Politics. Economics. Morality. Religion. And Everything In Between.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What's Killing the Markets

In case you've been living under a rock, the U.S. stock market has been taking it on the chin over the past two weeks. Despite their rallies today, the Dow, Nasdaq, and S&P 500 are all still down over 10% from their post-financial crisis highs. The media is blaming two main factors for this decline. The first is the downgrade of U.S. government debt from AAA to AA+ by the credit rating agency Standard & Poors. The second cause that political and financial pundits have identified is the European currency and sovereign debt crisis that recently came to a head when it spread to Italy. Unlike Portugal or Greece, Italy is a major player in the global economy, and it has a large enough debt to bankrupt the European Financial Stability Facility (European sovereign debt TARP) if it needs a bailout.

I think the talking heads are partially right and partially wrong on both counts. First, the painful sell-offs began on August 1 with the announcement of a bad ISM number (an important manufacturing index) and downward revisions of U.S. GDP growth figures for the first two quarters of 2011. If I recall correctly, by the time the decline accelerated last Thursday and Friday, August 6 and 7, the markets had already been down six days in a row. The U.S. debt downgrade is not the cause of all our woes. It's merely the straw that broke the camel's back. Investors had been preparing to sell for over a week based on a host of negative economic indicators. The relationship between the debt downgrade and the market correction is more correlative than causative. Both occurred because the economy sucks and neither the government nor private individuals can stay afloat financially.

The pundits are spot-on about the European crisis being another cause of the market meltdown, though. Here's the deal: several European countries, namely Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain, are up to their eyeballs in debt. Most of the big European banks own significant amounts of this debt and have made loans and other investments using this debt as collateral. If these countries can't pay back their debt, though, the value of the bonds the banks hold becomes worthless, the banks' total assets drop, and they run the risk of failing and taking the entire European financial system down with them. It's like the U.S. mortgage-backed security crisis all over again, except with countries not paying back their loans instead of homeowners.

What does this have to do with the U.S. economy? Well, to put it simply, the U.S. sells a lot of stuff to Europe. The economies of all the European countries put together are bigger than that of the U.S. or China or any other individual large economy. If a big chunk of the global marketplace becomes financially paralyzed, that could harm the U.S. by reducing the number of buyers for our goods. All things considered, though, with the rise of China, Brazil, and other low-wage exporters, the United States economy is nowhere near as dependent upon exports as it used to be, so the damage we would incur from a European financial crisis, though severe, would be limited to a particular sector of the economy.

The real problem we face is that large, export-driven multinational companies, the kinds of companies that would really suffer in the face of a European recession (and possibly emerging market cutbacks as Asian and South American exports to Europe fall, too), are the only companies that are growing and powering our economy right now because the U.S. domestic market sucks. Unemployment is high, prices are high, and wages are stagnating. The domestic market is still the main driver of U.S. production, and until that turns around, we're gonna be mired in the muck. What is keeping America's economy down? Stay tuned for my next post to find out.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

It Was the Fetus in the Conservatory with the Candlestick!

Hello again, readers. If any of you were wondering why it's been so long since I've posted, it's because of this little thing called real life. Contrary to popular opinion, I actually have one, and mine has been rather busy lately, so I haven't had much time for blogging. I'm back now, though, so as always, here's the deal:

For this post, I'm gonna write about abortion. I've been blogging long enough that it's about time that I got around to this topic. Oddly enough, abortion isn't a hotly-contested issue right now. Most people fall into one of two camps: either they believe that the fetus is a human person from conception onwards and is therefore off-limits, or they believe it's just a lump of tissue and that granting it "rights" would be preposterous. Neither side can get the other to accept its basic premise, which is the foundation for all of its further arguments, so no argument can take place. People just agree to disagree (though they don't do so agreeably).

Those arguments that do occur center around the one, big, fundamental question: when does the fetus become a human person? I'm going to respond by beginning with another question, one that's slightly ridiculous. If a fetus were to somehow exit the womb, commit a murder, and return, leaving DNA evidence at the scene, who would the CSI crew identify as the killer? It sure wouldn't be the mother, because from the moment of conception, half of a fetus's DNA is the father's. How, then, can one say that a fetus is merely "part of its mother's body" when our most accurate and fundamental means of identifying tissue disagrees?

