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Where the Girlfriends Are

Many people have written about the lack of women in the liberty movement. And some libertarian men asking about the lack of women end up answering themselves. Considering this, I was happily surprised to meet a large number of female liberty lovers over the past few years. And I’m thrilled I have several girlfriends for the first time in my life.

For most of my life, the majority of my friends were men. Most of these friends are either married or gay, but I found it interesting that almost all of them were men. Until recently, I didn’t understand this, but I embraced it, glad to have good friends of either gender. In the past few years since I’ve been active in the liberty movement, I’ve developed strong friendships with several women, and now my ratio of male and female friends is about even.

One of my girlfriends has a podcast, and her co-hosts were speculating recently about why some women seem to brag about having more male vs. female friends. I never bragged, but I did sometimes comment on having more male friends because I found it interesting and perplexing. In this podcast, the theories ranged from female misogyny to “wanting to be one of the guys”. For me, it’s just this: I prefer to associate with people who are straightforward about what they think and want.

In society generally, I’ve found that men tend to be more “WYSIWIG”. With men, what you see is what you get. There are exceptions of course, but this has been true in my experience and has also been observed by others. And it’s not all women’s fault. We’re raised with the belief it’s impolite to state our opinions bluntly or be open about what we want. It took me years and a good class in negotiation skills to get over my fears of asking for what I want. But in the liberty community, most people, including women, are clear with themselves and each other about their thoughts and goals. This makes it easy to trade with them – and easy to be friends with them.

So where do I find awesome girlfriends? I go to where the liberty lovers are!

Posted in Essays.

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Drugs: The Best Policy Is No Policy

Governments’ so-called “War on Drugs” has taken a major toll on the lives of people around the world. In the US alone, there were over 2 million people in prison for “drug crimes”. And the US government uses drugs as an “excuse” for continued military action and associated bloodshed in Latin America and elsewhere.

With all this violence over consensual activities, it is no wonder that people are waking up and pressuring governments to legalize and decriminalize drug use. Over the past decade, dramatic shifts have occurred in drug policies in various regions. At present, 14 US states and 10 European countries have legalized or decriminalized at least some aspects of drug use or trade. The map below shows marijuana legality worldwide, with regions of legalization/ decriminalization in blue:

I recently re-connected with a friend from Portugal, and among other topics, we discussed the relative value of Californian vs. Portuguese drug policies. At first, each of us argued that the policy where the other lived was better. In California, the sale and use of medical marijuana was “legalized” in 1996, whereas in Portugal the possession and use of all drugs was “decriminalized” in 2001.

Early in our conversation, my friend and I realized there are flaws in both Californian and Portuguese drug policies. I had heard the term “decriminalization” and assumed that the Portuguese government was completely out of the picture when it came to drugs. In fact, drugs are still illegal in Portugal, and the decriminalization was effected through new legislation rather than repeal of previous legislation. My friend explained that being caught with even small quantities of marijuana in Portugal can send a person to court. He said drugs should be totally free like in California. But in California, I explained, drugs are not totally free. Various state and local government offices control who is allowed to buy, sell, grow and prescribe medical marijuana. Clearly, the state wanted to be in on the action. In California, medical marijuana is a $2 billion industry, generating about $100 million in state sales taxes per year.

I’m beginning to think the best policies are in those regions where the drug laws are actively ignored.

Posted in Essays.

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Found Among the Hidden

As I’ve written previously, one of my daughters declines any discussion about politics and liberty activism because, she says, it bores her. I’ve found other ways to connect with her, including games and shared reading material. When I ran out of books just before my last business trip, she loaned me one of the books from her current favorite series.

The Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix begins with a book entitled, Among the Hidden. This book is about a boy named Luke who is the third child in his family, and they live in a place where it is illegal for families to have more than two children. The following passage appears on page 2:

At twelve, he knew better, but sometimes [Luke] still pictured the Government as a very big, mean, fat person, two or three times as tall as an ordinary man, who went around yelling at people, “Not allowed!” and “Stop that!” It was because of the way his parents and older brothers talked: “Government won’t let us plant corn there again.” “Government’s keeping the prices down.” “Government’s not going to like this crop.”

