Later this month, the Supreme Court will begin hearing Sibelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. regarding Hobby Lobby's objection to Obamacare's "contraception mandate" on the grounds that it violates the owners' religious freedom to abstain from paying for anyone's contraception. Obamacare requires Hobby Lobby to provide its employees only certain kinds of health insurance, all of which now must cover contraceptives, something to which the owners of Hobby Lobby do not want to contribute directly. In the past, Hobby Lobby's employees (presumably) bought their contraceptives with their regular wages, and Hobby Lobby's owners never objected or even brought it up. Now that the Affordable Care Act has outlawed certain health insurance policies, the health insurance that Hobby Lobby employees get through their employer now must include contraceptives.
The outlawing of the old health insurance plans and the requirement that religious, contraceptive-opposing (or abortifacient-opposing, it doesn't matter) employers provide health insurance coverage that includes a contraceptive benefit is just one concrete example of the myriad violations of principles and rights that characterize Obamacare. This health insurance law, like all major regulatory laws, is wrong not because it violates the First Amendment or someone's religious freedom; it is wrong because it violates people's right to buy and sell what they want for mutually agreed-upon terms and to negotiate those terms freely, peacefully, voluntarily, without interference from an outside entity (in this case, the State).
When Congress and the various committees appointed by the Obama administration were writing the regulations that would decree which and how many facets of healthcare would be required to be covered under health insurance plans, it was inevitable that some decisions about coverage would be made politically. That is, the mandatory benefits covered by health insurance plans would not be decided only (or even primarily) by statistics, economics, medicine, or the free choices of buyers and sellers, but also by the desire of politicians to expand their influence and power as well as to be reelected.
The insistence by left-liberal feminists that women's contraceptives be one of the mandated benefits belies their oft-repeated stance that government should stay out of their reproductive choices and their reproductive systems. For some of the more strident feminist activists, their defining political goal is not to free women from the controlling forces of male-dominated, Christianity-flavored government but rather to take control of the government in order to force their left-feminist vision on all of society. If that sounds harsh or overly general, then why are they fighting so hard for the contraceptive mandate? The legal requirement that all health insurance plans, whether bought individually from an insurance company or received as compensation through employment, cover various female contraceptive medicines is a plain example of this true motivation. After decades of vocal protestation against other people meddling in their reproductive choices, they have now won the power to rope other people into their reproductive choices—but on their own terms.
The principle underlying this duplicity is that their positions are the only possible right ones and that they are therefore justified in using the police power of the State to force everyone else to conform. What other people want to do with their money, their jobs, their businesses, their insurance plans, and their lives is simply irrelevant or wrong, and must be stamped out. The only individual choice that matters is what (some) women want to do with their bodies. Abstaining from actively funding left-feminist programs, such as subsidizing contraceptives for women, is now labeled vile woman-hating.
The relevant issue with the contraceptive mandate and, indeed, all of the mandates of the Affordable Care Act is that politically decided coverage benefits must now be paid for collectively, or at least more collectively, rather than individually, which has led to steep price increases, as was easily predicted. Whereas collectivization of risk (real insurance) is economically, financially, and actuarially viable and sustainable, collectivization of costs is not. Collectivization of costs inevitably leads to higher expenses, if not for everyone then at least for most people, because there is not enough incentive to price-shop (for customers) or to compete on price (for suppliers). We are witnessing this phenomenon in real time in the health insurance market as Obamacare forces millions of insurance policies to be canceled and both individuals and companies are left with only more expensive options in their place. (It should be noted that the new law is only one of thousands of causes of ever-increasing health insurance premiums; the over-reliance on the cost-collectivization plans that we know of as insurance is a paradigm that was created and perpetuated by the U.S. tax code.)
One of the particularly pernicious lies put forth in defense of the contraceptive mandate is that the female employees are going to get their contraceptive money either in the form of wages or in the form of insurance, so...the law must require it to be insurance, I guess is their argument. It isn't immediately clear why they are so adamant that the contraceptives be covered by new health insurance plans instead of wages as usual, until you realize what they really want: for other people to subsidize that cost for them.
Consider this inverview of political science professor Scott Lemieux by Amanda Marcotte (it starts at about the 6:50 mark of the podcast).
Marcotte: Is it really, as the right says, "free birth control"?
Lemieux: No, that's one of the most common misperceptions, and this came up a lot during the Sandra Fluke controversy. The key thing to remember here is that this is part of your wages. So essentially, employers get substantial tax benefits for giving you part of your wages in the form of health insurance rather than in the form of direct wages. ... Employers can't pay you in health insurance and have that insurance not cover anything, so that to qualify for taxpayer subsidies, the insurance has to be relatively comprehensive. And one change made by the Affordable Care Act was, given the centrality of contraception to women's healthcare..., that was simply just an obvious change: that insurance plans, that employers with taxpayer subsidies, should cover contraception. And that's all it does. ... You've earned the health benefits, you're paid in health benefits, and this is simply part of broad requirements that the insurance benefits be comprehensive.
Maybe it never occurs to them to ask the most obvious question: If the women are going to get paid that money one way or the other—wages or insurance—why don't they just want to keep getting that money in wages? The answer is simple: because if they get contraceptives covered under insurance, then every employee on that insurance plan pays for the contraceptives via their insurance premiums, meaning each individual woman only pays for a fraction of her contraception expenses through her own insurance premium.
Say the typical female employee at a certain company spends $30 a month on birth control pills. According to the misconception of Marcotte and Lemieux, the woman and the company, along with the company's contracted insurance provider, can agree upon either (a) a certain wage and a health insurance plan that costs the employer an extra $30/month for contraception coverage, or (b) a wage that is $30/month higher but does not include any coverage for contraception. And everything else for everyone is the same (except for possible tax implications for the employer and employee*). But this is not correct. It was probably true before but is especially true now that male employees and females who don't want or need contraceptives have no choice but to accept a lower wage and an insurance plan that covers contraceptives. In this way, everyone's wage is reduced (presumably not by the full $30) so that everyone's insurance can include this extra contraception benefit, but only some women will use the insurance to buy contraceptives. So these women have a wage reduction of less than $30 but receive a healthcare benefit of $30.
That is what's wrong with Obamacare, and indeed all cost-collectivization schemes, and that is what people are objecting to.
As far as I can tell, either I am right and Obamacare would spread the contraception costs among more than just the contraceptive-purchasing employees, meaning it is a subsidy; or I am wrong and no one would be forced to subsidize women's contraceptives, so no one is better or worse off with those contraceptives being paid for by direct wages or insurance, but Amanda Marcotte and her ilk merely want to stick it to the fucking misogynist Christians and force them to pay for something they morally object to.
(*If you are tempted to object, as alluded to by Lemieux in a side comment that I omitted above, that since wages in the form of health insurance aren't taxed, both the employer and the employee would benefit from paying for contraception via health insurance instead of direct wages, and therefore the calculus is not as simple as $30 here vs. $30 there, then the obvious solution is to reduce all taxes on all wages and compensation, or else treat all forms of income equally so that health insurance is no longer tied to employment for so many people.)
Marcotte: And to be clear, it's not like this is a new thing... I think most health insurance covered it before this, correct?
Lemieux: Right...there's nothing unusual about it. There's nothing at all unusual about a private health care plan covering contraceptives. And indeed, some studies have suggested that it's actually cheaper overall, given that the expenses involved with childbirth are much greater than covering contraceptives. It's not even clear if having to provide contraceptives even reduces profitability or anything like that. ... But there's nothing at all unusual about this, and there shouldn't be. Obviously, contraception is a fairly fundamental part of healthcare, and there's no reason that statutes to make coverage comprehensive shouldn't include it.
This is a good point to insert a brief explanation of what real insurance is and what modern health insurance is. I highlighted Professor Lemieux's statement above because it's a good example of what's wrong with modern health insurance. If something is fundamental and routine, then by definition it is not insurable. Insurance is the collectivization of risk, and if something is routine, basic, and expected, then there is no risk calculation involved. There is no uncertainty in the expenses that will be needed for it. Insurance covers unmanageable, unexpected, catastrophic expenses, such as a car being totaled, a ship sinking, a house catching on fire, a robbery, or a major medical expense that is not normal or expected. A monthly packet of birth control pills or other, emergency contraceptives is not unmanageably or unexpectedly expensive. (If you retort that emergency contraceptives are exactly the type of thing that should be covered under my model of "real insurance" and that they aren't easy to buy, nor are regular birth control pills, which require a prescription, then you can almost certainly blame the politicians that you voted for, or at least the Republicans, and not myself or other libertarians, who have long noted that every medicine of every kind should be available over the counter at any store that wants to sell it. Seriously, see if you can answer this: has your Democratic congressman or senator, at the state or federal level, ever introduced a bill to make all reproduction-related medications completely prescription-free?)
Rather than wanting their contraceptives (or a thousand other things—I only write about contraception because it is the hot topic in the to-cover-or-not-to-cover debate) to be insured against some loss or risk or unexpected, catastrophic expense, the advocates of the contraceptive mandate simply want other people to subsidize their contraception expenses. They want Congress (and now the Supreme Court) to mandate a direct transfer payment from non-contraception users to contraception users.
