Friday, December 30, 2011

The Case for Ron Paul - An Open Letter to the American Patriot


When I initially sat down to write this letter, I tried to focus on the issues. I took each issue one by one, and passionately described how Ron Paul has it right. I talked about how as an Army ROTC Cadet, I feel his foreign policy is the strongest and safest path for America, how’s he’s anything but anti-military and anything but isolationist. Then I talked about the constitution, about free minds and free markets, and the dangers of activist monetary policy and the Federal Reserve. I tried to defend him against the absurd slander about racism, and did my best to shield him from all the other mud being flung his way. I promoted civil liberties, equality under the law, and individual rights.

But when I was finished, I realized what I had written was merely an eloquent endorsement of Ron Paul’s platform. It was well written and informative, and if you already liked Ron Paul it would probably have fired you up. But if you care enough about politics to still be reading this, chances are you’ve already developed your opinions on all those issues, and those opinions probably won’t change because some college kid convinced you otherwise. So I scrapped it. Instead of trying to tell you what to believe, I’d like to try to place what you know already in context. I’d like to provide perspective, rather than just opinion. To do that we need to begin with a miniature history lesson.

“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice...moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” – Barry Goldwater

Barry Goldwater was another freedom-loving Republican with a propensity for speaking his mind. His beliefs were certainly not analogous to Paul’s, especially on foreign policy, but his platform was socially and economically very similar. More importantly, he saw the direction that big government was taking the country, and dedicated his life to trying to change that direction. In 1964 he ran for president against incumbent Lyndon Baines Johnson, the year after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. After winning a bitterly contested primary (in which a young Newt Gingrich endorsed his competitor) he was attacked by Johnson for being radical and dangerous. In one famous television ad (found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDTBnsqxZ3k ), the Johnson campaign suggested that Goldwater’s policies would lead to a nuclear bomb detonating in the United States. It was devastatingly effective, and sympathy for JFK’s recent assassination also helped Johnson’s campaign. Despite an impassioned endorsement of Goldwater by a young Ronald Reagan (found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXBswFfh6AY), Johnson won in a landslide.

The short term result was the disastrous Great Society, more burdensome and unsustainable entitlements, the creation of new and unnecessary executive departments, a drastic expansion of the bureaucracy, the Vietnam War, finalizing the break from the Gold Standard and allowing for perpetual manipulation of the money supply.

But more importantly, the 1964 election sent both parties the message that extremism in the defense of liberty was a politically unwise experiment, and that moderation in the pursuit of justice was much safer. Telling the “mainstream” what it wanted to hear could help them get elected much more easily than ideals or principles could, because most Americans didn’t think about those principles in practice very much. Sticking to principle required explaining how your principles applied to the issues; that could get confusing and wasn’t a very catchy campaign slogan. Plus, standing your ground meant that some people might disagree, and without the flexibility to move your position, you’d have no chance to get their vote. So for decades, political parties have focused more on assembling a winning “coalition” than on defending cohesive ideologies. The idea is that if they can give targeted groups of people whatever they want, and can add up enough of those groups to create a majority, they will win the election, which is all that matters to them. The larger, wealthier and more powerful the interest group, the better, because the more that group will help them get reelected.

It’s not that Democrats and Republicans don’t have ideological differences, because they usually do. It’s just that when those beliefs are pitted against what is politically convenient for the furthering of their career, both sides generally choose the latter. When you put so many congressmen with such different beliefs in a room together and ask them to work things out, oftentimes the only things they can agree on are the things which are in their mutual best interests: namely, getting reelected. And they’ve both discovered that the best way to get reelected is to increase their own power, so that they may sell favors to powerful interests in exchange for support. They’ve discovered that the best way to get reelected is to change their positions to whatever’s popular at the time, rather than saying what they believe is best for the country. They’ve discovered that the best way to get reelected is to pander to that mainstream by refusing say anything controversial that might alienate some people, by refusing to stand by what they believe in and instead standing where they believe the electorate will view them most favorably.

The result is that we voters are rarely given a choice between two competing ideologies and asked to pass judgment on which we prefer. Rather, we are given a choice between two ever-evolving parties that continually aim to tell their traditional supporters what they want to hear, and to give their powerful interests what they want. Both are obsessed with poll numbers, perpetually jostling for the “mainstream” middle ground that will grant them enough independents to assemble a majority. No politician dares to say anything that might engender opposition, and none dare to go against what the most powerful interests want.

Unfortunately for us, not everybody can have what they want. We’ve tried that for decades, and look where it’s gotten us? We’ve tried passing “compromises” that feed the most powerful interests on both sides; we’ve AARP massive, ever-growing entitlement programs, the military-industrial complex an ever-growing defense budget, the taxpayers tax cuts, the farm industry subsidies, the auto industry’s a bailout, big companies a favorable regulatory climate, and subprime applicants a cheap loan. Before we know it, we’re 15 trillion dollars in debt. Nobody on either side asks whether these are a good idea, unless it’s politically wise to do so in a grandiose campaign ad. If nobody sees them do the good, they reckon it’s not worth doing; if nobody sees them do the bad, they figure they will be able to get away with it.

If you’re still reading this, chances are I’m preaching to the choir. It’s a pretty big choir! Most people are fed up with this crap, and have been for several years. They see where this “mainstream” politics has taken us, and they want a change from that status quo. They were promised that change four years ago, and they didn’t get it. They are now even more disillusioned now than they were in 2008, but it doesn’t seem to be making any difference. Despite congressional approval ratings consistently below 15% and one of the greatest changeovers in American electoral history, about 86% of congressional incumbents retained their seat in 2010. The most depressing part about this selfishness, greed and dishonesty is that it works. The “public servants” who serve only themselves have a stranglehold on power that seems unbreakable, eternally reminding us of the system’s inherent brokenness. Even politicians who start out with good intentions seem corrupted by power and the desire to keep it, and soon advocate whatever will help them at the polls, whatever will give them popular talking points. All across the country, politicians tell voters whatever they want to hear, and get rewarded for it.