In one of our Skype video conversations during this business trip, I told my daughter how surprised I was about her book’s anti-government spin, considering her wish to avoid discussions about government. She replied that of course government is bad, but unlike our prior conversations, the book was interesting. I laughed out loud and told her how much I love her and missed her. Perhaps I’ve been more of an influence on her than I realized.

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Posted in Books, Essays.

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Each Child Is a Person

LandAwalking

I have two daughters, and people who meet us together often ask me for parenting advice. Whether these people are libertarian friends or whether they’re strangers admiring my daughters’ behavior on an airplane, my answer invariably boils down to this:  Remember that each child is a person.

It’s not always easy. Sometimes I’ve had to take actions to keep my kids safe and/or keep store owners from throwing us out, and these actions have occasionally caused disappointment. I’ve made a habit of involving my kids in decisions that affect them, even when they were very young, and even when I was tempted to say, “Just do it” or “Because I said so.” I’ve taken responsibility for my actions, especially when I’ve made mistakes. I strive to keep my actions consistent with my words, and I feel blessed that my kids have decided to follow my example and have learned to trust me. I feel very blessed that my husband shares my parenting philosophy and partners with me every day in raising our kids.

Kids look to parents to answer questions, and they can ask a LOT of questions, from the trivial to the profound. When one of my daughters asked me if we believe in God, I replied by asking her what she believed. We had a fantastic conversation. My kids think critically about what they learn and to come to their own conclusions. Occasionally I get into arguments with my 11-year old who currently believes some form of government is necessary to enforce the laws she holds dear. And my 12-year old isn’t interested in discussing government or politics because she thinks it’s boring. Part of raising kids to think for themselves is accepting their opinions when they disagree with me and trusting that we’re all capable of learning and evolving through open discussion. We all respect each other’s opinions or lack thereof even though we currently disagree about the substance and/or importance of some beliefs.

I’ve learned that respecting my daughters as individuals means that the golden rule doesn’t always apply.  When I was a kid, my mom tried to motivate me to lose weight by refusing to buy me any clothes. The year I was 12, I owned only one pair of pants that fit me, and I bought those with money I’d earned with my paper route. I was determined to be a different kind of mom and buy my kids all the clothes I never had growing up. But my daughters couldn’t care less about clothes. When I see them dressed in old clothes and offer to take them shopping, they tell me, “Mo-om, clothes aren’t important. It’s who you are that’s important, not your clothes.” I laugh and have to agree with them.

Sometimes parents get into authoritarian power struggles with their kids over trivial issues out of fear from being judged. While I sympathize with the peer-pressure we endure as parents, this type of fear is no excuse for forcing kids to do such things against their will. As mentioned above, my kids don’t care much about their appearance, and this pertains to hair as well as clothes. They will usually brush their hair if I ask them to do so, but sometimes they refuse. This irks me, I admit, but it’s not a big deal… if people want to judge me for having messy-haired kids in raggedy clothes, they are entitled to their opinion and all the “tsk – tsk’s” they choose to send my way. I’ll be the one having a blast with my thoughtful, wonderful kids.

Posted in Essays.

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A Different Kind of War

Dale Everett wrote an important post today in the form of an open letter to our fellow libertarian bloggers who have been espousing violence in the war on statism.

Among the many truths in this post, Dale states:

Inflicting suffering on another does nothing to heal our own harm.

and

On some level, we know we’re becoming much like whomever we’re angry at, but we all have our justification systems, sometimes rather elaborate.

Dale acknowledges the anger among some of our friends and encourages them to evolve past it by fighting a different kind of war from the type fought by those in governments.

There is another benefit in this evolution for those of us who refuse to grant special privilege to those wearing costumes–It helps us differentiate our friends and allies from those who use violence to achieve their goals.

Posted in Letters, Links.

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Kindness of Strangers in Anarchy

Jonathan Zittrain’s recent TED talk captures my delight in the irrepressible kindness of human beings. This talk shows how the kindness of the many can overcome the tyranny of the few.

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Anarchy: You’re Soaking in it.

Many people have imagined what the world would be like without government. I used to worry about it… Would there be tyranny of the rich? Would the mafia take over? Then I realized, we’re already there.