If this were not true, i.e., if the women were going to get $30 in some form of wages and spend $30 on contraceptives either way, why would so many left-liberals be fighting for the contraceptive mandate? I can only conclude that they see the contraceptive mandate as a type of subsidy for women's reproductive health, as well as an opportunistic opening for more such subsidies in the future.
Another pertinent question: Why stop at contraceptives? Do no other routine, affordable goods and services count as fundamental aspects of women's health? Women certainly need food and water to sustain a basic level of health far more than they need contraceptives. Why shouldn't their food and water be provided under health insurance instead of coming out of their wages? Is it merely because food and water are not considered medical care? Because they've never been covered under health insurance before? But the law hasn't mandated contraceptive coverage before, either. At one point, contraceptives weren't covered by health insurance. Why must they be now? Why shouldn't food and water be? Shouldn't people who eat less food subsidize those who eat more? If not, then why? What is the fundamental difference between food and contraceptives that implies one must be covered by health insurance and thereby subsidized by non–contraception users (and it is vile, patriarchal, misogynist woman-hating to suggest otherwise) but women must fend for themselves for the other one every paycheck? The latter being far more expensive and necessary for basic physical and mental health than the former, by the way.
The only answer I can infer is that women have higher medical costs than men through no fault of their own, and left-liberal feminists have decided that subsidizing (collectivizing) the cost of contraceptives (and other aspects of women's health) is a just battle that their side must win, and anyone who opposes them must be a misogynist, male-supremacist, conservative Christian and is therefore wrong about most other things, so to oppose the contraceptive mandate is simply vile misogyny by definition.
Where liberal feminists and conservative Christians lose my interest in this debate is making it about religious freedom or the First Amendment. I understand that the opponents of the law have to make it about that, because they would be laughed out of court if they argued on princple. But the principle requires no religion or Bill of Rights: No one should be forced to pay for something they don't want to pay for. No one should be forced to support, financially or otherwise, something they don't want to support. The contraceptive mandate is wrong for the same reason all those health insurance policy cancellations are wrong: because it violates the volunatry, peaceful associations and transactions of free individuals and the organizations they work for.
There are also practical reasons to oppose the increased collectivization of healthcare costs, primarily that it ultimately increases all healthcare expenses for everyone.
The more things that are covered by insurance, the more expensive the insurance premium will be. A greater number of people paying a (higher) premium for a routine good or service means its cost (to the consumer) has been largely or entirely collectivized. The more a cost is collectivized, the less the actual users and beneficiaries will price-shop or find substitutes, because the less they must pay of its full price. The less incentivized the customers are to price-shop or find subsitutes, the less incentivized the suppliers of that good or product will be to compete based on price. The less price competition there is, the less cost-saving (i.e., profit-maximizing) innovation there will be. If companies can make the same profit from charging a higher price and slacking on innovation, then the outcome will be persistently higher prices and less innovation in both the process technology and product technology realms.
This is the past, present, and especially future of the American healthcare/health insurance industries under extensive regulation and cost collectivization.
In an article about Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg's net worth surpassing $1 billion, David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect, is quoted as saying, "Did she do a billion dollars' worth of work? I don’t know. She had the good fortune to land in the right place where her talents could really be applauded."
Kirkpatrick's comments incensed many, because how many male billionaires are doubted or questioned in that way? How many people say: Did that man do a billion dollars' worth of work, to amass such a fortune? This tweet by Alex Leo is a good representative example:
— Alex Leo (@AlexMLeo) January 22, 2014
Insofar as the targets of their ire (which I'm sure include patriarchy in general or some such, and not just David Kirkpatrick) only question the worth of wealthy females in that way, they have a valid, important point.
My point in writing this post is different, however. My response to their outrage is that libertarians and anarchists severely doubt the deservedness of every billionaire's fortune and, in fact, the fortunes of many millionaires in business, industry, and politics. Our doubt as to the legitimacy of the fortunes of many large business owners, CEOs, and the like is practically a given. The illegitimacy of their fortunes is so understood that we hardly mention it explicitly. Instead, we tend to focus on the success of large corporations and other businesses when their success is owed in part to State interference in the economy. We assume as a matter of course that large businesses (and therefore their owners and executives) amassed such power and wealth through at least partially nefarious means, either by design (through lobbying and rent-seeking) or more indirectly (such as by incidentally benefiting from a regulation or barrier to entry, or by consciously taking advantage of regulations already on the books).
Libertarians and others who are opposed to the political-economic status quo take it as such an obvious given that thousands upon thousands of millionaires got rich by at least partially political (i.e., immoral and illegitimate) means that it's hard to find articles, blag posts, or discussions in which someone comes right out and says that too many millionaires and billionaires owe their fortunes to cronyism and didn't actually provide a million or a hundred million or a billion dollars' worth of value to other people. At least, I had a hard time finding many explicit, nicely phrased examples. But every time a columnist or blagger bemoans cronyism or corporatism or crony-capitalism, or points out how regulations are designed to help the rich and powerful and stamp out competition, we are making the case that some rich people and successful businesses are only so rich and successful because they are powerful and well connected, not because they have provided a great deal of value to other human beings, and that they have therefore not earned their wealth and power.
I did manage to find a few examples by searching Google and by scouring the depths of my memory for blag posts and discussions I had read years ago. Here are merely eight out of the tens of thousands of examples of libertarians or libertarian-leaning people decrying the ill-gotten and undeserved power and wealth of the modern power-elite. Note that whereas the main concern of mainstream feminism regarding the super-rich is that males and females be reviled or revered equally, the main concern of libertarianism regarding the wealthy is whether they have acquired their wealth justly (i.e., through the economic means).
The first half of "Corporations versus the Market; or, Whip Conflation Now" by Roderick T. Long nicely summarizes the major ways in which large corporations (and thus their owners and executives) succeed and make billions off of myriad State policies. It's a great, short, illuminating lesson on some basic tenets of libertarianism.
The 19th-century libertarian Victor Yarros contrasted his camp's theory of just property with that of Auberon Herbert, who thought that millionaires and landlords should be allowed to keep their present wealth even if it could be shown to have been unjustly acquired:
We, on the other hand, while insisting on the principle of private property, in wealth honestly obtained under the reign of liberty, do not think it either unjust or unwise to dispossess the landlords who have monopolized natural wealth by force and fraud. We hold that the poor and disinherited toilers would be justified in expropriating, not alone the landlords, who notoriously have no equitable titles to their lands, but all the financial lords and rulers, all the millionaires and very wealthy individuals. . . . Almost all possessors of great wealth enjoy neither what they nor their ancestors rightfully acquired....
Every person, rich or poor, should be treated the same before the law. There are rich people, who are rich without having defrauded or stolen from anyone. They are rich, because they have worked hard, they have saved diligently, they have been productive, and they have shown entrepreneurial ingenuity, often for several family-generations. Such people should not only be left alone, but they should be praised as heroes. And there are rich people, mostly from the class of political leaders in control of the state-apparatus and from the state-connected elites of banking and big business, who are rich, because they have been directly engaged in, or indirectly benefitted from, confiscation, theft, trickery and fraud. Such people should not be left alone, but instead be condemned and despised as gangsters.
And there's probably some fraction of income over $250k that was really earned through hard work and enterpreneurship.
If Obama's cutoff point were, say, extending the tax cuts for everyone below $5 million, that might be a bit less clearcut for me because at that level the probability that anyone made over that amount of money through non-political means approaches zero.
Charles Johnson has written, "I just want Sam Walton to get his cold, dead hands out of my pockets. The rest is all details, as far as I’m concerned," as well as, "The centrifugal tendency of markets: market anarchists see freed markets, under conditions of free competition, as tending to diffuse wealth and dissolve fortunes — with a centrifugal effect on incomes, property-titles, land, and access to capital — rather than concentrating it in the hands of a socioeconomic elite."
Now that Gates has used state-granted IP monopolies to acquire billions of dollars that he can then use to be a bigshot philanthropist, he is all for patents (as my friend Rob Wicks says, Gates is “America’s wealthiest welfare queen”).
Recently, in Buffalo, it was announced that Geico, owned by Warren Buffett, would open a local office in exchange for $102 million in "inducements." All it took was a flunky of Buffett’s to put in a call to the Governor.
When I heard Geico was coming to town, I knew there must be a catch. Why would any company come to Buffalo where it and its employees would be fleeced by the local political class? And the answer is — when your owner is the second richest man on earth, he can manipulate the state’s corrupt political system — corporatism — and get a waiver from the state’s tax slave policies and crazy regulations.
The News has downplayed the $102 million in "inducements" to Geico: tax breaks, grants, and utility discounts. It’s all very complicated which means that politically-connected lawyers and law firms will earn huge fees putting it all on paper. Economic development bureaucrats — a class of people which would not exist in a free society — also will earn huge salaries administering all this legalized graft.
Let me get to the real heart of the matter, though, lest I be misunderstood. I hate taxes so please don’t misconstrue anything I say as believing that drastic tax relief is not needed. But here’s the $64,000 question. Why should Geico get tax breaks and not the rest of us? ...
