Monthly Archives: June 2012

Republican Hypocrisy on Health Care

There is a disturbing tendency among both Republicans and Democrats to criticize members of the opposite party for doing the same things that they do. For instance, George W. Bush ran on a promise to avoid engaging in “nation building” overseas the way that Bill Clinton had. We all know how that worked out. Many of the same liberals who criticized the Iraq War later supported President Obama’s decision to attack Libya, while many of the pro-Iraq War conservatives suddenly turned dovish when trouble started in Gaddafi’s domain. The same thing is happening with health care. Let’s see if anyone can tell me who stated, “Well, I agree that all of us have a responsibility to pay — help pay for health care. And, and I think that there are ways to do it that make most libertarians relatively happy. I’ve said consistently we ought to have some requirement that you either have health insurance or you post a bond or in some way you indicate you’ll be held accountable.” The correct answer is, Newt Gingrich. Now let’s see if anyone can tell me what law forces, “residents to have health insurance if they can afford it. Residents without health insurance face a tax penalty.” The correct answer is the Massachusetts Health Reform Act, signed by Mitt Romney. (Source: http://www.massresources.org/health-reform.html) So both the man who will almost certainly be the Republican Party nominee for president this year and a major former contender for the nomination have expressed support in the past for forcing people to buy health care whether they want it or not. I do not feel the need to rehash my opposition to the health care reform bill and my disagreement with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision. I have already written a blog post about it. However, as someone who supports President Obama due to his gay rights policies, I am disgruntled by the fact that many conservatives will give Mitt Romney a free pass for supporting the very thing that they are angry at President Obama for. Mitt Romney has had chance after chance to flip flop and say that the Massachusetts law was a mistake. Instead, he has repeatedly stood by his decision to sign a bill requiring that people buy health care if they can afford it. Of course, flip-flopping at this point would make Romney look like he has no integrity. But what he he’s doing right now—defending his health care bill while attacking President Obama’s—also makes it look like he’s determined to disagree with the president no matter what. The problem is that the economy is the primary area Romney has to run on. Gay bashing is still appealing to a lot of people, but it’s a bad long-term strategy that is guaranteed to cost you most of the vote from Northeasterners, people in the 18-35 age range, and gays. Foreign policy might have initially been a politically profitable area for Romney, but that changed when President Obama did in 2 ½ years when Bush couldn’t do in over seven: catch Osama bin Laden. Yes, I realize that President Obama didn’t go to Pakistan and shoot bin Laden himself, but you get my point. My only complaint was that I would have rather bin Laden been taken alive, tried, and sentenced to life imprisonment, and somehow I doubt Romney wants to use that criticism. Now, what foreign policy issue is Romney going to run on? Is he going to try to win with a platform calling for troops to be sent back into Iraq? That’ll sure go over well. So Romney is left having to focus on the economy. Ordinarily, this would be a winning strategy, since so many Americans are disgusted with President Obama’s economic performance. Some of them have gone beyond saying that he has failed to fix the economy and are rewriting history by acting like things such as federal debt didn’t exist before he took office. But a major part of President Obama’s economic platform is national health care, and Romney is in no position to go on the attack over this issue. He certainly can’t use the states’ rights argument. After all, a Federal Marriage Amendment isn’t exactly pro-states’ rights, and Romney supports that. I wonder how he would feel about leaving drug laws to the states. One of his most humorous arguments in defense of the health care plan he signed as governor was that polls showed that the majority of Massachusetts residents favored it. Well, duh. Massachusetts elected Charles Sumner, one of the only abolitionist politicians in antebellum America, to the Senate for over twenty years. The state elected Ted Kennedy for over forty. It was the second state to repeal its law against interracial marriage and the first to legalize gay marriage. It was the first state to elect a black U.S. Senator by popular vote. It is the only state that currently has a black governor. It was the only state to vote for George McGovern in 1972. Since 1964, the presidential election in which the Democratic Party became the unambiguously more liberal party, only Minnesota has voted Democrat in more presidential elections than Massachusetts, and only Rhode Island and Hawaii have equalled the Bay State in this regard. In short, Massachusetts is easily one of the top five most liberal states. So of course the majority of Massachusetts residents like RomneyCare. (I personally love the state’s liberalism on race and sexual orientation. Health care, not so much.) If Mitt Romney wants to make a campaign platform based on what people in Massachusetts want, he might as well not run. According to a poll taken on June 27th, President Obama leads Mitt Romney in support among Massachusetts voters by a whopping sixteen percentage points.

