Mission Statement

Mission Statement: This blog is dedicated to both political philosophy and application to current issues based on the ideas of limited government, free markets, and individual liberty. Additionally, this blog strives to create an atmosphere where intelligent discussions based on the principles of logic, no matter the viewpoints expressed in their conclusions, are not only welcome, but also thrive.

To learn more, feel free to read the introduction and subsequent posts which explain the aforementioned philosophy and purpose of this blog in more detail.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Issues 24: Dance with the One that Brought You -OR- Fight your own Wars!

I have spoken before about the dangers of an interventionist foreign policy. In “Issues 19: India, Pakistan, and... Libertarianism?” I discussed the damage that is being cause by one nation defining the borders of another without regard to preference, as well as the violence that has been unleashed against multiple targets so that those in power can maintain tight-fisted control of the situation. These in turn are exacerbated, according to some, by yet another problem caused by intervention—third party war-fighting.


The above article explains how the US supported Pakistan through the Cold War while supporting the strategic containment of communism. We were in essence trying to fight a war without actually fighting one, but enabling others to do so for us. Since then, those others have decided their goals do not match with ours. In return they have continued to support us enough to keep receiving aid, but have used previous help and continue to use recurring help to foster their own agenda, which is harmful to ours.

For this, how can we blame them? They are looking after their own good. The abhorrence of the acts come from the duplicity therein, not from the fact that another country is acting self-interestedly. But the issue is allowed to continue while the US uses third parties to help fight our own wars.

I am of the firm belief that anything worth doing is worth doing well, in the open, and with pride. For this reason alone I would ask the United States to fight her own wars. However, if that is not enough for some, then look at the consequences of what happens when we ask and enable others to do so for us. It never seems to turn out well in the end. We look back with disdain on our actions, such as the containment of a system that collapsed anyway, but never seem to learn. Each threat is new and somehow different from those that came before, making the action different enough this time to not be considered a mistake.

An alternative—non-intervention with a weak military—is equally disdained because we see what happens when a country must rely on the US for military support. The alternative to both of these, then, libertarian non-intervention policies with a strong military capable and willing to defend the country, seems the best option. Experience tells us this over and over again, yet we are loathe to loosen our own control over situations we do not like.

This is a difficult thing to do, though. Human nature would tempt any President to use a strong military to shape the world into one that he liked. That is why I only feel I can trust a President who believes in non-intervention, but why it is even more crucial for Congress to be strong and check the President. This happens so little in our current party-based politics that the remaining answer to solve all of these problems remains a strong military guided by a non-interventionist libertarian.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Foundations 7: Authority and Responsibility

As I sat pondering the nature of various forms of leadership and their relation to the organizations that they run, a thought stunned me. It had to do with the issues of responsibility and authority, subjects on which I have thought before, but never in the context that opened my mind so much this time. Authority and responsibility are opposite sides of the same coin. If you give someone authority over something, you can then hold them responsible for it. Conversely, if you want to hold someone responsible for something, you must first give them authority over it.

As I said, I had thought this before, and have long been familiar with the concept. The turning point came as I reflected on how it applied to various political arguments and the terminology that is hinted at but rarely used. The concept can be used to examine the true motives for many issues, but let me start with healthcare as I think it is the easiest to illustrate.

Many people today claim that healthcare is a universal right of mankind, that everyone should have health coverage, or that healthcare should not be a privilege of the rich. In a word, the country as a whole has a responsibility to provide healthcare to every citizen (or so the argument goes).

My thought then is this: if I have a responsibility to finance a person’s healthcare through Federal taxes, why am I not also granted authority over that person’s healthcare to ensure a favorable outcome? If I am responsible for another person’s health, then I must also be able to tell them that they must run five miles every day and do pushups and yoga. I should be able to dictate their diet, ensuring they eat only oatmeal for breakfast and chicken salads for dinner, and restrict the total number of calories they ingest. I should be able to limit or forbid things like coffee, cigarettes, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, and bacon.

All of these efforts would produce better “health care” for a person than merely paying for their angioplasty or lung cancer treatments later in life. Why can we as a nation not legislate these things, if we are so concerned about providing good health to all Americans? As I said, this principle applies to any issue where money from some is redistributed to others. Paying welfare should be paired with telling a person how and when and what job they should work. Paying Social Security should be paired with telling those who receive it where they can live. Not until people as a whole recognize that responsibility goes hand in hand with authority, not until they accept this form of legislated healthcare, will I believe in their good intentions and be disabused of the idea that our government is just forcing some to fund the lifestyles of others.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Issues 23: President Obama's Love of Covert Power

I know it has been a long time since I have written here (over 2 weeks, according to these dates).  While I take the weekend to refamiliarize myself with current events and the outside world, please accept this discussion on covert power and the subsequent philosophical debate on the nature of authority and responsibility.

(covert picture not posted for security reasons)

The President, according to this article, is a big fan of covert hard power. This is one thing that I agree with him about. If your hands are tied by the lack of a declaration of war, the necessity to respect national sovereignty, the constant release of those you capture, and the constant threat to your country by a group of people sworn to bring about your destruction; then kill them covertly.

This covert campaign is essential to the War on Terror, which is in itself essential to protecting America. While it may or may not be an existential sort of threat, it is a very real one that has been killing innocent Americans for decades. Mr. President, I applaud your approach.

That said, there is also a cautionary note deserved. A democracy is not supposed to be covert. A government of the people and by the people cannot be covert. Libertarian principles can be ripped apart quickly by one greedy man with covert power. Is the President entirely good-minded in this use of power? It is necessary to prosecute the type of war we are fighting, but it is also very handy for one who wants to violently affect the world while seeming peaceful at home and in the media.

This is why we have checks and balances and why it is imperative that they operate flawlessly. A President using covert powers under the watchful eye of Congressional committees in prosecution of a declared war is a very powerful tool. A President doing the same without oversight, with a weak Congress that will not declare the wars they fight and will not even hold OVERT military actions within Constitutional and legal bounds is truly frightening. If you have wondered why I am so insistent on declaring war to use military force and “checks and balances” being used properly, especially in relation to the application of violence, then this gives you a window into that rationale.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Issues 22: A War on Terror?

I would like to preface this post by saying that ideas contained herein are still very much in developmental stages, indeed in their infancy. I have not discussed them at length with anyone and welcome discussion to hone or change them.

The friend of my enemy is my enemy… Although I support non-intervention for non-direct threats to the US, once an attack has been made and the decision to wage war has been approved, I support only complete warfare with the goal of unconditional surrender of the offending nation (or similar ends for non-state actors). Terrorism itself has changed how we can prosecute a war. Being attacked by Japan, declaring war on the nation, and waging that war until unconditional surrender has been achieved—that is relatively easy. Being attacked by a group that is not associated with a state is more difficult. What do you declare war against? Who do you attack? What sovereignty do you respect and whose do you trample? These are very difficult questions which have been answered, to the best of my knowledge, by authorizing the use of military force against certain stated objectives. This is similar to but legally different from declaring war.

My elementary analysis of the proper method of executing existing policies tries to mirror the current laws of war. First, declare war against an organization (i.e. al-Qaeda). Second, just as the law of war permits you to kill any member of an opposing military whether they are fighting you at the moment or not, armed or not, in uniform or not; chase and kill or capture any avowed member of that group. Third, treat “detainees” as POWs (do not release them early, do not try them, just hold them away from conflict until the war is over). Finally, assess the individual circumstances surrounding nations interacting with the non-state group. For instance, if firm evidence proves that a state is providing active support to the group with which you are at war, they lose their claim of neutrality.

