I learned about them from the NSA

If it weren’t for the NSA, I might never have learned about Liberty Maniacs. An article on Salon reports that the NSA issued a takedown notice to Zazzle against a Liberty Maniacs shirt which mocks the agency. It’s no longer available on Zazzle, but Liberty Maniacs has lots of amusing merchandise on Cafe Press. I’ve just ordered a couple of shirts, including the NSA one.
T-shirt image with mock NSA logo and 'The only part of the government that actually listens'
Don’t expect deep or fully consistent philosophy there. It’s simply a shop where, if you value liberty and free thought, you may find some clothes, stickers, and posters you like. I can’t say anything yet about the quality of the service or products, but I hope both will be good. Order while you still can.

Thanks for making them known to a wider audience, NSA.

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Finding libertarian hope

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
— Tolkien, Lord of the Rings

In an exchange of correspondence with a friend, I said that there’s no short-term libertarian hope for America, since not just the government but the population is corrupt. He replied characterizing people as depraved. This wasn’t something I could agree with; it’s the Salvation Army that thinks everybody but them is “totally depraved.” It got me to thinking about the difference, and ultimately to recognizing that there is hope, even the way things are.

When I say Americans are corrupt, I don’t mean they’re horrible people; I mean they’ve they accept horrible things because they’ve been bought off. It’s more important to them to get stuff at other people’s expense or to get dubious protection against tiny risks than to keep their freedom. They’re the people who Ben Franklin said deserve neither liberty nor safety.

In other ways, though, these are mostly good people. They’re privately honest while accepting public dishonesty. They respect the rights of others in person while raping them through the ballot. They wouldn’t rob anyone with threats of force, but they ask their representatives in Washington to.

It’s a matter of what they’ve learned to consider acceptable. Rather then being considered horrible for endorsing robbery by proxy, they’re applauded for their “civic spirit.” In other cultures and times, people have accepted and applauded much worse things — slavery, tyranny, and religious persecution — while taking pride in their personal honor.

We can’t expect libertarian ideas to turn a culture around in a short time. We can hope, though, to make things better than they would have been otherwise. Then perhaps they can get better still, and perhaps at some point opportunities for major change will arise. If not, we may at least help to hold off disaster. Some people think it’s better to let the system collapse, but I wouldn’t want to live in the world that would follow the last chapter of Atlas Shrugged.

Some things have lately changed for the better. There are more legal options for domestic relationships in many places. Some serious restrictions on free speech that were called “campaign reform” have been struck down (and it’s fun to hear progressives howl in outrage). A number of restrictions designed to sustain business cartels have been struck down. Attempts to criminalize recording police activity have been resoundingly defeated. Many things have gotten worse, but the point is that libertarian efforts have helped make things better than they would have been otherwise.

Sure, we’d much rather see government carved down to its proper functions, such as putting Bush and Obama in jail, but we can only deal with the world we have. We have to look for the victories we can get, rebut fallacies, and promote better ideas. It’s not much, but the alternative is giving up.

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One more Concord Bearcat note

An article in the Concord, NH Patch indicates that the Concord school district may be interested in a Lenco Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck (Bearcat). Police Chief John Duval, who has previously cited the Occupiers and Free Staters as “terrorist” threats requiring the availability of an armored vehicle, claims that “The recent incident at the school in (Decatur, Georgia) is further evidence for the need of this rescue vehicle.”

The invasion of a Georgia school by a gunman was resolved by peacefully talking him down. Duval seems to think this was the wrong thing to do, that the correct response was something involving an armored vehicle. It’s bad enough that he regards non-mainstream groups as terrorists, but subjecting school kids to his overkill mentality is really scary.

See my earlier posts tagged “Bearcat” for background and more links.

Update: The Concord City Council will vote on September 9 on getting an attack truck.

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How not to get screwed by Harvard Pilgrim

Here’s the tl;dr version: If you need to terminate health insurance which you’re buying yourself, first stop any payment, then talk to the insurance company. You’re in a much better position if they don’t already have your money.

Here’s the story: In late July I started a new job. Its benefits include health insurance through Harvard Pilgrim. Before this I’d had been paying for my own insurance in a COBRA arrangement from my earlier employer, Harvard University, also with Harvard Pilgrim. Crosby Benefit Systems administers it.

My new insurance card was slow in coming, and I didn’t feel safe cancelling my old insurance until I had the new card in hand. That was a mistake. By the time I had it, the August payment had been deducted from my checking account. Crosby told me, after I provided the needed information, that my insurance would be cancelled. What they didn’t tell me was that it wouldn’t be cancelled till the end of the month; I only found that out when I got a letter over a week later. This means that for five weeks, I’m paying two premiums to the same insurance company for the same coverage. Harvard Pilgrim has hundreds of dollars from me that pay for nothing.

I contacted Crosby. They told me they couldn’t do anything about it because those are the terms that Harvard puts on its insurance. I contacted Harvard Pilgrim. They told me that the money is collected by Harvard, not them (they just happen to get it from Harvard), so they can’t (read: don’t have to) do anything either. There may be someone at Harvard I can talk to, but I doubt it will do any good.

What I should have done was to stop the payments from my bank account as soon as I knew I had new insurance. Then I could cancel the old policy and have the leverage of still having the money. What’s the worst Harvard Pilgrim could do to me? Cancel the policy I was trying to cancel?

Payment plans where the money is deducted from your bank account are a dangerous thing in general. They have the advantage that you don’t risk missing a payment as long as you keep your balance up, but you’re giving away the key to your cash box. You don’t have much recourse once they have the money.