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Wasted Blood: How Jingoism, Racism, and Free Trade Caused the War of 1812

June 18th marks the bicentennial of the beginning of the War of 1812. Americans are largely indifferent about this date, although the state of Maryland is planning a huge celebration. Canadians, by contrast, seem to be much more excited, with a reenactment being planned that will consist entirely of people from Canada. Yet I think it would be unfortunate if we did not stop and examine the significance of the War of 1812. Specifically, I want to examine whether or not the War of 1812 was actually necessary. Back in April, I did a series of blog posts about the Civil War. One of the goals of these posts was to demonstrate that it was necessary for the North to fight the war, though not for the reasons that most Northerners fought. Today, I will attempt to demonstrate that, unlike the Civil War, the War of 1812 was unnecessary. I will attempt to demonstrate that, not only was it unnecessary, but that part of the American motivation for fighting it was actually downright insidious. Additionally, I will recount the story of blacks who fought for freedom by joining the British Army. An interesting exercise for historians is to look at situations in which one country chose to go to war with a much stronger country and try to determine why. The situation of the United States in 1812 was similar to that of Japan in 1941, when Japan chose to attack Pearl Harbor despite having one-tenth of America’s industrial power. So why did the United States, having miraculously beaten Britain during the Revolutionary War largely due to the fact that the British concluded that keeping the American colonies was more trouble than it was worth, apparently tempted fate by fighting Britain a second time? While the South had one primary reason for seceding, the United States had several for fighting the War of 1812. At least two of these reasons can be tied in with the Napoleonic Wars.

Reason#1: In the early 1800s, Britain was engaged in the Napoleonic Wars, fighting against French military dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte. Hence, Britain was none too pleased that some men were deserting the Royal Navy and joining United States merchant ships. Britain reacted by beginning a practice of seizing American ships and forcing sailors to serve in the British Navy. Obviously, Britain’s way of reacting to desertion from the Royal Navy and into the United States military was excessive. On the other hand, consider how the United States would react if people were deserting from our military and joining Chinese businesses. Would not the United States frown upon this and take aggressive action if China failed to stop it? Let us also assume that, in this scenario, the United States is involved in a major war and can ill afford the loss of soldiers. The best argument in defense of the United States is that some of these deserters may have been conscripts. A conscript, of course, has a right to desert, since they are not violating an agreement they willingly entered into, and the practice of conscription is essentially kidnapping. However, the United States had no moral high ground here. Federal law allowed state militias to conscript men in the United States, and James Madison, the president who fought the War of 1812, was a slave master. All things considered, justifying America’s decision to go to war with Britain in 1812 for the reason described above requires a great deal of chutzpah. If we are to justify the War of 1812, a better reason must be given.

Reason #2: More than one war has been fought because a country could not or would not produce more goods domestically. With the United States federal government as we know it having only been in existence since 1788, America’s economy in 1812 was still in infancy. Hence, the United States wished to exercise free trade. New England merchants wished to trade with Britain, while many other Americans wanted to trade with France. Britain, however, was attempting to blockade France in order to strangle the country’s economy and help beat Napoleon. The United States wished to trade with France, and this Britain would not tolerate. Hence, the United States went to war largely to preserve free trade. Here, I have to do something I don’t like to do: give Thomas Jefferson credit. Serving as president immediately before James Madison, Jefferson signed legislation enacting an embargo against both France and Britain. The American public balked, and eventually Madison chose to resort to war. However, if the embargo had continued, and war had been avoided, many lives would have been saved, and the United States’ economy would likely have grown much more self-sufficient than it is today. Think of how dependent we are on countries with terrible human rights records, such as China and Saudi Arabia. Would it not be better if we could produce most goods here rather than having to import them? More importantly, free trade is simply not a sufficient reason to go to war. By enforcing an embargo against France, Britain was not trying to take over the United States. A war ought to be fought either against an unprovoked invasion (which has virtually never happened to the United States) or an internal threat to freedom (like slavery.) Fighting a war for free trade privileges profit above human life. Sadly, the U.S. failed to heed the lessons of the War of 1812 and later entered World War I for similar reasons.