As I said before, this is similar to what we are currently doing, but different enough to raise issues. Two of the most obvious are detainees and nations supporting terrorism. In my plan detainees would be legitimate prisoners of war, with all the legal implications. Nations sponsoring terrorism would lose their claim of neutrality in the situation and be legitimate targets for attack. That does not mean that every one should be attacked, and I am not using this to say that we attack Pakistan now, as the article and this comment may lead some to believe. We are applying diplomatic pressure at the moment, which may be the best option given the intelligence desired endstates. However, the option should not be far off the table.

This is a complex issue and raises many more questions. What if the member of the group is a citizen of the US? Can you try POWs for war crimes rather than releasing them at the end of the war? How do you determine the level of support from a nation required before declaring them part of the enemy? These are all difficult, but the disheartening problem is that we are not even at the point to deal with them yet. Congress has allowed the President to use force without declaring war against either a state or an organization. Consequently, we cannot treat captured combatants as POWs. They then are released and kill more Americans. We cannot (or have not) used the full power of our national security institutions against even those who help our enemies. There are very ambiguous questions involved in fighting non-state organizations, but to be able to address them properly, we first need to fix the basic functioning of our own governmental institutions.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Issues 21: How Intervention is Continuing to Hurt Us

This should come as no surprise, especially given recent events. Maybe it is warranted, maybe it is not. What is clear, though, is that it has been fueled by the interventionist and world-police policies of the United States.

“Patterson said the United States must target a ‘lost generation’ of military officers who missed training programs in the United States after Washington imposed sanctions against Pakistan in the 1990s for its nuclear program.”

So a sovereign country did something that we did not like, even though it did not DIRECTLY threaten the US. We tried to bully them into a certain way of behaving. It did not work and now we are left in a situation where the country still did what we didn’t want them to do, and trusts us even less than they did before.

Beyond highlighting the dangers of non-intervention, this article also showcases the strongest tool at a libertarian nation’s disposal: a positive example. In my understanding of libertarian principles, people are more free to come and go within such a society. This should lead to more travel and intermingling of cultures. This can and should be promoted by government by inviting members of foreign militaries and other organizations to train in the US, and sending our military on temporary visits to do the same (not the permanent basing in Germany or the like).

This allows some of us to see how other countries think and behave, a very useful thing when you later work with them. Additionally, it brings people who are more likely to have some influence in countries that are strategically valuable to a greater understanding of the US is, what a free society looks like, and how it can be done. If we who believe in freedom are correct and a free society is better than an oppressed on, then these people getting to see it working will begin fueling the desire for change—from inside. It is the least insidious method of shaping foreign policy, but it also allows us to change and adapt based on what works elsewhere, too. It is like capitalism for ideas!

Ultimately, there is a better way to ensure a safe world environment for your country, and it starts with libertarian principles of non-intervention but rigorous defense of direct attacks. I have discussed non-intervention and travel here, and have a good article for a discussion of rigorous defense soon.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Thank You to the Fallen

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

This is the Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln. It is fitting to remember this speech on Memorial Day, as it may be the most eloquent dictation of remembrance and perseverance. I would like to personally thank all Americans who have served their nation, with a special thanks to all of those who have given the last full measure, and their families. You will never be forgotten.

As Lincoln said, “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work…” That is part of the reason that I am so passionately dedicated to advancing the cause of Liberty in the best way that I know. Not only do I firmly believe it to be the noblest path, but also an honor to those who have gone before.

The work to which we dedicate ourselves here and to which many have dedicated themselves before will never be finished; the fight for Liberty is never-ending. To those from whom the fight has demanded the most, on all days and especially on this day, thank you.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Issues 20: The Feds are not Doing their Job

My original view for this blog was something akin to the Small Wars Journal where I would post more detailed and philosophical discussions about libertarianism while using the Weekly Roundup to share news articles. In trying build this, I realize that one person with other commitments cannot build a site like the Small Wars Journal. In reading other blogs, I see that many of their posts are about individual news articles. In putting up a Weekly Roundup I realized that I wanted to comment on many of the articles I used. Therefore, I am going to try changing things around a bit, and am spreading this week’s roundup over several days with commentary on each article. Hopefully this will allow me to create posts more often, keep the blog more interesting, and share some good information at the same time.

The next few posts all deal with US military and foreign policy, just like the last Roundup on the sidebar dealt with US domestic fiscal policy. This is installment one.

Libya Effort is Called Violation of War Act

The President continues to use US military force in Libya in direct violation of US law and the Constitution. This is not a partisan issue, but one that offends many politicians from across the political spectrum.

“Representative Brad Sherman, Democrat of California, said the administration was treating lawmakers as ‘irrelevant’.” He goes on to say that “’It’s time for Congress to step forward,’ […]. ‘It’s time to stop shredding the U.S. Constitution in a presumed effort to bring democracy and constitutional rule of law to Libya.’”

No matter whether you agree with the use of force or not, everyone should be able to find common ground in the fact that the force is not currently authorized and those using it have not followed the proper channels to do so.

I will continue to push this issue as long as it exists. This type of use of force is the most dangerous of all, a subject on which I will expound in another post this week.

Monday, May 23, 2011

YGBSM 3: SCOTUS Tells California it is Incapable of Governing

Today the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on an issue concerning California prison overcrowding. There are three links toward which I would direct your attention:

Supreme Court Orders California to Release Tens of Thousands of Prison Inmates (LA Times)

Actual Supreme Court Ruling

Sheriff Joe Arpaio

The first is an article about the Supreme Court decision, the second is the actual decision, and the third is about how the prison system should be run in the first place. First things first.

At first reading of the article I was conflicted. As a libertarian, I often fight the misconception that libertarianism is indistinguishable from anarchy. It is, however, imperative that any government be able to enforce the few statutes and limitations it sets forth. In the Opinion of the Court the majority asserts that the decision exists to protect the Constitutional rights of the prisoners. If this was the case, if the ruling were as simple as it seems on its face, it would be a laudable example of the court defending the Constitution, its most sacred duty. One must ask, though, what are the Constitutional rights, how are they violated, and how can they best be fixed? Reading both dissents belies the notion that the Court worked only to protect violations of Constitutional right.

Even with my limited knowledge of Constitutional law, I am familiar with the idea that decisions of the court are supposed to be both narrowly tailored and redress specific grievances. The dissents bring to light that this is not the case; it is a matter of activist judges using their position to influence events beyond the scope of their job. Even if the plaintiffs were found to have their Constitutional rights violated, was the fix the best available given the circumstances? I absolutely think it is not.

The law used as justification for the decision, the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) states that decisions must be “narrowly tailored to address proven and ongoing Constitutional violations.” The Court worked in realms beyond its power in making the decision, undoing with broad strokes what thousands of citizens in the form of judges, juries, and law enforcement worked for years to do. I would recommend reading Justice Alito’s dissent for a much more eloquent opinion than I could provide.

As to what could have been done instead, the range is vast. I love what Sheriff Joe has done. Snopes even mentions his allowing them to have cable television because it is mandated by law. Seriously. If it was not mandated that prisoners live in such comfort, perhaps there would be money available to reduce the crowding. If they rotated 8-hour shifts working the chain gang, that would leave only 2/3 of them inside at any given time. Given that capacity is currently near 200% and the court ordered the prisons to maintain a maximum of 137.5% of their capacity, the shift-work solution solves the problem without harmful change (1/3 per shift equates to 133.34% in the prison at a time). And that is a solution that meets intent, creates a positive good, and was formulated in an evening. Although it is simplistic and would require more detail, it is meant only to illustrate that there are much better solutions to the problem. I am sure the combined power of the nine most impressive legal minds in the United States could do even better given the proper motivation.