Except, that is, for one. One man has held out. Out of the 536 people who make up Congress and the Presidency, and the thousands who have held those offices for the past four decades, exactly one has consistently resisted this temptation. The Congressman from Texas’ 14th district does not change his stances for political convenience. He never has. He has preached the same message of freedom and constitutionally limited government for his entire 35-year career. He has voted no for every single tax hike. He has voted no for every single pork-barrel spending project. He has voted no for every single proposal that is not within the Federal government’s enumerated constitutional powers, no matter how good that proposal would make him look to mainstream voters. Many times, he has been the only member of either house to do so.

Sometimes, he’s lost winnable elections because of it. But mostly, he’s been ostracized for it. He’s been relegated to the fringe by people who share his core beliefs, just because it was politically dangerous to present those beliefs in such an uncompromising manner. Both parties have distanced themselves from him because they’re afraid of what he’s going to say next. This fear is magnified because they KNOW what he’s going to say next. They know he will say the same thing tomorrow that he said yesterday, and the day before that, and the year before that, and the election cycle before that, and the decade before that. They’re afraid that each time he repeats the same set of beliefs will provide yet another testament to his outright refusal to toe the party line. They’re afraid that each time he opens his mouth, he might be able to convey the conviction that drives him, to portray the principles that guide his every vote and every speech. And mostly, they’re afraid that this will illuminate a distinction between what drives him and what drives them. It is the distinction between one who seeks the preservation of one’s own power, and one who seeks the betterment of the country. It is the distinction between self-service and public service. Politicians on both sides, and the powerful interest groups who depend on their assistance, are afraid of what might happen to their power if enough Americans get that message.

Consequentially, he’s been ignored every time he takes the floor. He’s been given less time at the debates than his competitors. He’s ridiculed as cooky, loony, out-of-touch, unrealistic and impractical, nicknamed “Crazy Uncle Ron” and “Dr. No”. He’s been shunned from the mainstream media and glossed over in reporting on the polls, unmentionable unless followed by the phrase “but there’s no way he could win”. He’s been the butt of every political talk show joke in the books, had his name defiled, been called a racist and a sexist and an Anti-Semite and a homophobe and a lunatic and everything else. In the dirty game of politics he’s had more mud flung at him than just about anybody, yet he trudges on unfazed. Alone and ostracized and insulted and ridiculed, he has fought against the tide for 35 years, guided only by what he believes in his core to be right.

What he believes to be right is freedom, and he has dedicated his entire life to advancing it. In December of 2007, he tried to advance that message by using a historical reference to another group of people who fought for freedom by creating the world’s first ever Tea Party Moneybomb. Many political scholars claim the Tea Party movement, designed to “take back our country” from the self-serving tyrants who dominate it, developed from the surprising success of that event.

And then, a curious thing happened. The theories that his opponents had ridiculed for so long turned into actual events. The predictions he made in 2002, 2006 and 2007 about the collapse of the housing and lending industries came to pass. The economy crashed, and the government used it as justification to increase spending and increase credit and bailout big business and increase its own power: just as this one man had predicted. The war’s overseas escalated and we lost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars in longer-than-expected engagements: just as this one man had predicted. And as the Tea Party movement grew, suddenly the message of a constitutionally limited government didn’t seem so radical. Suddenly other politicians, in their eternal quest for electoral support, began saying the same things that this man had been saying for decades. Instead of changing his beliefs to fit the mainstream, this man waited for the mainstream to come around to his beliefs. At 76, in his last ever political go-round, it finally happened.

That man is Ron Paul, and he is not a perfect candidate. But there is no perfect candidate in this race, and Ron Paul just so happens to be right most of the time. His ideology provides a cohesive, conservative approach to politics that I truly believe is what’s best for this country on nearly all fronts, but the contents of that ideology are almost secondary. What’s more important, what makes him different than nearly everyone else, is that he HAS an ideology! He actually MEANS what he says, and he WILL follow through with it. We know this because he’s been saying it and doing it for the past three and a half decades. We know it because people have gone through hell and high water trying to get him to say otherwise, or at least to just shut up, and each time he simply refuses to do so.

There is no other candidate in recent memory, certainly not in this election, who comes with that guarantee. In four years when 2012’s victor is up for reelection, we don’t know what the economy will be like. We don’t know what the mood of the country will be, or what rhetoric will be received most favorably by the middle ground. We can’t know what will be convenient for other politicians to do, and for that reason we can’t know what they will do. But we can be absolutely certain of what Ron Paul will do, or at least of what he will try to do. Ron Paul will cut a trillion dollars year one. He will decrease the debt, decrease regulation, end crony capitalism, level the playing field and drain the bureaucratic swamp. He will bring the troops home, preserve civil liberties and protect our freedoms from both foreign governments and our own. He will heed the constitution instead of trampling on it, and transform the suddenly mainstream desire to shrink the power of government into actuality.

These are important issues, but there are important issues in every election. Petty squabbles over trivial distractions like the payroll tax or the debt ceiling do not make this year unique. What makes this year unique is that this year, an honest patriot is in the running. The t-shirts his supporters wear don’t say “join the campaign!” because it’s not a campaign; they say “join the Revolution!” Campaigns are movements organized for the primary purpose of winning the election. Ron Paul would like to win the election and he certainly can, but that is not his primary purpose. His primary purpose is to change the way we view politics, to orchestrate a fundamental shift from the maintenance of the establishment to the preservation of liberty. That is a truly revolutionary change, and it’s the same revolution that the protestors at the Boston Tea Party were waging.

