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Monday, May 30, 2011

My Kind of Libertarianism

Disclaimer: My ideas for this subject began at a meeting of UConn Students for Liberty this past semester. Many of these ideas may not originally have been my own. If you came up with a part of this article, feel free to take credit for it in the comments. I apologize if anyone is offended by my use of an adapted form of their ideas as my own - this is truly how I feel.

I have mentioned before that I consider myself libertarian. However, unlike many libertarians, I do NOT feel that an individual is ONLY responsible for his or her actions and welfare. While I absolutely do not support an individual "controlling" another individual's life through unnecessary restrictions, people are responsible for other people in certain ways. That being said, however, I definitely feel it should be a voluntary responsibility.

For instance, consider the following scenario: you are walking down the street and you see a homeless person begging for money. Many libertarians would say that said homeless person is responsible for his own decisions and therefore you should not give him money. Certain supporters of social welfare would argue the exact opposite - that it is your DUTY to give him money if you can. I disagree with both arguments. I feel that you need to weigh your individual responsibility (i.e. your responsibility for yourself) with your collective responsibilities (which I will discuss later) and decide for yourself whether you should give money to him or not.

So what are your collective responsibilities? It varies from person to person. Mine are listed below, in order from closest (biggest responsibility) to farthest (least responsibility). I will discuss what I mean by this after the list. Note, however, that in certain cases the order may not remain constant (for instance I may feel greater responsibility to my best friend than to my distant cousin who I haven't seen in eight years).  Let me stress that your lists may be different - I know some people who feel more loyalty to their close friends than to most of their family.

  • Me (personal responsibility)
  • Immediate family
  • Other family
  • Close friends
  • Distant friends
  • Local communities (Poughkeepsie and UConn)
  • Semi-local community (New York state)
  • Country
  • World
Also, I feel other responsibilities in certain areas only - for instance my loyalty to my religion (Judaism) extends only so far as religious affairs (which would include the state of Israel). As another example, I would feel more loyalty to help a Yankees fan than a Red Sox fan in a baseball-related issue, but other than that, the team which the other individual roots for has no bearing on my responsibilities (other than the fact that statistically speaking, a Yankees fan is more likely to fall higher on the list than a Red Sox fan is).

So what are these collective responsibilities? Some would argue that it is as simple as supporting the person, but it is not that simple. If my mother (immediate family) were to get into an argument with my cousin (other family) then yes, more likely than not I would support my mom. However, this is not to say I would blindly support her due to my allegiance. If I legitimately believed the cousin was right and my mom was wrong, I would side with my cousin. That being said, if it were a situation were I was unsure, I would give my mom the benefit of the doubt.

Also, that is not to say I would blindly provide financial support. If my friend turned into a crack addict, I would not give him money to fuel his addiction. Instead, I would attempt to offer him help to end his addiction, whatever that meant. But financial support is involved too. Since I believe in VOLUNTARY responsibility, I do not support collecting taxes from everyone to support public interests that will not be used by everyone. That being said, I still support collecting taxes to fund essential services such as police, fire, roads, and courts, but not for much else.

Other public services would be funded using voluntarily contributing funds from people who feel they have a responsibility to contribute. For instance, if my fellow Poughkeepsie residents and I think Poughkeepsie needs a new park, we would each contribute money, then buy the land and build the park. That being said, of course everyone would be welcome at the park, should we so choose. Of course, if we want to use our money to build a country club for ourselves, that is our choice as well. But supposing we each feel a collective responsibility to help the town, we would build the park and open it to the public to serve the greater good.

I can't really think of a good name for this philosophy, so if you have any ideas, leave them in the comments. But basically, we all would have our allegiances, and would have responsibilities accordingly. But that being said, the elected government's only focus would be to ensure protection of the three basic principles - life, liberty, and property. Any choices beyond that would be out of the government's control and in the individuals.

Of course, if someone who we have an allegiance/responsibility to is making destructive decisions for themselves which pose no real danger to others, we need to ask ourselves if they truly are choosing their actions. If they are (for instance participating in bungee jumping) of course we can express our opinion that it is dangerous, but beyond that, not only do we not have a responsibility to stop them, but we have a responsibility to let them continue and make choices for themselves. We may discourage it, but we should not prevent it. That being said, many individually destructive decisions, such as drug addiction, are not truly choices. In that case, we should help the individual see that there is a problem and if they refuse to seek help themselves, if we truly feel an allegiance/responsibility, we should get help for them.