For me, this issue comes down to a bloated Federal power. The Court must be able to enforce the Constitution, but it has gone far beyond. The opinion was not narrowly tailored to address the issue of the plaintiffs, but made sweeping changes to a state system. The changes made were not even the only possible changes to improve the situation. Judicial activism is a huge problem, not only because it will put 37,000 convicted criminals back on the streets early, but because it erodes a system that is designed to safeguard the rights of Citizens against their government.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Weekly Roundup

          In lieu of a weekly update this weekend, I wanted to post links to a couple specific articles with brief comments on each. The articles are a little older, but raise some interesting issues. I think they are good reads and the starting point for intelligent debate if we so choose.

The Economist - Lessons from California: The Perils of Extreme Democracy

          This is a stellar discussion about the failure or success of direct democracy in California. I think that direct democracy needs to be tempered by a Constitution or it becomes mob rule, but I don’t think that California has necessarily crossed that line. One of the early commenters, QEsPapa, wrote a great summary. Perhaps the best answer is to have all taxes be the result of direct democracy, with all expense originating from the legislature, with a Constitutional mandate to not run a deficit? The taxpayers would keep taxes small and legislators would be forced to spend within their means.

The Economist - Cuba's Communist Congress: The Start of a Long, Slow Goodbye

          This article discusses Cuba and showcases how they cannot sustain their communist government. They are being forced to open more private businesses, due in large part to the most common critique of communism—if everything is given, no one will work. The US policy of restricting citizens and not engaging the country is a separate issue that I hope to discuss later.

The Economist - Don't Bully Boeing, Barack

          In this article, the Economist argues for the NLRB to not have so much power (trying to tell business which states are available for expansion and which are not).  Not only is that a vast abuse of power, but the underlying reason, the Unions, is an important issue in itself.  Rather than the days when a Union helped protect Kentucky coal miners from being sent to their deaths, these days Unions are forcing members to join, exacting dues whether members are "willing" or not, exercising vast power over businesses, and becoming a force from which people need protection instead of a protecting force!  Of course in a libertarian society people should be allowed to Unionize, just as they should be allowed to not Unionize and businesses should be allowed to employ whomever they choose.  Propping up industries or workers has not done many favors for the economy in the long run before, and there is no reason to think government intervention will help this time, either.
          These articles showcase libertarian values playing out in the world, but libertarians are not using them to show people that our system works. Many people still are either ignorant enough to equate libertarianism with anarchism, or scared enough to think that people will not be able to flourish with a small government. Using examples of how libertarianism would be making life a little better should be a cornerstone of those trying to convince people of the philosophy.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Issues 19: India, Pakistan, and ... Libertarianism?

          An article by the Economist, entitled “The World’s Most Dangerous Border,” asserts that the border between India and Pakistan is the most dangerous in the world, but is overshadowed by the western border with Afghanistan. Despite claims that the solution to the problem is for India to sacrifice elements of sovereignty to solve the problem, I would rather focus on a separate question. Whether that border is the most dangerous or not, a significant question becomes, why? A follow-up that you may be asking is, what does this have to do with libertarianism?
          One of the many goals of this blog is to provide insights within subjects upon which we may agree, not only debate contentious issues. One commenter to the article, sanman on page 3, made a very astute observation that the core issue is the existence of the Pakistani state itself. To summarize, he says that India is not a “real” enemy, but rather one that the military and politicians use to unite an otherwise very different population. The Pashtuns have more in common with their Afghan neighbors, and talk about dismantling the country into its ethnic subcomponents is ubiquitous on the internet. By having a common enemy (India), and a common belief (Fundamentalist Islam), it is easier to unite the country. Those in power then maintain their status.
          So what does this have to do with libertarianism? The first is that the root of the problems may well lie in arbitrarily drawn borders by a collapsing colonial power half a world away. This is not unique to the Durand Line, Pakistan, and India. Problems exist most obviously in Israel, but also between the Kurds and their Iraqi or Turkish nations, among other examples. Without going into too much detail here, it is a very solid example of how foreign intervention, though perhaps seeming wise at the time, led to many important and unforeseen problems. Trying to control your neighbors is just not healthy in the long run (U.S. policy-makers should take especial note of this).
          The second tie-in to libertarianism is something I believe to be an insight—at least, I have not read it elsewhere before. The idea is that a totalitarian country cannot rule a large area with a disparate population like Pakistan. The more you press on the people, the more alienate some who may not agree. To maintain your power, then, you have to come up with some pretty terrifying enemies or some pretty powerful ideas. America, however, was able to expand and govern such a diverse group of people largely because of the freedom allowed to so many. The more libertarian a nation is, the more inclusive it can be. The population will feel more accepted and, in addition to the many other benefits I attribute to libertarian government, will be able to exist more peaceably. It is like the old maxim that to exert more control, you must first loosen your grip.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Issues 18: Ron Paul Announces 2012 Presidential Candidacy!

          I apologize for my long absense; I have been out of the country and away from internet access for some time, but am back and making an effort to redirect my mental energies toward what I consider to be a good cause.  I will try to give all the new comments on Issues 17 their due as well.  Please bear with me.
          I will start of this return by saying how happy I am to see that Ron Paul has decided to run for President.  He is one of the few people in elected office willing to stand up against something that may be politically popular to say "This isn't what real freedom is."  Being able to do that is critical, and even where I don't agree with him, I recognize him as the clear choice candidate to champion the cause of Liberty, to do the most toward making us a little bit freer, and to do so even if the idea, such as legalizing drugs, isn't the most popular one with his "conservative" base.
          The real test of most people's strategy will come in the primaries.  As the linked article above says, he is only fifth among Republican voters, yet in a hypothetical general election stands the best chance to come out on top over President Obama.  To anyone voting for a Republican candidate in the primaries, this should be an important factor to remember as you vote: your vote for the most conservative candidate rather than Ron Paul may ensure your candidate's eventual demise in the general election. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Issues 17: Abortion--Defining Life

          As I discussed in my last post, so-called pro-life and so-called pro-choice believers tend to agree on the final logic step used to reach their widely separated conclusions: that humans, even children, deserve protection under the law and that a person has supreme choice over their own body. As I said before, I believe that the sticking point in the argument is when one defines the beginning of a separate, “individual” human life.
          Government exists to regulate the interaction between individuals involving force. Once you define the beginning of individual human life, it then becomes the responsibility of government to protect that life from uninvited violence (I offer this especially for those who say that pro-life is not a stance a true libertarian can take). I will in this entry propose what I believe to be the most scientifically acceptable definition, and discuss why other definitions lack. A solid definition of human life would have legal implications in the form of the current abortion arguments. My goal in this writing is to use only terms and arguments that are acceptable Constitutional measures with which to legislate. As such, no religious, emotional, or linguistic arguments will be presented. For example, one side says “when a woman is pregnant, we ask about her baby, thus indicating a common understanding of individuality.” The other may use a similar argument, “we call it a fetus or other terms at various stages of development, thus recognizing that it is different from a baby newly born to a mother.” These are both linguistic arguments and, while they have use in shaping a person’s views on the subject, are completely irrelevant to providing a Constitutional basis with which to legislate.
          That said, the most reasonable place to define the beginning of human life is conception. This is the point where there is some change between “sperm and egg” and something else. We must ask the question, what has changed? The answer is that cells that are genetically identical to their parent body, i.e. the man and woman from which they came, have merged into a new cell with a new genetic identity. When this happens, a genetic study could trace the origins of the new organism to its parents, but the DNA would be distinct, in essence, it is genetically an “individual.”
          This is the point where the current pro-choice argument begins to diverge and not be rigorously correct. By saying that a woman has dominion over her body, the term body must be acceptably defined as well. If she were to, for some inexplicable reason, have the finger of another adult inside of her, I doubt anyone would propose that is “her body.” It is genetically unique and part of someone else’s body. By the same argument, even though a new life is growing inside her, sustained by her, it is genetically unique. It is not part of her body, it is a separate body inside of her own being nourished by her body.
          Consider this. If a police forensics team was investigating a crime using DNA evidence, which currently is an acceptable legal standard of human identity, and they tried to match a “sample” of the mother to the thing growing inside her, they would not match. In a court of law, there is no evidence to convict one based on the genetics of the other. They are not the same person, not the same body, under current legal definitions. Since DNA testing is newer than the major court decision on the issue, it is certainly an issue that should be revisited with the new legal and scientific understanding.
          With a lack of agreement that the very thing she would be initiating force against in an abortion is part of her own body, the blanket statement that she has dominion of her body no longer applies to the discussion. With the additional scientific truth that the thing is genetically individual, the principle of one individual not initiating force against another individual begins to apply.
          Some counters to this argument that I have heard recently include that it is religiously based. This discussion has steered clear of every aspect of religion, but will certainly still draw that criticism. By mathematical definition, that is an illogical argument. Consider this proof in support:

p + q (implies) s

r (implies) s

s (implies) T

t is an element of T

p is humanity
q is individuality
r is religion saying a person is a person at conception
s is the libertarian principle “one individual [human] not initiating violence on another individual [human]”
T is the set of government laws protecting individuals
t is government enforcement of anti-abortion (because abortion is force)

          What this proof says is that if something can be shown to fit into the category of one human individual not initiating violence on another human individual, then the government should legislate it to protect the individual who is victim. The “r (implies) s” statement is the religious argument saying that a person becomes such at conception. This method of establishment is not acceptable to government legislation due to the separation of church and state. However, s can be established by other means, namely scientific definition of human (p) and individual (q). Therefore, if something is established to be both human and individual, it follows that it should be protected by government regulation. This proof shows that although a religious argument may establish a certain principle, it cannot be legislated unless it is arrived at secularly.
          By scientific definition of the DNA, chromosomes, and genetics that make up a new cell at conception, it fits the definitions of human and individual. From the above proof to include the fact that abortion is a type of force, it logically follows that abortion should be illegal in the United States, no religion involved or necessary. I have not encountered other serious counters to this argument, but if I do I will address them in the comments or a further post.
          I have, however, heard other proposals for the definition of the beginning of individual human life. I will address these as well. The worst proposed definition of both life and abortion-legality is the idea of “viability.” There are many definitions of the term, one of which is “abortion”-based, saying that it is a point where a child can survive outside the womb. First, the wider meaning of the word is when something can survive independently. Even outside the womb, a child requires years of care before it can venture into the world to survive independently. The term used in the abortion-sense is then contradictory to the term as more generally applied. I will address this whole issue that arises of how long a parent should care for a child at a later time. The other reason this argument falls flat is that it is completely based on technology. Years ago the point of viability would have been much different than it is today. We can presume it will be much different in 200 years as well. By tying the definition of human life to technology a person admits that they are not defining the life itself, merely a current state of technological capability. This makes for a poor definition.
          Another suggestion is that life be defined to begin at birth. This is also a poor definition as it brings up questions of C-sections, partial births, umbilical cord attachment, and others. If birth is the line, what makes a baby born one month premature different from a part of a woman’s body that will be born tomorrow? The latter would be defined as not a human life although it is more fully developed and bears more characteristics of human life than the former that is being afforded protection of the law. The happenstance casing that surrounds that baby once again does not take into account the organism itself in the definition.
          Finally, I have heard suggestions such as when there is a heartbeat or when there is a determinable sex to define human individuality. While these approach a better definition of life since they use the life itself, they still are not as good as the genetically individual definition. The reason is that the genetic code is the final authority on life, since all aspect of life are recorded in that genome. When blood is to be matched to a person in a murder case, DNA is the method. When animals are checked for similar ancestry, the answer is in their genes. In all questions of life, genetics has been the scientifically and legally accepted final answer. By extension of this principle, human individuality begins at conception, implying protection of the law and government criminalization of abortion.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Issues 16: Abortion--Framing the Debate

          In light of my recent posts concerning the foundation of my political beliefs and ideas on how to properly discuss those beliefs with others, I wish to offer a case study. The case study I will present leaves plenty of room for contention as it is one of the most hotly debated issues today: abortion. I think this is an appropriate topic since it has many arguments that form the base idea, from the secular to the religious. The thought processes that then move forward from those base ideas also vary widely, making it a challenge to even identify the proper place to begin the discussion. I hope to live up to it.
          In this first post I will only try to identify what I believe to be the proper place to discuss the issue, the place where most views diverge. I will use the base idea that one individual shall not initiate force on another individual as the prime argument. Although there are many base ideas used, this one is in line with all Constitutional ideas and is therefore the best to use for discussing government policy. From here, we see the arguments presented by the two sides to support their position. The “pro-life” side argues that one should not have the authority to end a child’s life. The “pro-choice” side argues that a woman can do with her own body as she pleases without anyone dictating to her. I agree with both of these sentiments as they are written, as I think that most people do, and with both of the terms pro-life and pro-choice. I think they are misnomers for the positions they hold, since I and many others profess to be both at the same time. However, since they are in common use I will continue to use them throughout the discussion.
          To illustrate my point, consider this: no one seems to think it should be illegal for a man to launch his sperm into the air to die by masturbation or for a woman to drop her eggs to the same fate during menstruation. This is because these cells are obviously part of a person’s body, not an “individual” in terms of separate human life, and no one, even those who espouse a pro-life point of view, claim to be able to legislate what a person does with their own body (I understand there are exceptions to this, but I refer only to the stance of the pro-life argument, not each individual and their separate beliefs. The same is true for future blanket statements about the pro-choice argument). Similarly, no one suggests that a child, once born, is anything other than an individual due full protection of the law to include the prevention of initiation of force (once again, there are some that do but I refer to the position, not each individual).
          The point of contention, then, lies further back the chain of thinking. Each side spouting “you can’t kill a child” or “a woman has a right to choose what to do with her body” is completely pointless since those are principles to which all agree. The point of divergence in the beliefs is sometime during the period from just before conception to just after birth. One side seems to hold that an “individual,” as written in the base idea of an individual not initiating violence against another, does not become such until birth. The other argues that an individual becomes such at conception. Some argue for various points in between. However, the proper framing of the argument is not whether we should kill children or should violate a woman’s sanctity of her own body, but “at what point do parts of two people’s bodies cease being just parts and become a separate “individual” body?”
          To illustrate my point, I would like to include a quotation from Bertrand Russel, a famous mathematician. He said, “’But,’ you might say, ‘none of this shakes my belief that 2 and 2 are 4.’ You are quite right, except in marginal cases -- and it is only in marginal cases that you are doubtful whether a certain animal is a dog or a certain length is less than a meter. Two must be two of something, and the proposition ‘2 and 2 are 4’ is useless unless it can be applied. Two dogs and two dogs are certainly four dogs, but cases arise in which you are doubtful whether two of them are dogs. ‘Well, at any rate there are four animals,’ you may say. But there are microorganisms concerning which it is doubtful whether they are animals or plants. ‘Well, then living organisms,’ you say. But there are things of which it is doubtful whether they are living organisms or not. You will be driven into saying: ‘Two entities and two entities are four entities.’ When you have told me what you mean by ‘entity,’ we will resume the argument.”
          The point of this quote is to illustrate how an ill-defined margin creates room for argument. There is currently no decisive legal or scientific definition of human life. As such there is not clear definition of who should receive the benefits of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” or “individual not initiating force against another individual.” The point is the terms used to build the arguments are not completely defined, and so become the sticking point to any argument about abortion. I will not disagree with the conclusion of either side, that children deserve protection or that women deserve supremacy of their bodies. I will argue all day with anyone who says that is the entire reason for their belief, though. When traced back along their chain from their final position toward their base idea, pro-choice supporters and pro-life supporters both must eventually reach a point where they define the beginning of human life and governmental protections. Many do not realize that this point is where the discussion must be held. To properly address the issue of abortion we cannot continue to talk about what a woman can do with her body or what rights a child has, but must talk about when certain cells are not longer a part of someone’s body but a body of their own.
          This discussion in itself is a long and contentious one, but to not even realize that it is the central issue at hand is devastating to the level of debate we see on this issue. In my next posts I will address many arguments concerning this defining of human life, the role of religion in the argument, and how I believe the application of the non-initiation of force base idea and logic can bring a person to only one conclusion. I would love to hear discussion on the issue, but first I would love to hear discussion on where discussion on the issue should take place.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Foundations 6: Arguing Politics