If you disagree with some the details of Paul’s policy stances, that’s more than okay. So do I! However, as a former Republican who’s now a libertarian, I do feel you’ll be surprised by how much sense he makes if you give him a chance. There are 11 months left in this campaign, and it’s gonna be a long haul; there’s plenty of time left for him to work you over like he did me! And even if you reject certain elements of his platform outright, recognize that his winning the election would not automatically make the whole country his libertarian playground. The beauty of the constitution he holds so dear is that it has a system of checks and balances, and no one man can get his way on everything. Besides, there is no such thing as a libertarian tyrant, because once in power libertarians only want to leave you alone!

2012 is a chance to make a statement that lasts long beyond the next four years. A Ron Paul nomination would produce a realigning election that shocked the political status quo and significantly furthered the debate on the proper size of government. The only thing preventing Ron Paul from winning that election is the political talking heads who say he can’t win; the beauty of democracy is that we can decide that for ourselves! Polls show that Paul actually has the best chance against Obama in a head to head, because he is much more likely to convince foreign policy doves, minorities, young people, and disillusioned independents to vote Republican than any other candidate. And while he might anger some traditional Republicans, he wouldn’t anger them enough to vote for Obama!

But even if he doesn’t win, a Paul ticket would help others follow in his footsteps. The more the country flounders over big government policies, the more support is drawn to the ideas of limited government, which is ultimately more important to the historical direction of our country than the economy over the next 4 years. A Paul ticket would attract legions of young people into the Republican party and perhaps even erase the Democratic party’s advantage in that demographic, securing an idealistic core of Republican supporters for decades to come. It would give the party an ideological direction for the future, whereas defeat by any other Republican candidate would simply throw the party back into the confusion and disarray of 2008. And it would pave the way for similarly dedicated freedom fighters to take up the fight, just as Reagan followed Goldwater. In short, voting for Ron Paul sends the message that the principled defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. There is no more patriotic a vote than that.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Belated Quotes of the Week


Now, no matter what the mullah teaches, there is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft... When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife's right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone's right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness... There is no act more wretched than stealing, Amir.”--Baba from The Kite Runner

"No snowflake ever feels responsible for an avalanche”--George Burns

"It's amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world everyday always just exactly fits into the newspaper." --Jerry Seinfeld.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Conciliatory Letter to the Occupy Wall Street Movement – How to Shrink the Role of Money in Politics


As a general rule of thumb, if you support the Occupy Wall Street Movement, you don’t like the Tea Party, and vice-versa. Each group’s eccentricities are likely to antagonize the other. One uses patriotic marches on Washington and protests in an orderly manner, while the other uses mic checks and tries to incite disorder. One group has been known to yell obscenities at congressmen, the other to yell obscenities at policemen. One is liable to wave the American flag, the other is liable to defecate on it. The differences are not just in style, but also in ideology. Some in the media have portrayed OWS as “the liberal version of the tea party”, and to some extent this is true. As a libertarian, I must confess I identify more with the Tea Party, and it’s also true that some fringe members of each movement have irreconcilable differences in belief.

But as a general whole, I think we can still be friends. This essay is dedicated to explaining why. To my view, both groups have primarily identified the exact same problem: politicians are in bed with special interests. The key distinction is that each blames the other half of this relationship: the Tea Party blames the politicians, whereas OWS blames the special interests (particularly business interests). As such, the Tea Party marches where they believe the culprits are (Washington, the seat of our federal government) and OWS demonstrates where they believe the culprits are (Wall Street, the symbol of big money). But they are both essentially protesting the same thing. A Venn Diagram created by James Sinclair on his now-famous blog “How Conservatives Drove Me Away” depicts this situation brilliantly:



Unless you are a politician or a large corporation capable of buying them off, you probably see all the negative consequences of that middle area. That middle area represents the disproportionate role of money in politics, and most people hate this. What this tells us is that the majority of people in both the OWS movement and the Tea Party have at least something in common with mainstream Americans. Both are identifying a real problem.

But unfortunately, solving a problem is much more difficult than identifying it. If effective reform is to be enacted, it’s essential that the blame be accurately applied, so that we reform the right things. It is my intent in this essay to explain why the government, rather than big business, deserves the brunt of that blame. If you support the OWS movement, this is not designed to show why we’re right and you’re wrong. Rather, it’s designed to illustrate how your admirable goal of reducing the role of money in politics is more likely to be achieved by shrinking the role of government than by expanding it. Unless of course you’re an OWS protester who also believes that the best solution is to give the government more power, in which case yes, it will try to prove you wrong!

Anyways, to be at fault for a problem, one must have done something wrong or failed to fulfill one’s responsibility in some way. In our quest to assign blame, therefore, it is essential to determine what both governments and special interests are supposed to do, what their purpose is, so that we may identify which has deviated from that responsibility and to what extent.

First, let’s examine the purpose special interests. The job of a special interest group is to, well, advance their interest. Greenpeace’s interest is to help protect the environment; that is their purpose. AARP’s interest is helping the elderly; that is their purpose. If that interest is profit, the special interest is a business. These business interests, especially large corporate businesses or banking interests, are the primary scapegoat of OWS. They are certainly not the only special interests with ties in Washington, but since they’re the ones specifically blamed by Occupy Wall Street, we’ll give them some special attention. A business is a venture that is started by an entrepreneur with the purpose of making money. The purpose of any business, even of a business which has evolved into a corporation, is purely that: making money so that the owner (or, in the case of the corporation, the shareholders) will profit.

So, have these business interests failed to do what they are supposed to do? Certainly not! Any Occupy protestor will tell you that many big banks, many corporations, are raking in record profits. Businesses are supposed to make money, and they are. Non-profit special interests are supposed to advance their interests, and for the most part they are. They are not failing to fulfill their responsibilities; they are using government to help them fulfill their responsibilities.