You may have noticed that for the second half of this post, I was using "allegiance" and "responsibility" interchangably. This is because I am not sure which term is better. On one hand, "responsibility" means that we are responsible for their actions, which is not the case. But in a way, we are responsible for supporting them. But, we choose whether we are responsible or not, which in a way seems more like an allegiance. Basically, the best way for me to describe this is through a voluntary individual and collective responsibility. Therefore, for now (until I think of a better name) I will refer to my philosophy as VIACORE libertarianism. VIACORE is, of course, short for "voluntary individual and collective responsibilities".

Of the Need for Third Parties

Too many times during elections, I hear people say "I'm  voting for [Democrat] because [Republican] is a Republican and will ruin this country".This assertion illustrates the main problem with our political elections today - the American people's overreliance on the two-party system.

The main reason people don't support third-party candidates is that they do not truly understand their viewpoints. Well then, what would happen if they were more educated? The Berkley-Carroll School in Brooklyn sought to answer that question in 2008. Five students representing five of the six presidential candidates who mathematically had a chance of winning the election gave speeches on why to vote for them (Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party was not represented). The catch? Only the issues were revealed - until voting was complete, nobody knew WHO they were voting for, only WHY. The results were astounding. Ralph Nader won easily with 46% of the vote. Barack Obama finished a distant second with only 29%. Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party finished third with 17% while John McCain finished with a miniscule 4% of the vote compared to the 45.7% he received in the actual election. Libertarian candidate Bob Barr finished last with just 2%.

The Post-Star, a Saratoga, NY based newspaper, illustrated this anti-third party stance in the 2010 Gubernatorial election when it endorsed Democrat Andrew Cuomo
We've been particularly impressed by Libertarian candidate Warren Redlich, a Guilderland town councilman and attorney who distinguished himself at the lone gubernatorial debate with reasonable, well-considered, educated responses to discussion of the state's problems. . ...But now is not the time to install a newbie in the governor's office, even an articulate one with good ideas.

Why not? "Politics as usual" doesn't seem to be working out very well for us. In another endorsement, the New York Daily News endorsed Cuomo because "[the] state GOP hasn't managed to field a credible candidate".  Yes, it is true that Carl Paladino is not exactly credible, and yes, it would not be smart to endorse him, but politics shouldn't be about picking the lesser evil. That is exactly why Americans need to consider third-party candidates as a viable option.

Yes, it is quite probably true that if Green Party candidate Ralph Nader had not run in the election in 2000, Al Gore would have won Florida and the election. And yes, most Nader supporters would have rather had Gore than George Bush. But perhaps the problem is not too many people supporting Nader but too few. Al Gore likely would not have made such a great president either. As shown in the Brooklyn high school example, many people support third-party candidates such as Nader without even realizing they do.This is not intended to imply I support Nader because I don't. But I know some people that do and many more that would if they truly understood his positions. And who knows, perhaps President Nader would have made a better leader than President Bush or President Gore. And perhaps Governor Redlich would have made a better governor of New York than Governor Cuomo. I supported Redlich through this past election and truly believe the latter to be the case. As for the former, we'll never know for sure. But one thing is for certain - we need to stop depending solely on the two major parties. We should welcome third party candidates and vote for the best one, not just the lesser evil.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

On Memorial Day: What ARE We Fighting For?

When I was a young man I carried my pack
And I lived the free life of a rover
From the Murrays green basin to the dusty outback
I waltzed my Matilda all over
Then in nineteen fifteen my country said Son
It's time to stop rambling 'cause there's work to be done
So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
And they sent me away to the war

- Eric Bogle, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

[For more information on why I chose this song, see the note at the end of this post]

Monday is Memorial Day, where we are supposed to remember and commemorate the sacrifices our troops made for us, supposedly in the name of protecting our values. But did they really do that? Let's look at each war and conflict we have fought.

Revolutionary War (1775-1783): Easily the most justifiable war we have fought. We were oppressed by King George, taxed without representation, yadda yadda yadda. I'm not even going to go too much into this one, especially since it predates our country (since it formed said country).