There are reasons — nefarious ones — why our leaders choose special breaks over citizen-wide tax cuts. First, as in this case, it forces the businessmen to ask for help. That help always comes at a price: contributions, endorsements, and mugging for the cameras at ground-breaking time. That’s why you see politicians at all these openings.
Equally important, the politicians get to run these complex deals through their patronage apparatus — connected lawyers, real estate firms, development bureaucrats — all of whom make an enormous amount of money figuring out how the wired fat cats can avoid paying the taxes and complying with the regulations the rest of us are stuck with. The recipients of the patronage then kick back campaign contributions to the politicians, do free legal work, and form the backbone of their campaign organizations at re-election time.
Thus, the seemingly abstract principle of equal protection of the laws, if enforced, would have an immediate and tangible impact on cleaning up our corrupt political system. "Ideas have consequences."
The bottom line is that our corrupt political/economic system in Buffalo and elsewhere continues as it has for many years. The left thinks that system is capitalism. It isn’t, unless they view Mussolini as a capitalist. No, it’s corporatism or the corporate state, a marriage between big government and big business with big labor as a junior partner. The beneficiaries are of course big business, big government and big labor. Everyone else, that is, 85 percent of us, lose out big-time.
In my sporadic research on the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case (and a basically identical case brought by Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania company owned by Mennonites), in which the companies argue that they should not be forced to pay for employee health insurance that covers contraceptives and thus violates their religious beliefs, I came across a truly remarkable column in U.S. News & World Report: "An Assault Upon the Very Notion of Secular Law" by Laura Chapin. Her column contains as many blatant falsehoods as true statements and opinions.
The Hobby Lobby case threatens to extend corporate personhood to allowing companies to force employers' religious beliefs onto individual employees,...
The federal government threatens to force the owners of a company to pay for a health insurance plan for their employees that violates the employers' beliefs, and the employers object. It is self-evident and self-explanatory why that does not constitute "forcing religious beliefs" on anybody.
deny them health care,...
This assertion is so baldly dishonest as to require no rebuttal. U.S. News & World Report should be ashamed that they published such aggressive, manipulative lies. In the space of one paragraph, Laura Chapin has already descended into Salon-like hyperventilatory desperation.
and opt out of laws they don't like.
Remember, only elected officials with a (D) after their name can violate laws (which they swear to uphold, by the way) and not only receive no rebuke from left-liberals but in fact receive their vigorous defense.
The companies object to certain forms of birth control because the "religious beliefs" of their owners forbid them from covering contraceptives that prevent implantation of a fertilized egg and thus in their minds are "abortifacients."
This column would be a good exercise for high-school students to spot loaded words, misleading statements, lies of omission, and the like, if only it were written above a high-school level. Obviously, Laura Chapin was not writing a news article but rather an opinion column in which she argued for one side of an issue, but puerile tactics like putting "religious beliefs" in quotation marks, as if Hobby Lobby's owners are only claiming to object to the contraceptive mandate based on religious beliefs but in fact are acting solely out of black-hearted, corporate greed, should make anyone doubt Laura Chapin's honesty in other areas. At this point the astute observer might question whether she really seeks any truth or fairness in life or just partisan victories.
Unfortunately for their women employees, the companies' "science" is in line with those who think people and dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time.
This reminds me of a famous quotation by Isaac Asimov: "When people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together." No, it is not as wrong as young-Earth creationism to think some contraceptives are abortifacients. Ella (ulipristal acetate), for instance, can kill a fertilized egg by preventing it from implanting in the womb, though this is rare and might be nearly impossible at the doses at which it is prescribed in the United States.
According to a friend of the court brief filed in the Hobby Lobby case by Physicians for Reproductive Health, the companies "fail to cite any scientific authority for their assertions that any FDA-approved contraceptives are abortifacients ... there is no scientific evidence that emergency contraceptives available in the United States and approved by the FDA effect an existing pregnancy. None, therefore are properly classified as abortifacients."
Fortunately for me and other libertarians, and indeed anyone who defends Hobby Lobby's position not on religious (or scientific) grounds but on plain morality, it is irrelevant whether Hobby Lobby's owners have a legitimate First Amendment claim or sound science. All that is needed is a simple, fair sense of morals and justice: don't force people to pay for something they don't want to pay for. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, "To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical."
This principle leads us to the understanding that everything about the Affordable Care Act is immoral and unjust, because it forces people to buy things (like extra coverage) that they don't want and prevents them from doing things (like being uninsured, buying a less comprehensive insurance policy, selling a less comprehensive insurance policy, and charging actuarially justifiable rates) that don't harm others. None of the things that are now illegal under Obamacare were violent or fraudulent, so they are victimless crimes like drug use and prostitution.
Nobody is stopping them from practicing their religion or forcing them to use the pill or get an IUD.
No, we're forcing them to do other things that we have decided they should be forced to do, and we have more guns, so...might makes right, I guess? I'm not sure what point Laura Chapin thought she was making by mentioning what the government isn't forcing Hobby Lobby's owners to do. Maybe she was trying to distract her readers from the real point? I don't think it worked.
But this is a pertinent question that Laura Chapin and all other defenders of the contraceptive mandate should answer: What is the difference, in their minds, between forcing someone to use the pill or get an IUD and forcing them to pay for someone else's pill or IUD? Why is one of them so obviously unjust that she scoffs at the idea that a government (her government) would ever do such a thing, while the other is not only acceptable but so right and good that it deserves the backing of law?
But their religious beliefs do not entitle them to make those decisions for their employees – their beliefs stop at their employees' doctors' offices. None of these personal, private health care decisions by workers are any of Hobby Lobby's damn business.
You made it their business! You made it a matter of public policy! You and your left-liberal ilk forced the employer mandate (and thousands of other regulations and proscriptions and mandates, in the ACA alone) onto the American people and American businesses. Note that Hobby Lobby (and Conestoga Wood Specialties) is not objecting and has never objected to any employee doing whatever they want with contraceptives, their doctors, reproductive clinics, etc. They object to being forced to help pay for something that disgusts them. Why does Laura Chapin think it germane that no one is "forcing them to use the pill or get an IUD" but glosses over the fact that Hobby Lobby has never objected to its employees' healthcare decisions before this and isn't objecting to them now? Wait, I know this one: blind bias and shameless demagoguery.
Doesn't she think it odd that, if Hobby Lobby's religious owners objected to the "personal, private health care decisions by workers", they are only now suing the federal government to be allowed to intrude into their employees' personal lives and force their religion on them? Doesn't she think it would have occurred to Hobby Lobby to, y'know, not hire them? Or start forcing the Bible on their employees before 2013?
Clearly the owners of Hobby Lobby are doing no such thing, and I think everyone knows this, but Laura Chapin doesn't let that stop her. The personal, private healthcare decisions of Hobby Lobby's employees are none of anyone's business, as the owners have always acknowledged. But how the owners live their lives, including how they spend their money and what policies their company follows, is the government's business as Laura Chapin defines it.
It's sad that a professional "communications strategist" writing in a relatively well-respected national newsmagazine can call a defense of one's right not to be forced to pay for something they abhor "an assault upon the very notion of secular law". It's also unfortunate that the crux of this argument, from both sides, seems to be religion and the First Amendment. Religion, the Constitution, and biology are not needed here. All that is needed is simple fairness and moral equality: It is wrong to force others to pay for, or in any other way support, anything they object to. If it is an egregious, outrageous affront to human decency for religious business owners to merely continue not paying for something that they have never paid for, then how much more wrong must it be to come into someone's home or business with guns pointed at them, demanding they pay for something they don't want and never agreed to, or else go to jail? Or be killed when they resist, as is their right? Remember that the penalty is always death when you resist the State. In Laura Chapin's State, resisting a law that the country has somehow done without for over two centuries is a radical, dangerous assault on the very notion of secular law. Somehow I think the people who wrote that secular law would disagree.
Clark of Popehat.com is understandably angry. The "system" of corporate-State socialism seems rigged against the little guy, the common man, the individual, the lower and middle classes—and its exploitation of everyone outside of the power elite seems to grow more blatant and more absurd by the year. What set off his latest masterpiece polemic was Judge Giselle Pollack of Broward County, Florida, who has sentenced defendants to who knows how many years in combined jail time for drug-related offenses, will enter rehab for her drug and alcohol problem instead of going to jail like many of her victims. Clark writes,
Twenty years ago I was a libertarian. I thought the system could be reformed. I thought that some parts of it "worked"… whatever that means. I thought that the goals were noble, even if not often achieved.
The older I get, the more I see, the more I read, the more clear it becomes to me that the entire game is rigged. The leftists and the rightists each see half of the fraud. The lefties correctly note that a poor kid caught with cocaine goes to jail, while a Bush can write it off as a youthful mistake (they somehow overlook the fact that their man Barrack hasn't granted clemency to any one of the people doing federal time for the same felonies he committed). The righties note that government subsidized windmills kill protected eagles with impunity while Joe Sixpack would be deep in the crap if he even picked up a dead eagle from the side of the road. The lefties note that no one was prosecuted over the financial meltdown. The righties note that the Obama administration rewrote bankruptcy law on the fly to loot value from GM stockholders and hand it to the unions. The lefties note that Republicans tweak export rules to give big corporations subsidies. ...