One could cite cells with virally corrupted or mutated genes as examples of "parts of one's body" that contain foreign or nonstandard DNA, but such cells are few and far between, and the unusual DNA makes up a very small percentage of the cell's total genome. There is no "organ" or "tissue" with 50% foreign DNA that grows naturally in the human body besides the fetus.

If it's not part of its mother's body, whose body is it a part of? Well, if we let our hypothetical homicidal fetus develop through birth and run a DNA test on the baby, we would identify the baby as the killer. If it's a part of anyone's body at all, the fetus must then be part of the baby's body. How can that be the case if the baby does not yet exist? Such a proposition is absurd, especially when one considers that every cell in the baby's body is a daughter cell of the original single-celled zygote. Every bit of the baby comes from the fetus, so the fetus cannot be a part of the baby's body, it IS the baby's body. Therefore, if the fetus exists, the baby exists.

This is a ridiculous example, but it's useful for illustrating some points about the continuity of the fetus's development from conception to birth. If a fetus committed a murder, would we charge the baby with the crime? Assuming this highly capable and responsible fetus became a similarly advanced baby, we would have to, because what was once the fetus is now the baby. What is now the baby, furthermore, will become the child, the teen, and then the adult. All throughout these differing stages of development, the child grows and matures physically and mentally, but its DNA and its basic identity in our eyes remain the same. The fetus participates in the same process and shares the same DNA. Should the fact that its development takes place inside the womb exclude it from the condition of personhood we extend to human life in all other stages of development? I don't think so.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Nature of the Political Organism

If any of you have wondered why I haven't been posting as regularly as usual lately, it's because I've been busy preparing for (and today, actually attending) a conference about political philosophy. In my first day there, I had a number of enlightening conversations with people who weren't as libertarian as I am. The last of these, in which I discussed the nature of society with a couple of student attendees as well as a professor who would be lecturing later, made me doubt some of my more recently taken but still staunchly defended positions.

I have always rejected the idea that society is a single unified entity. Human beings do not possess a hive mind; no community has a consciousness that can entertain thoughts or feelings that are independent of those of its members. Like Aristotle, I disagreed with Plato's assertion that a city full of unhappy people could still be a happy city. Such a city was, to me, just a bunch of unhappy people.

Instead, I believed that any city or society of any kind was just a mass of individuals. The only discrete unit of humanity that mattered on a political level was the particular human person, because that was the only thing in a state that could actually reason. This led me to adopt a lot of very libertarian political philosophies. Individual liberty was the highest political end (I still believed that virtue was the highest human end). I viewed all societal relationships in terms of person and state, and from a moral perspective, the person won every time.

The problem is, though, that while human communities do not possess hive minds, they can still form intellectual entities that are more than the sum of their parts. Often, this "social imagination" or "social consciousness" can help people like me catch liberals in rhetorical traps. Many times, when a liberal has tried to argue a secular relativist position against someone who believes strongly in an objective truth and morality, the traditionalist will force the liberal to carry his position to its furthest extent, which often justifies some really vile utilitarian exploitative practice. If this happens, the liberal will often back away from his own position because the echoes of Christianity that still permeate our culture have instilled in him an instinctual respect for the human person.

Societies are more than just aggregations of individuals. They are like individual organisms, in a way, with cells (people), tissues (classes of people), organs (organizations and institutions) and even a nervous system (the overall intellectual character of the civilization). Societies and civilizations do not speak with one voice the way Communists and other totalitarians would have you believe. This consciousness is also not best expressed or manipulated by the state the way modern progressives think it should be, either. It is more than individual, more than state, more even than Church (speaking only in the institutional sense).