Now let’s examine the purpose of government. That’s a contentious issue, but just about everyone agrees that one of the primary objectives of government is to protect the rights of the citizens. In the US especially, our government’s job is outlined in the constitution’s preamble; our government, it reads, was created “in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty” for American citizens. The interpretation of those terms is still the subject of much debate today, but not so much that we can’t pass a verdict on how well the government is doing that job: not very well. Many people’s rights are not protected. Public approval ratings of all three branches of government are at near record lows. Justice has not been established as fully as most would like, we lack domestic tranquility, the general welfare is not being promoted, and our liberty is not being secured. Therefore, the government is to blame.

Ultimately, the government is responsible for protecting our rights, because the government has a constitution. All other groups of people are not, because they don’t. Therefore, the government is failing to do its job, while special interests are not. The government is not doing what it’s supposed to, while special interests are. And when those two forces unite and all of us our rights are encroached upon as a result, the blame must be placed squarely on the government for failing in its duties.

Since we’ve established that the blame lies with government, we now must ask another question: what’s wrong with government? And how do we fix it? Many have suggested that what’s wrong is that people, both in politics and business, are too greedy nowadays. They propose that we should fix it by removing or restricting special interests from politics in order to help government do its job more effectively, with less external influence. The problem with this solution is that the only body that could do the restricting is government itself, meaning that the shaping and enforcement of those restrictions would therefore also be subject to lobbyist influence! It is for this exact reason that each prior attempt to reign in special interests or restrict money in politics has failed, and that every future attempt will fail as well. Restricting special interests requires increasing government power, but the increase of government power is the very thing which has granted those special interests such sway.

How so? To understand why, we must look at history. Because of their differing roles and differing objectives, it used to be that these modern allies acted independently of one other. Interest groups tried to pursue their interests by lobbying for private funds, either through charitable donations or venture capitalists seeking a return on their investment. Companies tried to make money by offering competitive products at competitive prices, or by inventing new products that they could sell to people for profit. The poor, old, or sick got help from churches, soup kitchens, private orphanages and the like. Government did its job, and special interest groups did theirs.

But as government grew larger and larger, those spheres began to overlap, much like the Venn-Diagram above. As the government’s power grew, so did its influence in the lives of its citizens. And the more influence it wielded, the more it impacted the likelihood that a business would succeed, the more it could help or hurt any given interest group. Companies began to realize that it was much more profitable to buy off a politician to regulate their opponent than it was to win the competition with that opponent on a level playing field. In turn, even companies which hadn’t planned to adopt this strategy needed lobbyists on the other side just to stay alive. Interest groups saw that the government now had the power to help them, and so they sought the help; others saw the government now had the power to hurt them, so they tried to block the hurt. This is why we saw such an explosion of lobbyists on K-street during the 60’s and 70’s; as the government grew under the Great Society, more and more groups of people needed the government on their side if their personal or group objectives were to be met.

In turn, politicians likewise realized that they could advance their individual interests of reelection by giving out favors to powerful (read: wealthy) private interests. This is the birthplace of the modern lobbyist-politician alliance that both the Tea Party and the OWS movement abhor, and the reason money has such an influence in politics today. Therefore, granting the government more power to regulate and restrict these special interests will only add fuel to the fire. The only permanent and complete solution to the problem is to take away what caused it.

What caused it is not greed. People are no more or less greedy today than they were 100 years ago. But the government is much bigger today, which gives people an avenue to pursue their greed they didn’t have before. If we want to reverse the effects of individual greed on the common benefit, we have to take away those avenues. We have to take away the government’s power. Corporations cannot oppress anybody without the assistance of government, but government can oppress people even without the help of corporations. And they frequently do.

In conclusion, both of these movements are angry because the few have great power over the many. The root of the problem is power. Ultimately, the government wields that power. Money can only buy it; it cannot enforce it without the government’s help. Reduce the power of government, and there is less power for money to buy. If we want to reduce the role of special interests in politics, we have to reduce the role of politics in special interests.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

QOTW: 12/18 - 12/24


The fellow who thinks he knows it all is especially annoying to those of us who do.-- Harold Coffin

“I know the good lord won’t give me anything I can’t handle; I just wish he didn’t trust me so much”—Mother Theresa

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. It's just that yours is stupid.”— Anonymous

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Do we own our own money?

In a recent online debate, I was encountered with an alarming assertion by a liberal opponent. He claimed that the government can tax us as much as it likes, and can spend as much as it likes, because it owns all the money. That's right, ALL the money. We don't own our money, he said, the government does. The government printed it, issued it, backs up its value with the "full faith and credit of the United States" and put it into circulation. It allows us to use it, but it can take it back again whenever it likes.

To most people, this is alarming logic, but it's a tricky assertion to respond to. This was my response:

Presently, I am sitting on MY chair. It is not yours. It is not the government's. Nobody may take it from me unless I permit them to, because it is mine. I own it. Do you reject that notion? Do you reject the notion of ownership, the notion of private, personal, individual property rights? If so, your beliefs are utterly at odds with everything in Western society and everything in our constitution, which explicitly defends my right to property, and there is no point in having this debate with you (although perhaps another, more philosophical debate may be in order). If not, if you accept the right to ownership, your beliefs are inherently contradictory.

Why? Because money is just a unit of value, and just as money has value, other things have value. Everything I own is translatable into money, into the very same dollars you claim the government owns. I can use money to buy other things, and I can sell other things to attain money. These are trades based on my perception of value and another person or group's perception. One person is only giving up something they own (say, a chair) in exchange for RECEIVING something else which they will now own (say, money). If either party didn't own the things they were trading, the deal would be void! 

I did that once, as a joke because it was so silly. I asked my friend for his cookies at lunch, and he said no. So then when I wasn't looking, I tried to take the cookies, but paused, and figured it would be fun to try something else. Instead, I took his juicebox. He didn't notice. Then, two minutes later I said "hey sean, I'll trade you this juicebox for those cookies." He paused for a moment, and then said "okay, sure." It took him about 5 seconds to recognize I'd just traded him back something that was already his, and we laughed about it. Why did we laugh? Because it was absurd that I would be allowed to trade for something from Sean with something I didn't own, to take something he had the rights to in exchange for something I didn't. 

