Friday, November 28, 2008
Although I’m a country boy with conservative personal (although not always political) beliefs and a Christian upbringing, I hope the plaintiffs win and gay marriage is allowed. I don’t care much about “gay rights,” but I do care about “individual rights.” If those individuals happen to be homosexuals, so what?
Ideally the question at stake should not be whether or not gays should be granted marriage licenses, but whether or not a government entity should be issuing marriage licenses at all. Marriage existed long before the Iowa state or Polk County governments and throughout most of its history marriage didn’t need a bureaucrat’s stamp of approval. In England, for example, it wasn’t until 1754 that marriage became regulated by law.
Cato Institute scholar David Boaz argues that marriage licensing, like many over-reaching government functions, could be privatized. Says Boaz: "‘Privatizing’ marriage can mean two slightly different things. One is to take the state completely out of it. If couples want to cement their relationship with a ceremony or ritual, they are free to do so. Religious institutions are free to sanction such relationships under any rules they choose. A second meaning of ‘privatizing’ marriage is to treat it like any other contract: The state may be called upon to enforce it, but the parties define the terms. When children or large sums of money are involved, an enforceable contract spelling out the parties' respective rights and obligations is probably advisable. But the existence and details of such an agreement should be up to the parties.
"And privatizing marriage would, incidentally, solve the gay-marriage problem. It would put gay relationships on the same footing as straight ones, without implying official government sanction. No one's private life would have official government sanction--which is how it should be.”
However, according to the plaintiffs in Varnum v. Brien, Iowa law refers to marriage, directly or indirectly, at least 540 times. The state has effectively tethered itself to the marriage business, so the ad hoc approach of fighting within the current licensing regime is probably the best course for same-sex advocates.
While the government might have to be brought into this kicking and screaming, it appears that culturally we’ve already crossed the Rubicon. A recent survey of Iowa voters found that about 60% favored allowing same-sex unions. 28.1% supported “gay marriage,” while another 30.2% supported same-sex “civil unions.” 32% opposed both.
If gay marriage does go through, I know a lot of folks that are going to go through the roof. But my conservative-Christian friends can console themselves with the fact that, if they’re right, God will have far worse punishment waiting for gay couples than mere license denial. But it is His call, not the state’s.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
A lot of the increased pirate activity is off the coast of Somalia, particularly in the Gulf of Aden. This region accounts for almost a third of pirate attacks worldwide. Kenyan officials estimate that the Somali pirates have made at least $150 million in ransom money. That was before the pirates seized a Saudi oil tanker carrying $100 million worth of crude oil last week. They are demanding $25 million in ransom for the ship and crew.
Like good businessmen, the pirates are re-investing much of their ill-gotten booty (that’s the only movie-pirate terminology I’ll use, I promise me hearties!) back into their business. The pirates appear to be buying new and better speedboats, and more powerful weapons such as rocket-propelled grenade launchers (RPG’s) and 14.5 mm heavy machine-guns.
The growing threat has caused national governments and the U.N. to reluctantly say that they should probably do… something. Several nations already have a few warships patrolling the area. NATO has four vessels in the region, soon to be replaced with four from the European Union. The U.S. 5th Fleet also has several ships patrolling the area and the Yemeni Coast Guard is working hard.
However, U.N. rules restrict the ability of naval forces to respond to pirate attacks. NATO spokesman James Appathurai explains: "[Navy ships] can patrol. They can deter. They can even stop attacks that are happening, but what they do not do is then board the ship that has been hijacked elsewhere to try and free it."
While global bureaucrats scratch their heads and try to figure out how to deal with pirates, the shipping industry is doing what it can. They have re-routed ships around dangerous areas, which may add thousands of extra miles to a trip, increasing costs. They have advised their crews of passive measures such as traveling at night without lights, to avoid detection and battening all hatches to avoid boarding. Private security companies, such as the now infamous Blackwater, have offered their own patrol boats to protect shipping for a price.
