Christian Club Targeted by the Public

The Good News Club is a national Christian organization which meets in public schools and teaches the values and faith of the Bible. Though successful in many states – sometimes embraced and sometimes discouraged – they only recently have begun to have a presence in Portland. The club has been targeted and vilified by some members of the Portland public. Since the Good News Club and other clubs like them have the legal backing  of the Supreme Court, they cannot be turned away but are facing a firestorm of hatred and general outrage among this predominately religion-fearing population.  The Good News Club has found bad news in Portland.

This is hardly a unique phenomenon for Portland or Christians, nor is it the biggest news story of the day, but it presents a good opportunity to study the absence of liberty in public education. I define the culprit broadly as Public Society.

A Facebook page is dedicated to fighting the use of public schools by “religious extremists.” Protect Portland Children stands on the premise that children don’t need to be saved because they are not sinners. That is obviously not what the Good News Club or any other Christian organization is teaching. But these social media users have the right to think this and the right to be concerned about ideological recruitment in a place where their children attend daily mandatory classes, thanks to the non-voluntary guidance of the State. Remember the State.

This is a reminder that we have both the right to exercise religion, and the right to abstain from religion (the First Amendment ). We do not have a mandatory religion, nor do we have mandatory non-religion. Constitutionally, Christians cannot make others join their religion and others cannot prohibit Christians from exercising their faith. Personal faith isn’t authentic under conditions of coercion anyway. Having established this,  it should be recognized that Christians want others to join them in their belief, and at the same time noted that plenty of people have no intention of doing so. We have a conflict. You shouldn’t be surprised.

Some people follow a philosophy of relativism. They don’t believe in anything and think no one else should either. They enter Public Society with a negative agenda. You can’t do that and you can’t make me do that! They think that someone who actually believes in something is a “religious extremist.” But I ask, must we all adhere to your relative truth for you to be able to believe it?

Other people believe in something they think is actually true and they think that everyone else should believe it too. That’s what it means to believe in actual truth. It has universal implications. Relativists shouldn’t care what other people believe. Those who follow the teachings of Jesus do care and generally have a message in Public Society that is positive.  I can believe this and you can too! Jesus’s message is deep and mysterious, and many Christian groups have differing interpretations on the finer points, but it is most importantly summarized as “God loves you,” rather than “You are a sinner.” If you can’t make it past that difficult hurdle, understandably you won’t find the grace that flows on the other side.

Of course not everyone fits into these two categories. Some people believe in something else or nothing at all. While the State does require you to go to school, no one is making you or your children attend a Christian club against your will. You don’t have to go. You could even go to a different Christian club if you don’t like the Good News Club’s version of Christianity. Many groups have the right to meet and express their ideas in Public Society, and they do so. The Boy Scouts, Chess Club, Democrats, and Republicans. If you don’t like tying knots, check mate, or donkeys and elephants  you shouldn’t attend their clubs, but they can meet nearby. It’s ok. Stop hating. Learn about something new. Christians happens to believe in something with eternal consequences and are just as outraged at other things which are found in the Public School. Evolution? Creation? Should Public  Society decide or should you?

Conversely to all of this, Christian churches often open their doors to a wide range of secular groups and activities, many of them obviously non-Christian. A few that come to mind in my own neighborhood are preschools, clothing swaps, park and rides, and community gardens. None of these are religious activities, but they are to be found on property owned by religious institutions. Yes, I see you shaking your finger to point out that sometimes the church chooses to shut the door on ideas it disagrees with, and you certainly are right. It does. But it has the right to do so because it is a voluntary association. Public Society is not. Remember the State? Not voluntary.

Public Society exists, for better or for worse, as a place where all have (or should have) equal rights. In order to be equal, we have to strip down to nothing at all, removing everything that is unique about each of us. Public Society cannot discriminate the way an individual can in a voluntary association. There is a difference between believing something yourself and allowing others to believe something different, and it doesn’t fit in well here. The devaluing of individual rights, choices, and values in public education results in a subservience to a thinly spread layer of mediocrity funded by struggling graduates of the same system. It looks like religion without the necessary voluntary aspect. There’s no tolerance for liberty.