War of 1812 (1812-1815): Our first war since independence, and one which did not have to turn out the way it did. Britain introduced trade restrictions in 1807, to prevent America from trading with France, which whom Britain was at war. They also criticized Britain for sinking neutral trade ships. Ultimately, this was just a proxy war to settle the Revolutionary War once and for all. Britain had been longing for war again ever since surrendering, and they got it. But we didn't need to give it to them.

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we sailed away from the quay
And amidst all the tears and the shouts and the cheers
We sailed off to Gallipoli

 Mexican-American War (1846-1848): At this time, America was still practicing isolationism, heeding the request of George Washington. But it also practiced Manifest Destiny and claimed that they should be superior from sea to shining sea. Funny then, how we criticized Hitler for essentially employing "Manifest Destiny" throughout Europe during World War II. But I'll get to that later. Anyway, we "annexed" Texas from Mexico, then when they wouldn't concede all of it, President James K. Polk worried of a Mexican invasion and declared war. This would never have happened if we didn't need to run the Western Hemisphere. A prime example of our false isolationism. But it would get worse.

How well I remember that terrible day
How the blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
Johnny Turk he was ready, he primed himself well
He chased us with bullets, he rained us with shells
And in five minutes flat he'd blown us all to hell
Nearly blew us right back to Australia

American Civil War (1861-1865): Obviously, slavery was wrong. Now, I am a free market supporter, but by the very definition of a free market, a business contract is relevant if and only if all parties enter into it voluntarily. While this isn't generally taken to include the good being sold, generally the good isn't human. Even the most free-market libertarians will agree that slavery is wrong. But, this was NOT just a war about slavery. It was a war about whether the states had a right to secede. The southern states argued that secession was a right protected to the states under, among other things, the Tenth Amendment. I tend to agree with that assertion. From the South's perspective, this may have been a proxy war over slavery, an  issue where they were clearly wrong. From the North's perspective, this was a war over whether states had the right to secede by popular sovereignty, an issue where they were also most probably wrong. Hence, each side was right in a way, but NOT the way they claimed they were right. So it's hard to determine who to side with here, but most wars are like that.

But the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we stopped to bury our slain
We buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then we started all over again Now those that were left, well we tried to survive
In a mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
But around me the corpses piled higher

Spanish-American War (1898): Yet another early example of bad American intervention in a conflict that was none of their business. Cuba declared Independence from Spain and immediately began fighting a War of Independence. Then, the USS Maine blew up and sank and we blamed it on the Spanish. To this day, there is no evidence to suggest it was anything more than a standard, accidental explosion. But we used it as grounds to start an unnecessary war in a conflict that was not our problem to begin with. This role of international policeman would continue to this day.

Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over tit
And when I woke up in my hospital bed
And saw what it had done, I wished I was dead
Never knew there were worse things than dying

World War I (1917-1918): This conflict was not our problem. Originally we preached isolationism, as we rightfully should have. But Germany sent the Zimmerman Telegram to Mexico proposing that the two go to war with the United States, and we viewed this as an act of aggression and declared war. But this was just used as the spark for us to go to war. There were better ways to take care of the problem than getting involved in a World War. Unfortunately, war on just Germany was not feasible, but we could have waited to see if it would happen, especially since Mexico concluded it was neither desirable nor feasible and thus it never would have happened anyway.

For no more I'll go waltzing Matilda
All around the green bush far and near
For to hump tent and pegs, a man needs two legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me

World War II: Obviously, the Nazis were bad. Obviously, the Japanese were bad. There is no denying that. But had we lost the war, it could very well have been us being tried for war crimes instead of the Nazis. We imprisoned thousands of Japanese in "interment camps" to prevent them from threatening our security. This was viewed as acceptable, while Hitler's "concentration camps" for Jews was not. In other words, it's only acceptable when our own government does it. That doesn't seem fair. Not to mention how we killed millions of innocent Japanese in the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and scarred millions more for life, quite literally in some cases. So we weren't exactly good guys either, despite what some might say.