What neither side seems to realize is that the system is not reformable. There are multiple classes of people, but it boils down to the connected, and the not connected. Just as in pre-Revolutionary France, there is a very strict class hierarchy, and the very idea that we are equal before the law is a laughable nonsequitr.
Jamal the $5 weed slinger, Shaneekwa the hair braider, and Loudmouth Bob in the 7-11 parking lot are at the bottom of the hierarchy. They can, literally, be killed with impunity … as long as the dash cam isn't running. And, hell, half the time they can be killed even if the dash cam is running. This isn't hyperbole, mother-fucker. This is literal. Question me and I'll throw 400 cites and 20 youtube clips at you.
Next up from Shaneekwa and Loudmouth Bob are us regular peons. We can have our balls squeezed at the airport, our rectums explored at the roadside, our cars searched because the cops got permission from a dog (I owe some Reason intern a drink for that one), our telephones tapped (because terrorism!), our bank accounts investigated (because FinCEN! and no expectation of privacy!). We don't own the house we live in, not if someone of a higher social class wants it. We don't own our own financial lives, because the education accreditation / student loan industry / legal triumvirate have declared that we can never escape – even through bankruptcy – our $200,000 debt that a bunch of adults convinced a can't-tell-his-ass-from-a-hole-in-the-ground 18 year old that (a) he was smart enough to make his own decisions, and (b) college is a time to explore your interests and broaden yourself). And if there's a "national security emergency" (defined as two idiots with a pressure cooker), then the constitution is suspended, martial law is declared, and people are hauled out of their homes.
Next up from the regular peons are the unionized, disciplined-voting-blocks. Not-much-brighter-than-a-box-of-crayolas teachers who work 180 days a year and get automatic raises. Firefighters who disproportionately retire on disability the very day they sub in for their bosses and get a paper cut.
A step up from the teachers and firefighters are the cops: all the same advantages of nobility of the previous group, but a few more in addition: the de facto power to murder someone as long as not too many cameras are rolling. The de facto power to confiscate cameras in case the murder wasn't well planned. A right to keep and bear arms that far exceeds that of the serf class: 50 state concealed carry for life, not just just for actual cops, but even for retired cops.
At the same level of privilege as cops, but slightly off to one side is different class of nobility: the judiciary and the prosecutors. Judges and prosecutors can't execute citizens in an alley, a parking lot, or their own homes ("he had a knife! …and I don't care what the lying video says."), but they can sentence people to decades in jail for things that any clear-minded reading of the Constitution and the 9th and 10th amendments make clear are not with in the purview of the government. They have effectively infinite resources. They orchestrate perp walks. They selectively leak information to shame defendants. They buy testimony from other defendants by promising them immunity. By exercising their discretion they make sure that the bad people are prosecuted while the good people (i.e. members of their own clan) are not.
Above the cops, the prosecutors, and the judiciary we have the true ruling class: the cabal of (most) politicians and (some) CEOs, conspiring both against their own competitors and the public at large. If the public is burdened with a $100 million debt to pay off a money losing stadium, that's a small price to pay if a politician gets reelected (and gets to hobnob with entertainers and sports heroes via free tickets and backstage passes). If new entrants into a market are hindered and the populace ends up overpaying for coffins, or Tesla cars, or wine that can't be mail ordered, then that's a small price to pay if a connected CEO can keep his firm profitable without doing any work to help the customer. If the Google founders want to agitate for Green laws that make Joe Sixpack's daily commute more expensive at the same time that they buy discount avgas for their private flying fuck palaces, then isn't that their right? They donated to Obama's campaign after all!
I am not listing defects in a perfectable system. I am describing the system.
It is corrupt, corrupt, corrupt. From Ted Kennedy who killed a woman and yet is toasted as a "lion of liberalism", to George Bush who did his share of party drugs (and my share, and your share, and your share…) while young yet let other youngsters rot in jail for the exact same excesses instead of waving his royal wand of pardoning, to thousand of well-paid NSA employees who put the Stasi to shame in their ruthless destruction of our rights, to the Silicon Valley CEOs who buy vacation houses with the money they make forging and selling chains to Fort Meade, to every single bastard at RSA who had a hand in taking the thirty pieces of silver, to the three star generals who routinely screw subordinates and get away with it (even as sergeants are given dishonorable discharges for the same thing), to the MIT cops and Massachusetts prosecutor who drove Aaron Swartz to suicide, to every drug court judge who sends 22 year olds to jail for pot…while high on Quaalude and vodka because she's got some fucking personal tragedy and no one understands her pain, to every cop who's anally raped a citizen under color of law, to every other cop who's intentionally triggered a "drug" dog because the guy looked guilty, to every politician who goes on moral crusades while barebacking prostitutes and money laundering the payments, to every teacher who retired at age 60 on 80% salary, to every cop who has 50 state concealed carry even while the serfs are disarmed, to every politician, judge, or editorial-writer who has ever used the phrase "first amendment zone" non-ironically: this is how the system is designed to work.
The system is not fixable because it is not broken. It is working, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to give the insiders their royal prerogatives, and to shove the regulations, the laws, and the debt up the asses of everyone else.
Burn it to the ground.
This post exemplifies one major advantage that amateur, or at least less formal, blogs have over mainstream media and opinion columns in newspapers and the like: the opinions and excoriations that Clark puts forth don't have to be watered down for a "respectable" publication or for a wider audience. Clark is right about everything or at least almost everything in his post, and he says it in the tone that the topic warrants. Pissed the hell off, not thoughtful and even-handed, is how we all ought to feel about most things our governments do. It should pain us to realize that all of these atrocities committed by State officials—that are legal, by the way—are inflicted and endorsed by our fellow humans who want this type of government and continually vote to keep it just the way it is.
It's true, anyone with an internet connection can have a blog whether their writings are worth anything or not, which dilutes the overall quality of the blogosphere. But have you compared the random political rantings around the blogosphere to the crap in the major newspapers and magazines lately? In an extremely good week, not 10% of MSM opinion columns about politics and economics are even non-idiotic, much less insightful, principled, or praiseworthy.
One thing I've noticed around the interwebs during the last few months is that a lot of people place a high value on what they call "nuance" and "subtlety". I put them in quotation marks because, one, they are almost buzzwords now, and two, I'm not sure some people's definitions of those qualities would agree with mine.
Imagine what an opinion column in a major newspaper about Judge Giselle Pollack would sound like. The author would call for "reforms", for a "need to take a second look at sentencing laws", for more "accountability", and would cite the growing opposition to the Drug War and the DEA, etc., and wonder if it isn't time for some form of "scaling back".
Those opinions are not subtle or nuanced. In fact, they are hardly opinions at all. They are weak, non-committal, quasi-opinionated statements designed to make the people who think they already agree with the author give a little cheer of agreement, while simultaneously avoiding offending people who think they already disagree with the author.
Often the "nuance" or "subtlety" that professional journalists and pundits strive for has the effect of steering them farther away from real truth, be it moral, philosophical, or practical, than a simpler, more direct, less qualified position would be. (Or at least a seemingly simpler position would be.) Take non-defensive wars or other "military actions" (please). Libertarians oppose all wars except as a last resort and in defense against an imminent threat, so we oppose any military intervention in the wars, uprisings, revolutions, and yes, sometimes even genocides of other nations. It is common to see warmongers and other interventionists scoff at our simple-minded, "un-nuanced" understanding of the world, as we reflexively oppose any non-defensive military action our government might take. But their devotion to considering all sides of an issue as if they were all equally valid, all possible advantages of a morally repugnant action as if they might outweigh its intrinsic wrongness, or all the "nuance" and "complexity" and "subtlety" of the winners and losers and gains and losses of any action leads them to support (or maybe just rationalize) offensive and interventionist wars. And they pat themselves on the back for understanding all the "nuances" and "subtleties" of the world better than reflexive anti-war libertarians. As if our anti-war position, because we arrive at it so immediately and easily, lacks nuance and subtlety. But their labeling of us as reflexive, naive, unsophisticated sloganeers itself lacks nuance and sophistication. The truth is directly contrary to their over-simplification. We have arrived at our anti-war position because of all the effects intervention has had and continues to have on innocent people both abroad and at home, and because of the waste and abuse attributable to every powerful military but especially the United States military, in terms of both lives and resources.
The same goes for our seemingly reflexive, un-thought-out positions against taxes, government schools, the War on Drugs, and every other government regulation and program, and our ultimate catch-all answer of "abolish it". To the extent that your professional, scholarly obsession with "nuance" and "subtlety" runs afoul of principles and rights, you have formulated bad opinions and reached wrong conclusions. This is why I'm tired of the veneration of "nuance" and "subtlety" as virtues in their own right. I'm also tired of typing quotation marks around those words, but it's justified because they've almost become meaningless buzzwords the way so many people use them.