Lest we make this problem more complicated than what it is, let’s look at the facts. Pirates are just criminals, like seaborne muggers. Navy ships (like cops) cannot be everywhere and therefore cannot guarantee the safety of every civilian ship. The similarities to routine street crime are apparent. A partial solution to reducing piracy is therefore pretty similar to what has reduced violent crime domestically: reduce the number of unarmed victims.
While some ships have done so for years, arming civilian mariners faces several challenges. Firstly, squeamish trade groups such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) oppose doing so because they believe it puts crews at greater risk. Instead, the IMO recommends that merchant ships take the passive measures listed above and post lookouts with high-pressure water hoses to ward off pirates. Spraying pirates who have rocket-launchers and heavy machine-guns with a water hose is the safe option? Sounds like ritualistic suicide. Spraying them with lead makes more sense to me. Since one cruise ship was able to scare away armed pirates with simulated machine-gun fire, it’s obvious that REAL guns would have a deterrent effect.
Second, arming civilian crews faces legal challenges. Mariners are bound by the national laws of the ports that they visit. Since most nations outlaw civilian gun ownership, crew members would risk arrest at most stops.
If everybody is so afraid of armed civilians, why not wave the federal magic wand over armed volunteers and turn them into “officials.” How about a program similar to the Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program, run by the Federal Air Marshall Service, implemented among civilian airline pilots after 9-11?
Willing crew members, employed by willing ship owners, could volunteer for the program. They would receive weapons training from the U.S. government and some type of official recognition, perhaps with special membership in the Navy or Coast Guard Reserves. Official status would no doubt allow the crew members to enter into more ports than they could as armed civilians, as well as allowing them weapons that they might not otherwise have access to. One or two crew members manning weapons such as the M2 .50 caliber machine-gun, M240 7.62mm machine-gun, Mk-19 automatic grenade launcher or even light weapons would not only deter pirate attacks but would give ships a fighting chance against them if they attack anyway. [The merchant seaman pictured above (circa 1984) is armed with a 12 gauge shotgun. While effective for repelling boarders close-in, it's effective range of 50 yards would be outclassed by the heavy weapons used by today's pirates.] The program could require that these weapons be securely stowed under lock and key until needed, as the FFDO program does.
This wouldn’t be the perfectly libertarian solution to the pirate problem. That solution would be the high-seas equivalent of “Vermont Carry,” wherein civilians carry whatever guns they want, no permit required. Unfortunately there's no way other countries would recognize this right.
But a voluntary, government sanctioned program as described above, in addition to un-sanctioned arms bearing and passive security measures, would help to reduce piracy of American vessels. It would give civilians more flexibility in protecting their lives and their livelihood. That’s always a good thing.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
On thing that caught my eye was the "America Serves" section of the site. This details Obama's plan to help the citizenry to "serve" their country. Although it has been scrubbed of the specifics that were posted on it briefly (Obama wasn't elected on specifics after all), the section still gives the bare-bones of his plan.
In "America Serves" the president-elect promises that "[t]he Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation’s challenges." Obama not only plans to expand the national service programs AmeriCorps and Peace Corps, but will also conjure up several new service programs. A Classroom Corps will work in "underserved" schools. There will also be a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps and Veteran Corps.
Kids as young as middle school will be expected to perform 50 hours of community service per year. The federal government would withhold funds from local schools that don't put their students to work the requisite number of hours (a fact missing from the newly sanitized site). College students will be expected to perform 100 hours per year. For their servitude, the older kids will be given a $4,000 tax credit toward college tuition.
If you think that a lifetime of hard work (wherein the average American works about 113 days per year to earn enough to pay their tax bill, essentially working involuntarily for the government during that period) might get you off the hook for continued "service," think again. "Obama will encourage retiring Americans to serve" their community too, his site explains.