So they collected the cripples, the wounded, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And as our ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where my legs used to be
And thank Christ there was nobody waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity
And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As they carried us down the gangway
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared
Then turned all their faces away

Korean War (1950-1953): Ultimately this was a proxy war on Communism. The Soviet-run North Korea invaded the capitalist South Korea on June 25, 1950. America decided to take action fearing the Domino Effect, and that communism would spread. It was NOT our problem. Yet another example of us playing global policeman. But the worst was yet to come...

And now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
And I watch my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reliving old dreams of past glory
And the old men march slowly, all bent, stiff and sore
The forgotten heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask, "What are they marching for?"
And I ask myself the same question

Vietnam War (1959-1975): This war was touted as "protecting our freedoms". In reality, however, it was protecting capitalism, NOT freedom. Ngo Dinh Diem ruled South Vietnam. He was a harsh dictator, but he was capitalist. Ho Chi Minh ruled North Vietnam. He was a democratic leader, freely elected, but was communist. The South wanted to hold free elections to decide whether to join the North. Diem didn't want to, because he knew he would lose power. America chose to intervene, siding with the harsh dictator who DENIED citizens their freedoms, yet claimed it was "protecting" freedom. This seems contradictory. If we REALLY were keen on protecting freedom, we would have sided with Ho Chi Minh and ALLOWED the free and open elections to occur, without fearing the outcome. But we were so hung up on stopping communism that we didn't care about whether we were truly protecting freedom. And let's face it: we weren't.

And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men answer to the call
But year after year their numbers get fewer
Some day no one will march there at all

War on Terror (2001-present): This War has included conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Libya, among others. Yet the only real success we've had is killing bin Laden. One man. Almost a decade. Yet over 900,000 others have been killed, between American soldiers and innocent Iraqis, Afghans, and Pakistanis who committed no crime other than being born in the wrong country. Is it really worth it? We supposedly have a good relationship with Pakistan. Why not just cooperate with them and arrest bin Laden, like Ron Paul suggested he would do? And not to mention the massive invasions of our privacy through the (un)PATRIOT Act. It's really out of hand. And we can't continue this way. Pretty much all of our wars have been unjust. So on this Memorial Day weekend, I must question what we truly are fighting for.

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
And their ghosts may be heard as you march by the Billabong
Who'll come-a-waltzing Matilda with me?

Now, a note on why I chose this song to refrain throughout this blog post. "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" is a classic Australian anti-war anthem. First, some background information it might help to know: "Waltzing Matilda" is a classic Australian folk song. Some of the lyrics in Bogle's later song are based on it, most notably the last verse, which is almost identical to the chorus of "Waltzing Matilda", with only a few adaptations to fit the effect. The chorus in Bogle's song, with the band playing "Waltzing Matilda" is meant to represent the blind patriotism that he felt many Australians showed. This is the reason I chose this song.

Many Americans are blindly patriotic as well. If you ask someone who was alive in the 1960s which Vietnam was the democracy, they'll probably tell you it was South Vietnam. My mom was alive during Vietnam and a few weeks ago, when I was discussing it with her, she was shocked to learn that the SOUTH was the dictatorship and the NORTH was the democracy. She'd always assumed that "protecting our freedoms" meant protecting democracy. But this was not the case in the Vietnam War. Not at all. Yet many Americans continue to support our military through any conflict. And come Monday, we will be hearing all sorts of stories about how we should support our military and remember the sacrifices they made fighting for our freedoms. But I say we should be giving more of a thought to what exactly those freedoms are. We have seen a lot of contradictions throughout our nation's history, and the fact is, "our freedoms" is a vague term which does not necessarily refer to any one ideal and at times has led to millions of innocent deaths and violations of basic human and moral principles. So this Memorial Day, before you praise our troops for the brave sacrifices they made fighting for our country, think: what are they fighting for?

A Tale of Metaphorical Frogs

In his documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore discusses a metaphor involving a frog. Although Gore attempts to apply it to our perceptions of global warming, I feel it is applicable to our collective perceptions in general. Gore explains that if you drop a frog in a vat of boiling water, it will sense the danger and jump out. However, if you drop a frog in lukewarm water and slowly bring it to a boil, it will not sense the danger and will stay in the scalding water until, as Gore said "it is rescued".