As Arlo Guthrie said, you may know someone who’s in a similar situation, or you may be in a similar situation, now or in the future. Pass this advice along as you see fit. With Obamacare forcing people to deal with insurance companies and taking away the option of high-deductible, low-premium insurance, we can only expect health insurance companies to get more arrogant. (Massachusetts already has forced insurance thanks to Romneycare, so Harvard Pilgrim is ahead of the curve.) Assume they will try to screw you and do whatever you can to prevent it.

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New Hampshire’s plague of Bearcats

For every time there have been protests against police departments’ acquisition of military-grade vehicles, many others have quietly obtained them without getting much notice. I’d wondered whether Nashua had acquired or was planning to GET a Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck, or Bearcat as it’s called for short, and it turns out that it has. I don’t know if it’s been abused yet, but its presence is a constant invitation to unnecessary escalation. When cops start acquiring increasingly violent toys, they start to think of justifications and excuses. Concord Police Chief John Duval’s characterization of Free Staters and Occupiers as potential terrorists is an example.

I’m not aware of any violent incidents in New Hampshire involving Bearcats, but there have been clear cases of overuse which had the potential to create violence. In January 2011, an attack truck and a SWAT team were sent to a home in the border town of Pelham, where a 72-year-old man had barricaded himself in, though it was reportedly used just to keep the cops warm. The cops declared that “his apparent state of mind at the time of the event prevented him from early on making the obvious rational decision to surrender.” Very likely if I saw a small military force outside my door, I’d be afraid to make that decision too.

I hate to give Lenco’s ads any publicity, but they damn the Bearcat better than anything else could. Watch this video, portraying cops in combat gear coming out of a Bearcat carrying assault weapons and gassing a building, and ask: Is this what you want to see in Concord, Nashua, Manchester, or Derry? (Embedding it is prohibited; Lenco doesn’t want people other than trigger-happy cops to see its ads.)

When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail; and when people are provided with demolition-scale hammers as tools of their work, they start seeing demolition-scale targets everywhere. The cost in some future situation could be deadly. Police are supposed to be a part of its community; it endangers them as much as everyone else if they’re put into the position of imperial stormtroopers.

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Concord Police Dept. wants a violent toy

Concord, NH, is a nice, peaceful city. It has bookstores, cafés, and perhaps the most accessible state legislature in the country. Police Chief John Duval, however, sees it as a city about to explode with terrorist violence. In order to protect Concord from this deadly threat, he’s asked Homeland Security to provide Concord with a Lenco Bearcat armored vehicle. Don’t think of the name as a cute sports mascot. It stands for “Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck.” It’s a military-grade vehicle designed for violent confrontation. It carries gun ports, and a battering ram is an option. Lenco’s ads emphasize its paramilitary uses.

The future of Concord?

What is the threat which Duval fears? According to the application he submitted, the vehicle is intended to take on the threat of Occupy, a bumbling anti-minority (they characterize their opponents at “the 1%”) sit-in group, and the Free State Project, which encourages liberty-loving people to move to New Hampshire. Neither of these groups has any record of violence. Duval’s move reeks of intent to intimidate political groups he doesn’t like.

According to an article in Mother Jones, Duval has waffled under pressure but hasn’t apologized for the smears.

“I wish I would have worded things different in retrospect,” he says. “I understand why their eyebrows are raised about that.” He chalks up the wording to the limitations of writing a detailed proposal in only three pages and says it was meant to refer to the “unpredictable nature of unpredictable people who attach themselves to otherwise lawful situations.”

If Duval is incapable of writing a coherent three-page proposal that doesn’t come off as paranoid raving, that doesn’t say much for his qualifications for the job. Is he now just saying that people are unpredictable? If so, why name any specific group? If there’s a group that’s unpredictable and dangerous, it’s the one that is looking for heavy armament in response to imaginary dangers.

When police departments acquire heavy armament, they start thinking of ways to use it. Look at SWAT teams. Originally designed for highly explosive situations, they now routinely smash in the doors of non-violent drug users (or people mistaken for them). Perhaps at first Duval will just roll out the Bearcat at political events, as a veiled threat. That’s bad enough already. But then there may come a day when there’s a situation which genuinely needs police action but not blazing guns and buildings. Duval might say, “Hey, these are ‘unpredictable people,’ and this is the chance to see what the Bearcat can do!” A building might be smashed into rubble and burn. Neighbors might be injured or die.

Homeland Security deserves a large chunk of blame for handing these deadly toys out. If Duval hadn’t been tempted, maybe he wouldn’t have started labeling dissidents as potential terrorists. Most cops are good people, but if they get carried away with power, they may do frightening things.

The sightseers of I-495

There’s an exciting new tourist attraction in Massachusetts which is fascinating drivers who have never seen the like before. Unfortunately, its location is inconvenient for the many others who just aren’t interested.

What’s this novelty? Construction on I-495! The people who have never seen such a thing before are slowing down to 15 to 20 MPH on the northbound lanes to get a good look at it. I should explain that the construction is on the southbound side and separated from northbound traffic by a very wide median, so we aren’t talking about construction slowing traffic down directly. These are people who are so excited to see the machines that they can’t just zoom by them at normal highway speeds.

Unfortunately, a lot of commuters are trying to get home at the same time, and when traffic is heavy we have to slow down to the pace of the sightseers. In fact, I’d guess that for every person who’s out to look at the construction, there are a hundred of us who don’t think this is anything new and would really like to move at a reasonable pace. When traffic is heavy, it only takes one out of every hundred to bring traffic to a crawl.

We’d like to be on our way, but we don’t want to deny you tourists the rare sight of machinery on a highway. Here’s a thought: Take the closest exit and park off the highway, then walk across it to get a really good view. Bring a picnic lunch; you can stay as long as you like. The rest of us can zoom along at 70 MPH as you’re crossing, letting us have a little extra fun. Everyone’s happy.

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