The nature of corporate society, like that of the family and the mystical Body of Christ, mirrors the Holy Trinity in its simultaneous possession of unity and differentiation. Unfortunately, it also possesses the Trinity's inscrutable character. I'm not sure what to do with it, or what it means for broader political philosophy yet. Until I do, though, I'm going to stay committed to my efforts to defend it valiantly against the encroachments of the United States federal government, while realizing that I may find a higher calling at some point in the future.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On Inequality

"We hold these truths to be self-evident-that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, [and] that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness"-- so says the Declaration of Independence. I say, however, that the first of these truths is NOT self-evident. In fact, I would go even further by saying that it is plainly self-evident that human beings are NOT all equal, and in many cases, this inequality is permanent and inherent.

One of the most readily apparent ways in which people are unequal is in physical stature. If any of you were wondering, I am 5'11" tall and weigh 175 lbs. Without taking steroids or HGH or putting on a ton of fat, that's basically as big as I can get. I will never be huge and powerful enough to be an NFL linebacker no matter how much I would like to. People also differ in intelligence. Over the past 100 years, scientists have established that the vast majority of a person's mental capacity is fixed by the time they reach adulthood. Depending on the study, anywhere between 50 and 80% of a person's "g-factor," or general intelligence, depends on pure genetics, and most of the rest is unalterably biologically determined by environmental factors such as nutrition and exposure to harmful chemicals in childhood. You can train your brain to be more efficient, but you are still limited by the brain you have.

Human beings exhibit a wide range of variation in respect to nearly every measurable characteristic. Some don't reach five feet, while others (many of whom are in the NBA) exceed seven. Developmentally disabled folks have IQs in the low to mid double digits, while the IQs of our greatest scientists may approach 200. The differences between the most and least gifted individuals in any area are staggering, and in a relatively free and open society such as the U.S., these differences are a big reason why some people possess ridiculous amounts of fame, wealth, skill, and power and others seem to fade into the background.

Average CEO pay in the United States this year was $9.2 million, or roughly 20 times the median household income. Many attribute this disparity to the "greed" of corporate executives, but these people are missing the point. There are a lot of very greedy people out there who are also very poor. Just because you want a lot of money doesn't mean you'll get it. New financial regulations gave the shareholders of publicly traded companies a chance to vote on their CEOs' compensation packages, and 98% of the time, they voted to approve it. The shareholders did this because they believed that their CEOs generated MORE than 20 times as much value for the company as the average employee did, so by paying their CEOs 20 times as much, they would still be making money. If they cut their CEOs' salaries, these CEOs might quit and force the company to make due with a less effective leader.

Like the shareholders of those companies, I believe that it is in OUR best interest if we allow the monetary value of someone's work to be determined by those who make use of it. In this way, we reward those who benefit us in proportion to the benefits they provide and thereby encourage others to follow in the same path. If we were to let Congress or some other independent group set the maximum pay for anyone in any industry, fewer extremely talented people would work in that industry, and those who benefit from that particular good or service (basically everyone) will suffer.

At the same time, though, we must realize that all people, even the most distinguished, are limited by the human condition. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett may be filthy rich, but they still don't have infinite resources. Usain Bolt may be faster than any other human being, but he still can't outrun a horse, much less a cheetah. Furthermore, the difference between a cheetah and Usain Bolt is greater than the difference between Usain Bolt and the slowest humans. Everyone, from the greatest to the least among us, is born, grows, prospers, fails, suffers, rejoices, loves, hates, and eventually dies. We should neither worship any man as a god nor demean anyone as a slave. Rather, we should organize society in a way that rewards the variety and brilliance of human ability without allowing those whose talents allow them to amass wealth, power, and influence to use these abilities to dominate others.

The modern West is currently failing on both counts. The mainstream media vilifies as robber barons people who have earned a great deal of money though honest means while hailing those who wield troubling amounts of political power as saints. "The masses" clamor for jobs but shriek and moan when the government threatens to cut their entitlement benefits to free up enough money to let the private sector create the jobs they desire. We cannot claim the rights of men while lining up to be fed like livestock at the government trough. I admit that, in many cases, people cannot earn a decent living because a crafty few have been able to monopolize the means of production in their industries by extracting beneficial regulations, subsidies, and tax exemptions from politicians they have co-opted. Before we call upon people to take responsibility for their own lives, we must give them the means to do so. Our government must end its unholy alliance with multinational corporations whereby the upper classes are kept as wage-slaves to their employers and the lower classes sell their votes to populist politicians in exchange for free education and health care. Only after we have done this can our society assume a state of pronounced yet mutually acceptable and even just inequality.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Two-Party System Part 2: Possible Solutions

