Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Civil Liberties in the Modern United States

In the course of discussing current events regarding civil liberties in the USA with my friends in the Vulcan Riders and Owners Club, some thoughts have become clear in my libertarian brain. While I haven't written here in quite some time, I want to record these ideas for posterity.

"All men are created equal....." Thomas Jefferson penned these immortal words in 1776 as a moral framework for a new nation. The U.S. Constitution is the law of the land, but the Declaration of Independence is the spirit. Unfortunately, despite the Founding Fathers' commitment to the freedoms espoused in the Bill of Rights, all people were not equal. Women could not vote until early in the 20th Century. People with different coloured skin started out as slaves and, after this heinous practice was abolished, could be legally segregated in my youth. Even then, people who were drawn to romantically love people of the same sex could still be jailed in many jurisdictions.

But consciousness evolved. Women were allowed to vote. In the 1960's, racial segregation was prohibited nationally by expanding the Bill of Rights to the states via the Incorporation Clause of the 14th Amendment. The Loving decision by the United States Supreme Court allowed a racially mixed couple in Virginia to marry. But homosexuals were still stigmatized both through the law and by social convention.

Finally, the U.S. Federal courts are taking an enlightened stance on gay civil marriage. The patchwork of lower court decisions will be settled once and for all during this term by the USSC and, based on their handling of cases to-date, there is little doubt about how this will play out. Gay folk will be finally able to enjoy all the state granted rights, privileges and responsibilities solemnizing their commitment to each other that heterosexual people have had since the government first stuck its nose into interpersonal relationships.

This should be a great day. However, when one of the downtrodden minorities is finally freed of its shackles, a strange thing happens. Some of them don't want equality, they want superiority. Look at aspects of the feminist movement. Examine the words of Sharpton and Jackson demonstrating a clear chip on their shoulders. The government has gone so far as to identify "special classes" who must be accorded superior rights against discrimination, which are evident in things like Affirmative Action. And now a gay couple in Colorado has brought suit against a Christian baker for not baking them a cake for their wedding, despite the fact that this person of faith sincerely believed that the celebration of their orientation was a sin according to the Bible. What the Bible actually means can be debated, but that is of no matter. This person is entitled to their belief. The government in Colorado found in favour of the couple and punished the baker for not producing something that violated his deeply held religious values.

So we have formerly downtrodden minorities of all types now celebrating that the law is on their side and that they have special privilege. This is a backlash. However, in the case of homosexual practices, there is still a large group pf people who were raised to believe this activity is a sin. They believe the Colorado baker was wronged and his rights were infringed upon. Whether I agree with their premise regarding the sin or not, their right to hold that believe is inviolable. Objective review leads me to conclude that the government would compel the baker to produce something he though was wrong. What does that say for his rights?

Every good backlash typically causes a counter-backlash and we have seen that this week in Indiana. As with 19 other states preceding it, Indiana drew on a 1993 federal statute signed into law by Bill Clinton and they enacted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. While not naming the homosexual community, it was a driving force motivating conservative states to take this step. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the law is over-broad. It specifies that "a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion...unless it (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest." It sets no limits on the burden. In addition to the case of the baker, people can now claim it is their religious prerogative to discriminate and deny service to all manner of individuals. And remember that we are not just talking about the Christian religion here, nor are we speaking necessarily about gay customers. To compound this, "persons" includes corporations and other entities.

Indiana and the other states have now opened the door to the possibility of rampant discrimination for religious reasons. I am heartened by the public outrage against this but am, at the same time, dismayed about some of the vitriol, and an underlying current in some of the protests that supports the concept of "special classes" of people. Indiana Governor Pence was asked if he would consider adding homosexuals to the list of 'special classes' and he said no.

After significant discussion around this with my learned motorcycling friends, I came to several conclusions, all stemming from Jefferson's immortal words. "All men (persons) are created equal....."

First, the concept of special classes implies special rights. If we are all equal, why should the rights of any individual take precedence over any other. The ideal is that each and every one of us have exactly the same rights. A violation of those rights for any person, regardless of who they are, should be dealt with in the same manner. This, of course, would invalidate modern liberal concepts such as Affirmative Action and Hate Crimes and I believe the nation would be the better for it.