          In every argument between individuals, there is a disagreement. The disagreement on a given issue in politics is not necessarily the place to argue, however. A political stance is the result of a long line of logical steps that incrementally move from a base idea to the position in question. If one arrives at an idea after 20 steps from the base idea, and another uses 20 steps from a similar base idea to arrive at a different stance, then the chances are small that the true disagreement lies in the stance itself.
          In the example above, say the two individuals agree on the base idea and the first 10 steps of logic. If they are trying to convince each other by saying “America should do A because of step 19”or “America should do B because of my step 19,” then they will never be able to reach a consensus because they have no common ground.
          Instead they must trace back their arguments. For example, they realize they don’t agree on step 19, and so ask each other “why do believe that?” The answer is because of step 18. Once again they disagree and the process continues. Eventually they say “I believe step 11 because of step 10,” and “I also believe step 10, but it gives me this step 11.” Now they have found the point of divergence in their views and the true discussion may begin.
          In this true discussion they may say something like “you used this logical argument to move from step 10 to step 11, but that is in fact a fallacy, not a logical truth,” or “you brought in an outside idea to get from step 10 to step 11, and it is not a correct or proven idea.” In the first case, knowing and using mathematical logic will help, such as “if P, then Q.” Logic is a well-founded and accepted science. Were it to be employed more often, I think we may find ourselves with fewer disputes on our hands. The second case is more difficult to argue. The reason for the outside idea not meeting approval must itself be traced back to a point of disagreement, and the process revisited.
          In the end, every person should be able to trace each stance on every position back to a set of base ideas. If the base ideas of two people do not coincide, then reaching agreement is unlikely and the discussion itself must center on the base ideas and trying to convince your neighbor that his or her ideas are not the best set to use. If the base ideas coincide, then a rigorous examination of the logical arguments, or “proofs,” should yield some ground toward concurrence.
          I write this not because I think that these concepts are beyond understanding, but because I do not think that most people approach their political thoughts in this manner. This can be seen by examining a person’s stances and finding ones that seem contradictory. Did a person arrive at that conclusion after rigorous examination of their principles, or because a role model or trusted political figure proposed it? How much self-examination are most people willing to do on their own ideas? If people were to identify their principles, build logical stances from these, and routinely reexamine them in the light of new information, I think many would be surprised.
          My primary goal in this endeavor, in this blog, is not to promote libertarianism. That is only a secondary goal, as I realize that my arguments may have flaws. Libertarianism is only the best answer I have right now. My true goal is to create a dialog where we can talk to each other about contentious ideas without saying “you believe this so you are [extreme, hard-hearted, soft-hearted, weak, gay, nazi, ],” but rather “Ok, we disagree. Let’s find the root of that disagreement and dispassionately, with mutual respect for the integrity of an idea, discuss the discrepancies.” It is absolutely possible for two people to be completely opposed, but have the best interests of America and good intentions at heart. I will not necessarily agree with them, but I will never put down someone personally because of a difference of ideas. I hold ideas in reverence. They are too important and eternal to be tied to mortal flesh.

Friday, April 8, 2011

YGBSM 2: Government Shutdown! Run for the Hills!

         So the Federal Government is about to shut down—over a measly $28 billion dollars. According to this article from CNN, the issue is the size of the spending cuts for the rest of this year. The Republicans want $61 billion in cuts, while the Democrats want $33 billion in cuts. I am thinking we need more like $1.5 trillion in cuts, aka our deficit.
          The funny thing is the ferocity with which they are defending their cuts. In a deficit that has seen many approximations, all in the neighborhood of $1.5 trillion, the $61 or $33 billion are nothing. Talking about billions of dollars sounds like a lot, so when this comes up on the news most people are impressed that the government is working so hard to cut spending. But let’s look at the numbers written in a similar way: we are spending $1,500 billion more than we make EVERY YEAR. Congress is negotiating to cut about $50 billion of that. That is 50 out of 1500, sometimes known as 3.33%, and that is just of the deficit, not of total spending! Why even bother? I mean, if that is the biggest commitment we can make to responsible fiscal policy, then just don’t even cut anything. It won’t make a bit of difference.
          The funny thing about the government shutdown is that many “essential” personnel will still be working during this time, presumably to be paid later. This more than anything highlights what people truly believe to be the purpose of government. Workers such as FBI and DEA agents, US Marshals, prison guards, and military will still be working. What do these all have in common? They exist to protect people from force and are deemed essential. This “shutdown” shows us what is essential in government and what is not. By forcing people to pay taxes and support non-essential items regularly, the government is overstepping its role. The best way to begin paring back government is to watch this partial shutdown, see where the essential jobs are, maintain those, and cut the rest to be picked up by States or private businesses. I have a feeling there will still be much more “essential” than not, but it might at least be a start. Bring on the shutdown.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

YGBSM 1: McDonald's in San Francisco

          I today I was inspired to start a new category of post that I believe will help further the cause of Liberty. The category is YGBSM, and is dedicated completely to governmental actions that make you think “do they even HAVE a thought process?”. I haven’t documented a lot of instances that I want to use, but from the history of times that I have done a /facepalm, I have no doubt that I will be able to keep this going. If you have an example that you would like me to use, just send it to me on Facebook.

          The first YGBSM post that I would like to present is not national, but rather city politics that really opens a window into how people think who “have humanity’s best interest at heart.” If you do not like the show or organization that is presenting it, I would ask that you still give the video a chance—it really is very good.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Foundations 5: THE Foundation