I ended my last post with a few examples of politicians who had cracked the two-party system. These guys all had one thing in common: they were big fish in small ponds. They had enough name recognition, money, and/or campaign expertise that they didn't need the backing of a political machine to win elections. They may not all have been fantastic leaders of our nation or of their respective states, but they were alternative choices that did more than just extend the rule of the Republican or Democratic parties. To give more potential candidates, some of whom may really be transcendental leaders, a chance at running against the system, we have to replicate the conditions that allowed these aforementioned mavericks to succeed. Continuing with my fish metaphor, we need to shrink the size of ALL the ponds.

Here's an example of how we would do that. The size of the U.S. House of Representatives used to increase with the U.S. population until 1911, when House membership was permanently capped at 435. America's population in 1911 was 93,860,000, which meant that every Congressman, on average, represented 215,770 people. Today, the U.S. population is slightly greater than 311,000,000, which means that the average Congressman now represents over 700,000 people. This number looks even more outrageous when we consider that the Constitution originally specified that there should be one Congressman for every 30,000 people.

Granted, modern communication and transportation technology has greatly increased our ability to access information and stay connected with people and organizations that are important to us. Even though, we must remember that because most states restricted the franchise to property-owning white males around the time of America's founding, each congressional district would usually contain no more than 5 or 6 thousand eligible voters. Today's districts contain about 88 times as many eligible voters as our original ones did. If any of you think that the citizens of today are 88 times better than our forefathers at judging a person's character from a distance, then I have some Portuguese debt to sell you.

Capping the size of Congressional districts at 250,000 or so (a nice-sounding arbitrary number, I admit) would reduce candidates' dependence on mass communication for reaching voters. Candidates for the House would be able to build local relationships and address local issues instead of adhering to the dictates of a national party. The size of the House would increase to around 1244 members, which would have additional positive effects. It would become a more cumbersome and unwieldy body, harder to organize behind a common cause. This is a good thing since most legislation that comes out of Washington, in my humble opinion, either places unnecessary and harmful restrictions on private activities or wastes a great deal of taxpayer money. The sheer size and diversity of the House's membership would also help curb the tendency towards increased pork-barrel spending that would result from making Congressional districts smaller and their representatives more locally oriented. How would you like to try to convince 1243 people that your district REALLY needs that $300 million highway?

To find out how to reorient the Senate, we should look again to the Constitution. Originally, state legislatures chose the Senators from each state in the same way that parliaments elect a prime minister. In 1913, though, the 17th amendment declared that Senators were to be elected by the entire voting public of their respective states. This has made Senators even more beholden to party machinery and the mass media for public exposure, since their electorates are in most cases much larger than those of Representatives. If state legislatures were to choose the state's Senators once again, instead of a couple million people voting for someone they saw twice on TV, we would have at most a few hundred people choosing among candidates that they observe personally every day. Furthermore, people would once again have a reason to care about who their state legislator is since that legislator would have a hand in choosing the state's national Senator. As it is, though, a population that can directly elect all the members of every branch of national government save the Judiciary will far too often simply ignore state-level elections and get what it wants by going directly to the Feds. This destroys the authority and independence of the states, which upsets the delicate balance of our federal system.

Finally, I'd like to recommend that we restore the Electoral College to its traditional role in Presidential elections. Right now, every member of a state's electoral college delegation simply votes in lockstep with the others for whichever Presidential candidate wins a majority of that state's popular vote. Originally, electors were chosen by the state legislatures like Senators and voted for a Presidential candidate without any input from the general population. I'd like to reintroduce this form of election, albeit in modified form.