The public realm is owned by everyone, and so it’s  owned by no one. I certainly have no individual privileges of liberty in the land of forced equality. Do you? With no rights of my own, I have little benefit for myself. These people want to have their Christian club and some other people don’t want to let them because they wan to control everything in Public Society. I saw a popular quote on Facebook from author John Green stating that “Public education does not exist for the benefit of the student or for their parents. It exists for the benefit of the social order.”  Well, that is sadly true. Public education doesn’t really care about you or your truth.


Banning Technology From Children

It seems there’s always a new mobile device, game console, or movie that catches our children’s interest, because they live in the same world we do and we love it! There is increasingly more and more technology piling up all around us. Parents have always worried that their children spend too much time using technology and not enough time exploring the world away from the screens. When I was a boy (cue to rocking chair, beard stroking, and glassy eyed reminisce of the 90’s) my screen-based entertainment options were television and Nintendo. And big screen movies, of course. My parent’s only option was probably the television, but they had the moon landing. So outdoors was more attractive. Now technology is available on such screens that leave television in the dust. Little screens, big screens, touch screens. Screens as big as your head! If the kids are looking at too many screens, should we ban them?

The Huffington Post recently published 10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12. Pediatric occupational therapist, Cris Rowan advocates adherence to published guidelines for technology usage by children and calls on, “parents, teachers and governments to ban the use of all handheld devises for children under the age of 12 years.” She then lists ten reasons technology is bad for children. Sounds great, and I agree with all of them. Unfortunately, a few unconsidered lines about the responsibility of government to ban something best regulated elsewhere, ruins the heart of the message.

I don’t know the intentions of the author, but it’s possible that the points I rail on here were simply afterthoughts. But they were written, and even in the title. She presents good research on why children should spend less time in front of screens, but then leaves the door open a crack for legislation enthusiasts to start sharpening their pencils. I know I’m reading into what is really a minor angle of the article, but my point is to remember our own responsibility before we start advocating outright bans which negate individual decision making.

A better title would not have begun with the numerical “10” or used the word “Banned.” That reads like check-out line trash. “Coerce your Community in 10 Easy Steps by Imposing Your Values on Them.” As this certainly is not an article about governments or bans, the title is misleading in calling for a “ban” at all. Is the author actually advocating legislation that would make it illegal for people of a certain age to use handheld devices? Not in this article, no. So why say so? Words have meaning, so be careful. What happens in your own house is a rule, not a ban.

The author identifies three distinct groups as the audience for her 10 Reasons, thus indicating that all three share some responsibility on guiding the use of these devices. However, in calling on “parents, teachers and governments,” she is calling on too many people. The government is assumed to be an acceptable authority, casually grouped with parents and teachers.

If the government is any given authority to ban the use of something, then it doesn’t really matter what the parents or the teachers think, so you can’t include them all. And, if the parents are directing the activity of their own children at home, and the teachers are directing the activities of the enrolled students at school – what and where is the government’s place in influence the activities of children?

Not every child is affected equally by their use of technology (gasp!), nor by anything at all. Most importantly, not every child is playing the same games or using the same apps. “Technology” is a really, really big blanket, the four corners of which are not even hinted at in this article. The difference between an action packed racing/shooting/blow ’em up adventure game and a counting/spelling/learn to sing and compose your own music iPad app is measured by the parsec. Case in point: YOU don’t know what a parsec is, do you? You have NO IDEA. Admit it. Something to do with space and distance. Maybe Star Trek. And since you don’t know, your kid won’t know either – since it could be illegal to use a hand held device to look it up.

Click here for more info on parsecs. Must be 12 or older to learn!

