Saturday, July 26, 2014

Trains and Their Alternatives

By far, my favorite species of libertarian writing is the article which attacks a government spending project by articulating all the other spending projects -- also opposed by libertarians -- that could instead receive the money. This Reason article making fun of a new light rail project in downtown Detroit is a great example of the genre.

I don't know enough about the particulars of Detroit to know if the project makes sense or not. I do note that reviving urban cores via densification around light rail hubs has a very strong record of success and plays into the increasingly car-less preferences of the millennial generation. Given that this is pretty much the trend in urban revitalization, you'd think the article might mention it somewhere, but alas. Indeed, the article seems peculiarly attached to the thesis that "downtown" is a doomed concept which fell apart in 1967 and will never rise again -- a theory that seems to my ears to be, what, a decade out of date? At least? The trend in the United States has been towards restoring the central nature of "downtown" areas, as young professionals like being able to walk (or take a quick hop on public transportation) to their jobs, their favorite restaurants, or their after-work hangouts. So the idea that Detroit would benefit from following this path is hardly some sort of absurdist boondoggle.

The real joy though, comes in all the caveats that are snuck in throughout the article, much as a parent might hide vegetables under the mashed potatoes. "Detroit's light rail line could be written off as a typical government pork fest, if only a large share of the construction funds weren't coming from private sources." Uh-oh -- sometimes private benefactors make choices with their money that don't perfectly align with Reason's read on Rational Choice Theory? Say it ain't so! What about convenience? Well, obviously, the best way to think about that is their absurd hypothetical where a local business magnate uses his god-given right as a Free Market Maker issues some sort of decree to "mandate that his employees utilize the new light rail line in their daily commutes after it opens in 2016." The idea behind these light rail projects typically is that people move close to the train stations and don't drive anywhere, but that really basic concept is again nowhere to be seen.

And what about the "26 percent of Detroit households that don’t own cars"? Here, Reason suggests that further investment in the city's bus lines would be a better use of the money. And maybe so -- there are a lot of reasons to favor rapid-bus transit over train lines, greater flexibility being among the most prominent! But of course, if that was on the table it would be another government spending atrocity Reason would oppose on principled libertarian grounds. And even if Reason was remotely likely to offer its full-throated support to massive government subsidies to local bus lines -- which I don't think we'll see in any form except as a hypothetical counterplan to actual proposed projects -- the fact is one of these projects is on the table (thanks to private money, no less), and one isn't.

So yes, color me skeptical that their problem with the rail project stems either from Reason's deep understanding of contemporary urban redevelopment policy or their heartfelt commitment to bus service.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Religious Mantras

The former editor-in-chief of Newton, Iowa (pop. 15,254) was fired after he wrote comments describing his fight against the "Gaystapo". Now he's claiming religious discrimination and filing suit. Here's his statement:
On April 28, 2014, I penned a theologically based article stating my sincerely held religious beliefs about efforts by some to criticize and remold my faith through what I believe is false teaching. In my article, I quoted at length from a variety of sources, most prominently, from the Holy Bible.

That blog post described my sincerely held religious beliefs regarding Holy Scripture and the definition of marriage. My comments on my blog were personal in nature and reflective of my sincerely held religious beliefs. Furthermore, I felt compelled by my sincerely held religious beliefs to share my Biblical view with the few folks who read my blog.
I'm probably reading too much into this, but the way he's repeating "sincerely held religious beliefs" after Hobby Lobby reminds me a lot of shooters after Trayvon Martin who kept saying "I'm standing my ground" right before blowing some "threatening" kid away. It's interesting to watch legal doctrine percolate down into the public consciousness and how they are understood (and misunderstood) by average people. I am quite skeptical that a religious discrimination claim will go anywhere based on these facts; "sincerely-held" beliefs notwithstanding.

Bonus fun fact: The man is being represented by the Liberty Institute -- formerly known as the "Free Market Foundation". Because when I think "conservative ideals about the free market", I think "judicial intervention to stop private businesses from voluntarily deciding who they employ as their Editors".

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I Will Never Yield in My Commitment to Compromise My Principles

A new poll asks what sort of people Americans wish had a greater presence in Congress. There's some interesting findings, but the one that immediately struck me was this:
Gallup finds that by a margin of 63% to 30%, Americans believe the country would be better (as opposed to worse) governed if in political office there were more “people who think it is more important to compromise to get things done than to hold firm to their principles.” Okay. But by a margin of 56% to 38%, they believe life would be better if there were in political office more “people who think it is more important to hold firm to their principles than to compromise to get things done.” These would appear to be diametrically opposed and exclusive propositions, unless “Americans” are saying they want more highly conflicted people in office, or just want more of everything.
I really, really, really wish I could get into the head of the people who prefer both the pro- and anti-compromise positions.

Monday, July 21, 2014


A Palestinian defendant -- facing deportation after being accused of covering up her convictions and subsequent prison sentences for two Jerusalem bombings -- wants her Jewish judge off the case because of his alleged ties to the "pro-Israel" community (the motion is here). While I don't doubt that the Judge is "pro-Israel" in some broad sense of the word, I say "alleged" because some of the supposed "ties" are really just connections to the Jewish community that, if we're charitable, are simply being misunderstood. The label "Builder of Israel", for example, given by the Judge's synagogue for his charitable donations to the community, is a reference to the Book of Ruth that does not necessarily reflect anything about Israel qua Israel.

In any event, we've seen arguments like this before -- a Catholic Judge asked to recuse himself due to his ties to Ave Maria College; the effort to get Judge Walker to recuse himself in the gay marriage cases. Were it up to me, I'd dispose of the motion in a single sentence:
The motion to recuse is denied. See Pennsylvania v. Local Union 542, Int'l Union of Operating Eng'rs, 388 F.Supp. 155 (E.D. Pa. 1974).
But I'm cheeky.