, hunting and fishing are not constitutional rights. In no way can it be inferred that human beings have a right to kill animals without severely twisting the intent of the Constitution." How stupid can you get: the measure adds rights to the Constitution, it does not change the way such rights are "inferred"--and what is this "intent" thing?

    What Prop. 109 does is make what is good about the status quo part of the highest law of the State. Authority to regulate hunting and fishing rests in the legislature which may delegate it (as it does) to a Game and Fish Commission. Restrictions on hunting must be "reasonable", which a reasonable person would take to mean that bag limits, seasons, and restrictions on means must be set with regard to scientific and not political concerns.

    I plan on voting "yes" and I recommend that others do so. Despite this I have two reservations about the "yes" vote. First, the bill is a response to a non-existent problem. There's no reason for Constitutional amendments to be reactionary instead of forward-looking, but still, the reason this was introduced (beyond "get out the vote") is not evident. Besides extremist groups like PETA, is there anyone who politically opposes what this bill protects? The second and more serious reservation is my lack of faith in judges to determine what is reasonable. I've met dozens of scientifically illiterate lawyers in my life--I have to say that a supermajority of the lawyers I've known are both undereducated about scientific fact and inept at thinking in a scientist's fashion--and there is no special qualification, requiring scientific literacy, for a lawyer to become a judge. If a lawsuit is filed defending the "traditional means" of hunting birds with lead shot, will a judge really understand arguments made in favor of tungsten-only policies, especially if a shill "scientist" is found to defend lead? Non-scientists are poor judges of science and when science determines what is reasonable non-scientists will more often than is desirable favor the unreasonable. Passage of Prop. 109 will make non-scientists the "judges" of science more often, but I cannot say to what degree.

  • Proposition 110: land swaps to "protect" military bases

    Recommendation: No!

    Every so often we hear from people willing to bend over backwards to ensure that the military presence in this state is pampered like a baby. Rick Renzi, for example, tacked a rider onto a 2007 Congressional bill to sabotage San Pedro River conservation, ostensibly to "protect" Fort Huachuca. (To be fair, consistent with the man's history of sleaze, this was also to "protect" his father's Fort Huachuca concession business. And to be fair, he is now under indictment as a result of the ensuing investigation.) Many approved, because the military is Such A Benefit To The Community--forget that there are costs associated with the influx of federal $$$ and forget that the Army wasn't exactly straining under the San Pedro water table commitments to which it voluntarily agreed.

    At issue in Prop. 110 is not riparian conservation but rather "encroachment" by development. They make it sound so sneaky: "encroachment." "Encroachment" is what happens when developers build on land near military bases not owned by the military; the gripe is that residents may later complain if the military changes use in a way that diminishes their use of their property. Proposition 110 would allow the exchange of state trust land for developers' land near military bases to prevent "encroachment" without advertisement or auction.

    This is a giveaway to the military, which should act in a manner appropriate to its surroundings or plan ahead and buy more land (this is part of what Federal "eminent domain takings" are for--has the Legislature heard of those?) if it intends to change base operations to be incompatible with surroundings. And it is at the expense of Arizona taxpayers and schoolchildren and the Arizona natural environment. Sale and lease of state trust land helps to fund the public schools; every parcel just given away to developers in an exchange shortchanges education in the future. The amendment does require that the parcel exchanged be appraised so that the State receives equal or greater value, but this is a mirage: the value of the parcels that cause "encroachment" to be a concern stems from their suitability for development. With use restricted to open-space preservation or ranching and development out of question for what amounts to "forever", the State trust receives little value in return.

    Furthermore, such compulsory giveaways may rush matters to the point where the State gives away from sensitive parcels key to long-term conservation--parcels better suited, taking a long-term view of things, to ranching than to blading and building--either out of right-wing anti-scientific spite or as a favor to a George Johnson type or both.

    Passage of Proposition 110 is a giveaway to developers, the military, and those who make money off the military's presence at the expense of everyone else. Vote No!

  • Proposition 111: The Lieutenant Governor Amendment

    Recommendation: No.

    Passage of Proposition 111 changes the Secretary of State's title to that of "Lieutenant Governor" while maintaining most of the duties of that position, and changes the manner of election such that candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run and are elected together as two-person tickets.

    The measure's best proponents argue that this will prevent Jan Brewer's situation--a governor without mandate from either the electorate or a party--from recurring. Fair enough, but this is more than offset by the harm done to potential independent candidacies and by increasing the amount of package-dealing in politics and government. Preferring more independent voices at the Capitol even if it does from time to time make the governor's social legitimacy "interesting", I recommend a weak "no".

    Moreover, candidates for these positions will still run separately before party primaries, which will likely result in incompatible candidates' elections being tied to each other.

    Curiously enough, Jan Brewer supports this measure, favoring a "smooth transition" in the event that the governor's office is vacated. Again, fair enough, but that concern should be left to the voters.

  • Proposition 112: pushing back the initiative petition deadline.

    Recommendation: Yes.

    This measure does two things. It bizarrely changes "centum" to "cent" in a portion of the State constitution (the former is sensible usage, the latter is not), and, more substantially, requires that signatures in support of initiatives or referenda be submitted to the Secretary of State at least six months before the general election.

    At first glance this seems like a mere restriction on the citizens' initiative power. However, the four-month deadline has proved to be unworkable, not allowing time for court hearings if signature counts are in question. I am not confident that the State will not use the extra time frivolously and still bungle the process, but given what took place in 2008--with some initiatives (e.g. the home warranties measure) making the ballot despite questionable signatures because there was no time for a count, while others missed it because the count was done with no time for hearings--it is clear that improvements are needed.

  • Proposition 113: Secret ballots for union representation elections

    Recommendation: Yes

    This amendment establishes a constitutional right to a secret ballot when union representation elections are mandated by law, forbidding the "card check" procedures that would be established by the Federal "Employee Free Choice Act".

    What an Orwellian name for a bill! The "free choice" available without secret ballots is to sign the card to be free of harassment or intimidation by union "organizers". We haven't had much problem with union thuggery in Arizona, but coming from back east I can tell you that stories of assaults, threats, and battery are no tall tales, nor do is retribution by the union, following an election, against workers who opposed unionization something made-up by free marketeers. Union abuse of workers is very real, and the page that link points to is but a small sampling of incidents.

    Employees receive much statutory protection from employer harassment concerning unions and retribution against stances taken in union elections--employers are even forbid from making promises to workers of increased benefits if unionization fails! But unions are exempt from RICO laws and getting union harassment (or worse) prosecuted is very difficult. Eliminating secrecy in voting extends the group exposed to union coercion from those who raise their voices to all workers who aren't explicitly pro-union card-signers.

    Employees and Arizona businesspeople alike will be protected by Prop. 113's passage. It is only union management and leftist ideologues who stand to lose. Vote "yes".