Reason #3: As the United States expanded westward, conflict between whites and Native Americans abounded. One of the areas where conflict was very aggressive was what is now the Midwest. In Ohio, Tenskawatawa and his brother Tecumseh led Native Americans against white encroachment and allied themselves with the British. The British had an intriguing history with Native Americans. During the French and Indian War (1754-1763), most Native Americans sided with the French, due to the fact that France did not attempt large-scale white settlement into its colonies, while Britain did. After the war, however, events such as Pontiac’s Rebellion persuaded the British to ban white settlement West of the Appalachian Mountains. Many American colonists, hungry for new land, balked, and when the Revolutionary War came, most Native Americans understandably supported the British. Still smarting from their defeat at the hands of the colonists, Britain encouraged Native Americans raids on white settlements after the Revolutionary War. Of course, this infuriated many whites in the South and West, who felt the Native Americans should move aside and allow their land to be taken. It is no surprise that Southerners, who were more supportive of Westward expansion, were much more likely than New Englanders, who were more ambivalent about expansion, to support the War of 1812. One should not look at Britain’s support for Native American raids through rose-colored glasses. Britain’s motivation was to hurt the United States, not help Native Americans. Britain had shown itself willing to betray its Native American, as well as its African American allies. Still, from an objective standpoint, the British had the right idea about supporting Native American raids. Native Americans were defending their land and culture from an invasion. Again, if the positions were switched, nobody would deny the right of white Americans to defend themselves from such an invasion. Thus, a part of the United States’ motivation for going to war with Britain in 1812 was to be able to continue crushing Native American tribes.

It must be clear to anyone reading this (and I imagine it is clear to most Canadians!) that it was absolutely unnecessary for the United States to fight the War of 1812. There are two other factors, however, that must be considered to fully understand the disastrous nature of the war. First of all, the war may have helped Andrew Jackson become president. Jackson became highly distinguished as a general in the United States Army during the war. Not only was Jackson a slave master and slave trader, but his administration also promoted vicious policies removing Native Americans from their homeland. Additionally, the actions of many African Americans during the War of 1812 call the idea that the United States was fighting for freedom into question. Many blacks fought for the United States, especially for the Navy. Others fought for the British, often being promised freedom in exchange for service. For instance, a two hundred-man unit of black Marines fought for the British in major Chesapeake military campaigns. The great Lydia Maria Child recounted a story of a group of slaves in South Carolina who plotted to join the British. Often, the promise of freedom turned out to be a lie. Sometimes, however, the British made good. After the war, the British relocated 3,000 former slaves from the Chesapeake Bay region to Nova Scotia. Francis Scott Key, who wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” in response to events he witnessed during the War of 1812, further illustrates the contradictions between rhetoric and reality with regard to the United States during the conflict. Key had serious misgivings about slavery, but he owned slaves himself. In the 1830s, he served as the prosecutor against a man charged with distributing abolitionist literature and attempting to stir up a slave rebellion. Key invoked the right of “the whole slaveholding community to self-protection.” In addition to the War of 1812 being a very unnecessary war, it was arguably one of our most racist wars as well.

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Gambling with Personal Freedom