I would have the people of each congressional district choose an elector just as they choose a Congressman (though the elector will be necessarily a different person than their currently serving Congressman). Each state legislature would then appoint two more electors. This would reflect the longstanding tradition that the number of electors should equal the total number of senators and representatives combined. Thus, we would have 1344 electors. These electors would then hold their own election for the President of the United States some time later without any interference from the population. (Right now, electors are still technically free to vote for whomever they please, but in practice, they never do.)

To enable the electors to make a wise and reasoned choice, I would hold the elections for the Electoral College no fewer than 6 months before the Presidential election. This would give all of the candidates plenty of time to campaign directly to the 1344 electors. You don't need TV and radio to reach 1344 people; all you need is a phone and an email account. Virtually anyone who acquires the requisite number of signatures to appear on a presidential ballot would then become a viable candidate. In theory, we would not have to fear that the electors would make a reckless decision because they would have had to convince the people of their districts that they were the best qualified to make such a choice. This procedure, I believe, would spell the ultimate downfall of the two-party system, especially since candidates would regularly fail to achieve a majority of the electoral vote and many elections would end up being decided by the now more fractious and locally-oriented House of Representatives.

There are a number of problems with the system I have proposed. The most glaring one I can identify is that with the Presidential electors being so few in number and so visible, people and organizations will try to bribe the bejeezus out of them. Still, I think that these problems are not insurmountable and that this system for choosing our government would leave us with much better leadership than we have now. If anyone has any thoughts, criticisms, or recommendations, please feel free to comment.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Two-Party System Part 1: Why It Sucks, and Why We're Stuck With It ... For Now

In case you've been living in a spider hole in Tajikistan for the last year or so, there's a massive political battle over the debt ceiling going on in Washington. Supposedly, if the government doesn't raise the debt ceiling from $14.3 trillion to $14.7 trillion by August 2, it will default on its debts, the value of the dollar will plunge, the economy will tank, the dead will rise from their graves, fire and brimstone will rain from the sky, and all hell will generally break loose.

I'm skeptical that the proverbial feces will impact the rotary air impeller as hard as they say it will if we don't raise the debt ceiling in time. The Republicans in the House of Representatives are, too, which is why they're playing fiscal policy-chicken with the Democrats by refusing to vote to raise the debt ceiling until the Democrats agree to cut spending by a "significant amount." The Holy Grail for Republicans is the $4 trillion that would be cut over 10 years by the Paul Ryan budget, their own proposal to curb spending. However, like Borat's "retard brother" Billo, "they will never get this!"

Here's the deal: Republicans want to gut entitlement spending (pensions, welfare, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security), which together accounts for a whopping $2.2 trillion in spending. They are unwilling, however, to carve up their own sacred cows by cutting defense, another $900 billion annual expenditure, or eliminating corporate subsidies and tax breaks and raising taxes on the rich as President Obama has proposed, which would raise an additional $700 billion in annual revenue. Therefore, deficit-reduction talks have stalled. Republicans and Democrats both refuse to compromise on spending that they hold dear, and the country continues down the road to fiscal insolvency.

The solution? We need people in power who don't march in lock-step with either party. This is easier said than done, though, because of the way modern elections work. Congressmen in the House of Representatives, the lowest-level elected officials that hold national office, still run in districts that contain, on average, about 700,000 people. Roughly 400,000 of those will be registered voters. Senators, on average, must run before a statewide audience of 2-10 million registered voters, while the President himself campaigns before some 200 million voters (sadly, usually only half of them will turn out). For a politician to reach his entire potential voting base these days, he has to use a TON of expensive radio and TV advertising.

Big national political machines like the Republican and Democratic parties have money. They also have nationally televised and reported on events at which prospective candidates can make names for themselves. They hold official primaries that help build candidates' recognition before elections. Furthermore, they have armies of politically astute campaign workers at the ready to give their candidate the best possible chance of winning the election. Political aspirants usually have two choices: either they pledge allegiance to a big political party and receive its money and resources in exchange, or they get steamrolled by someone who has. Thus, the political machines propagate their own philosophies across the land, while independent thinkers get squashed.