Next, why is the only basis for protecting someone against compulsion a religious one. Free people should be equally able to legally withstand government compulsion regardless of the source of their objection.

Third, I believe all people should be treated equally in commerce. Anyone should be able to sit at a public lunch counter, even if it is privately owned. No ladies sections. No refusal to serve people of colour. One counter, one menu. The only reason for refusing service should be behaviour related, Not following a dress code (shirt and shoes in some cases, jacket and tie in others), incivility towards staff and other patrons, or having caused damage in the past all come to mind. But refuse the service based on what someone has done, not who they are. We have come too far to let this slip away, despite the arguments of some that a private business owner should be able to refuse service for any reason. The belief that bigotry would be stamped out by an enlightened marketplace is overly optimistic based on my observations of human nature.

Fourth, I clarify that the above should relate to commercial situations. In our private lives, we discriminate all the time. That is why some people are friends and others are not. And, as individuals with the right of free association, that is fine. I may not agree with the reason you dislike someone, but I will defend your right to decide for yourself. In addition to individuals, I accept that private clubs should have the ability to decide their membership requirements. I include churches in this private club category.

Now we get to the case of the Colorado baker. This person would have sold the gay couple any of the wares on his shelves. There was no denial of service. But the customer wanted a cake manufactured to celebrate something the baker sincerely disagreed with. This moves it into a different category because it required that something be made. And, as free people, no one should never be compelled to make something they don't want to. For any reason. It could be a cake, wedding photos, a portrait, a speech or whatever.

The Indiana law did not make the distinction between serving and making. Some who voted for it may have thought that was implied, but that isn't the way the system works. If Indiana had spelled out that vendors must serve whatever they normally make to whoever wants it, but can not be compelled to make something they don't agree with regardless of the reason, I would be applauding. But they are only politicians. We can't really expect anything effective from them as they dance to the beat of the ballot box, without any true understanding of what they are really supposed to accomplish.

Thus endeth my rant for the day.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Evils of Democracy or We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident

Democracy. As a youngster growing up in Canada, I was taught that this was what made our nation great. This is what set us apart from the despots, dictators and kings in the less privileged parts of the world. It was why my forefathers fought and died to protect us from the evil forces who would conquer us and reduce us to serfs in a totalitarian system. I'm sure my brethern south of the border were schooled the same way. Abraham Lincoln, in the Gettysburg Address, gave us the lofty idea of a government "of the people, by the people and for the people". And our soldiers continue to fight and die trying to bring democracy to far flung and backward places such as Afghanistan and, in the case of the US and Britain, Iraq.

But as I observe the results of this exercise in those nations and contemplate where the protests and removal of dictators recently in the Middle East, I come to a realization that democracy should not be the objective. Given a nation that heavily subscribes to a religious doctrine, there is a very good chance that the majority in such a democracy will choose a theocracy that flies in the face of our ideals while, at the same time, reflects the will of the majority of the citizens.

In a discussion on social conservatism, a friend recently said to me that we are a nation of laws. Laws reflecting the mores of the Judeao-Christian majority should be respected. In Canada, this is probably true since the idea of protecting individual rights has come to us relatively recently. But in the US of A, they rebelled against British Rule and their Declaration of Independence (in my opinion one of the greatest documents ever penned) did not speak to democracy. Jefferson's immortal words made, instead, a statement on the natural rights of mankind. Individual rights "Endowed by the Creator" to all men. Patrick Henry didn't say "Give me democracy or give me death". No, his rallying cry was LIBERTY.

Democracy has been described as a tyranny of the majority. In its simplest form, it imposes the will of those who form the largest segment of society upon individuals who do not share those beliefs. It was the thought of popular Muslim theocracies forming in the Middle East that caught my attention but the same situation occurs in the west when the conservative element justifies current laws based on the idea that "We are a Christian nation".

In Canada, we are the heirs of the British parliamentary system of government, evolved over millenia. The American Founding Fathers, on the other hand, threw off the yoke of history and had the opportunity (and obligation to redefine both individual rights and government from scratch. After the first ill-fated attempt to establish a federal government via the Articles of Confederation and Union, representatives of the new states sat down and crafted what would become the supreme law of the land, the Untied States Constitution. It set out the structure of the government of the United States of America and placed restrictions (mostly long since ignored) on it.