          To borrow a concept from mathematics, a system of theories and truths is built on a foundation of axioms, or basic ideas that are taken to be correct without proof. From these base ideas, the rest is built. The idea is that the fewer axioms that you use to completely build the base of your theory, the more sound it is.
         This applies equally to political philosophy, and I will use this post to show why I think libertarianism is the only correct form for government to take. Additionally, these axioms serve as the basis for all of the issues discussed in the blog, and are a point to which we can trace agreement or disagreement in an argument.
          I propose two axioms for formulating a system of government. The first is that one individual initiating force against another individual is the worst wrong a person can commit. Force is loosely defined as making a person do something that they have not agreed to do, whether that be physical, mental, fraud, or some other means. The second axiom is that no other wrongs can add up to be greater than or equal to the initiation of force.
          These two axioms together tell us that initiating force against an individual is inexcusable, because 1) it is the most wrong thing you can do and 2) there is no accumulation of other wrongs that a person could have done to “deserve” the initiated force. Note that this applies to initiated force, because force used in defense does not fit these definitions of wrong.
          These axioms and this immediate conclusion are philosophical, without direct application at this point. To apply them to government, we must examine the nature of government. Government is a system whereby a certain group of people, usually citizens and visitors, are held to a set of rules that contain penalties for breeching. This may take a concrete form of citizens paying taxes in return for governmental services used in enforcing the rules or providing services. Taxes are not optional, and so can be regarded as forced from a person by their government. In order to exist, a government uses force.
          So what makes this acceptable, if the initiation of force is the pinnacle of unjust activity? If the government uses this force to provide a service that is not related to force, it has violated the axioms by using force to combat a lesser evil.
          On the contrary, if a government uses the force of taxation in order to prevent force, this may be viewed as a fair exchange. For example, if a government uses taxation to fund a military that protects its citizens from outside force, or a police force that protects its citizens from force originating within, then it has induced force on its citizens for the purpose of preventing greater and more widespread and destructive force. This is a legitimate use of government force.
          Some may argue that the initiation of force by government in the first place is contrary to principles. These people would tend towards a lack of government, or anarchy. On the contrary, the cries of the victim are the most constant sound in human history. At the individual level, from Cain to the evening news, human nature has shown itself to tend toward force. This has translated into the international force of warfare since there have been nations. Force between people or groups of people has existed since time before government, and may be rightly considered the initiation, with government being considered one of the defenses.
          This is the basis for a libertarian government: the role of the government is only to prevent the initiation of force, and a government may be considered to legitimately serve the people if and only if that is its sole endeavor. So what would this libertarian government look like in America? It would surely involve a military and police force. Having the legislature create laws that govern what is force and what is not force is acceptable. The legislature should confine itself to these activities, to setting the missions for the organizations used to carry them out. The executive branch heads the military and police forces, and runs the various forces and organizations that accomplish these missions. A judiciary adjudicates all disputes to determine whether or not force was criminally applied. It also moderates between the other branches of government.
          The Constitution lays out all of this rather nicely. It provides some small extra powers that are not strictly in keeping with this idea, such as the ability of the legislature to create post offices. However, using the axioms to create this idea of how any government, especially that of America, should run lays a solid foundation for each issue that may arise from politics. Perhaps more importantly it provides the basis for a vision of the nature of government. Using this vision, a politician may make principled decisions guiding his nation toward a well-understood and accepted, predictable end. These axioms are my base. All of my ideas, principles, visions, and stances grow from them. If we agree on these axioms, then we should be able to come to similar conclusions as we discuss the nature of government and each individual issue.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Issues 15: Changes in the American Military

          As I mentioned in my last post, the military intervention that the US cannot seem to avoid is not just a political policy question, but one of systems.  When we talk about what the military policy of a free nation should be, the inevitable question arises of what that country’s military should look like.  This latter question will help to drive the answers to the first.
          The modern American military is a gargantuan unmatched in the world. Not only is the standing force large, but monetary expenditure far outpaces any other nation in the world. In return we have perhaps the most capable force with technological supremacy and the ability to deal with conflicts various in scope throughout the globe. But should we?
          According to a principle of non-initiation of force, the military exists solely to defend Americans from foreign militaries and foreign force. There are entire books dedicated to the subject of just and unjust wars, but on the base idea of protecting against force only, preemptive and preventive wars as well as wars over “national interests” are not in line with libertarian philosophy.
          The current philosophy directing the use of the military is in itself destructive to national interests (read previous article here). Besides the selfish morality of losing American lives for a cause that did not threaten America in the first place, there are other selfish principles such as the exorbitant military budget. Additionally, the American reputation is tarnished by military intervention throughout the world. Military presence creates a target for terrorism and an object by which enemies of America can rouse ire against us. While these all point to military non-intervention as self-interested, it is also for the good of those countries on whose behalf we may intervene. Just like on an individual level, if you do something for a person for a long time, they will become incapable of doing so themselves.
          So how does this affect our military itself? It is not just politics. The very size and structure of the military suggests political ends to which it may be used. In an ideal libertarian country, the Army branch of the military would consist almost entirely of a National Guard or Reserve force. Since the purpose of such a force would be defense of the homeland, not expeditionary conquest, it would not need to be largely standing. A much smaller standing Army would serve to be a first reaction and form the core of a professional organization that retains constant capability to defend the nation. The US Army should transition to a smaller standing Army while increasing the size of its National Guard and Reserve forces, maintaining the ability to defend the nation while making it more difficult to send the Army to foreign shores.
          The Navy and Air Force should be by far the largest standing branches of the military. Since most enemies must traverse a great space in order to threaten America in the first place, having a method to prevent attack by both sea and air serves to defend the country. As there are also “moving pieces of America” in our ships and planes, it is also important to be able to defend these as they roam the globe. The Air Force would not take trips around the world to bomb dictators into submission or strike politically opportune targets. Instead it would defend American skies and maintain the capability to travel the world only should the US be attacked. The Navy would largely keep doing as it is, without the intervention of planes launched from carriers except as national defense.
          A smaller standing Army with a more domestically based Navy and Air Force would serve to reduce the military footprint of the United Sates throughout the world, create less ire against America in other nations, and reduce the budget currently spent maintaining an arm of force that is all too often initiating rather than defending. A larger Reserve and Guard force would maintain the ability to secure the nation.
          These ideas seem far fetched on the surface, but only in light of how the military has been used recently. The Founding Fathers were scared to death of a standing Army for fear that it would be used to suppress political opposition in the United States. They built safeguards against this, which work wonderfully. However, they could not have envisioned that the same concern would centuries later apply to the military force at a global level. Reducing the military to a defensive structure is completely in line with the views that founded America, and more importantly, better serves the Constitution that governs us. The title Secretary of War has long ago given way to the title Secretary of Defense. Now we need to adjust policy to match.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Issues 14: Intervening in Libya

          The US Government recently was party to imposing a no-fly zone over Libya in addition to militarily striking and destroying several sites, facilities, or capabilities associated with being able to enforce the no-fly zone. This is a gross violation of national sovereignty and poor application of Constitutional powers by many members of the US Government.
          Libertarian belief holds that the government exists to protect people from the initiation of force from others. To do otherwise is to trample the liberties of some in favor of the comfort of others. On an international scale this principle applies in the form of treating each country as we would a person. They may do with themselves what they prefer, as long as they do not harm another. To use military force against a country with the excuse of protecting its people from their own government is akin to outlawing smoking to protect people from themselves, and is initiation of force at a national level. It is impossible to simultaneously support military intervention in a nation that has not attacked you and profess belief in the principle of non-initiation of force. The ideas are incompatible.
          What makes the situation even more frustrating is that many, from politicians to talking heads, do not truly understand how to undertake such an operation. By this I don’t mean which jets to send or what order in which to attack targets; that is a military decision best left to military commanders. The politicians job is to set policy and objectives, which has been done poorly since WWII.
          In WWII America was obviously attacked by a nation and defended herself by fighting back against that nation and its allies with the only object being unconditional surrender. There was no bullshit talk about an “exit strategy” because there was an engagement strategy from the beginning that included a clearly-defined objective. In Libya, as in Iraq before, the reason for force is not clearly stated and defined. This leaves the potential to change over time, frustrate those fighting and those supporting, and lead to a public who has no idea when we will no longer be at war. This was not due to a lack of “exit strategy,” but rather to a lack of good strategic objectives from the beginning.
          Which brings me to how the situation is being handled today. There is a system in place for a reason, which should be followed in part because it keeps on the right path those who do not understand the bigger picture. The system starts with the American military being needed in some conflict—in a perfect world it would be needed only to defend America. The President then wants to order the military to participate, and so asks Congress to declare war, allowing him to freely order the military within the scope of the war. Congress, as a body, tempers the President’s desire to exercise his VAST powers as Commander-in-Chief by declaring war in which military forces can be used and approving strategic objectives toward which the war will be fought. When the objectives are complete, the war is declared finished, forces are returned home, and life begins a trek toward normalcy.
          By not following this Constitutionally-based division of power our current government has given the executive a carte blanche to initiate force and use the military as his tool of personal enforcement throughout the lands outside of the United States. It is important that this change in order to curb the appetite of US foreign policy that continually sets its hungry eyes on intervention in countries throughout the world that “need” US help. No one seems to remember that the US got started without an outside agency to prop up our system of government.
          The political landscape that creates this constant intervention is disappointing to me, as it should be to all Americans, not the least of whom are those who suffer the loss of family members to the military-policy machine, temporarily or permanently. Much of the onus lies at the feet of those who hold the power: the politicians not properly performing their duties and the voters who wield ultimate power. There are, however, systemic changes that can and should be made in our military as well. I will address some of these specific changes in the next entry.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Issues 13: Adult Budget Conversation