As we have seen, this leads to political deadlock, because we're stuck with two parties with completely opposite and irreconcilable philosophies that can't compromise on anything. Why? Anyone who deviates from the party line moves away from his own party's core voters and risks being defeated by a more orthodox candidate in his party's primary. If this occurs, it becomes almost impossible for him to win the general election because 1. he has lost the support of the machine, which has since been transferred to one of his opponents, and 2. he's probably still more politically similar to the person who beat him in his own primary than he is to the opposing party's candidate, so he and his replacement will split his own party's vote, allowing the other party's candidate to win a cheap victory.

The only people who can overcome the high "barriers to entry" of the two-party system are those who are rich, powerful, and/or famous enough to get their voices heard without the help of the machine. One such man was Jesse Ventura, an actor who ran as an independent for the Minnesota governorship and won. Joe Lieberman, a Democratic senator who drifted to the center and (predictably) lost the Democratic primary, went on to win the general election as an independent because his long tenure of service and national reputation as a principled centrist gave him a much higher profile than either his Democratic or Republican challengers. Ron Paul, a Libertarian in Republican guise (whose virtues I have previously extolled on this blog) continues to hold down his Congressional seat by virtue of being a very big, experienced fish in a small pond.

How do we send more unconventional thinkers to Washington so we can actually solve our problems instead of just prolonging them? Here's a hint: think about the problems such candidates faced, and how those who managed to surmount them did so. To be continued, readers...

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Imperialist Backlash Then and Now

Until recently, I was a card-carrying imperialist. Many Americans are willing to identify themselves as hawks, patriots, and conservatives. A dwindling minority still call themselves neoconservatives. I've never heard anyone willingly embrace the label "imperialist" besides me. It is clear to me, however, that the United States is currently an empire. I used to think this was a good thing both for America and for the world, but now, I'm not so sure.

The U.S. has hundreds of thousands of military personnel deployed at 820 different bases and installations in 135 different countries. There are only 203 countries in the entire world. Two out of every three nations host at least some U.S. military presence. Currently, seven nations are home to more than 9,000 U.S. troops. Three of those nations, Japan, Germany, and South Korea, have hosted no less than 10,000 troops a piece for the last sixty years. Two more nations, Iraq and Afghanistan, are being occupied by a combined 200,000 American military personnel engaged in active combat operations against enemy forces. The governments of both of these nations were created under the supervision of our military and diplomatic corps, and these governments owe their continued existence to our protection.

If that's not an empire, will someone please tell me what is? Basically, the U.S. has troops positioned throughout the globe to counter any conceivable action by any international power, great or small, that might seriously harm its interests. The sun does not rise and set on land under the American flag as it once did for the British. Rather, American spy satellites rise and set on land under EVERY flag.

In some instances, U.S. military intervention has benefited the world. It brought an end to Hitler's Reich, one of the most serious threats to human freedom and even to human life that the world has ever seen. The Nazi Party was only able to take power in Germany, though, because the European "Entente" nations imposed brutal and humiliating conditions on Germany after the United States helped them win World War I. Likewise, the Soviet Union was a grave threat to freedom and prosperity everywhere, but would it have grown as large and powerful as it did had the Nazi war machine's assault not forced it to rapidly industrialize and militarize (with a good deal of help from Uncle Sam)? I think I see a pattern developing...

Here's the deal: many of the most urgent international crises that American power has "solved" would never have occurred or would have been far less serious had the United States not misapplied its military power at an earlier time. If we had stayed out of World War I and let the Germans hold their own against the British and French, the resulting stalemate or even German victory would not have put the Entente in a position to impose its harsh punishment on the Germans. The Germans would not have suffered total economic collapse and international humiliation, and Adolf Hitler would never have been able to ride the wave of German resentment to power.

Germany would also not have conquered and oppressed the Entente nations had the U.S. not intervened. First, since the war was basically a stalemate before the United States entered the fray, the Germans, Austro-Hungarians, and Ottomans would more likely have forced the British and French to come to a mutually acceptable cease-fire arrangement than won an outright victory over them. Second, even if the "other side" had won in WWI, the Germans and Austro-Hungarians weren't oppressive totalitarians like the Nazis and Soviets. They were a lot like France and Britain, but with different languages and colonies in different places. Had they won, the German side would likely have taken a few colonies from their foes, demanded some monetary reparations for their losses, gloated about winning the war, and then left the Entente alone.