My point is that Clark's points couldn't be made in a MSM publication, and certainly not in the way that he made them, which makes me glad that amateur, unedited blogs like theirs exist and sad that professional publications seem so scared to publish anything that sounds extreme or not "nuanced". Sure, building consensus and attracting people to your side of the argument with softer words and less insulting (or less extreme) arguments is valuable and justified sometimes. But so is a rant like Clark's. Judge Giselle Pollack doesn't deserve any kind, gentle, wishy-washy, professional-journalism words; she deserves to fuck off and die in a fire, or at least be imprisoned in a hellhole for as long as the combined total of her previous victims, and so does everyone who has voted to perpetuate the police state that the Drug War has enabled.
Now that the blatant lie "If you like your health care plan, you can keep it" has been exposed and the Obama administration—along with the usual chorus of Democratic devotees and sycophants—is trying to justify, cover up, explain away, and/or forestall the ruinous effects that Obamacare is already having, I wonder why there aren't more liberal pundits and columnists calling the president out on his lie (it was a lie: he knew it to be false and repeatedly said it anyway; higher premiums for relatively healthy people are a feature, not a bug, of Obamacare) and calling for some reforms that allow all those poor and middle-class people to keep the health insurance that they were reasonably happy with. (Note: executive orders to force insurers to ignore part of the law and reinstate some canceled plans does not count as a reform so much as a scary, but hopefully not precedent-setting, act of authoritarianism.)
Now, it's certainly possible that plenty of former (or even current) Obamacare supporters are decrying these widespread insurance plan eliminations and unaffordable premium hikes, and that the only reason I don't notice their admissions of truth is that I don't waste my time reading their blather week in and week out. But I still doubt many of them are admitting anything other than "Obamacare got off to a rough start, but these changes are for your own good, and besides, health insurance coverage will expand! That was Obamacare's only goal!" Actually, it wasn't Obamacare's only goal; one of the most important liberal talking points in the last few years was that Obamacare would decrease premiums for the vast majority of people, thereby decreasing overall healthcare expenditures. They were wrong because their analysis was based in hopeless partisanship and blind Statolatry.
My main point in writing this short post is to note that free-market opponents of Obamacare did predict that most people's insurance premiums would increase and did predict that people's insurance plans would be canceled by the legislation and did predict that the reason for these price hikes and cancellations would be rent-seeking on the parts of providers and pharmaceutical companies.
What's more, it is easy to predict some of the things that will come true of Obamacare in the future. The government will try to institute price ceilings on insurance or medical care to combat the continuously rising prices. It will try to force doctors, hospitals, and provider networks to accept insurance plans that aren't profitable to them, because too many people will complain about being shut out of too many providers and of having too little choice. It will concoct new incentives, financial and otherwise, to recruit bright young students into the medical profession, because the falling salaries and rising hassles will deter many potential doctors from going to medical school. Millions of young, healthy people will continue to abstain from obeying the individual mandate, instead paying the (much lower) fine, until they need the insurance. Left-liberals will find some way to blame every single one of these structural, economic, and medical problems on the free market (or evil profits, or the rich, or Republicans, etc.), impressing us all with their new feats of logical contortionism. And in a few decades, possibly sooner, the next Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren will succeed in saving us all from the inefficiencies and unfairness of Obamacare by forcing us into a Canadian/Scandinavian-style government-run health insurance system, also known as "single-payer", which is an awful misnomer because it really means taxpayer-funded.
We were right about Obamacare, and we will continue being right about Obamacare. Any analysis that doesn't start from free-market principles will inevitably lead to the wrong conclusions.
At Cafe Hayek, Russ Roberts writes,
Either ObamaCare is going to be dismantled or the government is going to take over the insurance industry. The latter is an unlikely possibility given the botched logistical performance of the roll-out of ObamaCare. I just don’t see how these kind of unexpected changes are going to survive politically. They keep coming and they’re creating a drumbeat of dissatisfaction for a lot of people. The political system will not ignore those feelings.
Then in the comments section he responds to some people who disagreed with that prediction:
Many politicians may prefer a single-payer system. But they will be unable to achieve their goal if they are not in office. There are different ways to botch things. Most of the botching takes place below the radar. This is out in the open and the politicians are panicking already.
When the WaPo runs page 1 stories showing problems with ObamaCare it's hard for the narrative to get accepted. The story I quoted was on Page 1 above the fold. Powerful sign that O'care is in trouble.
I respectfully disagree with Roberts's prediction and agree with his commenters who think the imminent failure of and widespread dissatisfaction with Obamacare will merely hasten the takeover of the entire health insurance industry in the United States (and increase the federal and state governments' involvement in the provision of healthcare itself).
But a lot of people have made that prediction. My (probably also non-unique) prediction about Obamacare, its popular support level, and liberal Democrats' response to its certain failure is this: Despite all the structural, medical, and financial problems caused directly by Obamacare and other intrusive legislation that Congress may pass to try to solve the problems it created, a majority or at least sizable minority of Democratic voters will blame the free market (and the pursuit of profits, selfishness, the rich, etc.) for the failure of Obamacare. They will say Obamacare failed because it did not mandate enough government activity, and not enough of the evil free market was eliminated. Liberals' response to the disaster that is Obamacare will be to double down on their demand for a complete government takeover of the entire health insurance industry, replacing it with a single-payer system, i.e., completely socialized health insurance.
Russ Roberts is right that very few voters will tolerate the inconvenience and increased financial burden that Obamacare will place on them. But they are the same people who thought the solution to our bloated, Frankensteinian corporate-socialist mess of a healthcare industry was more government involvement (Obamacare or anything else the Democrats would pass). Republican voters are the types of people who think Republican politicians offer a good alternative to the Democrats on...any issue. The voters of the future will simply be too biased, petty, ignorant, stupid, or incurious to realize that governments have caused nearly every single problem any healthcare industry in the developed world faces. The voters of the future will largely be aged baby boomers and grown-up children of the 1990s and 2000s, two voting blocs that practically revel in their complete disregard for anything that sounds like objective economic analysis, and who will reliably vote for anybody with a (D) after their name against all common sense. The politicians will arouse a furor for more governmental fixes for the problems government created, and voters will either already be on board or will go along to avoid being perceived as heartless reactionaries who want to put old people out on the streets.
Aditya Chakrabortty writes a chilling column on the efforts by British universities and local police departments to crack down on student protests and other demonstrations. It's hard to imagine there's an advanced, Western society in which human beings' freedom to assemble and demonstrate—peacefully, by the way—is so readily and blatantly suppressed. And on university campuses, no less—places where freedom of thought, debate, protest, and all other forms of peaceful political activism are supposed to be valued.
Cambridge police are looking for spies to inform on undergraduate protests against spending cuts and other "student-union type stuff". Meanwhile, in London last Thursday, a student union leader, Michael Chessum, was arrested after a small and routine demo. Officers hauled him off to Holborn police station for not informing them of the precise route of the protest – even though it was on campus.
The 24-year-old has since been freed – on the strict condition that he doesn't "engage in protest on any University Campus and not within half a mile boundary of any university". ... But I suppose there's no telling just what threat to law and order might be posed by an over-articulate history graduate.
While we're trawling for the ridiculous, let us remember another incident this summer at the University of London, when a 25-year-old woman was arrested for the crime of chalking a slogan on a wall. That's right: dragged off by the police for writing in water-soluble chalk. ...
It all sounds farcical – it is farcical – until you delve into the details. Take the London demo that landed Chessum in such bother: university staff were filming their own students from a balcony of Senate House (the building that inspired the Ministry of Truth in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, appropriately enough). Such surveillance is a recent tradition, the nice man in the University press office explains to me – and if the police wanted the footage that would be no problem.
That link with the police is becoming increasingly important across more and more of our universities. London students allege that officers and university security guards co-ordinate their attempts to rein in demonstrations while staff comment on the increased police presence around campus. At Sussex, student protests against outsourcing services were broken up this April, when the university called in the police – who duly turned up with riot vans and dogs. A similar thing happened at Royal Holloway university, Surrey in 2011: a small number of students occupied one measly corridor to demonstrate against course closures and redundancies; the management barely bothered to negotiate, but cited "health and safety" and called in the police to clear away the young people paying their salaries.
For the police, this is part of the age-old work of clamping down on possible sources of civil disobedience. But the motivation for the universities is much more complicated. Their historic role has been to foster intellectual inquiry and host debate. Yet in the brave new market of higher education, when universities are competing with each other to be both conveyor belts to the jobs market and vehicles for private investment, such dissent is not only awkward – it's dangerously uncommercial. As Andrew McGettigan, author of The Great University Gamble, puts it: "Anything too disruptive gets in the way of the business plan."
Besides the wholly socialist and market-insulated nature of colleges and universities across the world, there has been a clear tendency since the mid-20th century for Western universities to promote anti-free-market ideas and suppress their students' civil liberties. In other words, their very structure, their financial model, their funding sources, the worldviews they tend to foster, and their isolation from market forces make universities some of the most anti-individualist, anti-libertarian institutions in our society. Therefore, even if now more than ever "universities are competing with each other to be both conveyor belts to the jobs market and vehicles for private investment", this changes virtually nothing about their socialist, anti-free-market nature.