Whether global warming is as legitimate as AIT presents is beyond the scope of this article. However, this metaphorical frog example can be applied to many situations which this country has experienced over the past few years.

  • First, in the name of "national security", we were subject to moderately enhanced security at the airport. Then, there were "random" additional searches. Then, after the shoe bomber, we had to remove our shoes. Now, we have the full body scanners and "enhanced pat-downs" and before you know it, we'll have to go through security in the nude. Although the good news about that, as the Capitol Steps put it, is that "it will count as an MRI under Obamacare... Which means there will be a $15 co-pay". Like the frog, we failed to sense gradual change, and now it has become a ridiculous invasion of our privacy.
  • As I discussed in my last post, we have seen gradual invasions through the PATRIOT Act. Whether it's wiretapping, the infamous library card provision, or many other massive invasions of our rights, we once again, failed to sense gradual change.
  • Congressional spending. The deficit and debt are constantly rising, and we will soon pass our debt limit. But what will Congress do? They will just raise the debt cap. We need to CUT spending. The "historic" proposed spending cuts of 1.6% are a joke. We currently spend nearly as much on defense as every other country combined. Who are we afraid of? Not to mention the massive wastes that are the War on Drugs, the enforcement of educational provisions such as No Child Left Behind (which, like the PATRIOT Act, has continuously proven to defy its name), overpaid federal employees, wasteful programs like Medicaid and Social Security, and subsidies to many groups who don't deserve it. We need far more than a 1.6% cut. And we're still going to run a deficit. A massive one. We fail to see the gradual changes that the government is making in this financial situation, and things will get out of hand. In fact, they already have.  In 2009, when the British pound was in crisis, the prize money for the prestigious Wimbledon Tennis Tournament went up 13% from the previous year in pounds yet decreased by 17% in dollars. Since the "D-Day" for the debt cap is August 2nd, about four weeks before the start of the U.S. Open in Queens, we could potentially see the reverse happen in America's Grand Slam this year - prize money going up in dollars yet down in pounds/Euros/other currencies. But that's a topic for another post.

We as Americans and global citizens need to sense these gradual changes which are being thrust upon us. They will (and continue to) escalate out of control. Just as in Gore's example, global warming will spiral out of control (the truth of this claim is debatable but irrelevant), the invasions of privacy and fiscal irresponsibility that our government has demonstrated on multiple occasions continue to spiral in a doom direction.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Painful Irony of the PATRIOT Act

Yesterday evening, Congress extended the PATRIOT Act to 2015 and President Obama signed it (sort of). But why? Supposedly it is to protect our rights and freedoms from being taken away. This is a very noble cause, indeed. In fact, I completely agree that nobody should be able to take away our freedoms. That's right, NOBODY. Not even the American government.

So why does the government continue violating our First, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment Rights all in the name of "protecting our freedoms"? That, my friends, is a prime example of what we call "irony".

Ryan Safner, who graduated UConn earlier this month and was in UConn Students for Liberty with me for the past few months before that, expressed his opinion (and mine) quite brilliantly on his blog.

So Osama bin Laden is dead.  After 10 years, 2 wars, 919,967 deaths, and $1,188,263,000,000 spent, we managed to kill one man. Does this mean we can finally ... remove the full-body scanners and patdowns at our airports [and] restore our civil liberties stolen through warrantless wiretapping, illegal indefinite detentions, and torture?

And that was before Congress renewed this atrocious and unconstitutional Act. If we don't want the terrorists to take away our rights and freedoms, we should hold our own government to the same standard. Congress should never have extended this atrocity, and it should be repealed, or, barring that, declared unconstitutional.

There is no excuse to let this behavior by the federal government continue. It's common sense - in your attempt to prevent other people from committing a certain act, you should not commit said act yourself. It defeats the purpose of your efforts. I'd chalk this up to the Law of Unintended Consequences, but the government clearly knows what it's doing. And once you understand what the consequences of your actions are, it ceases to become "unintended". If we don't like our freedoms taken away, we should deal with the government first, not the terrorists. Repeal the PATRIOT Act, because it is anything but patriotic.

Bringing this Blog Back

Well, I'm bringing this blog back. So you can expect me to post again soon. Including probably later tonight. So stay tuned.