Whenever I hear the word “family” in the name of an organization, I can pretty much assume that it means trouble. Virtually all such organizations want to prevent gay people from having families. Today, however, I will be discussing some activism by a “pro-family” group that is less nefarious than gay bashing but still dangerous. “Family-centric” groups are urging Congress to prevent individual states from legalizing Internet gambling. The article describing this push from conservative groups can be found here: (http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2012/06/06/20120606family-groups-target-internet-gambling.html) According to the article, these activists warn that, “the societal costs will far outweigh the benefit to tax coffers.” And herein lies the first problem. We must stop thinking of the issue of legalization of gambling primarily in terms of the tax revenue it can bring. We should think of it primarily as an expansion of individuals’ right to free choice. Gambling that involves force or fraud is immoral and should be banned. Yet anti-gambling crusaders will not stop there. Nor are they willing to attempt to persuade people to choose to give up gambling. Instead, they want the government to run people’s lives. One of the prime arguments cited by the groups pushing for Congress to keep heavy restrictions on gambling is that gambling hurts families, because it causes parents to lose money. Certainly, some families go broke because adults blow all their money at the blackjack table, and that is a real tragedy that should not be made light of. But let’s be realistic. The people gambling on the Internet and in casinos do not have guns pointed at them. Unless the games are rigged, the people playing are not having money stolen from them; they are giving their money away. Let’s say that a man from a middle class family does not have an uncontrollable, clinical addiction to gambling but decides to risk his life savings in online poker in order to have a chance at “hitting it big.” Now, let’s say that this man ends up losing everything in the game, and he and his family are left destitute. Isn’t that his fault, since he chose to gamble his money, knowing that he might lose it? What about cases where people are truly addicted and can’t stop gambling, whether they want to or not? Such people deserve our full sympathy, as well as whatever therapy is available. But again, can this be blamed on the companies that promote gambling? By that logic, we should blame malls for the fact that people get addicted to shopping and bars for the fact that people get addicted to alcohol. It is ironic to hear conservatives calling for a ban on gambling in order to prevent people from becoming poor. Conservatives are supposed to be defenders of capitalism. Yet a fundamental part of a capitalist economy is that people are free to take risks with their money and live with the consequences. Would the conservatives opposed to legalization of gambling support a ban on investing in the stock market? After all, the stock market is basically a glorified casino. You might get rich by investing, or you might end up on the street. Why is it considered a fulfillment of the American Dream to make a fortune in the stock market, while gambling is frowned upon? For the record, I am neither opposed to nor in favor of gambling. I do not consider it immoral, because it does not automatically hurt anyone. Gambling more than you can afford to lose, however, is never a good idea, whether in a casino or in the stock market. I personally do not plan to gamble, because I can be obsessive compulsive, and I know this puts me at greater risk of developing an addiction. Yet this is a personal choice. I also don’t watch football, but I’m not going to try and ban it. On a final note, a related issue is the matter of gambling on Native American reservations. This is even more cut and dry. Most Native American tribes have been reduced to poverty by the conquest and subjugation of the federal government. Tribes that surrendered, meaning pretty much every tribe except for the Seminoles, put their fate in the hands of Uncle Sam and were betrayed. These tribes deserve their sovereignty. And if they wish to make money to support themselves by operating casinos, they have every right to do so.  

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Why New York City Gets it Wrong on Soda