At the end of the process, some of the states were uncomfortable with a lack of protection of the individual rights that Jefferson spoke of in the Declaration. Thomas himself was not present at the time to speak on the issue (I wish he had been) but the fears were that the government would supercede the rights of the individual and land the new nation back in the very type of tyranny it had just thrown off. Some of the drafters of the Constitution felt that the ideal of individual rights was so central to the nation that their protection in the document was superfluous, but to assuage the worry, the first ten amendments AKA Bill of Rights was added. In addition to the defined rights, the 9th Amendment went so far as to say the enumerated rights were not the only ones held by the people. When I look at the courts' hair splitting referrals to the BOR as people try to protect themselves against the intrusions of an ever increasing government, their adoption was not just a good idea, it was essential to protect the people from the institution that would take everything, given half a chance.

Canada only received a limited Bill of Rights in 1960. In 1982, with the repatriation of our Constitution, we were further protected by the Charter of rights and Freedoms. This is a pale shadow of the American Bill of Rights because it limits itself by imposing a "reasonable limits" clause in the very first Article. Furthermore, a government may override any provision of the Charter for a fixed period of time simply by inserting the word "notwithstanding" in the legislation. So we have individual rights as long as they are "reasonable" and the government doesn't decide otherwise. This is why I look to the United States as the beacon of natural individual rights. They engaged in the debate centuries ago and, despite the sad changes that have taken place since then, they described an ideal that I cherish.

So should we be a nation of laws? In so much as those laws protect the natural rights of each individual from the actions of other people and the government, I believe we should be. But where laws are enacted that restrict actions not infringing on the rights of others, I believe that the government oversteps its bounds in a society based on liberty. These laws are often a reflection of the will of the majority, whether it is to limit personal freedom on moral grounds as the social right would prefer or to confiscate and redistribute wealth as the left advocates. This illustrates that a democracy can easily result in a denial of individual rights.

I have heard my American friends say that they are not a democracy but a republic because of the aspersions cast on democratic government by the Founding Fathers. But what is a republic but a representative form of democracy, subject to the whims of the majority at the ballot box. The key is that they are a Constitutionally Limited Republic. It would be better if those that governed today understood what that document stood for and what limitations it defined, but at least it does still exist to provide a framework for the debate that continues to this day.

So, in closing, thank you Thomas Jefferson for the Declaration of Independence. Thank you John Locke for inspiring Jefferson. Thank you to the Constitutional Convention for stating that individual rights should come before the rights off government. And I hope that some day the people who have been gifted with this legacy actually begin to understand what it means.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My thoughts on money and banks

This is not a cut and paste but a summation of my own thoughts on the matter of paper currency and related items. Just a ramble, if you will, with my limited training in economics and thoughts on the economy of today.

There has been a lot of discussion around national debt, the gold standard and the inherent worthlessness of paper currency. Most of the talk makes assumptions that I have decided that I do not agree with.

In the very beginning, humans hunted and/or gathered for enough to keep themselves and their families alive. When some would have an excess, they would barter with others for other surplus items they needed or desired. Eventually, both people and tribes found things they could do better due to either innate talent or local resources and started to specialize. As this progressed, the original barter system proved impractical because the people who wanted your goods might not have what you desired to trade for it. Hence, some bright stars developed "mediums of exchange".

The original mediums of exchange were commodities like salt or gold, and they stood the test of time for many years due to their universal demand. Eventually, though, nations replaced the hard commodities (an abstract representation of value) with currency (an abstract representation of an abstract representation of value). Currency was originally backed up by real commodities a la Fort Knox, but this has now fallen by the wayside and currency is, in and of itself, been deemed to have intrinsic value by the government of the particular country.

It is popular to bemoan the departure from the gold standard and to say that the paper money has no value redeemable in a specific commodity. It is also popular to complain that the government spends money it does not have through borrowing from banks or other nations that hold its currency, thus indebting its citizens and requiring additional taxes to pay it back.

But what is the true nature of this cash?