     In an article by The Wall Street Journal, they say that an adult conversation is finally getting under way about the deficit and that it happened faster than anyone expected, including me. I think this is wonderful, but the way the article is written brings to mind some issues that that I still have with the process.
     The article suggests that lawmakers are looking at it from both sides, reducing spending in the form of entitlements as well as raising taxes to increase revenue. I applaud this method, but as I mentioned in earlier posts about how to tackle the budget, those entitlements need to eventually disappear entirely. Any plan that does not do this only prolongs the issue and kicks the problem down the road to the next generation of politicians. I realize this is the more politically expedient method, but not by any means the most responsible one.
     Tax increases will almost certainly be a necessary pairing with this. However, I would not support one for an entitlement that is not planned to expire as it is paid off. For example, I would support a temporary tax increase tied to Social Security to help pay the debts we have incurred if and only if that is included with a plan for Social Security to phase out completely and the tax will do so in time with the program. This is the best way to begin a return to fiscal sanity.
     I found another post online comparing the difference between Maine and New Hampshire. One of the great things about our Federal system is that it allows comparison among the states to find a system that works. New Hampshire has lower taxes with similar or better results, but that is not my point. My point is the way that those freedom-loving people approach the issue of budgeting. Having never been blessed to live there, I will trust what the article says: citizens refuse to let their taxes be raised, believing that the money already sacrificed can cover necessary services. In turn, the politicians approach the budget by saying “This is the money we have, what is the best way to spend it?” This is far different from the attitude in Washington that says “This is the program that I want because I think it is good, if I can fund it, great, if not, oh well.” The latter is the foundation of the budget problem while the former is the attitude toward which all Americans should strive in order to have a sound fiscal policy that also delivers the services demanded of a government.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Issues 12: The Problem with Voters

     The third leg of this government tripod is the people themselves—the electorate that, through democratic process, is ultimately responsible for the actions of the elected official. The worst part about a democracy is that when the government is of the people and by the people, and it turns south, the people have no one to blame but themselves. For America, there are a number of factors that people must look at when trying to figure out where we went wrong.

     The most important attribute of fault in people is the lack of self-sacrifice. The Constitution gives no place where the Federal government may step in and give aid to the people. While charity is encouraged, America’s most respected politicians have long argued that it is outside the scope of Federal involvement. This issue is one of those that prompted the Founding Fathers to have a government decided by an Electoral College and not direct democracy. Federalist No. 10, which deals with how to prevent a group of people with an interest outside the bounds of the Constitution from pushing that interest through the government anyway, showcases how the Founding Fathers intended the Constitution to prevent the sort of Constitution-ignoring, special-interest-pandering government that we have today.
     The beginning of the end of this came during the Great Depression. Americans were understandably distraught about the economic situation, and rather than let it right itself, they relied on the American government to come to their aid. This was later reinforced during the “War on Poverty” by LBJ. Over time, numerous government programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and subsidies began a culture of giving Americans money that the Constitution grants the government no power to give. To stop these programs, many Americans would have to be willing to sacrifice the personal gain they are receiving for both the greater good of the nation and subservience once again to the Constitution. This has not happened, although polls suggest the crisis may be coming to enough of a culminating point that people are becoming willing to sacrifice again (this poll from the AES shows on page 8 that 49% of people would be willing to cut programs that help them in order bring our budget back under control).
     There are other factors beyond lack of self-sacrifice that hurt the American citizen. Part of it is just ignorance. The political landscape, not to mention complex economics, international relations, health, and domestic political science are all issues toward which collegiate-level education dedicates entire courses of study, and a voter is supposed to be able to decide who has better policy on all of these issues together. It is not feasible to be done well, which prompts a person to choose a couple of “key issues,” usually something that affects them.
     While the issue of self-sacrifice is the most important to turning the country around, the ignorance issue perhaps hurts most. As a citizen who wields electoral power, and hence decisive power, over elected offices of government, it is a responsibility to have a working knowledge of the Constitution, American history, and government to include structure, function, and current events. Americans must take it upon themselves to be educated.
     To solve these problems I propose that all American citizens must also qualify to vote or hold public office, rather than be born into it. Those born in the US would still be considered citizens, protected by the Constitution, but would not hold the power to vote or run for public office until they qualified. This would help to prevent the ignorant, selfish politics that dominate today’s landscape.
     To qualify as a voting-citizen, a person must do two things. The first would be to pass an American History and Government class, or something similar. This would be standardized across the country and could be modeled on the classes and exams that naturalized citizens have to take, but add more elements of logic, political philosophy, American political evolution focusing on the Founding Fathers, and other subjects that may be deemed necessary to running the nation.
     The second requirement for a person to qualify as a voting-citizen would be to successfully complete two (the number can vary, but any less would be useless) years of government service. This service could be military in nature, or be connected to fire, police, ambulance, or other protective services. There may be many others that could qualify, but a distinguishing characteristic must be that the position requires you to potentially sacrifice for your fellow man. The sacrifice need not be your life, but perhaps your sleep when you are called to an accident scene at 2 a.m.
     These two requirements for full voting and political-office-holding citizenship, while still allowing the current definition of citizen to apply in all other cases, create many benefits for American society. It ensures that anyone wanting to make a decision concerning the American future, concerning how to spend their fellow tax-payers’ money, or concerning where to send Soldiers to die has first confirmed that they are willing to sacrifice for the good of others and the country. It also removes any excuse for ignorance.
     This idea is not drastic, discriminatory, or radical. It is not drastic because it does not force anyone to do anything, it merely sets conditions as a prerequisite for voting and public office. If voter turnout tells us anything, anywhere from a third to half of the population would not even be affected. It is not discriminatory because it will apply equally to all Americans, no matter your individual characteristics. In fringe circumstances of a person being incapable of meeting the letter of the requirement but still wanting to earn voting rights, a judge would set an equal condition for the person to meet. Lastly, it is not radical because it does not violate the letter or the spirit of the Constitution. The Constitution has long sought to keep political decisions made by educated people of service to their nation through the Electoral College, an institution that has ceased to perform its intended purpose, leading to consequences the Founding Fathers rightly feared. This proposal remains true to Constitutional principles while ensuring that America’s future is born most heavily on the shoulders of those willing to support it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Issues 11: Curbing the Influence of the Avaricious and Ambitious Politician