There are a number of gangs that claim to be in charge of various geographic regions. Occasionally, they go to war with each other.  These gangs establish protection rackets to fund their operations, and they supplement those funds through deals with business associates to force competition out of the market.

I don’t grant special privileges to some gangs over others just because they call themselves government. However, I notice what people in these gangs do and I work around them whenever possible. Sometimes, I pretend to go along with them until I’m in a safer place. I notice the actions of each individual, regardless of whether they’re wearing a costume or badge.

Since I’ve been seeing the world more clearly, I see also that gangs don’t rule the world. Take a look around you and see all the ways people interact with each other freely… People selling goods at farmer’s marketsPeople exchanging services with friends and neighborsPeople going to rummage sales and getting their nails done. Individuals who interact with each other freely far outnumber individuals in gangs that call themselves government. What’s more, there are a number of people within these gangs who refuse to initiate violence.  I’m inspired by these and all of my fellow inhabitants on this planet who interact freely every day.

My vision for a free world:  We’re soaking in it.

Posted in Essays.

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A Nation of Laws

I’ve heard people say, “We are a nation of laws,” as if it is a good thing. I believe it is a bad thing. If you consider laws in abstract terms, you may think about the US Bill of Rights and laws against murder and theft. But the majority of laws are like the ones I’ve worked with for many years: administrative laws. There is a pattern that happens with laws. Laws discourage individual responsibility, and they help governments grow.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Government passes a law and starts enforcing.
  2. Under the banner of “compliance,” individuals in businesses create checklists designed to standardize processes. This discourages responsibility and trust among individuals working in the company. People stop thinking about what to do as they follow company procedures.
  3. Some of these individuals begin engaging in business practices that coerce or harm others.
  4. People and media notice these actions, and they contact their government representatives.
  5. Government convenes hearings where CEOs testify that their companies engaged in horrible practices because the law allowed it.
  6. Government passes a new law and starts enforcing…and the cycle begins again.

The Cycle in Action

The practice of “recission” by some employees working in the US health insurance industry offers an example of this cycle in action.  Recission has been defined as the unmaking of a contract between parties, to rescind or set aside a contract.

On July 27, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing about recission. The proceedings from this hearing highlighted the harmful actions taken by some insurance company employees. The committee’s supplemental report summarized the “haphazard collection of inconsistent state and federal laws” that contributed to the decisions by insurance company executives to support the practice of recission in their companies.

Incomprehensible Forms

During the hearing, Chairman Bart Stupak, a congressman from Michigan, asked Don Hamm, CEO of Assurant Health, whether he could explain the company’s insurance application form. Mr. Hamm ducked the question, claiming he wasn’t sure if the application form was current.

Effects of Recission on a Patient

Robin Beaton testified at the hearing regarding her struggles with her insurance company. When Ms. Beaton filed a claim for breast cancer treatment, Blue Cross/Blue Shield refused to pay for this treatment while they conducted an investigation triggered by a diagnosis of acne in her prior medical records. Subsequently, they rescinded her coverage.

According to Ms. Beaton’s testimony,

There is a nurse in my church who works full time for Blue Cross. Her sole job is to go through medical records searching for reasons to cancel people’s policies. After she heard what happened to me, she came to me and told me how very sorry she was.

Ms. Beaton turned to congressman Joe Barton of Texas for help. Three months later, her insurance was reinstated and she finally received surgery. During the time of this treatment delay, her tumor had grown from 2 cm to 7 cm.

Many other examples of recission’s human toll are highlighted in one of the committee’s fact sheets.

“Doesn’t That Bother You?”

Following testimony of patients whose policies had been rescinded upon filing claims, committee chair Bart Stupak asked Don Hamm, CEO of Assurant Health,

Doesn’t it bother you that people are going to die because you insist on reviewing a policy that somebody took out in good faith and forgot to tell you that they were being treated for acne? Doesn’t that bother you?

Mr. Hamm replied,

Yes, sir, it does. And we regret the necessity that that has to occur even a single time.

Perhaps further evidence that Assurant’s employees are bothered by the consequences of recission, when I tried to link to the Assurant television commercial that the committee had posted on YouTube, I saw the following message instead:

This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Assurant Health.