My son is three years old and doesn’t play any games involving fast cars, ninjas, or tanks. But he loves his occasional shows and educational games and embraces his limited and supervised time interacting with the computer and iPad. He is learning to spell and count. He gives a monster a hair cut and makes a make-believe sandwich, which he then shares with me. I tried to teach him some basic addition but he wasn’t paying attention, since he is just three and I was just using words. Since I don’t like math I couldn’t make it appealing and was I probably frowning too much.  (Grrr…math). But after some time with a mathematics app involving little animals and lots of bubbles, he recently informed me that 2 and 2 is 4. He preferred to learn it his way.

My son also loves singing and playing music. He has a guitar, and a ukulele, and a harmonica. He is very loud, but he’s also very talented. I don’t love playing music. I don’t have any musical skills at all, but I sing with him anyway and he doesn’t know enough to run away – yet. He’ll only get so far with me as a music teacher, but there’s an app for that. It teaches him how to compose his own music.

If you want to be like these guys, go for it. This family banned all technology invented after 1986. That means Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is Ok, but “Bad” is a no-go in the world of arbitrary dates. They didn’t like the way technology had taken over their lives, so they did something about. Whatever their reasons, that family probably experienced most of the 10 Reasons stated in Rowan’s article and they acted accordingly, for themselves. The danger in suggesting that the government should do the same for all of us, even if presented casually and well intentioned, could rob many children of valid life enriching opportunities. So steer clear of bans!

Portland Public Schools Strike

The teachers of the Portland Public Schools prepare to strike on February 20th in a labor dispute that will affect about 48,000 students.  All schools will be closed during this localized government shutdown, reminding us that not only are labor unions no friend of liberty, they are no friend to our children’s education.

2/20 Update: A compromise was reached, and the strike didn’t happen.

I don’t have children in the PPS school district, but this does affect me directly because this is my community of neighbors and friends. Because there are few school choice options, many families are affected. While the district and the teachers try to figure out a collective compromise on their disputes over pay, workloads, and health insurance, an entire community of parents is trying to figure out what to do with their children. The implications will trickle down to each parents inability to go to their own job, and this leads to an overall weakened economy as we scramble to right a sinking ship rather than do our own jobs and help make the world turn.

At the recent strike vote, at least one teacher stood amidst a swirling storm of yes votes to admit that the strike is wrong and the school is failing the children by walking out. But there are too few who risk voicing such an opinion, so nothing changes and the union rolls on, crushing those who don’t grasp its mandate.

Unions are fueled by fear and peer pressure. A majority is formed that endangers the rights of the minority. Threats are common, and of course there is a lot of yelling and large painted signs waving along a picket line. Everyone is warned not to cross the picket line. I think there is a lot of hate in that place, and this isn’t something our children need.

Some teachers have said they would not cross the picket line for fear of their jobs. Others say they’re here for the children, not for disagreement. Now we all feel like we have to choose sides, since we’re all affected. But apparently other teachers can and will be hired on a temporary basis, so sending your child to school (and crossing a picket line) is an actual option. A problem with unions is that there is always someone who is willing to do the work but that individual is not allowed to voluntarily associate in a different way than the mandate of the majority.

Higher wages at the expense of fewer jobs. An us vs. them mentality that marginalizes non-members and stifles overall creativity and growth. This is what you can expect while a small group benefits from the influence of the labor union, and a much larger group (the entire remainder of the community) is worse off because of it. So using their own math against them, it is actually the majority of society that is worse off at the expense of the minority.

Meanwhile, a shining light. Voluntary associations are stepping in. Local community members and church groups are offering resources to help parents and children. Some buildings are providing space for childcare and people are organizing activities for children so that parents go to their jobs. These individuals are coming together as a community to do what they need to do to get on with their lives and step around the cumbersome constricts of organized labor.

School Choice

I was asked to review the book School Choice: The Findings by Herbert J. Walberg (2007), which compares the status quo traditional public school system alongside a few alternatives. Though not specifically addressing programs in the state of Oregon nor the Montessori educational approach (topics of personal and community interest), nor saying much about homeschooling (another relevant topic of interest), this book organizes a clear framework for considering potential educational options.