The guy who caught the Barry Bonds record setting baseball did not gain a single, tangible piece of currency when it happened. He acquired nothing which had the government's seal on it, or the Fed's seal or the Treasury Department's seal. Yet he owed the government a great deal more money when he caught it. Why? Because he had gained value. It was income, because he didn't own the baseball before, and now he did. Therefore, it's value was taxable in dollar format under the income tax. He didn't own the ball before, then he caught it, and then he did, so he had to pay income taxes on it. And when you pay income taxes on the income you get from your job, it's the same thing: you didn't own that money before, then you worked for it, and now you do. YOU OWN that money. Income is not just a net gain in pieces of currency with a fancy seal on it, it's a net gain of value; the money itself simply represents that value.

Since the ball was very valuable, that baseball fans income taxes increased so much that he was forced to sell the ball for hundreds of thousands of dollars. And when he did, that money was also taxed, just as the ball would've been, because the transaction of selling the ball did not increase or decrease his income. It was simply trading value for value. The ball and the money were the same, just different ways of representing the same net change in worth.

So if the government can take as much money from me as it likes on the justification that "it's not actually yours, it's ours", why can't it claim ownership of everything else I own? Can the government come and take my home, my car, my clothing, my furniture, my television, my computer, anything it likes? Does it own all that too? For sure, if I don't pay my taxes and I don't have any money left, it can take those things as payment, as a means of TRANSFERRING things I own into things they own. But that's just a payment of debt, not because the government owned them from the start and was permitting me to have them. Similarly, when it is for just constitutional reasons, the government can take my money via taxes. But not because it owned that money from the start. It is my money. And if they're not using it for legitimate constitutional reasons, it should remain my money.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Funny


Saw this guy at Hopkins, very funny. Other videos of him are on youtube if you don't have time for a 15-minute break.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

QOTW: Albert Einstein Edition


“Try not to become a man of success but a man of value.”--Albert Einstein

"I know not what weapons WWIII will be fought with, but WWIV will be fought with sticks and stones."- Albert Einstein

“When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That's relativity.” - Albert Einstein (when asked to explain his Theory of Relativity)

"The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources." --Albert Einstein

"Only two things in this world are infinite: the universe, and human stupidity. And I'm not certain about the universe." - Albert Einstein

“Do not worry about your problems with mathematics, I assure you mine are far greater.”--Albert Einstein

History Lesson


Wonderful video that many who glorify FDR would do well to watch.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Explaining Ron Paul's Stance on 9/11

Ok, so the biggest hangup Republicans have about endorsing Ron Paul is his foreign policy. And the biggest hangup they have about his foreign policy is the incredibly widespread lie that Ron Paul "blames" America for 9/11. He does nothing of the sort. What he does do, however, unlike any other candidate on either side of the aisle, is recognize what motivated the people who are to blame for 9/11, and how the US's overly aggressive foreign policy contributed to their motivations. That is a reality that is well documented in official Pentagon files. It is vastly different from blaming the attacks themselves on the US.

To understand why, let's use an analogy here. Let's say Sam is at a bar in a sleazy part of town. He sees somebody who's clearly drunk screaming all sorts of nasty things at his girlfriend, even shoving her. Concerned, Sam steps in and grabs the man to try and break it up. Angry at the interference and still clearly intoxicated, the man shoves Sam to the ground and soon you get into a fight. Over the course of the fight, Sam lands a good punch to the man's face before they're split apart. He breaks the man's nose. So soon you're split apart and Sam goes home feeling good about himself because he helped protect a helpless woman from her jerk boyfriend.

A month later, long after Sam has forgotten the altercation, the brother of the man he fought drives to his house with a shotgun and kills his sister in plain daylight. Say like, 9:00 in the morning. There are dozens of witnesses. Eventually, that man is sentenced to death for his actions. After the funeral and the trial are over, Sam's nephew Ronnie takes him aside and says "listen, Uncle Sam. It's probably not a good idea to go back to that bar and pick fights with those people. I know you meant well, but It's a violent part of town, and the last thing we need is more enemies trying to kill us. I don't know if poor ol' Grandma could take it if she lost another one."

Now, in that example, did little Ronnie blame Sam for what happened to his sister? Did he say that it's his fault that she's dead? No! Obviously it's not Sam's fault; it's the fault of the man who killed her. In fact, he didn't even say Sam necessarily did anything wrong. It could be argued that the man Sam punched deserved it, that he was doing the right thing by defending that girl. But what Ronnie was saying was simply that it would have worked out better for the family in the end had he never got involved with that guy in the first place. So in the future, it's probably not a good idea to go down into that nasty part of town again, to ensure that we don't get caught up with the wrong crowd.

For anybody who hasn't been able to pick up on it by now, in that analogy, Ronnie is Ron Paul and his Uncle Sam is the United States. The bar is the Middle East, the murderer is a terrorist, Sam's sister represents the 9/11 victims. What Ron Paul says about 9/11 is not that we caused it, not that it was an inside job, not that it's the US's fault or that we are to blame for those deaths. Rather, he's simply observing that our actions in the past, whether justified or unjustified, were what motivated the murderers who drove planes into the twin towers. And so he argues that we should limit our use of violence in the future so as not to create even more people who might want to do the same thing.