In this context, and especially when we consider the increasingly punitory, militaristic nature of law enforcement/criminal justice systems (in the U.S., at least), not to mention the genuinely Orwellian tactics of the NSA and GCHQ, in addition to the never-ending, obsequious apologies for the total security state by sycophants on the left and the right, the increasing police presence on campuses and the collaboration between university administrators and police departments is not surprising. It is a natural progression in each institution's pursuit of a common goal: to maintain power, order, wealth, and security, if necessary by oppressing the unwashed masses of ruffians who would disrupt their status quo.
Despite the unfortunate fact that workers' unions and trade unions of all kinds have historically been guilty of rent-seeking efforts to suppress competition and artificially bolster wages through the political process (not to mention much more nefarious activities by union bosses who cozy up to politicians), unionization per se is one of many ways in which free individuals, especially relatively weak and poor individuals, can voluntarily assemble to achieve a common goal. So are public protests and other demonstrations. These rights are absolutely vital civil liberties of the individualist, libertarian tradition. The right to peaceably assemble and protest the grievances of the government is enshrined right there in our First Amendment, though the U.K. doesn't have anything so specific and powerful. If there is any political philosophy in the modern English-speaking world that is closely associated with the Bill of Rights and the Americans who wrote it, it is individualism and libertarianism.
So what does Aditya Chakrabortty conclude is the root cause of this administration-backed police suppression of student demonstrations, and its bully tactics designed to intimidate students who dare protest the power and wealth imbalance that is inherent to universities (and seems to be getting worse)? He blames a free-market mentality:
Where universities were historically places of free expression, now they are having to sacrifice that role for the sake of the free market. For students, that comes in the form of a crackdown on dissent.
This is just incoherent. The single most basic idea underlying free-marketism is individualism—the supreme right of individual people to keep what they own, to trade what they want under the terms they want, and to freely associate with whomever they want in whatever way they want.
I haven't read anything else Aditya Chakrabortty has written, but I'd wager that the type of intellect that would associate suppression of individual rights and civil liberties with the "free market" is the same type of intellect that would oppose the individualist philosophy in general, would think the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and would think that modern society's obsession with selfishness and elevation of individualist over collectivist virtues is the primary cause of many of society's ills. Either way, millions if not billions of people think that way, and they would probably also swallow his tripe about police suppression of public demonstrations and intimidation (in some cases, outright abuse) of the demonstrators as being somehow connected to the "free market".
Let's try to get this straight: Aditya Chakrabortty and his ilk bemoan the hyper-individualism of libertarian/free-market ideology some of the time, but then when university administrators and police departments team up to suppress our individual rights, that's also the fault of the libertarian/free-market ideology? The free market is too individualist when we're talking about wealth, property rights, and regulation, but it's too anti-individualist when we're talking about civil liberties and peaceful demonstrations?
I'm sorry, but whatever "market" we're talking about in the context of police suppression of student assemblies and campus demonstrations, it is nothing approaching "free".
Maybe he's confusing "pro-business" with the "free market". He wouldn't be the first. I'm guessing Aditya Chakrabortty can name no more than five dead economists. I would also guess that the one historical figure he would most associate with the "free market" is Adam Smith. Even though Smith isn't as revered by modern free-marketeers as several economists who came after him, we accept him as our original ambassador. What did Smith think of businessmen and their relationship to the rest of civil society? In The Wealth of Nations, he wrote,
The interest of [businessmen] is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public ... The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order ... ought never to be adopted, till after having been long and carefully examined ... with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men ... who have generally an interest to deceive and even oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.
This is standard dogma among libertarians and other free-marketeers today. It is all too obvious that the interests of businesses do not align with the interests of the individual, the masses of poor and middle-class people, or the free market. Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner seems to make half his living exposing the insidious cooperation between big businesses and the federal government. Radley Balko makes his living detailing the fundamental conflict between law enforcement agencies and both the rights and safety of the general public. To the people who hold individualist, libertarian, free-market views, it is very strange indeed to associate the free market with this partnership between wholly Statist universities and wholly Statist police departments.
Tim Cushing of Techdirt.com wrote about the now-infamous case of the Utah couple who were fined $3500 for writing a negative review of KlearGear.com. They refused to pay, which prompted KlearGear to follow through on its threat to send their debt to a collections agency, thereby ruining that couple's credit rating. Read his short article; the details of the depth of KlearGear's depravity are hard to believe, but they serve a salutary reminder that not all malicious, psychopathically predatory monsters find their way into government service. Also read Ken White's post about it at Popehat.com.
The purpose of this post is merely to help spread the word about KlearGear's immorality and criminality, in the hope that others will do the same, resulting in the existence of so many web pages about their pure evilness that these pages will overwhelm the positive or neutral search results for KlearGear.com, so that anyone who ever seeks to learn anything about KlearGear will discover what depraved, predatory psychopaths ran that place (and provided it legal services). Basically, I aim to help amplify the Streisand effect as much as possible.
I found these comments in the aforementioned Popehat discussion interesting:
Attempting to research KlearGear and determine ownership. So far, I've only been able to find the following, on the BBB page for the company:
Principal: Mr. Randall Prescott (Legal)
Found someone else associated:
On LinkedIn, Rob Key appears to be the CMO of KlearGear.
Further investigation of Rob Key turns up this PR article, which lists his contact information as:
pr (at) kleargear (dot) com
Phone (616) 965-2426
Fax (616) 965-2427
BBB says their legal dept. is here:
7122 Oaklawn Drive, San Antonio, TX 78229-3021
which turns out to be Chenal Corp.:
seems shady so far…
Edit – BINGO! Paydirt!
Adding to my last comment, which is in the moderation queue, and per this article, Lee Gersten is the president of KlearGear (can't find contact info on him), and Rob Key is the CMO and press contact.
You can contact Rob at:
email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
From Rob Key's email format, it might be a good guess that Gersten can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Also, their "media relations" page mentions:
2885 Sanford Ave SW Suite #19886
Grandville, MI 49418
Phone (616) 965-2426
Fax (616) 965-2427
I wonder how busy he is today…if he exists.
More contact info for Robert Key from
chenal media, chenal brands, and chenal corp appear to all be related.
there appears to be a real connection between Chenal Brands, Inc. and Kleargear as noted by several commentators above. (see these press releases)
KlearGear.com (a wholly-owned subsidiary of catalog and e-commerce conglomerate Havaco Direct Inc.)
"Guys love gadgets, and KlearGear.com has over a thousand gadgets, tools, office toys, and home and office decor ideas for any techie dad," stated Will Bermender, President of KlearGear.com. "
From various press releases from Havaco and KlearGear:
Look up kleargear on Pipl.com
Will Bermender – http://www.pinterest.com/kleargear/
Will Bermender, Los Angeles, CA, US, Texas, US – Executive Chairman at Chenal Media, Board …
Will Bermender (peoplesmart)
Location: San Antonio, TXMaple Grove, MNOsseo, MNFarmington Hills, MI
William Franklin Bermender
Chenal Valley Dr, Apt 2304 (no coincidence, not included in search)
Old address, latest address is san antonio texas
Havaco Direct, Inc is the corporate name of Klear Gear. It is a Delaware corporation.
File Number: 3745438 Incorporation Date / Formation Date: 12/29/2003
Entity Name: HAVACO DIRECT, INC.
Entity Kind: CORPORATION Entity Type: GENERAL
Residency: DOMESTIC State: DE
REGISTERED AGENT INFORMATION
Name: THE COMPANY CORPORATION
Address: 2711 CENTERVILLE RD STE 400
City: WILMINGTON County: NEW CASTLE
State: DE Postal Code: 19808
These domains are apparently associated, but not all have websites and some seem to have expired:
Interesting. Kleargear's Suite # is 19886 in both California and Michigan locations. This is also the suite # associated with parent company Chenal Media, but it only shows up if you look at a cache of chenalmedia.com. (http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:4_lK8y9I6noJ:chenalmedia.com/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us)
Amusingly, Total S.A.'s legal page says, "If you wish to create a hypertext link to this Web site, you must obtain prior written authorisation from the Company using the contact details stipulated at the end of this document." Right. Good luck enforcing that.
Anyway, as was mentioned previously, the Chenal Media website is actually the Total S.A website. Check the source code of the page (view-source:http://chenalmedia.com/). It redirects to http://total.com/en. So does http://www.chenalco.com/
Total S.A. is a french oil and gas company. So is Chenal Media pretending to be Total S.A., did somebody buy their website and redirect it, or did Total S.A. buy those websites and redirect them in order to [insert complicated and opaque justification].
They also have a ChenalCorp.com website, but it will not pull up. The cached version doesn't have much information. http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:l_kjzd5dcSoJ:chenalcorp.com/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us
Is it possible that this is a money-laundering operation? What would explain the almost invisible, or possibly non-existent, employees/executives and unusual operations other than something shady?