Yesterday, I did an article commending Governor Andrew Cuomo for attempting to liberalize New York’s drug policy. In New York City, however, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is fully on board for a local ban on the sale of supersize sodas and other sugary drinks. Ironically, Bloomberg is actually for Cuomo’s new drug policy. Now, to be clear, I like Bloomberg. He’s been strongly supportive of equal rights for gays and lesbians. But on this issue, his policy is misguided. I have had people ask me what is so bad about banning unhealthy food. The answer is that people must stop seeing this issue as simply one about what the proper diet is. The law in New York City goes beyond that and presents us with a fundamental question: should individuals be permitted to make their own decisions about what to eat and drink, or should our diets be controlled by a nanny state? And if a government can literally forbid you from drinking too much soda, what can’t it do? I have heard the argument that poor people are relying on fast food because there is nothing else affordable for them to consume. This, however, is a problem of poverty and is not the fault of the fast food companies. We need aggressive, creative methods for ensuring that those who are born into poverty do not have to remain in poverty their entire lives. Part of this will come from improving the education system, through a combination of better public schools and a strong voucher program. Poverty is often linked with race, and continued affirmative action, in addition to its other benefits, may mean more chance of success for underprivileged African Americans, as well as for Native Americans. But in general, fighting poverty should not involve more government. Well intentioned though it was, the War on Poverty proved to be a failure, with massive federal spending and economic programs failing to truly alter socio-economic inequality. As the late, great Paul Tsongas once said, “If anyone thinks the words government and efficiency belong in the same sentence, we have counseling available.” But one thing we must not do to help the poor is to forcibly regulate people’s diets. This is a case in which the cure is worse than the disease. Banning oversized sodas is a step toward a totalitarian Communist state, because as I have already stated, once government controls something as personal as soda intake, it can control anything. And indeed in such a state, we might have no poverty or economic inequality, and everyone could have a perfect diet. All we would be asked to give up would be our legal rights as individuals. That didn’t work out so well in Cuba. To my mind, the plan to regulate soda is a logical consequence of the idea put into practice over the past few decades that citizens have a right to taxpayer-funded health care. Is it any surprise that Mayor Bloomberg, in a 2009 New York Daily News article, actually argued that the health care reform bill being debated at the time did not go far enough? Once we establish a principle that taxpayers should foot the bill for health care, it is only a matter of time before government begins to try and control people’s lifestyles, since certain behaviors lead to higher health care costs. In essence, people become treated like financially dependent children, not adults with appropriate rights and responsibilities. Some people have argued that this ban is needed to protect children. This claim, no pun intended, does not hold water. First of all, the ban applies to adults as well as children. Second, it amounts to government usurping the role of parents. Is it smart for a child to drink a supersize soda? No, although moderate amounts of soda have not been shown to hurt children. However, diet is an area in which responsibility falls to the child’s parents. The truth is that there are many parental decisions that, while harmful to children, are not illegal. Almost any psychologist will tell you that spending only a small amount of time with your kids can have a myriad of negative effects. Should we fine parents who don’t spend enough time with their children? For all the people in New York City who voted to ban supersize soft drinks, I wonder: if it’s such a great idea for government to micromanage people’s lifestyles, why shouldn’t we hire government officials, nannies if you will, who can come into our houses and force us to eat exactly the right amount of portions of food with a perfectly balanced diet. Furthermore, should we be required to exercise the amount recommended by medical professionals? I doubt a nanny state would look so appealing then. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go. I’m meeting a friend across town for dinner. We’re having pizza. And I’m going to have something sweet for dessert later on. And those are my decisions to make, not the government’s.