This is a statistics-heavy research-based publication. Parents and students who are able to make a school choice and attend a school other than the default public school in their district are found to be more satisfied with their educational experience. When schooling is detached from random housing boundaries, the results are positive. Consistently, students do as well or better than their peers who are in the nearby government-funded and government-run schools.

In reviewing charter schools (see below), voucher programs (publicly funded scholarships to private schools), and private schools (privately funded and run), the book does not necessarily advocate a singular path away from traditional public school but rather emphasizes choice and the positive effects of available alternatives. All three of these options must be chosen, they cannot fall into the lap of the parent. And each of the three must be given as an available option in order for the choice to be made. Choosing families and non-choosing families in the community are most commonly affected with a positive outcome by the choices the choosers are able to make.

It is suggested that most parents with students in public school do not choose for their children to be there – they just ended up there by default. Either the parents want an alternative to traditional public school and are unable to obtain it, or they simply accept the situation as it is, often with reservations. I don’t think this can be true for everyone, but the research shows it is typical that most parents dislike (to one degree or another) something significant about their public school.

As one of the three options presented by Walberg, Charter Schools are explained as having the benefits of wider accessibility due to their funding source by the state (similar to a public school), and as having the greater economic efficiency and improved academics possible through non-centralized, independent leadership (as often found in private schools). A compromise between extremes, charter schools are popular and they generally accept (by random lottery) only a fraction of those interested. Research shows that enrolled students do well and the charter school raises the local standard of excellence in the community by influencing neighboring public schools to make positive competitive changes.

That charter schools are only a compromise rather than something totally different from a traditional public school is observable from by the following. They are often over-regulated, a quality they were most often founded to avoid, and they receive lower funding than public schools, though funded from the same source. Funding varies widely from state to state and can lag significantly behind the local neighboring public schools. However, as with private schools, charter schools have shown they can do more with less.

Walberg finishes by discussing the positive benefits of competition resulting from school choice and the importance of parental satisfaction with school choice. Hopefully we are moving towards increased freedom of choice, allowing parents to step outside the rigid boundaries of the status quo to make individual decisions about the quality education each wants for their children. In order to do so, it is important that a great many options are made available, in order to make a choice.

Spare Room Hotel

The virtual hotel Airbnb is a website that lists rooms for rent all over the world. You can rent out your room to a stranger for a couple nights to make some cash. If you like meeting new people and you don’t have personal space issues, you can find a similar setup during your own travels.

However, the state of New York Attorney General is trying to shut down short-term room rentals because some are upset at the lost hotel tax revenue which cannot be collected from these low-cost and low-ammenity “hotel rooms.” But the city of Portland, Oregon is taking a different approach. Rather than strike down the movement to save the status quo, they would set up a framework to support the new “shared economy,” essentially creating a path to legality for the creative businesses that already exist.

The Oregonian reports that the city is looking to establish appropriate taxes and permitting requirements to allow homeowner occupied residences to operate as part-time hotels on the real market rather than a black market.

Most of the angst in New York and elsewhere seems to be with the short-term rental of apartments rather than single family homes, or with those who rent rooms in houses where they do not themselves live. Rules against subletting are fairly common for any kind of rental and homeowners associations and property management companies frequently decide for themselves that they don’t want to participate in this sort of thing.

But any homeowner should have the right to invite whomever he wishes into his own home, even to stay awhile – and why not charge those who are willing to pay? Yes, I know we have the neighbors to consider, so I’m not about to suppose a regulatory desert. But New York is going about it all wrong. Their opposition to sharing is driving up costs and challenging innovation.

Portland, with it’s increasing love for really tiny living spaces, has shown that it also has an affinity for really tiny hotels, (and really tiny food carts). If your spare room is just collecting dust, start collecting dollars instead.