The fake photos raise a question — It is theoretically possible there is no one named "Will Bermender," "Lee Gersten," "Randall Prescott," "Rob Key," or "Megan Tolcher" actually associated with this company. If someone is uploading fake photos to represent those names, it's possible the identities were stolen, too.
I guess we can conclude that Chenal is for sure a fake company and being the parent company to Kleargear, it too is fake. Perhaps Kleargear is one of these internet sites set up for the sole purpose of stealing identities.
Many injustices committed by the State make more sense when you consider the possibility that the real goal of government—as championed or at least sanctioned by the majority of the populace and as carried out by State officials—is to wield power over others. Power usually for some (however vaguely stated) goal, but sometimes for no discernible purpose whatsoever. It is probably true that a given person's desire to wield power over others, the strength and severity of such power that that person will support, and that person's concern for the consequences of this power-wielding are strongly influenced by how different those "others" are perceived as being.
Most people (seem to) consider drug users, drug dealers, and others convicted of drug-related charges as violent miscreants who deserve their sentences and who make our cities safer by being locked up. Importantly, most people don't personally know anyone railroaded by the criminal justice [sic] system and its War on Drugs, and they seem to consider those people not victims of the State but rather some kind of boorish, uncivilized perpetual delinquents who are not part of our civil society, who don't deserve any benefit of the doubt, who don't deserve any mercy or even lighter sentences, who must have done something or other that was worthy of a prison sentence because they're those types of people.
While many seem to be coming around on the decriminalization of marijuana, most Americans still strongly support the criminalization of harder drugs such as cocaine, crystal meth, and heroin. When you hear about the crimes the State commits against nonviolent people in its enforcement of said criminalization, you start to realize that most Americans are awful, despicable people. And they have put in power exactly the type of government they want. Oh, I grant you, no one ever seems to be satisfied with the particular policies and functional details of any state or federal government at any time, but the broad strokes reflect the desires of the American populace perfectly.
So you’re a judge, and Sharanda P. Jones comes before you for sentencing for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine.
She’s a 32-year-old mom with a 9-year-old daughter and no prior arrests, but she has been caught up in a drug sweep that has led to 105 arrests in her Texas town. Everyone arrested is black.
There are no drugs found on Jones, but her supposed co-conspirators testify against her in exchange for reduced sentences. The whole case is dubious, but she has been convicted. What’s your sentence?
You have little choice. Given the presumptions of the case, she gets a mandatory minimum sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Jump to today and already Jones has spent 14 years in prison and is expected to die behind bars — for a first offense.
Ricky Minor, a meth addict and father of three, was found with 1.2 grams of meth in his home, along with over-the-counter decongestants that can be used to manufacture meth. He was initially charged under Florida law and says he faced a two-and-a-half-year sentence. Later indicted under federal law, he pleaded guilty because his public defender said that otherwise the prosecutors would also pursue his wife, leaving no one to raise their children. Minor had several prior nonviolent offenses, for which he had never served time, and these required Judge Clyde Roger Vinson to sentence him to life without parole. Judge Vinson said that the sentence “far exceeds whatever punishment would be appropriate.”
Danielle Metz became pregnant at 17 and later married an abusive man who was also a drug dealer. To placate him, she says, she sometimes helped him by fetching cocaine or collecting money from Western Union. After one clash in which he punched her in the face, she took the kids and left him. Two months later, she was indicted. She says that she was prosecuted primarily to induce her to testify against her husband, but that she wasn’t knowledgeable enough to have useful information to trade for a reduced sentence. She has now spent more than 20 years in prison.
Those examples come from a devastating new report, "A Living Death," by the American Civil Liberties Union. It identified more than 3,200 such nonviolent offenders sentenced to die behind bars.
Four out of five are black or Hispanic. Virtually all are poor. Many had dismal legal counsel. Some were convicted of crimes committed when they were juveniles or very young adults.
These people are victims of America’s disastrous experiment in mass incarceration. From the 1930s through the early 1970s, we incarcerated people at a steady rate. Since then, incarceration rates have roughly quintupled. America now imprisons people at more than five times the rates of most Western countries.
Large-scale atrocities like the War on Drugs make more sense when you consider that wielding power over others and controlling their lives to the greatest practical extent are the primary goals of politics and government as most Americans see them, and nice-sounding goals like keeping our children safe, ensuring everyone is treated equally under the law, and protecting our lives, liberty, and property are only secondary, post hoc justifications for the primary goal.
I don't mean quantitatively, with equations and graphs and models, but more philosophically and methodically.
At the mathematics blag The Aperiodical, I found this post about the central difference between math and science:
Up to a point, it might seem reasonable to explore an issue by finding a bunch of examples and extrapolating a general rule that your examples seem to obey. I realise there’s a little more to it than that, but this is basically what science does. This process is called inductive reasoning, because a general theory is ‘induced’ from the ground up.
Mathematics, on the other hand, follows a deductive process. A set of basic ideas are assumed (we call these axioms), and a series of propositions are ‘deduced’ from these via proof. Of course, in reality there are mathematicians on the applied side who are effectively doing science, but at its heart, mathematics is a process of deductive reasoning.
So science induces from evidence, while mathematics deduces from assumed truths. This is why a mathematical truth (a true statement within a constrained system) remains true throughout time, while scientific truth (an idea based on a lot of evidence) can be overturned by new observations.
Ludwig von Mises's philosophy of praxeology is also deductive, as it proceeds from the action axiom and draws conclusions about human nature, action, time preference, and decision-making that must always be true.
Praxeology starts from the undeniable axiom that human beings exist and act, and then logically deduces implications of this fact. These deduced propositions are true a priori; there is no need to test them in the way that a physicist might test a proposed "law" of Nature. So long as a praxeological statement has been derived correctly, it must necessarily contain as much truth as the original axioms.
Mathematics is a subset of logic whose true substance is not directly quantitative or computational, but rather logical and theoretical, which can be applied to make quantitative computations in specific situations. Praxeology is also a subset of logic, and its deductive, a priori nature makes praxeological economics, popularly called Austrian economics (after Mises and his forebear Carl Menger) much more closely related to pure mathematics than Austrian economists and their detractors seem to realize.
Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports wrote an excellent article about the emotions and passions that have erupted in response to the "Nightmare in Maryville". One of Wetzel's main points is that we shouldn't let our emotions get carried away and lead us to incorrect conclusions and rash judgments, such as the conclusion that Nodaway County prosecutor Robert Rice dropped the charges against two boys because of who their families are—specifically, Matthew Barnett, whose grandfather was a longtime politician from Maryville. Reading his article, I felt like he could have been talking about me, as well as thousands of other concerned citizens and amateur blaggers, many of whom tend to take an issue—or one small aspect of an issue—and run with it, drawing conclusions and leveling condemnations according to their pre-established worldviews.
I think I do that a lot less than I used to, because I have made a conscious effort to sound less like an amateur basement-dweller shouting from his blagging chair and more like someone who is worth reading or at least not dismissing outright. The main three ways in which I try to achieve this are backing up all my fact-based claims with sources (links), backing up most of my opinions and conclusions with fact or sound logic (such as economic theory), and making concessions where they are due (instead of glossing over points that might detract from my argument or trying to explain them away somehow). I don't know where my previous post about the Nightmare in Maryville falls on the spectrum between amateur outrage-blagging and thoughtful, journalistic consideration (which, lamentably, often amounts to drawing no conclusions and taking no side at all), but I'm pretty sure it's not too close to either end.
In that vein, I wanted to respond to the aforementioned point of Wetzel's, specifically this passage from his article:
The obvious and first reaction here is one of anger. A young girl taken advantage of, raped, discarded in the frost grass by callous older boys, who because of their athletic ability and family connections are protected by the powers that be in this small backward town.
That may be a true version, although to make that immediate conclusion is to engage in stereotyping. It is to assume that in Maryville no one cares about sexual assault or young girls. It is to conclude that judgments have been blinded by loyalty to a local powerhouse high school football team. It is to presume the possibility of some political muscle – Barnett's grandfather is a former state representative –– trying to make this go away and a prosecutor bending to it.
Those are huge leaps to make here. At least at this point with what is currently known.
He is slightly off base here. It is technically stereotyping to assume that tribalism, blind loyalty, political power, and good-ol'-boy connections, not to mention backwardness and barbarism, are what led to some townspeople's reactions and to prosecutor Robert Rice dropping the charges against rapist Matthew Barnett and iPhone recorder Jordan Zech. But the good thing about stereotypes is that they're usually true. Especially about the government and other powerful, well-connected people. (Also, I don't know how Wetzel could conclude that our condemnation of some townspeople's reactions was off base; why else would they be sticking up for obviously horrible people and blaming the victims? How is it stereotyping if we only condemn the ones who are worthy of condemnation? I haven't read any column or blag post that condemns the entire town of Maryville, only the despicable people.)