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Forming an Exit Strategy for the War on Drugs

For over six months now, I have been saying that Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York should be the Democratic Party presidential nominee in 2016, and I stand by this opinion. Recently, Cuomo has voiced support for a plan that would allow New Yorkers to possess small amounts of marijuana if they so choose. I personally have mixed feelings about this plan. On the one hand, arresting someone for carrying a few grams of marijuana is ridiculous. A crime, by definition, involves directly hurting a person (or in some cases an animal) through force or fraud. Discrimination in employment should be a crime, because it forcibly denies someone a job for very unjust reasons. Acts of environmental degradation should be banned, because they have a very tangible effect on the ecosystem. Possessing and consuming marijuana, in and of itself, only directly harms the user. Hence, I view this proposed change in New York’s law as a step in the right direction. However, I do not think that it goes nearly far enough. If we subscribe to a principle that sane adults should be allowed to do whatever they want as long as it does not directly hurt other unwilling parties, then any prohibition on possession of marijuana, regardless of the amount, is wrong. Thus, if someone makes the highly foolish decision to possess fifty pounds of marijuana in their home or sell it to a willing adult buyer, they have a right to do so. Please understand that I am not advocating drug use. Drug use, along with smoking, has been shown to have a myriad of negative health effects. Furthermore, while drug use itself only hurts the user, it can inhibit said person’s judgment and lead them to engage in behavior that does hurt other people. This does not justify banning it. After all, that would be a very slippery slope—imagine if we ban everything that might lead to criminal behavior—but it should make someone think twice before using drugs. What about other, deadlier drugs such as cocaine and heroin? A lot of proponents of pot legalization back off when it comes to “hard drugs.” Yet again, despite the sheer foolishness of using such drugs, banning them is incompatible with individual liberty. In a society with maximized individual freedom, people do not just have the right to make the most of themselves. They also have the right to make stupid decisions and ruin their lives as a result. America has spent billions of dollars pursuing people for buying and selling drugs for personal recreation. Is it any surprise that during Ronald Reagan’s Administration, when the War on Drugs was ratcheted up, the national debt not only exceeded one trillion dollars for the first time ever, but actually tripled? Obviously, the swollen debt incurred under Reagan’s watch was due to a variety of factors, but disastrous drug policy certainly did not help. Think of how the national debt might be reduced if we stopped spending money arresting drug users and dealers, stopped imprisoning non-violent drug offenders, and began collecting tax money from drug businesses? I should include a very important caveat here. Drugs should never be legalized for minors. Anyone who sells drugs to kids should be arrested. However, there are plenty of things that are legal for adults but not for kids. Adults can drive cars, buy tobacco cigarettes, and consume alcohol, while kids cannot. Should we ban driving, alcohol, and tobacco for all Americans in order to protect children? On the subject of driving, I have heard concern expressed that drug legalization will lead to people driving cars and flying planes while high. This argument is easy to dismiss. People sometimes drive or fly planes drunk. That is a distinct crime and does not need to be dealt with by banning alcohol. (America tried that one time, and it did not work.) Likewise, driving a car or flying a plane under the influence of drugs can easily be dealt with as a distinct crime. Finally, we must understand that banning a product does not erase it from existence. Whether it is alcohol, illegal guns, or drugs, people will find a way to still keep producing and selling forbidden products as long as there is a demand for them.