Fearless Flyby

Not long ago, the Portland Development Commission threw a big bag of money in the air and hit Trader Joe’s in the back of the head. Now the once-sought-after national grocer has laid that bag of ill-invested coins on a vacant lot in Northeast Portland and has decided to walk away from the fuss and the negative vibe. Hopefully without a bump on the head.

It’s not as if the bag of money wasn’t big enough. As mentioned in an earlier post, the PDC wanted to roll a few million dollars in front of Trader Joe’s to tempt them with the empty corner of NE Martin Luther King Blvd. and Alberta Street – hoping the lot could be paved with specialty grocer gold. At the time, the potential tenant remained a “mystery.”  A cloak and dagger scheme at best.

The neighborhood spoke out and said they didn’t want the City to throw their money away.

And Trader Joe’s chose to live in the light, and this week said in a statement that, “if a neighborhood does not want a Trader Joe’s, we understand, and we won’t open the store in question.” They are wisely looking at the long-term effects of their investments.

You can’t give away something that no one wants. But we all love Trader Joe’s, which goes to show that you can’t even give away something everyone does want, if you’re going to throw big bags of someone else’s money around. It might bruise us all.

Now we can buy our chocolate covered pretzels.

Remember the Fallen, Delicately

Last Thursday I was in Oregon City on business and had just turned the car onto the main road heading back to the office in Portland. I sat in the car waiting at an intersection, watching the windshield catch a light drizzle. Something was happening on the road ahead, as we weren’t moving. I soon noticed a couple of police motorcycles parked in the middle of my lane, their blue and red lights flashing quietly. Nothing was happening at all – until a few police motorcycles roared by at top speed – cutting through the silence and disappearing to my left leaving a wake of sirens blaring. A few more motorcycles followed – just as quickly – preceding a momentary silence. Then I watched unfold before me the floodgates which spilled forth what had to be one hundred police motorcycles passing piled up motorists gawking on both sides. 

Next, a helicopter descended from the heavens above pausing momentarily near my position at the precise moment that a shiny black vehicle appeared and then quickly disappeared, followed by police cars and black Suburbans trailing. The circling helicopter followed in the air as an ambulance, some more police cars, and even more motorcycles followed on the ground. I thought it could be none other than Barack Obama visiting this little suburb south of Portland! I hadn’t heard of a presidential visit and was momentarily stunned. To my left, I noticed for the first time a very large American flag hanging between two outstretched fire truck ladders that soared over the street as the procession flowed on the pavement below. More police cars. More ambulances. Then about twenty fire trucks drove by in tight formation.

Clearly this traffic jam was more than I could have guessed when those first motorcycles blocked my way so long ago. My car hadn’t moved an inch in the last ten minutes when I found a local news report on the radio, catching only the last half of a sentence describing a “funeral procession.”  Oh, now that you mention it, the shiny black vehicle did look like a hearse, so that makes sense. But I couldn’t imagine who would command such solemn opulence other than John F. Kennedy himself.

More time passed and the flood of police cars continued interspersed occasionally with a fire truck, some ambulances and other sorts of emergency vehicles. They seemed to have arrived from every city.  I sat in the car for 45 minutes. There was no end, they just kept coming until the last trickle of the flood of flashing lights passed and the road was finally reopened and traffic.

About this time I finally found a radio newscast reporting that this was the motorcade procession for fallen Oregon City Police Officer Rob Libke who had been killed in the line of duty earlier this month. I hadn’t heard of the tragedy, nor did I realize the entire region would be mobilizing this day to remember a fallen comrade.

I respect the work of police officers and intend no disrespect to the police in general or Officer Libke and his family, but this is unacceptable. The mobilization of hundreds of law enforcement personnel through the public way for a non-emergency, while probably costing the taxpayers a fortune, also has the misfortune of untold consequences in the immobilization of thousands of disregarded bystanders.  A memorial is good. Remembering is good. Even a procession is good –  but not at such a great cost to everyone else. I was only inconvenienced, but others may have been suffocated. Considering the public’s right to choose not to participate, the procession through the city could have been more delicate. 