The true value of any nation is what it produces. The GDP is a good approximation of that. Since we are now a very specialized society (we don't mine our own ores, build our own cars or grow our own food for the most part), we need some objective medium of exchange to represent each citizen's claim for a portion of that national product, theoretically in proportion to the effort that citizen has put into producing it.

Fixed commodities such as gold are problematic in today's society. Its availability is dependent on both the domestic holdings of gold and the amount of gold ore in a particular nation (somewhat similar to the availability of petroleum deposits in this day and age). For a country to base the fundamental medium of exchange of its GDP on a commodity that's available supply is fixed and arbitrary is, again, impractical.

So a nation decides to print or mint controlled amounts of documents that, in the aggregate, stand for the total output of the country. This medium, through supply and demand, provides each citizen with the ability to exchange the goods or services they produce for those they desire. The amount is finite and varies with the national output. Someone bargains their time, labour and skills in return for currency at competitive rate in the marketplace. Those who have higher demand skills and abilities command a proportionately higher return. Others take excess amounts they have earned and, alone or in conjunction with others, develop new production through the employment of others, thus becoming the capitalists. People then take the share of the GDP they
have earned, as represented by the money they hold, and purchase the goods they need and/or desire. Foreign nations trade amongst themselves for domestic currency, and redeem that currency at a rate that represents the desirability of any currency to purchase the goods of the issuing country.

This is simple, but it has gotten all cocked up.

First, instead of our governments issuing and maintaining the levels of money proportionate to the GDP, they allow a central bank (a private 3rd party in the case of the US) to issue it and regulate the levels. Instead of currency representing a share of the GDP, it becomes seen as a commodity in itself, defeating the purpose it was created for.

Second and directly related, this central bank and the other banks are allowed to expand the money supply by lending cash they do not hold on deposit. This increases the money supply without a corresponding increase in GDP, devaluing the currency and starting an inflationary
spiral. An argument can be made for lending fiat money for the start up or expansion of businesses that ad to the GDP, but much of the lending is for consumer goods and the additional money circulated results in inflation.

Third, these same bankers have convinced the governments that any excess currency needed for government aims must be borrowed. Borrowed from the banks that create cash out of nothing to lend and who then profit on the interest.

Governments have also compounded this by deciding that segments of society who do not contribute to the production of that society should receive a portion of it anyway and have set up entitlement programs to provide them with money representing this unearned claim.

To my way of thinking, the banks are the main culprit and the governments are accessories by buying into the banks' assertions that bankers control the money. A responsible government would control its own money supply and would ideally vary that supply in proportion to national output. It would not confiscate the claim to goods earned by people and redistribute it to those who have not contributed, possibly barring support for the truly disabled. Further, if those in another nation sold their goods into the domestic market in exchange for the domestic currency and chose to use that currency to purchase domestic goods to be exported, more power to them. The production capacity and desirability of goods would, by necessity, determine the rate of
exchange between currencies.

If the government needs more currency for its legitimate objectives, print more. Don't borrow it. The downside is that, unless the government aims increase GDP, the price of goods produced would increase due to the interaction of aggregate national supply and demand while the foreign exchange rates would be similarly affected. On the other hand, if the government needed less, reduce the available money supply accordingly.

In this scenario, there would be no need to even levy taxes at a national level since the government could produce the cash it needed to buy the required goods and services in the marketplace (recognizing, of course, that improper use of this ability could destabilize their
national economy). Bottom line is that the citizens' futures would not be compromised by the need to repay "debt" to the bankers and provide them with a healthy income for no particular reason than they created money out of thin air.

Thomas Jefferson was extremely critical when Hamilton et al advocated for the creation of a central bank in the USA. It looks to me like his reservations were warranted based on history. The banks actually control the nation. They create the money and then expect the government to borrow that money to bail them out when their schemes go awry.

Leaving the credit standard would be painful in the short term, but returning the purpose of money to its ideal use would, in the long run, benefit everyone except the bankers and those who use their paradigm to get something for nothing.

Just my $0.02

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Scientific Method, Faith and Climate Change

I am a great fan of the Scientific Method.  I believe it is the means by which mankind tries to understand the laws the Creator set in place at the beginning of the Universe.  My own version of God's Law.