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Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Neo-Whigs, and the Jeffersonian Conservative Menace

It may seem settled that Mitt Romney will be the Republican Party presidential nominee this year, but try telling that to Ron Paul and his supporters. Paul recently won a majority of the RNC delegates from Louisiana. According to U.S. News and World Report, “Week after week, Paul forces have been using GOP rules to dominate or exert a large influence at state Republican conventions and send pro-Paul delegates to the national GOP convention in Tampa, Florida August 27-30. They hope to influence the national party platform and gain a prime-time speaking slot for Paul. Some GOP officials are concerned about the possibility of disruption or protests by Paul backers during conventon [sic] week.” Both the Republican and the Democratic Party have experienced heated national conventions before, and it seems that they may again in 2012. Some people would be tempted to represent the clash between Romney and Paul as one between conservatism and libertarianism. However, they would be wrong. Ron Paul is not a libertarian. Let us examine his stance on gay rights. In a libertarian utopia, government would not recognize marriages of any kind. However, in a country where civil marriage exists, a libertarian would favor legalization of same sex marriage, since legal bans on same sex marriage amount to government dividing citizens into different categories of rights based on sexual orientation and promoting a view of morality far beyond the proper boundaries of the State. A libertarian would also believe that sodomy laws should be repealed for pretty much the same reasons. Now, let us look at a federal law currently in effect, DOMA, and a Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v. Texas. DOMA bans gay marriages from being recognized at the federal level. It also stipulates that if, for example, a same sex couple is married in Vermont and moves to Virginia, Virginia is free not to recognize their marriage. Lawrence v. Texas struck down laws against sodomy, which, for obvious reasons, disproportionately applied to gay people. So obviously, a libertarian would oppose DOMA and favor Lawrence v. Texas. Yet Ron Paul supports DOMA and opposes Lawrence v. Texas, supposedly based on states’ rights. Obviously, states’ rights are not the same as individual rights. If a state or local government passes a law that expands its own reach and abridges an individual’s freedom, that is a case of big government. And if the federal government intervenes and requires that state and local governments stop abridging individual freedom and let individuals make their own decisions, that is a victory for limited government. Hence, Brown v. Board of Education, which banned government schools from legally segregating based on race, took power away from states, put it in the hands of individuals, and actually promoted smaller government. But more on Brown a little later. With Paul’s support for big government at the state level, his alleged libertarian justifications for opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act fall flat, and he is exposed as a racist and a homophobe. His case is made worse by his decision to deliver a pro-Confederate speech to the Ludwig von Mises Institute on a stage with a giant Confederate Flag. Yet Ron Paul is markedly different from the conservatives running the Republican Party today, such as John Boehner and Mitt Romney. For one thing, his military policy is staunchly isolationist. Here, I commend him. Our country has continually gotten itself involved unnecessarily in foreign wars, often for economic rather than idealistic reasons. Our defense policy should be just that: a defense policy, not an attack policy in which we constantly send the U.S. military into countries that have not attacked us. The appropriate method of dealing with a foreign dictator is economic sanctions/boycotts, unless that dictator is actually attempting to attack the United States without provocation. His economic policy is also different from mainstream conservative Republicanism. The Republican Party does not and never has stood for full laissez faire capitalism. Mitt Romney certainly does not. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Yet during Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, he was more than happy to receive government largesse from the ample bosom of the Nanny State. Although Bain invested more than $18 million in 1994 to start up Steel Dynamics, a steel mill based in Butler, Indiana, the state and DeKalb County provided Bain with $37 million in grants and subsidies. On top of that, DeKalb County issued a tax increase to finance infrastructure improvements around the plant.” Furthermore, consider the 2006 Massachusetts health care bill, passed with Mitt Romney’s support. Romney and his defenders have talked a lot about how different this law supposedly is from “Obamacare.” However, both laws require that virtually everyone have insurance whether they want it or not. Romney and the current GOP’s domestic policy—anti-civil rights, pro-federal government, pro-big business, pro-government intervention in the economy—is not consistent with the traditional Republican Party. While the Republican Party historically did favor a strong federal government that was involved in the economy, I also demonstrated in “Romney’s Jeremiah Wright” that it was significantly more supportive of civil rights than the Democratic Party and centered in the North. The Republican Party today bears a much stronger resemblance to the American Whig Party, which favored a strong federal government that would actively aid business, eschewed antislavery politics, and did decently in slave states. Today’s Republican Party is in essence a combination of the Whig Party and the pre-1960s Southern wing of the Democratic Party, complete with Wilsonian foreign policy. Ron Paul, by contrast, is a proponent of real laissez faire capitalism. In 2011, Paul was quoted as saying, “My priorities, you cut off all foreign welfare and foreign militarism and corporate welfare before you go after child health-care.” This puts Paul more in line with the economic ideology of Thomas Jefferson and the pre-1896 Democratic Party, personified by Andrew Jackson. Thomas Jefferson is in the interesting position of being a hero to both libertarians and populist Democrats. William Jennings Bryan, a proponent of nationalizing railroads and sticking it to the rich by taking America off the Gold Standard, was an admirer of Jefferson. So was FDR. The reason that Jefferson can appeal to two widely divergent political groups is that in his time, followers of Alexander Hamilton advocated a strong central government that would actively support big businesses. Thus, a weak central government with a free market was considered the option more favorable to the common, heterosexual, white man. Andrew Jackson followed similar policies, though he favored a strong federal government if it could be used against slaves, abolitionists, and Native Americans. Jefferson and Jackson were far from libertarian. Both men owned multitudes of slaves, and Jackson made money as a slave trader. Jefferson apologists have tried to argue that he wished to free his slaves but was prevented from doing so by legal restrictions. This is nonsense. Jefferson wrote in a letter that he had, “Let them all [slaves] know that their runnings away should be punished.” Slaves who made repeated attempts to run away, such as James Hubbard, were punished, with Jefferson’s approval. Yet while Jefferson was conservative on civil rights, his foreign policy was far different from that of the current Republican Party. When Britain and France both tried to pressure the United States to stop trading with the other, Jefferson responded by declaring an embargo rather than going to war. Thus, our nation’s third president was a military isolationist, similar to Ron Paul. In essence, Ron Paul, like Thomas Jefferson, embodies at least two political beliefs attractive to libertarians: laissez faire capitalism and military isolationism. However, Paul, just like Jefferson, does not believe in real individual freedom, at least not for minorities. And just as Jefferson saw nothing wrong with taking advantage of big government fugitive slave laws, Paul sees nothing wrong with the principle of big government. His problem is specifically with a strong federal government. So to my readers who identify as libertarians: if you are only concerned about a strong central government, go ahead and vote for Ron Paul. But you may end up with a big brother-style government at the state level.