While I was patiently waiting, I saw in my mirror an old man get out of the car behind me. He started wandering around. He seemed really confused and just left his car and walked away. I could imagine that some emergency might be taking place on the sidelines of this procession, and there’s nowhere to go. Is there a woman in labor unable to get to a hospital? Are there children peeing their pants? Am I going to pee my pants? Is this old man going to have a heart attack? He probably went to find a restroom.

Finally getting back on the road, I drove for a mile or so before hitting another log jam. Stopped like a normal day in Los Angeles. The procession advanced northward following I-205 then I-84 west into downtown Portland where the memorial service was to take place. This was the exact route I planned to take, so I had to reroute to avoid trailing. Traffic was so backed up in all directions that cars just sat like they had been parked for days. If it hadn’t been raining, more people would have been out of their cars socializing.

Sitting with the car in Park and the radio on, I listened to the host take calls from people at the scene. Drivers stuck in traffic called to say they were stuck in traffic and that they support the sacrifice this officer. The motorcade was such a wonderful thing. Others called in from the overpasses where they watched from above. Some had brought their children along, probably waving flags and signs, and used the moment as a teaching lesson to the honor those serving the country.

They all sounded the same, until one woman called to say this is a bunch of baloney and a waste of money. The enraged host didn’t even let her finish and pretty much bit her head off as he hung up on her. The subsequent callers for the next hour spent just as much time describing her as the devil himself as they did in paying respects to the fallen officer. They said it doesn’t matter how much something like this costs. How can you think about that right now?

The caller was the lone voice of dissent but didn’t show any sensitivity. However, she has the right to voice her opinion, and the host and the others have the right to hate her for it, I suppose.  But let’s separate hate from sound economics. What happened this day had nothing to do with a fallen hero and everything to do with public exploitation. Sadly this is an analogy for how our country does most things. Spending other people’s money and time while caught up with emotions, reverence, and patriotism, the true costs of any action are disregarded. Choices are made because it’s worth it damn it, or that’s what he would have wanted. Those who say otherwise are burned alive. The moment, this very short-sighted moment defeats the weight of all the rest of time.

The old man behind me was Sumner’s Forgotten Man. Many hypothetical people were forgotten simply because they are hypothetical to people looking at their own nose. The pregnant woman sobbing in labor pains was forgotten. The boy with a gushing leg wound who couldn’t get to the hospital in his mom’s minivan was forgotten. The man trying to arrive at a job interview on time, was late. He didn’t get the job. He was forgotten. The thousands of people on the freeways and side streets who have no real interest in these proceedings, though not malicious or disrespectful, are just trying to go about their day – and they are forgotten. 

I salute Oregon City Officer Rob Libke for his sacrifice in serving his community, taking action to respond to a threat and to possibly save lives. But I don’t think he would be any less respected or memorialized if he had been remembered more delicately.

Mystery Portland Grocery Store

The city of Portland might sell a long-vacant parcel of land on the corner of NE Martin Luther King Blvd. and Alberta Street way below cost in order to attract a grocery store. What amounts to a $2 million subsidy is so shady and ill-advised that the proposed store has asked not to be identified until the deal has closed. It’s hard to run a successful business, but who wouldn’t reach out for some free cash? They should be embarrassed. And it’s easier to criticize the deal before we know the store involved, since no doubt that store is dear to our food-loving Portland hearts. 

The land is said to be worth $2 or $3 million dollars, and has apparently been for sale for some time but no one wants it at that price. The neighborhood is considered a risky investment with a history of racial tensions, but is often targeted for bigger and better things. The land might sell for only half a million.

The Portland Development Commission really, really wants a grocery store to go in here, so they’re willing to take a loss to make it happen. But as pointed out by the Oregonian there are plenty of other groceries stores nearby, so there is low demand for another. The development only pencils out with a large subsidy. This means the land and the potential opportunity aren’t worth very much, so semi-interested tenants are looking the other way until a big enough bag of money hits them in the back of the head.

