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13 Things I Learned in 2013 - Page 2 (Politics)

This year, I'm going to separate the lessons I learned into three categories: personal, political, and parenting. I know a lot of my readers tend to tune in for different reasons, which is fine. I don't expect everybody who is interested in my libertarian rants against climate policy to be just as interested in my review of Assassin's Creed III. This way, if you aren't interested in my politics, just skip page two. If you're sick of hearing me talk about being a parent, don't bother with the last page. Don't say I never did anything for you, dear reader.

Government Bureaucracy is Even More Incompetent than I Thought

Buttle's paperwork
You're welcome, one guy who gets the joke

Two of the biggest political stories of 2013 were the NSA leaks and the embarrasingly bad rollout of the Affordable Care Act. The NSA leaks reveal a closed-system bureaucracy that decides for itself what is acceptable and what is not, and the "oversight" is laughably lacking. The question is not whether the NSA spying techniques on American citizens is constitutional, but how we the people are supposed to stop this clearly unconstitutional abuse of power and the many others we probably don't know about. Trusting bureaucrats to check bureaucrats in a vacuum is ludicrous, and if there's one thing the FISA court's request denial rate (which ended 2012 at 11 out of 33,949, or roughly 0.03%) should teach us is that an invisible check on power is only slightly more stringent than a rubber stamp. But the NSA scandal, as a demonstration of bureaucratic incompetence, pales in comparison to the ACA rollout. It's not just the website--though spending over $600 million to build a website over the course of three years that doesn't work is certainly a perfect example of government efficiency--but also the way the disastrous launch, the millions of insurance cancellation letters, the pathetically low enrollment numbers, the utterly predictable insurance death spiral, the confusion over start dates, the potential security breaches, the exposed lies, the massive coverage drops, the sticker shock of much higher prices than promised, and more were handled. This was an unparalleled explosion of bureaucratic incompetence that shouldn't have come as a surprise--especially not to Libertarians like myself--but it was still staggering to witness just how bad it really was (and still is). At its most basic: the ACA was designed to make healthcare more affordable and have more people covered by insurance. To date, more people have lost insurance than have gained it, and healthcare costs have gone up, not down. Helluva job, Barry. But just wait, it's going to get a lot worse (unless something changes) when the employer mandate kicks in and hundreds of millions of people start to get cancellation notices and are forced to use the government website.

Gun Control Statistics are Extremely Ambiguous

An AR-15
If she doesn't know, I'm not gonna force the issue

At the start of 2013, gun control was a hot topic. Depending on which news outlets or websites you consulted, the narratives about guns were wildly different. On one hand, you had people insisting that gun violence is out of control, that places with strict gun laws are safer than places without, and that we need to enact new regulations in order to curb the frightening rise of spree shootings and murder. On the other hand, you had people insisting that gun violence is actually on the decline, that places with heavy gun regulations are less safe than places where people can freely carry guns, and that the apparent rise in spree shootings is more of a media sensation, an artifact of greater attention, not greater frequency. In order to figure out which side was right--since there didn't seem to be very many opinions in the middle--I took it upon myself to look at the raw numbers and draw my own conclusions. The result? Both sides are wrong. There are no obvious patterns or trends in the numbers. Gun violence is on a slight decline, but the idea that there is any correlation between gun laws and gun violence is demonstrably false. The equation is far more complex than anybody wants you to believe, and it's going to take me a lot longer than one year to sort it out for myself.

Being Dubbed a Racist is Worse than Being a Baby Killer

Paula Deen
Note: if you defend Paula Deen, you must also be a racist, just like that judge who threw out the lawsuit against her

In entertainment news in 2013, butter-loving television icon Paula Deen was fired because she might be a racist, and Jenny McCarthy landed a career-rocketting job as cohost of The View. The Paula Deen controversy started when she was sued by a former employee who alleged that Paula had used racial epithets and had mused about throwing a party in which black people would be Southern-plantation-style servers (this latter story remains unconfirmed and denied by Deen). Before the case was dismissed without even a settlement (yes, the case was thrown out of court), she was fired from Food Network over the controversy, after admitting that she had, a few times, used the "N-word," mostly back in the 60's. (Reminder #1: she lives in Southern Georgia, where you'd be hard-pressed to find any native over the age of forty who has not used the "N-word"; reminder #2: she is friends with Jimmy Carter, who continues to defend her, even today; reminder #3: she enthusiastically supported Barack Obama's bid to become president.) Deen is now a pariah, with her cooking show not only getting cancelled but with even the reruns taken out of the lineup immediately. Her sons' show has also been taken off the air. Many stores have stopped offering Paula Deen merchandise, her book sales have plummeted, she parted with her agent, and her career as a celebrity chef is in shambles. Meanwhile, Jenny McCarthy, who is at least partially responsible for the rise of several vaccine-preventable diseases in this country (which kill tens of thousands of children), was awarded a spot on the daytime talk show The View, where she is free to espouse her toxic beliefs to gullible housewives in all fifty states. Also, convicted felon Martha Stewart still has a lucrative career, cooking on television. Something is seriously wrong with our priorities in this country.

Few People Care about Maintaining the Separation of Powers

Ain't Nobody Got Time for That
Please forgive my use of the meme

I mentioned the ACA above, but did you know that the law unconstitutionally attempts to prevent future Congresses from being able to repeal aspects of it? Take the IPAB (the Independent Payment Advisory Board), which the more shrill conservatives have called the "death panel." According to the ludicrous provisions of the law, the IPAB can only be repealed by a bill introduced between January 1, 2017 and February 1, 2017 and passed by a three-fifths super-majority before August 15, 2017. This is completely insane, but I'm willing to bet this is the first you've heard of it. Go ahead and fact-check me; I'll wait. See? But that's just one example. The contraceptive mandate, the EPA overreach, Obama's non-recess recess appointments, his repeated changes to the law without Congressional approval, his frequent use of troops abroad without even consulting Congress, both houses of Congress deciding to partially shut down the government rather than come to any agreements, the Senate going "nuclear" to prevent the minority from filibustering, etc. A huge portion of the country seems to believe that, because Congress is gridlocked, it and the president should be allowed to streamline and/or subvert the constitutional process. I also mentioned the NSA scandal, where you have secret government courts being used as a check against a secret government agency that can spy on the entire American population with prejudice. How that can be considered a good constitutional check against authority that jives with the Fourth Amendment is beyond me. Let's also go back to the ACA and its mandates, which were only deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court by looking at the law as a tax law. Forget how tortured this logic is (and how it completely removes any restraint from the Commerce Clause), because if the ACA is a tax law that started its life in the Senate, then it is again unconstitutional, because all tax laws must originate in the House of Representatives. I'm not one of these people who throws around terms like "shredding the constitution," but really, we are living in a time where our founding document is in more danger than our country has seen since the Civil War.

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-e. magill 1/15/2014

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