The purpose of this post is not to prove that Ron Paul's foreign policy is a good idea or a bad idea. There are good arguments on both sides. Rather, I'm just trying to clarify what his policy is. And for all Ron Paul's opponents to say Ron Paul blames America for 9/11, as Rush Limbaugh did earlier this week on his radio show and as many others have in the past, that's simply not true. Most of them know it's not true, most of them recognize it's a lie, but they say it anyway because it's a convenient and effective lie. So if you're somebody who's considered supporting Paul in the past but always balked a bit at his crazy foreign policy ideas, hopefully this post gave a bit of clarity and showed he's not the anti-american, terrorist loving lunatic people make like to make him out to be.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

QOTW: 12/4 - 12/10



"I don't suffer from insanity. I enjoy every minute of it." --Unknown

"Christmas is a time when kids tell Santa what they want and adults pay for it. Deficits are when adults tell the government what they want - and their kids pay for it." - Richard Lamm

“Engineering: 'How will this work?' Science: 'Why will this work?' Management: 'When will this work?' Liberal Arts: 'Do you want fries with that?'" --Unknown

Response to a Voluntaryist


http://www.facebook.com/notes/chase-voluntaryist-rachels/the-case-for-a-voluntary-society/2203984790077 <--This is the case for anarchy that I am responding to in this post.

This article has a lot to say, a lot to digest, and a lot to respond to, such that it’s difficult to know when to start. So I’m going to start at the beginning (a very good place to start, as Mary Poppins reminds us!) with the discussion of universal truths. A is A, 1 + 1 = 2, etc. Things which no reasonable person having a reasonable discussion can deny. Since I think we’re both reasonable people having a reasonable discussion, I embrace this logical foundation.

Your first assertion is that the necessity of the state is not one of these universal truths. I agree wholeheartedly. This does not, however, mean it is a bad idea. I do not support the existence of the government because I have always assumed its necessity, but because I personally believe a limited state to be good. However, the same applies to your belief. You hold that the initiation of force is immoral. That is not a universal truth either. It is a moral evaluation. It is your subjective belief. That I happen to share that belief is irrelevant; someone, somewhere does not agree or may not agree in the future. Unless you can prove this to be true logically, it cannot be assumed in our debate. 

Essentially, we must establish that any question of how humans OUGHT to act or OUGHT to relate to one another is an essentially moral question. Furthermore, we must establish that any answer to a moral question is not a universal truth. Unlike universal truths, morality is inherently not provable. The most we could hope for in the line of proof is that a very large majority believes a moral principle to be true, perhaps even 99.99999%.  But then again, a comparable majority presently believes in the necessity of some form of state, which you’ve shown is not a universal truth. The point is that no moral evaluation can possibly be proven, or can possibly be made without somebody disagreeing, and thus no moral evaluation is universally true.

Therefore, the necessity of anarchy is no more universally true than is the necessity of a state. This says nothing of the desirability of either. The question is not one of universal truth, because in issues like this none exists. This issue is simply one of subjective moral desirability. Our debate must focus solely on which society is the most morally desirable.

You have eloquently expressed your belief on why anarchy is the most morally desirable in your article. While I agree with some of your arguments, I disagree with your conclusion. So, if I do not believe in anarchy, what do I believe in? Well, I consider myself a Libertarian. I do not believe that libertarianism = anarchy. The article above has given us a very good definition of anarchy. So, to illustrate my differences from it, I must define libertarianism. What does it mean to be a Libertarian? Well, obviously the root word of libertarian is liberty. To me, and probably to most libertarians, it means maximum liberty. I believe human society is good to the extent that it is free. I, like most libertarians, define freedom as the ability to do anything you like to the extent that you don’t infringe on other people’s inherent birthrights. I think our current constitution gives a pretty fair definition of those rights: life, liberty, and property (of course, that constitution has been trampled on by our government so much that defending those rights is not, and arguably has never been, what our government does). Of course, each of these definitions of liberty and rights are also subjective based on your morality. But based on what you wrote I assume you would probably accept them more or less (let me know if that is a hasty assumption!)

I also recognize that humans are not perfect, human society is not perfect, and consequentially human society can never be perfectly free. You also agree to this in your article, when you urge the reader to compare anarchy to the status quo rather than to a utopia. Because we err, we will inevitably deviate from total freedom occasionally. There is a certain extent to which human beings are flawed, and thus a certain extent to which freedom must be encroached upon. Our subjective moral aim is to minimize these flaws and maximize freedom. Thus, your characterization of me as a “minarchist” in your comment was accurate. This is in fact the official slogan of the Libertarian Party: “Minimum Government, Maximum Freedom”. You’d probably even agree with this slogan. The difference is, you view the minimum level of government required to attain the maximum amount of freedom humanity possibly can as 0. I wouldn’t. The question before us, therefore, is what amount of government, what level of officially, authoritatively organized force and coercion, will result in the highest amounts of net, sum freedom for humanity? You say zero, I say more than zero. The rest of my rebuttal to your argument will focus on a) how much more than zero I support, and b) why I feel that level of state will engender a freer society than a society with no state whatsoever.

Part one: How much government do I support? I support a government that defends people’s inherent rights to life, liberty, and property. I believe these are the only three things which all human beings, from every socioeconomic class and every walk of life, are born with. You are entitled to keep what you are born with if you like, or to trade it on mutually agreeable terms (after you’ve reached adulthood, of course…I don’t think anyone here would disagree with the principle of some sort of guardianship over your rights while you are a child!). The state’s only role, in my opinion, should be to defend those rights from encroachment. I recognize that this will require force, coercion, nastiness, and a general restriction on liberty. However, I also recognize that governments are not the only thing which can restrict liberty, and I hold that they are the greatest safeguard against those other things. I also recognize that this state’s social contract will require some unwilling participants to submit to force they never agreed to submit to, which was initiated upon them. However, I feel that injustice is a lesser injustice than the alternative, and that their amount of freedom, while restricted somewhat, is still greater than it would be in the alternative. That is to say, the amount their freedoms could be breached in the absence of a government is greater than the amount they would be breached in the government I would create.