In his book Economics In One Lesson, Henry Hazlitt outlines situations very similar to this, and warns against this kind of government intervention as never ending with a net positive outcome. This northeast Portland property is a great example to illustrate his point. The land had already been purchased with taxpayer money, so the city as a whole has entrusted their money to the City in the hope that some good will come out of it. But seeing as the money doesn’t belong to them, it doesn’t surprise me that the PDC is reckless with the investment of other people’s money. They have their minds on high ideals such as helping the public, saving a blighted neighborhood, and even bringing in a much desired tenant such as Trader Joe’s (or whomever this mystery grocery store turns out to be). They might think, “It’s what the people want – right? We’ll making it happen. It’s worth the cost.”

But really, Portland would be giving away a store. They would take taxpayer money and give it to a private company to spend on a business in a location that no one has been willing to build. Then the profits go to that business – not the taxpayers. That is $2 million dollars that could have been spent on something else. Anything else. Portlanders are exactly that much poorer as a result. If the money has to be spent on something, it could be spent on something that is actually worth $2 million dollars. If taxpayers still had the money in our pockets, having not been taxed, we would have exactly that much more money in our pocket when we shop at this mystery store. We could spend it on a bag of chocolate covered pretzels. Now we can’t and there will be fewer bags of chocolate covered pretzels sold.

This location is certainly not the neighborhood most deserving of a new grocery store, if one must be given away. So east Portland and the often discussed food desert lose out. Nearby existing grocery stores will lose some business. The people who live down the street will love it, but the entire city will take a loss on a bad investment, but especially those who live nowhere near the proposed sale. Another grocery store might have been interested at a lower sale price, but as explained by someone from Whole Foods as to why they were not interested in the food desert, “Selected sites must model profitably for us since we cannot fulfill our company’s overall mission without the profits our stores provide.”

Sure it’s just a couple dollars from me, and a couple dollars from you, and a couple dollars from everyone. But add this to the other couple dollars they’ll take for the next project. And the others. Is this really what you want to spend your money on? I doubt a new Whole Foods is about to appear here, but I’d love for a Trader Joe’s to be built at this location. It’s exactly one mile closer to my home than the one I usually visit and is bound to have better parking.

But even if the deal is good for some people as Henry Hazlitt says, we must look “not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”

Virginia Libertarian vs. libertarian

Update: See end of post for update.

An odd-year election in Virginia wouldn’t normally hold my interest, but this year there’s an interesting subplot for the rest of us. Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe battles Republican Ken Cuccinelli and they’re neck and neck.  In third place is Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis, amazingly polling around 10%. Is this a glimmer of third-party glory cutting through the dust of the two-party sand storm? A good showing would help remind American voters that a third way exists.

As a resident of Oregon (not voting), I don’t know much about these three candidates in Virginia, but I had hoped Libertarian Sarvis would do well and finish with double digits on election night to bring attention to Libertarian Party. But then Ron Paul threw his support behind Republican Cuccinelli! Why would Ron Paul snub an exciting Libertarian challenge to the two-party statists? There must be less to Robert Sarvis than meets the eye, since Ron Paul doesn’t always feel like endorsing someone and could have easily continued his home schooling interview schedule. Then again, Ron Paul is a Republican and didn’t endorse 2012 Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson, so they’re not exactly blood brothers.

It turns out Libertarian Sarvis may not be so libertarian after all if you start comparing him to other folks who call themselves incidental libertarians. And Cuccinelli isn’t really all that Republican if you start comparing him to the business as usual over at the Grand Old Party where he’s seen as a libertarian. The quest for the Holy Grail of Virginia has become a race run by Big-L Libertarian vs. small-l libertarian vs. not libertarian.