The Scientific Method is a rational process.  Someone gets an idea of how something works, a What If.  So they design some experiments and make some observations.  If the results seem to support the What If, the hypothesis, they publish their data and let other learned peers do their own tests and provide their own criticism.  If the observations are repeatable, a Theory is born.  This is not necessarily the be all and end all of the Law of Nature they are trying to understand because, as new technology, data and insights occur, they are challenged, revised and amended, all using the same Method.

Here is where Faith comes in.  I am not schooled enough in science to understand the facts first hand so I need to put my Faith in the Scientific Method and those who are using it.  I can't determine what is fact and what is balderdash so I look at the opinions of the scientists.  If the Method seems to have been followed, I take the theory on faith.

So now we come to one of the great debates of our time.  Climate Change/Global Warming.  It all follows the Laws of Nature and involves physics, thermodynamics and a whole lot of other disciplines that are Greek to me.  I once looked at the math involved in the calculation of friction of air masses which is basic to the study of meteorology and came away shaking my head.

There are these 'scientists' out there who have concluded that man is affecting the environment in a negative manner causing damaging climate change.  Non-scientists have taken up their cry and have made a political issue out of it, demanding that we take drastic steps to change our ways in a manner that will negatively affect our economy and be  detrimental to our standard of living.

I am not competent enoigh to understand the science involved so I look at whether the Scientific Method has been followed to draw the conclusions.  It appears that a group of what appear to be politically motivated 'scientists' have studieed data they refuse to share. Climategate has shown that they have unashamedly massaged data to support their conclusions.  They further have used political avenues to castigate their critics preventing any true peer review or discussion.  Then they have had to retract some of their pronouncements made based on faulty input when they have been caught out.

As a laymen who is being asked to give up much based on their conclusions, I have come to my own belief that the Scientific Method has not been followed by these people.  As a result, I have no faith in their findings and will not support their recommendations.  Maybe there is some truth to what they say, since the climate appears to move in response to a 100K year cycle, but to conclude that it is man made or that any steps we take now can reverse the trend, if there is one, are unproven.

Let me see some open debate.  Let all the data be shared, tested and discussed.  Let a theory be developed that is generally supported because it is verifiable and repeatable.  Then let's see if drastic steps will make a change or if we should be spending our time preparing for the inevitable changes to come.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"...all men are created equal..."

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

I have been mulling over this part of the Declaration of Independence in light of the ongoing push for egalitarianism and social justice and I finally conclude (to my dismay) that Jefferson got it wrong.

If we were all created equal, we would
- all run the 100 meters in 9.58 seconds
- make new discoveries in quantum mechanics
- not consider Ron Jeremy's anatomy to be remarkable

It is obvious that we are not all equal in any way that our capabilities can be measured. Perhaps it should have said "...are created with equal opportunity..." or that the next phrase, referring to inalienable rights, might have covered what was necessary about liberty.

In any case, I see that the misapplication of the "equal" ideal is leading to many of the current issues causing problems today. The claim to equality at birth leads some to believe that we should all have equal outcomes in our lives. The move towards eliminating school grades, removing winners and losers from kids' competition and using affirmative action instead of objective testing are only a few of the warped applications of this misleading idea. As a result, we are being dumbed down to our lowest common (but equal) denominator.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Television Networks Rant

I'm not going to get into the merits of what is broadcast on television these days, but there are some shows that Sandy and I like to watch. Because there is an element of serialization in most series these days, we don't like to miss one but we also don't like to watch reruns of shows we have seen.

Does anybody remember the good old days when they started a series in September and a new episode was aired every week until March? Then they went into reruns and did it all again for people who didn't watch it the first time around.

These days, they will run a few episodes in a row and then put in some reruns or other programs and then, out of the blue, throw in a few more new episodes. Then they'll switch nights without telling anyone. Any viewer using old technology has very little chance of catching all the episodes.

I sit down ever Monday morning and check our current programs out at tv.com to get the air dates for the new episodes. I track these in a spreadsheet (what else?) and then make sure the PVR is picking all those up to record. Still, from week to week, they alter the line-ups on a regular basis. For example, last week they might say that we can expect three new Criminal Minds episodes over the next three weeks. This week, they may be delayed for a week or more.