You began your speech by saying “don’t compare anarchy to a utopia, compare it to the current state”. I also reject the current state. It’s hardly fair that you force your debate opponents to defend something they do not support, especially when those folks have already demonstrated their discontent with the status quo by joining a “Be Libertarian” group. So I’d counter with this: don’t compare anarchy to the current state, compare it to the state we could have if we enacted serious reforms and strict constitutional adherence. You posit a choice only between state and no state, but there are many different types of states; consequentially, there are more than two options here. Naturally, this debate must be purely hypothetical; since neither a good example of anarchy or a good example of a truly restricted government exists today, citing real world examples can be difficult. I anticipate a great many attacks, and perhaps clarifications, on the state I have proposed, but I am ready to defend them as they are brought up just as you’ll doubtlessly defend your proposal.

Part two: Why will this society be freer than anarchy? In short, because anarchy would enable a greater amount of rights-infringement than the government I propose would conduct. This is the section which I imagine the most of our debate will center upon. In both a state and anarchy, people’s moral views and/or selfish desires are checked by other people’s views/desires. The primary difference I see between a state and anarchy is that in the state I propose, there are systemic safeguards to the weaker/minority faction, whereas in anarchy there are none. In the state I propose, there is a constitution outlining everybody’s rights, whereas in anarchy there is none. While that constitution can theoretically be abridged, it requires a huge majority in order to do so because of the checks and balances inherent in the system. Anarchy has no such checks. The result is that the constitutionally restricted state with a system of checks and balances defends only those rights that a large majority of the populace wants defended, whereas the anarchy you described either defends nothing or defends whatever rights are most profitable for DRO’s to defend.

Remember when I said there is no such thing as universal morality? Well, there isn’t. But there are some morals that come mighty close. “Killing is wrong”, for instance. “Theft is wrong”. “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” These are things which are held to be true in just about every organized religion on earth, and believed by most who lack a religion as well. Unfortunately for anarchists, “The initiation of any force for any reason is wrong” is not among them. Very many people, including myself, believe that the initiation of force is sometimes justified. They believe it is justified to prevent would be killers from killing and would be stealers from stealing, even if doing so requires killing the killer, or stealing from unwilling taxpayers to fund the cop who will stop the stealer. They believe that the oppression of a very small minority who does not hold killing to be immoral is preferable to allowing those killers to run rampant (which I’m not saying you support, don’t worry. I’m getting there). So the question becomes, which agent should carry out that force? A single state, or several competing DRO’s?

You argue that DRO’s are preferable to a state by claiming:

“[With DRO’s] the arbiters being used in any dispute between two or more parties must be agreed upon by each party before any subsequent arbitration may take place.  This successfully averts the sticky conflict of being subject to laws under which an individual does not agree.”

But it does not avert an even stickier conflict; that is, the conflict of choosing the DRO! Feuding factions are likely feuding because they have a different moral code, and acted based on it. Since morality is not universal, DRO’s will have their own worldviews as well. Which worldview the dispute will be resolved from?

In a state, there is a system in place which is applied equally to all factions in the nation. Yes, this has the downside of being “one-size-fits-all”, so to speak, in that there is only one way in which this government would operate but many, many opinions about how it government should operate. The many who disagree will feel oppressed. Would it not be better, you ask, to have each faction decide for themselves? To have several smaller communities where each individual’s voice is heard louder? Well, perhaps on a federalist level, but not as the only source of authority. This is partly because communities of any size are not islands and their moral opinions, and thus the actions based on those opinions, do not affect only themselves. Bordering communities might have different moral standards. They might get along at first, but when Community A has a massive drought and ensuing famine with nothing to trade, and Community B has a bountiful harvest, Community A might decide it’s perfectly moral to steal in order to stay alive. When community B disagrees, we have a mini-war. No DRO is going to be able to stop them, because none would be mutually agreed upon.

As Brian Rux so, erm, eloquently described with his “fuck you, you goatless cunt” comment, cooperation cannot be assumed even by a clearly guilty party, let alone by a party who believes themselves to be in the right (as most guilty parties do). Each DRO would also consist of biased, flawed, malleable human beings, just as a state is. The profit incentive for the DRO is no stronger than the reelection incentive for a politician, and both incentives are just as easily hijacked by special interests. Your assumption that profit would incentivize DRO’s to appeal to as many world views as possible is equally false; they could simply pander to wealthier individuals and make the same amount of profit defending their interests. Lotus doesn’t make a profit by offering cars accessible for the masses. You accurately observe that in governments, powerful factions sometimes oppress the weaker faction; yet you ignore that the same thing would occur through DRO’s. Each DRO would develop a certain worldview, be contributed to by those who shared that worldview, and would decide with those who shared that worldview; anyone who lacked that worldview would not contribute to it, and would not agree to have it as their arbiter. With either a DRO or a state, or neither, somebody’s morality must be discarded to resolve a conflict between two worldviews. Under my state, minority protections are built in in the form of universally enumerated constitutional rights; the majority could only oppress the minority insofar as they respect those rights. Under anarchy, the powerful group faces no such restraints.

In summary, I think there’s a reason this group is not titled “Being Anarchist”. If it had been titled in this manner, I would not have “liked” it. Libertarians can still believe in unalienable rights, rights to which everyone is entitled to at birth. They can still believe in a social contract created to defend those rights for everyone, even those who couldn’t afford to defend their own rights through a DRO or insurance group. They can believe that the coercion necessary to fund that state is a lesser evil than the coercion that would exist without that state. The true question is, what are those rights? This is a question for the constitution. Once they are established, we must decide which coercive actions of the state actually defend them, and which do not? This is what our legislative, executive, and judicial branches must figure out. It is not a one-time decision, but an ever-running process as governments adapt to changing threats to the constituent’s rights. If we wish to alter the answers to either of these questions, we would be best served to work WITHIN the system (by doing things like voting for Ron Paul, who’s now in second place in Iowa ahead of Romney!!!) instead of trying to topple the system.