In a radio program a few weeks after the hearing, committee member Jan Schakowsky from Illinois said,

Looking at the face of a woman who had fast-moving breast cancer that could take her life, I just could not understand how the people who were testifying for the insurance industry could sleep at night, as people, as individuals.

I don’t often sympathize with politicians, but I share this congresswoman’s confusion.

Effects of Recission on Insurance Companies

If you suspect that the practice of recission is motivated by profits, you’re probably right.

According to the committee’s supplemental report,

On June 9, 2009, Committee staff conducted an interview of Michael Corne, the Vice President of Health Products, Marketing, Government, and Regulatory Affairs for Golden Rule. Mr. Corne asserted that the company maintains no single list of diagnoses that automatically trigger reviews. Mr. Corne was unable to explain in detail the company’s process for triggering investigations, but he did confirm that one variable considered is the cost of the treatment.

As described in another fact sheet, the three companies with CEOs who testified in the hearing rescinded nearly 20,000 policies and saved more than $300 million through recission during 2003-2007. Some insurance companies have clearly profited from aggressive recission practices. But if you think their actions would have been worse without the government and its regulatory framework, I would disagree. If it weren’t for the regulatory framework, many more people would see the truth:  the responsibility for these individuals’ actions lies with the individuals.

Would You Do Business with these People?

Committee chairman Bart Stupak polled the CEOs about their intentions for recission going forward.  All three refused to end the practice of recission, even if they could find no intentional fraudulent misrepresentation in the application. Two of the three CEOs cited compliance with state laws as their justification for the practice.

The video of this CEO testimony unfortunately did not capture the full quote from Brian Sassi, President and CEO of Wellpoint, who replied,

No, I can’t commit to that. The intentional standard is not the law of the land in the majority of states.*

The committee’s report described a November 15, 2008 letter from Stephen J. Northrup, Vice President of Wellpoint, which stated that his company “follows each state’s statutes and applicable case law as its standard for recission.”

I was relieved to learn that my insurance company was not among those cited in the committee’s report, and I have requested additional information from my insurer about their recission practices. I do not knowingly do business with people who refuse to take responsibility for their actions. Compliance with the law is no excuse.

More Government is the Cure for Bad Government?

The committee concluded their report by quoting the three insurance company CEOs who testified at the hearing. Each of these men stated his support for the U.S. government’s plan to require health insurance for everyone, and each claimed this reform would eliminate the need for recission. After reading this conclusion, I couldn’t help but wonder about the shared interests of the different parties in this hearing. It seems like insurance companies are hoping to benefit from all the new clients they’ll have if government makes insurance mandatory, and it seems like the committee members are hoping to benefit by broadening their authority and gaining votes from a popular issue. Meanwhile, the patients whose policies were rescinded continue to suffer and die.

What’s next?

Will “healthcare reform” solve the problems caused by the reprehensive practices of some insurance company employees? I don’t think so. Despite the length of most laws, and even with the best intent of most legislators, it is not possible for laws to cover every scenario that may occur. Laws are ineffective at best; most laws hurt more than they help the problems they’re intended to fix.

Laws are expensive—both financially and otherwise. They discourage individual responsibility and they help governments grow. This example from the healthcare insurance industry is one of many that follow a similar cycle.

How Can We Break the Cycle?

We can stop doing business with any person or company who uses compliance as an excuse to avoid responsibility for their business practices.

We can break the cycle each step of the way. I work in a highly regulated industry, and in the section below, I’ve italicized each step of the cycle, followed in plain text by the actions I take to break the cycle at that stage.

1.  Government passes a law and starts enforcing.

I ignore most laws. However, if I become aware of a law that’s likely to affect me or my business, I adapt my practices as needed to minimize government intervention. Meanwhile, I continue to do what I know is right, even if the law seems to prohibit doing so.

2.  Under the banner of “compliance,” individuals in businesses create processes and checklists designed to take away variances. This discourages responsibility and trust among individuals working in the company. People stop thinking about what to do as they follow company procedures.

When people around me stop thinking, I ask questions and raise awareness of consequences in order to provoke thinking and moral action.