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Making Sense of the Labor vs. Business Conflict

I recently read an article about how labor unions are working hard to re-elect President Barack Obama, something I obviously applaud them for. The link to the article can be found here: (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18563_162-57446117/unions-get-out-their-ground-game-for-obama/)

Since at least the time of the New Deal, organized labor has served as a pillar of the Democratic Party with mixed results. I should preface this with my personal bias: As most of you know, I am a gay rights activist. The AFL-CIO has been in recent years strongly supportive of gay rights. So has much of the business community. So it is my opinion that both big business and big labor should be commemorated for their support and that the Gay Rights Movement should work with both camps but avoid getting in the middle of their conflict. What do I believe that the policy of the federal government should be in this debate? Thus, I think it is high time for me to write an editorial articulating my views on this issue. Other than the bias listed above, I feel that I am in a position to be objective in this piece. My father owns a business, and I have an uncle who was at one time in a union, but I do not own a business myself and am not a union member. I confess that two of my three greatest heroes are Wendell Phillips and Bayard Rustin, and both of these men supported the labor movement. But should anyone think that this will cloud my judgment, remember that both of these men were also Socialists, and I am in no way, shape, or form a Socialist. As I stated in an earlier post, I admire these men for their contributions to minority rights, not their economic philosophy. That said, it is my view that both business and labor have tried to enlarge the role of the government in the economy past the point which it should go. During the 1800s, it was often illegal for workers to strike in the United States. Among the many bad decisions that win Andrew Jackson the distinction of being our nation’s worst president ever was his decision to unreasonably tamper with the market by sending troops to break up a canal construction workers’ strike in 1834. More recently, business leaders have pushed for right to work laws in an attempt to prevent union bosses from setting up “closed shops” where employees must join unions. For instance, in 1947 Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, which among other things prohibited closed shops and forbade workers from striking without approval from union officials. Of course, this violates the principle of laissez faire. If this economic system were truly at work, governments would allow employers, employees, and union officials to negotiate for themselves, within the parameters of public safety, whether or not individual businesses would be open or closed shop. The market would then decide who emerged victorious. To be fair, I am not a complete supporter of laissez faire, as I will explain later. Still, it is interesting that big business leaders who do claim to be proponents of pure capitalism also request that government intervene to “protect” them from the Labor Movement. Why should the government actively favor businesses over workers? Do we believe that people should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, but that government should safeguard once they reach the top of the ladder? Unions, on the other hand, want the government to intervene and support them. One of the earliest examples of big labor getting the government to intervene on their behalf came when the Knights of Labor supported the Chinese Exclusion Act in order to protect their workers from job competition. The bill was intended to prevent Chinese immigrants from entering the United States. Nowadays, I am sure that many union leaders would like for the government to actively support them when they lead strikes and prevent business owners from replacing them with new workers. This, I would submit, is wrong as well. For one thing, the more power that unions give to the government, the more likely they are to fall under government control and thereby lose autonomy. When Adolph Hitler initially led the Nazi Party, he talked about tightening control over big business to help the working man. Once he came to power, however, he disbanded all independent labor unions. From then on, workers could only join government-sanctioned unions. Furthermore, when unions continually persuade the government to take their side in labor disputes, they make businesses more likely to shut down or outsource jobs, which I will get to later on. This is not to say that unions do not serve an important purpose. I am merely saying that they would be better served to try and fight some of the battles through the market. There are, however, certain regulations that should be imposed on big business. While I have mixed feelings about the Progressive Era and the New Deal, I believe that significant accomplishments of these political epochs included the forty-hour work week, child labor laws, the minimum wage, workers’ compensation, and workplace safety regulations. The Glenn Becks of the world can rightfully criticize Woodrow Wilson’s presidency for having elements of fascism and proto-Nazism and FDR’s presidency for setting a precedent for huge national debt. However, they would all be well served to acknowledge two things. First of all, they should recognize that practices such as having children work in dangerous, disease-ridden factories or tossing a worker onto the street without any compensation after getting injured on the job are inhumane and should be regulated by government for the greater good. And secondly, they should realize that progressive presidents like Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt made reforms that, while increasing regulation of the economy, also arguably helped prevent the country from turning Socialist due to public revulsion against unfettered capitalism[1]. Any attempt by big business to bring back the practices referenced above should be fought by labor unions. I would also be inclined to side with unions wanting extra pay for overtime work Wanting the government to force businesses to sit idle in the middle of a strike and lose millions of dollars is another story. There is at least one more major issue, however, in which I believe that the government should side with labor: outsourcing. Unfortunately, the last twenty years has seen an increase in free trade policies with bipartisan support that have cost many workers their jobs. Replacing a worker who strikes is one thing. Firing a loyal twenty-year employee in order to save money by moving to Mexico, however, is a situation best avoided. While outsourcing cannot be banned, government policy should not encourage it. The fact that many conservative opponents of free trade like Pat Buchanan are racist lunatics does not change the fact that such policies do unjustly harm workers and should be overhauled. I believe that by adopting a more non-interventionist stance in labor disputes while also opposing right to work laws and free trade agreements will help the Democratic Party retain the support of unions and their members while also attracting more votes from corporate America.


[1] There are valid criticisms that can be made about the social and economic policies of FDR. Still, it must also be remembered that had it not been for his handling of the Great Depression, the country could have gone the route of Germany and responded to the bad economy by becoming a dictatorship.

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