Anyway, the assumption that Robert Rice is a corrupt crony who would rather commit the crime of dropping a case for what amounts to personal reasons than, y'know, do his job, is backed by a long, detailed history of such cronyism in the United States and across the world. Sometimes prosecutors, judges, juries, and the law enforcement/judicial system in general do their job right. Take the conviction of Kwame Kilpatrick and the conviction of Steubenville, Ohio, rapists Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond. But only part of the law enforcement/judicial system seems to have done its job right in the Maryville rape cases. This is not some wild, unsubstantiated assumption based on my desire to find fault in every government employee and my instinctual desire to defend the seemingly weak against the seemingly strong. It is based on Maryville Sheriff Darren White's certainty that two rapes, in addition to other crimes, had occurred and that the ample evidence pointed entirely to that conclusion. It is also based on the already-realized conviction of the 15-year-old rapist of the 13-year-old girl. What did he do that was so much worse than Matthew Barnett? (Was it based entirely on age?)
So it is not just anger and passion that lead people to conclude that something is amiss in the Nodaway County judicial system. It is the evidence, as presented by Sheriff White, the two girls, their families, and—oh, by the way—Matthew Barnett and Jordan Zech themselves, who admitted to everything they had done but claimed the rape was consensual.
A key point is that prosecutor Rice dropped all charges against Barnett and Zech, not just the rape charge, which depends on whether the sex was consensual, i.e., whether the girl was coherent and capable of consent at that point. Everything I've read indicates that no other facts of the case are in dispute, even by the rapists and their conspirators. Why would the slam-dunk charges (the iPhone recording and leaving the girl in sub-freezing weather) be dropped? It isn't a problem of evidence, testimony, or any other legal/procedural snag. Therefore, it is not a "huge leap" to conclude cronyism and ethical violations.
Another, minor point of Wetzel's that I dispute is that we Rice-bashers assume that Barnett's grandfather must have contacted Rice and urged him to drop the charges. Both Rice and the former politician deny that, and they might be telling the truth. My point is that a specific urging or communication needn't have taken place regarding this particular case or under any other circumstances, at any time. Rice might just want to protect a politically powerful family and another longstanding, popular Maryville family, because that's the way things are done or that's the way he wants to do them in this case. He might just be operating the only way he knows how: to protect the powerful and well connected at the expense of the weak and not well connected. That was half the point of my first post about this case.
Finally, regarding Wetzel's overall point that we shouldn't rush to judgment or jump to conclusions: It is rarely wrong to take a default stance against the government. It is rarely unwise to make a default assumption of corruption, cronyism, or incompetence in government employees and government offices. As I wrote recently about the NSA, it has repeatedly, invariably proven incorrect and unwise to assume the NSA always follows the law, doesn't violate people's privacy, doesn't violate the Constitution, does nothing harmful or unjust with its data, only collects a limited amount or a limited type of data, only focuses its vast efforts on legitimate counterterrorism, and is honest and forthright with Congress and the American people. Many civil libertarians and other fans of Greenwald and Gellman assumed the worst about the NSA early on in their Snowden leak publication process, before a lot of facts were made known. It turns out we were right to assume the NSA was far worse than we knew. Taking this type of default position about the Steubenville case would have been wrong, but the Maryville case is different and I think we're right. If we ever learn the whole truth, I think our assumptions will be vindicated.
So it is not a "huge leap" to assume the prosecutor dropped the charges because of cronyism. In this case, given the evidence published by the Kansas City Star, the quotes from Sheriff White, the dropping of all charges and not just the rape charge, and the testimony of the girls, their mothers, and the boys themselves (not to mention the conviction of the 15-year-old rapist!), it is a huge leap to take Robert Rice at his word and assume he was acting ethically and within the law. Giving that benefit of the doubt to Robert Rice or any other person in power is the wrong default position to take. You might retort that no one should have any "default" position but rather should consider each situation separately based on the facts. That's wise too, but note that being skeptical of all sides and making no assumptions is also a default position, or at least a default strategy. My point is that when the State or any other person(s) in a position of power is involved, the best default position is to assume they have somehow wronged the weaker and less connected party. In addition to being correct the vast majority of the time, this default assumption reinforces a distrust of government power and often leads to the discovery of more and deeper problems than the initial facts indicated, both of which are good and necessary to a healthy, free society.
Oh, but in a libertarian society, the privileged, powerful, and connected would trample the rights of innocents without consequenceOctober 15, 2013 – 4:02 pm by John
If you haven't heard about the "Nightmare in Maryville, Missouri", you might want to make sure you read about it on an empty stomach, because it will probably make you physically sick. In brief, a 14-year-old girl and a 13-year-old girl were raped by popular older boys, one of whom, Matthew Barnett, is the son of a popular politician from the town and the other also from a well-liked, longstanding family in that town. The 14-year-old was drunk, which was partially the fault of the boys, and after being raped was left on her front lawn in sub-freezing weather (January). The Mayrville sheriff's department said they collected ample evidence, all of it pointing towards rape and endangerment of minors, and that it seemed like an open-and-shut case. But since the families of the accused, or at least one of them, are powerful and well connected, the prosecutor naturally dropped all charges against the boys*, even the charges stemming from the recording of sex acts on an iPhone and leaving the girl in sub-freezing weather, neither of which anyone disputes. Also naturally, half of the town taunted, bullied, harassed, ostracized, and blamed the victims, which I am constitutionally incapable of understanding.
[*Correction: I hear from this Dan Wetzel article that the boy who raped the 13-year-old girl—the boy who isn't the son of a politician—actually has been charged, convicted, and punished by the juvenile judicial system. I guess his family isn't powerful and connected enough. A third boy, Jordan Zech, the 17-year-old who recorded the rape on an iPhone and who participated in dropping the 14-year-old off on the lawn, was the second boy whose charges were dropped.]
One thing that can't be denied about this horrible case is that a lot of the town's disgusting reaction stems from the fact that Maryville is a small-ish, rural, close-knit community consisting mostly of families that have lived in the same town and known all the other families for generations, which (according to the Kansas City Star article) has resulted in a very tribal, outsider-distrusting, protect-their-own mentality, which I'm not sure can be diminished by any political change. (The family of the 14-year-old had recently moved to Maryville from 40 miles away.) But that mentality wouldn't explain a lot of other victim-blaming that occurs in cases that you hear about all the time around the internet. I have no explanation for that phenomenon in general. People suck, I guess?
But another thing that also can't be denied is that the very trait that Statists claim as the greatest advantage of monopolistic government is exactly what allows crimes like these to go unpunished: the girls and their families have no other recourse for justice. Their one and only option, the county court system, has decided to protect its good ol' boy network instead of fulfilling its moral and legal obligations, so now there is nothing else they can do within the law.
This clearly makes the prosecuting attorney compliant in those boys' crimes and therefore a criminal deserving of prosecution himself. This is an important point: Whatever advantage might be gained by granting the State a monopoly on criminal justice, the result is that there is no other authority to which citizens can turn when the State wrongs them. The State can't possibly be expected to treat accusations and cases against itself impartially, and we see in this instance that it can't or won't consider these families' concerns about the prosecutor at all. There is no possibility of a case being brought against the prosecutor or his office or the county—not realistically. The families of those girls can't sue the prosecuting attorney or the county or the district attorney's office or the state of Missouri for the crimes of the county, or at least that one attorney. There is a 0% chance that the prosecutor will be subject to any discipline, or even an investigation, or even a meeting, or even an email or phone call, for his cover-up of these privileged, connected boys' crimes. He belongs in prison, right next to those sociopathic scumbags, in the general population of the state penitentiary. Instead, they will likely go the rest of their lives without suffering very seriously for any of their other crimes, of which there are sure to be many.
These are direct, predictable, and all-too-common consequences of monopolistic government: the powerful and well connected trample the rights of the weak because the weak have no recourse other than the very State that is the source of the power and connections of their aggressors.
I can identify at least one other lesson about the powerful and privileged that is reinforced by this story: People in power are so used to serving that power, are so used to being completely brazen about their daily business of keeping wealth and power in the hands of the powerful few and out of the hands of the weak, dispersed masses, that they don't even see anything wrong with it, and even if they did, they wouldn't know how to conduct their business differently anyway. This complete obliviousness (or shamelessness) led the prosecutor to say, with a straight face, such things as, “There wasn’t any prosecuting attorney that could take that case to trial. It had to be dismissed.” And to call it a case of “incorrigible teenagers” drinking alcohol and having sex. And to say, “They were doing what they wanted to do, and there weren’t any consequences. And it’s reprehensible. But is it criminal? No.”
We see this obliviousness (or shamelessness) all the time in the financial sector, from the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department to Wall Street banks: Despite all the fraud and other crimes committed by billionaire CEOs, mortgage lenders, and investment banks, and despite all the wealth they have destroyed or transferred from average Americans to themselves, and despite all the outrage directed at them from average Americans, and despite politicians' claims that they'll clean up Wall Street and punish white-collar criminals, little has changed and they're richer than ever. The same is true of the National Security Agency and all of its crimes and lies: they continue to spout "9/11!" and change nothing. The same is true of the revolving door between government and lobbying and "consulting" jobs. The same is true of the War on Drugs and its murder of innocents, including pets.
The power elite in every society and in every era focus their daily lives on empowering and enriching the already powerful and rich, and they are so used to doing so that they can't even change tactics in rare, high-profile, particularly egregious situations when every sensible person sees right through them.