3.  Some of these individuals begin engaging in business practices that coerce or harm others.

I am not aware of any coercive or harmful practices at my current company. But in general, when people try to use compliance as an excuse to justify evil actions anywhere, I take defensive action. Sometimes I also offer mutual aid to victims. Compliance is no excuse. In cases where someone didn’t realize the consequences of his or her actions, I help the person understand and take responsibility.

4.  People and media notice these actions, and they contact their government representatives.

Whenever I observe someone carrying out policies that I believe are wrong, I address my grievance to that individual directly or to someone else in their company if the individual is not known to me. Sometimes I enlist the support of allies. I do not ask government employees to intervene in my disputes or to “fix the system” for me.

5.  Government convenes hearings where CEOs testify that their companies engaged in horrible practices because the law allowed it.

If I become aware of any information about practices that I believe are wrong, I use that information and act accordingly through mutual aid to victims and/or through defensive action against the aggressors. I do not do business with people who use compliance to justify their disgusting and harmful business practices. I do business with people who have a history of responsible action.

6.  Government passes a new law and starts enforcing… and the cycle begins again.

I continue doing what I know is right, even if the law seems to prohibit doing so.

Please join me in breaking this cycle! I believe the solution lies in holding individuals responsible for their own actions, regardless of laws.

Notes:

Episode #386 of the This American Life radio program included additional audio from this quote. Many thanks to Ira Glass and the crew at This American Life for bringing this hearing to my attention through their excellent weekly podcast.

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Morality vs. Legality: A Framework

Below is an ~8 minute video of a presentation I recorded before going on vacation a few weeks ago.

The question of what is legal seemed to be interfering with some of my friends’ views about what is right. Ironically, just yesterday a friend pointed out that I’d been doing the same thing! That goes to show you: no video can take the place of a good friend and friendly discussion.

On that note, I view this as a work in progress and look forward to knowing your comments.

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An Open Letter to My Democrat Friends

May 25, 2009, Memorial Day

Dear Friend,

I would like to start this letter by thanking you for opening my eyes and my heart to the horrors experienced by people in this world less fortunate than we are. You loved me enough to share the truth with me and trust that I would understand. Your compassion inspired me to rekindle the kindness that I’d buried deep inside me long ago.

You helped me transform myself from a Republican to a Libertarian. Later, after I saw the inherent contradictions in the Libertarian party candidates, I became a “little-l” libertarian and now an anarchist. I am an anarchist because you helped me understand there is no justification for initiating force, but it is the nature of government to initiate force.

You and I have fallen out of touch, but I carry you with me everywhere I am. You are in my heart – inspiring me to be myself, to have the courage to face the day and do what I know is right.

But on this Memorial Day, I’m confused.  You were a vocal advocate for peace during the GWB administration, and now you seem very silent. Please help me understand why you are not fighting as vocally for peace as you were in 2003. Please help me understand your current thoughts about the choices the US continues to make with respect to violence in our world:

1)       What do you think of the Obama administration’s actions with respect to Guantanamo Bay prisoners? I refuse to believe you would support their continued failure to charge prisoners with crimes; I refuse to believe you would support their failure to treat these people as human beings.

2)       What do you think of the Obama administration’s policies with respect to Iraq? I refuse to believe you would continue to associate yourself with a government whose stated timetable for stopping the occupation and violence in that country occurs in 2012, nearly four years after last year’s election.

3)       What do you think of the Obama administration’s decisions to give immunity to the people who tortured prisoners and to protect those who authorized the torture? I refuse to believe you would support anyone who would torture or support torture.

4)       What do you think of the Obama administration’s choice to spend billions of dollars bailing out crony capitalist bankers and continue ignoring the violence against people in Darfur? I refuse to believe you would support favoring the crony capitalists with more riches while ignoring the victims of violence who are poor.

5)       Do you still call yourself a Democrat?  If so, please help me understand why you would associate yourself with this administration.

Please join me in my advocacy for peace. You kindled the light in me, yet ever since Obama was elected, it seems like I’m a lone voice barking in the wind. The good people of our world need us now more than ever. Will you join me?

In Peace and Love,

Teresa

Posted in Letters.

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