          As I mentioned before, one of my desires is not just to limit government, but to shrink it back to levels that are both more efficient and commensurate with the Constitution. I proposed procedural changes that will help make this possible, but the second leg of the tripod remains to be dealt with: political service itself.
          In times long past, times of war, sacrifice, and American courage, men called political office a service to their country. Men like George Washington bore the mantle of setting the precedent of what a United States President should do. When fans asked him to be something more, he declined. When he had served two terms, a sufficient time to make an impact but not so much as to be a careerist, he voluntarily stepped down. This act was emulated by Presidents for over a hundred years, until FDR decided that he was too important for the country to lose.
          Thereafter, it has been the job of the Constitution, in the form of the 22d Amendment, to limit the President to two terms of “service.” This has not translated to Congress, however, where men and women still seek to make their “career in politics.” The fact that a person may impact the country for a long period does not bother me so much as the fact that they are being elected and paid to do so. How many Americans think that they could make decisions better than some Congressmen? It is not a position that is short supply of applicants.
          The Founding Fathers envisioned political service to be exactly that—service that you rendered to your country for a short time apart from your “real” life. And it is toward that goal that I propose changes in the way Congressmen serve.
          Let’s face it, if a person is so magnanimous that they want to serve their country and make it a better place, they will overcome obstacles in their path in order to do so. No trophy, no exorbitant amounts of money, no preferential treatment would be necessary for the true patriot to stand up and serve his or her country. If you do not believe me, look at the members of today’s military. The Founding Fathers risked execution to create and serve this country; surely our Congressmen needn’t have elite-citizen status to be enticed to grace the country with their noble ideas.
          The first thing that I would change about Congress is the obvious term limits. The numbers themselves can be tweaked, but 12 years in Congress, divided any way between either of the chambers, seems best to me. This allows a person to serve at the Federal government for up to 20 years, if their service is so special and dedicated as to warrant two Presidential elections as well. The number 12 seems good because it fits easily with 6 terms in the House or 2 in the Senate, but as I said, the exact number doesn’t matter as much as the principle, to a point.
          The term limits give one major advantage to people that they don’t have now: eventually your Congressmen will be able to do what he thinks is right without worrying about straddling the fence to ensure reelection. As we see now in an example, there are some harsh and unpopular measures necessary to balance the budget. Either we must raise taxes or cut entitlements, either of which is likely to get a candidate a quick trip back home next election. With politicians not as worried about pandering to voters and special interest groups each election cycle, they will be able to make tough decisions that they think are for the benefit of the country, sans the current flowery language, veiled statements, and games. Your own research will unveil arguments not proposed here both for and against term limits, as this is an issue reaching national attention. I encourage you to add your thoughts to the comments on this blog.
          The second part of this solution is for politicians to not have a retirement system. If political position in the United States is viewed as political service, no retirement should be necessary. Retirement is associated with work, not service. Other job benefits should also be closely examined to determine which ones are strictly necessary.
          As for pay, Benjamin Franklin gave an amazing argument condemning the combination of power and money into one position where a person’s ambition and avarice may produce “most violent effects.”
          There are two sides to the argument that government service should have no pay. The first is that of Benjamin Franklin. The second is that a lack of pay would allow only the rich to participate, as they would be the only ones who could afford the associated expenses. I propose the solution of no pay, with the following stipulations. First, the government could procure adequate and optional housing to serving politicians. This would be procured housing, not money to pay for housing. Second, the government would cover all necessary and business-related expenses. These two provisions would remove the barrier of money in relation to serving, while still not paying political servants directly.
          An alternate answer may be to pay political servants at the DC rate for the lowest GS level. I don’t think this is as good as no pay, but it compromises between giving them income comparable to what the government expects people to live on and enforcing the view that they are the servants, not the elite.
          A third idea for holding Congress more accountable would be to increase its size. As counterintuitive as this sounds, the more Congressmen there are, the fewer constituents there are per Congressman. This allows for greater representation, greater accountability, and less power in each Congressman. That power that each wields is a large motivator to remain in office. An article by Jonah Goldberg details some of these benefits.
          I believe this three-part plan of term limits; retirement, pay, and benefit overhaul; and size increase will have the desired effect of making Congressmen once again servants of their country. The decrease in power and pay reduce the effects of avarice and ambition, as cautioned by Ben Franklin, while the term limits allow elected officials to stop making political service a career and focus on adherence to the Constitution rather than supporting the donors that will fund their next campaign.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Issues 10: Please, not more PROGRESS!

     As a libertarian, one of my large concerns is the size and involvement of government. I am not just concerned that it is so large and involved, but that these traits do not seem to ever lessen. Indeed, the system appears to be set up in such a way that makes it unlikely and difficult for this to happen. As Ronald Reagan told us, “No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth.” Our soaring deficit and inability to make enough program cuts to bring spending back in line with income is one proof of this statement’s veracity.

     Why is this? Part of it is the nature of the beast. Politicians are judged by constituents on what they do, what they vote for, what they accomplish. Unfortunately, making changes to make the government more efficient does not seem to count as an accomplishment. The two-party system makes it difficult for movements to remove programs to ever gain traction, too. A party steadfastly defends its actions for fear of being seen as weak, divided, or admitting a wrong.
     Another factor is the complexity of the government in the first place. With a budget well over $3 trillion, who will notice $3 million spent on pork? After all, that is only ONE MILLIONTH of the total budget. Think about that: our government is so large that $3 million is only 1/1,000,000 of the budget. Who cares? Numbers like that are easily forgotten.
     Take the example of wool and mohair subsidies in the National Wool Act of 1954. Paying for the production of these substances was deemed in the best interest of the government in WWII because they were used to make military uniforms. They were passed as part of another bill, and lingered even after the military stopped using them in uniforms. It wasn’t until 1995 that they were repealed. Whew, that was close. But we finally got it right, it only took time. Wait! They were reinstated you say? After we decided that they were no longer necessary (it being debatable in the first place) and went to the effort of ending the program, it was restarted just a few years later because people were not happy to lose their money? And therein lies the other side of the coin: people will generally put their own self-interest over that of the country or the Constitution.
     Although it may be politically difficult to reduce and make efficient a government, it is by no means impossible. I propose that this is a multi-step process that must address all levels of the issue, from selfish voters and politicians to procedural matters that make it more difficult. This post will only address procedures.
     The first procedure I propose to change is the act of piggy-backing many unrelated bills together. The language could say something to the effect of “only one proposition, with all of its necessary component parts, may be in any given bill.” Or maybe it needs to be “all bills may only be 2 pages long.” More articulate people than I can word it appropriately if there is ever a chance to do so. The benefits of this bill are that it forces each representative to vote for each initiative, giving voters more control over holding them accountable. If a representative votes for a separate bill that subsidizes wool, it would be very easy for opponents to paint them as irresponsible pork-supporters. On the other hand, if a representative tries to deny a major bill that has too much pork attached for that very reason, it is easy for the opposition to say “Rep. So-and-so has shown through repeated voting that he or she is against babies, apple pie, and American flags. How terrible.” Voting on each issue as a separate bill increases the transparency of the system, making it easier for voters to understand the full nature of a politician’s voting record and hold them accountable.
     The second issue is perhaps a better one for actually shrinking the government, not just slowing the wild growth: make it law that all legislation expires automatically after five years; at that point it must pass the legislative process again in order to stay in effect for five more years. This would have several benefits. First, it prevents programs from being forgotten and shelved, only to fester in the bureaucracy. Second, and perhaps most sadistically, it keeps the Federal government tied up enough with work that they will be forced to focus on only the most important issues. Those issues that are widely regarded as necessary and proper will pass votes easily, while those that are contentious will have to be prioritized for fight. The result should be smaller government that is more responsive to the people and focused on the most important issues.
     Don’t misunderstand me—this is a step, but a large part of the problem still lies at the feet of every American citizen and every politician. In lieu of systemic changes, personal sacrifice on many people’s part is necessary for positive (or negative, if you prefer the term) change. I will address those issues, most likely separately, in later posts. This is merely a suggestion of procedural changes that can make government more accountable, a prospect that should be popular enough with voters to have a chance at success.