To be fair to Obama, the guy he beat also supports expanding national service. Among other programs, McCain praised the example of "City Year," an AmeriCorps program that serves 18 cities. “City Year members wear uniforms, work in teams, [..] and gather together for daily calisthenics, often in highly public places such as in front of city hall,” wrote McCain. He enthusiastically explained that in another program, The National Civilian Community Corps, members “not only wear uniforms and work in teams… but actually live together in barracks on former military bases[.]” This idea is no doubt the authoritarian equivalent of Viagra for the militaristic McCain.
Since "national service" started out meaning compulsory military service, it's ironic that the military has moved toward a more freedom-friendly volunteer force (as it should), while the politicians in DC seem determined to push compulsory service into new areas of civilian society.
Proponents claim that young participants will learn responsibility and a sense of duty. I would argue that the young will learn that they are mere vassals of the government, which holds preemptive claim over their very lives, rather than free citizens with unalienable rights and lives with intrinsic worth.
Perhaps President-elect Obama (and Senator McCain, who will no doubt vote for any Democrat national service proposal in Congress) should reread the 13th Amendment which states, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." (Emphasis added.) It contains no provision exempting the federal government from it's prohibition.
In my own day, our high school had already implemented an annual "Community Service Day" in which students did various odd jobs around the three small, rural towns that comprised our district. (And it didn't even require goading from the federal government to do so.) Like compulsory service supporters contend, I DID learn valuable life-lessons from this. In fact, I learned two: 1)Spending hours trying to rake tiny bits of gravel up a steep, grassy incline with a widely-spaced leaf rake is a pointless, Sisyphus-like task. 2)People in positions of authority aren't necessarily smart.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Saturday, November 8, 2008
If the election of '06 was a shot fired across the GOP's bow, the '08 election was right in their wheelhouse. Neo-conservative (big-government authoritarian) Republican John McCain got stomped by Democrat Barack Obama electorally, 163 to 364. The popular vote was slightly less one-sided, with Obama getting 53% and McCain getting 46%. The Democrats picked up 6 seats in the U.S. Senate and picked up 17 seats in the U.S. House. At the end of it all, the Senate had 57 Democrat seats (only 3 seats short of a filibuster-proof majority) to 40 Republican seats. The House now has 252 Dems and 173 Republicans.
As a one-time stalwart Republican, when I surveyed the wreckage of the GOP, I felt like an immigrant to the U.S. seeing his war-torn former country on CNN, bombed and flattened. I felt sad for my friends who didn't make it out, but glad that I left when I did.
I didn't shed too many tears though, because the GOP brought this shellacking on themselves. Many people like myself fought in the trenches to put the GOP in power in the 1990's. We sent them to DC with a simple mandate: "Cut government." That included cutting taxes, spending, regulation and intrusiveness. The Republican-controlled federal government did the exact opposite of those things. (I know they cut taxes somewhat. But they didn't even make those cuts permanent and they increased spending and debt so much that essentially they just delayed paying those taxes rather than eliminating them.)
In essence, once the Republicans were firmly in power, they governed like Democrats. Advocates of smaller, less intrusive federal government suddenly found themselves out in the cold. But, as the last two election cycles showed, the American people will choose real Democrats over wannabe-Democrats every time. The neo-conservative plan to out-Democrat the Democrats resulted in an electoral train wreck.
Supporters of smaller government now have four options:
- We can help the GOP rebuild their party, and try to get it to focus on limited government fundamentals. This is essentially what Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty is about.
- We can join the Democrats and take whatever reforms we can get.
- We can become detached from the political process, hunker down and hope that the big-government Panzers roll past without crushing us.
- We can try to build the Libertarian Party or Constitution Party into a major party able to challenge the Demublicans for control.
I've thrown in with the merry band of Libertarians, so it's probably obvious that I support the last option. Paleo-conservatives, libertarians, and constitutionalists gave the Republican Party a fair chance to advance limited government principles. The GOP betrayed that trust. May it rest in peace.