Terry McAuliffe is the “not libertarian,” so I don’t have much to say about him. But Robert Sarvis now finds his ideological and party credentials called into question. Is he a Big-L or a small-l? Charles C.W. Cooke makes a good point that, “a politician (who) is not a Democrat but is nonetheless critical of the social policies of a Republican hardly makes him Murray Rothbard.” Read his well-reasoned problems with Libertarian Sarvis at the National Review Online.

Meanwhile amid the confusion, the entrenched powers of the two-party statists typically complain about the Libertarians taking votes from the Republicans. It should be noted, however, that Sarvis is a much more progressive libertarian than some, and is pulling a fair share of attention away from McAuliffe. He seems at odds with libertarian values in both social and economic issues, though he has landed the endorsement of Gary Johnson.

In conclusion, the Republican looks like a libertarian and the Libertarian looks like a progressive and the Democrat is the only one who isn’t confusing me. He’s buddies with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Ken Cuccinelli, while perhaps more libertarian in some ways than Robert Sarvis, isn’t really all that libertarian, identifying most clearly as a conservative. What is the libertarian voter to do? I expect in-fighting and intrigue on minor points, but this is most likely to occur within a single party.

Despite nay-saying by some, Robert Sarvis certainly is a Libertarian. Ken Cuccinelli is too socially conservative to be confused as a Libertarian. It’s all very exciting and we’re paying attention to this election – so there’s that. Don’t  judge a book by its cover – it may have been misshelved.

November 5th Update: The results are in. A majority of Virginians (52%) did NOT vote for winner Terry McAuliffe, and third place Robert Sarvis failed to break the 10% threshold which would have put the Libertarian party on the ballot.  Ken Cuccinelli didn’t win either. Libertarian FAIL.

Who Will Build the Bike Lanes?

I recently complained about the government ruining a good thing by taxing it. Pay by the mile auto insurance could turn into pay by the mile auto taxation, if some have their way. The government will always turn a good idea for saving money into a bad idea for losing money.

As an aside in my recent complaint, I pondered the threat of bicycle lane taxes as the next logical step. Too soon I remembered I had heard something like this before! Oregon had been murmuring about a statewide tax on bicycle purchases to make up for the loss of revenue from all those bicycle commuters who ditched their cars for the fresh breezes and healthy conscience of pedal power. This line of reasoning was brought on by the perceived over-bicyclization of Portland, but in this scheme the whole state of Oregon would pay for Portland’s sin of reduced carbon emissions. That’s a dandy.

Oregon is of course one of the few states with no sales tax and Portland is one of the few cities with a bazillion happy bicycle commuters. We even have a huge bike counter on the Hawthorne Bridge to celebrate! Bikes and no sales tax are good things, why mess with it now? The City of Portland spends a lot of money on bicycle-friendly infrastructure improvements which are often perceived at the expense of automobile infrastructure improvements. (There are a number of randomly unpaved gravel roads in my Portland neighborhood, but these are bad for cars and bikes alike – but good for three year olds in rain boots!)

The Oregonian reported that, “There is little organized opposition to bicycle use in Portland … However, there is latent, but pervasive, uneasiness among some residents that expanding bicycling opportunities will come at the expense of other modes of transportation.” Well, only if the state wastes their money on it.

If Portlanders in cars don’t want to pay for bicycle lanes to contain the Portlanders who are not in cars, then surely the people driving around Salem, Bend, and Eugene don’t want to pay for Portland’s bicycle lanes either. Instead of finding a different non-interested party to pay for something they’re not interested in, Portland should hire a private company to build their bike lanes. Paint a line on the side of the road and nail up a few signs. Some people in Seattle will even do it for free, and some folks out in Memphis are paying for their bike lanes with crowdfunding. Big companies are getting involved too, such as Amazon’s two block bike lane project back up in Seattle. It will be cheaper and more efficient if the work is privately contracted and we would cut out wasteful spending on spectacles like the proposed singing bike lane, and just paint some nice straight stripes as needed.

I wonder if the singing bike lane would be funded by the ill-conceived Portland Arts Tax?