I have a handle on this through some work on my part, but what is going through the minds of those network scheduling people? Do they purposely want to make it difficult to follow their shows or do they figure that viewers can't tell the difference between a new episode and a repeat?

Then, they screw up the PVR's by having a program go from 9:00 to 10:01. What's with the extra minute? I can record two shows in a given time period and that minute keeps me from recording a pair starting at 10:00. I can start early but not late. I can end late but not early. So I have to time shift.

Another beef is that we got watching a couple of series with ongoing story lines (Eli Stone, My Own Worst Enemy) and they cancelled them. After they had shot the last show for what they thought was an ongoing series. You get involved, like the characters and then they leave them hanging forever.

Jericho was the exception. At the end of Season 2, they didn't know whether there would be a 3 so they shot two final episodes. A cliff-hanger and another that wrapped the story up. It was cancelled and we had closure.

It's easy to see that there is no concept at the networks of what makes a rewarding viewing experience. Morons are running the world. It's too bad that it's an inexpensive pastime that I enjoy or I'd take up video games instead.

There, I got that out of my system. For now.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Why libertarian?

My first response is to ask Why Not??????

I didn't set out to be a libertarian. As a matter of fact, I didn't even know what a libertarian was. I was raised in a typical Canadian household where political ideologies weren't discussed much. In the early 60's, my parents did give me a respect for JFK and Martin Luther King, but this was base on what they did and not the politics they espoused.

As I grew, I found that I wasn't comfortable in either traditional political camp. Formal political science education wasn't something I ran across and political ideology wasn't a big staple in Canadian debate. Sure, you would support one or the other of the big parties but, with the exception of the NDP, they were virtually interchangeable. What I did do a lot of was read novels, both fiction and science fiction. The ones that stuck with me the most were those of Ayn Rand and Robert A. Heinlein.

In recent years, I found my way to the Vulcan Riders and Owners Club. In addition to sharing ways to improve our Vulcan motorcycles and planning where to gather to ride, a number of VROC members engaged in political and religious discussions on our Newsgroup.

Drawn into the debates, I found a curious thing. On individual freedom topics, like gay marriage, blue laws, drug legislation and freedom of speech, I found myself aligned with the left wing element. My thought is that my freedom should stop at the end of another's nose and that anything that happens between consenting adults is just fine by me. On other issues such as personal accountability, affirmative action and welfare, I found that I was squarely in the right wing camp. I was accused several times of being wishy-washy and a Mugwump (a creature who sits on the fence with his mug on one side and his wump on the other). I didn't think this was true because, dammit, none of my positions was wishy-washy.

Then good old Chris 'U-Turn' Ritz suggested I look up the definition of libertarian. The philosophy, not the party. Lo and behold, there I was. There is a second axis to political thought. One does not need to buy into a one dimensional ideology after all. I can have my cake and eat it too, but there is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

Libertarians come in various stripes and do not suffer political platforms at all well, so we have very little chance of prevailing in the polarized US or Canadian scenes these days. It is interesting that most of the US Founding Fathers' writings, particularly Thomas Jefferson, show a decidedly libertarian bent. This is what led them to be the first to introduce the ideal that individual freedoms were paramount to the world stage.

I am not a pure libertarian, however. I do accept the Canadian concept that universal health care is a right because we said it was, although I deplore the bureaucratic mess the governments have made of it. I also, in these times, have strong protecionist leanings because a globalization in its current form is not a level playing field. There will be more on these exceptions later, but my general position is concurrent with the principles of libertarianism.

One thing that does intrigue me is that discussions with people who don't usually get into political philosophy often reveal the person to have libertarian leanings. I can't help but wonder that, if we get more vocal and share our views, maybe the world can be changed.

For those not previously familiar with this topic, talk radio host Neil Boortz is a blunt and often obnoxious proponent of the creed. I am currently reading his book, Somebody's Gotta Say It (thanks Scotty), and find myself agreeing with his observations almost completely. I will put the link to his website in the Links section of the sidebar to the right. The Nuze section has daily rants that I like reading.

I'll sign off now, but promise I will be back rambling before too long.