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.

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.