That is all. Let the notoriously long-winded anarchists dig in!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Ohio Department of Children and Family Services vs. Children's Rights

An interesting issue that I've yet to post on this blog is that of children's rights. It is clear that children do not have the same right to liberty and property as adults; they lack the mental capacity, knowledge, and experience to choose freely for themselves regarding their property. As such, it is almost universally agreed upon that there must be some guardian for those rights until children gain these abilities. In Western society, the primary guardian is the parent. Although very few would reject the right/responsibility of the parent ouright, many on the political left desire to transfer some of that responsibility over to the government. This is where we get catchphrases like "it takes a village" from Hilary in the 90's. One way of doing this is by the government stepping in in the absence of a parent, or of what the government deems a capable or good parent. If the parent does not exist and the child is orphaned, the state assumes the responsibility of being its guardian. This is generally uncontested. Personally, I feel private, charitable orphanages could do a better job than the state, but that's not what I'd like to write about today. The other way that guardianship responsibility is transferred to the state is if the state declares that the parent is an insufficient guardian, due to either abuse or neglect. As you can tell, these are mighty vague terms. While I hardly object when a child who's being beaten is taken from their parents, oftentimes "abuse" or "neglect" is not that clear cut.

Well, in Ohio, the government has pushed the limits of its power (as governments are wont to do!). It has taken a 8 year old boy from his mother because he was too fat. He weighed over 200 pounds. You can read the details here:

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/nationnow/2011/11/obese-child-taken-from-mom-put-in-foster-care.html

For sure, weighing that much at 8 years old is dangerous for the kids health, perhaps as dangerous as being beaten might be. But that is very different from parental INTENT to harm the child. It doesn't mean the mother isn't a loving and capable parent. It also doesn't mean it's the mother's fault that he's obese, or that he wouldn't be equally fat under another guardian. Maybe he has a genetic health condition that makes him have to eat a lot or unable to exercise. Maybe he was bullied at school and turns to eating, outside his Mom's supervision. Or maybe his family is simply too poor to afford healthy foods. There are lots of things which many families cannot afford but the state could. Setting aside the issue of whether the state even has the right to provide them at other people's expense, the simple observation that the state could provide these things for the child is not a good enough reason to break up a family.

If a health issue that the parents didn't cause but have trouble treating is sufficient grounds to forcibly break up a family, what else might be? The slippery slope implications of this ruling are tremendous. Imagine the state saying "this child is disabled, or retarded, and his parents cannot afford for a special needs tutor, or a ramp in their home, or all these things we feel are in that child's best interests to have. Therefore, we're going to take him from them, and provide these things at tax dollar expense, so that he will be better off". That would be infuriating, would it not? Or even a perfectly normal child, the government could say "this family is too poor to afford books, and we think every child is better off with books in the house, so we're gonna take him because it's in his best interests". While books certainly help children learn, it's not the government's place to determine what's in the best interests for a child, and certainly not their place to destroy families based on their opinion. No child, disabled or fat or otherwise, is entitled to books, or a tutor, or a ramp, or to healthy foods. Not even adults have these rights, and children are supposed to have fewer rights than adults! Besides, the psychological harm that the child undergoes when wrenched from his family, friends and familiar surroundings and thrust into foster care must be tremendous, perhaps much worse than the harm done by whatever he is being "saved" from at home. 

The only instance in which the state is justified in taking a child from his parents is if they have evidence that the parents are ACTIVELY CAUSING harm to that child; beating him, maliciously starving him when they have plenty of money, etc. In any other situation, the state is overstepping it's job description to protect the RIGHTS of children, rather than what they think is best for the child. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday Funny: Meme Manufacturing

http://www.quickmeme.com/

This website is brilliant and hilarious. It takes funny pictures and lets visitors publish captions to them, in the hopes of creating  popular internet memes. If you don't know what a meme is, read my post on it here.

The Senate vs. Civil Liberties


http://news.yahoo.com/senate-approves-662-billion-defense-bill-012555722.html

By a vote of 93-7, the Senate has voted in favor of a bill that formally grants the government the power to detain anybody, including US citizens, for as long as they like without trial. Yes, you read that correctly. Anybody, literally any one of us, can now be detained for as long as the military likes with no trial, no right to remain silent, no Miranda rights, no right to a lawyer, no unbiased jury of your peers. How is this possible? How do they square this with the multiple Bill of Rights entries this violates? Well, according to the bill, all the government needs to do to make our inherent birthrights null and void is say "we suspect him/her of terrorism." Just say it. Not even publicly, just even to themselves. So long as they cite that justification, they can ignore the constitution.

UM, HELLO???? WHAT'S THE POINT OF A LIMITED GOVERNMENT IF IT'S ONLY LIMITED WHEN IT WANTS TO BE???

This practice is nothing new, of course. It happened for years under Bush and has continued under Obama. But it has always been done through executive order: it hasn't been an officially, legally sanctioned power through legislation until now. We must not let it be. To his credit, Obama has threatened to veto the bill, and I certainly hope he does. But don't think it's because Obama is tossing and turning at night worrying about the constitutional implications about the constitution; he just want the power for himself! The bill, you see, gives the power of unlimited detention without trial to the military, whereas right now it's exercised by the intelligence agencies at President Obama's express request, via executive orders. Now, these decisions are to be made by the military, and the information about individual detainees given to the military officers instead of the President. Even though he gives the orders to the military, he wouldn't play as integral a role in determining who specifcally get's detained, if I interpret the bill correctly. That's why he's complaining in his press release not about civil liberties, but about how the President needs the "flexibility" to determine how to best protect the nation.

I frankly don't care at all which part of the government can oppress us at will. The point is, the government can oppress us at will, and it doesn't even have to hide it anymore. This is very, very bad.