Before the U.S. decided to fight for the Entente, America had offered diplomatic and even material support to both sides. Ever greedy, early American monopolists were eager to profit off of the war no matter who they sold to. We only entered the World War I because some in the government thought we would gain international power and prestige by making one set of combatants subject to us and the other set indebted to us. Instead, we helped set the stage for World War II and possibly the rise of Communism.

Unfortunately, we may be putting ourselves in a similar predicament today. Saddam Hussein was a bad man, but he at least hated the Iranians more than he hated us. He had already fought Iran to a standstill once, and his continued leadership in Iraq held the Iranians at bay. Now, with him gone, will whatever government we leave behind in Iraq be able to resist the combination of aid and coercion that the mullahs in Tehran are sure to apply? Similarly, we wrested the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, but as Hamid Karzai is well aware, they could very well retake the country once we leave.

What's even worse is that we drove the Taliban into Pakistan and forced them to deepen their relationship with the Islamofascist members of Pakistan's intelligence forces in order to survive. If the fanatics eventually gain full power in Pakistan, we might one day see a nuclear-armed alliance of Revolutionary Iran and Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and Pakistan. Let's not forget about Turkey, which has been subtly rattling the Jihad saber as well with its support of the "freedom flotilla" that breached Israel's blockade of Gaza last summer. Who wants to see some religious lunatic gain power in a radicalized Middle East, conquer every oil-producing nation in the area, arm the increasingly radical Muslim populations in Europe for an uprising, and then proclaim a "Global Islamic Caliphate" and declare war on the West? Not me. Unfortunately, thanks to our half-hearted and incoherent military efforts in the Middle East, this might happen.

I'm not saying that we should never have invaded Afghanistan. I am saying that we should probably never have invaded Iraq. Whatever we "should have" done, though, we definitely need to be more careful with our military in the future.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ron Paul Is a F***ing Genius Part I: Gay Marriage

Up until right before I started writing this blog, I thought that Ron Paul was a tinfoil hat-wearing libertarian wingnut. Now, as the moral and economic fabric of our society shows more and more signs of unraveling at the seams, I have gleefully embraced even Dr. Paul's most outrageous positions. Dear readers, I would like to announce here and now my endorsement of Ron Paul for the 2012 Republican Presidential Nomination and for the Presidency itself. I'd also like to give a big shout-out to Alte, editor of Traditional Catholicism, for making me aware of the video that inspired this whole post, which you can view by clicking the link below.

In my first installment of my "why Ron Paul is awesome" series, I will discuss his stance on gay marriage, of all things. Why? Because, quite simply, Dr. Paul got me out of a moral and intellectual bind that I had been in for a long time with an answer so sensible I that I feel like a complete nincompoop for not thinking of it myself.

As an orthodox Catholic, I believe that the Catholic Church should never sanction marriages between people of the same sex. To do so would fly in the face of everything the Church has carefully reasoned and discerned about human sexuality throughout its existence. However, when it comes to state-sanctioned gay marriage, I used to be at a loss. Sure, I found the idea of gays getting married morally distasteful, but I think the same way about drug use, and I'm all for legalizing marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Does the government of the United States have the constitutional authority to deny gays the right to get married? Hell no! The Constitution says absolutely nothing about marriage at all. That's why opponents of gay marriage want ban it via constitutional amendment in the first place.

Since people were talking about amending the Constitution, I took a moment to think about what I thought the role of the state should be in marriage. I couldn't come up with a satisfactory position, because the line between politics and religion was too blurred. That's why I was enlightened and excited when I heard that Ron Paul doesn't think the state should mess around with marriage at all.

What has state-sanctioned marriage done for us? It has paved the way for no-fault divorce, one of the biggest culprits behind the destruction of the traditional family. It has allowed women to walk off with their husbands' children and half their money because they felt like it, making men more wary of marriage than ever. With so many unmarried couples cohabiting, sharing their finances, and even raising children together, the need for a marriage license to do virtually anything ordinarily associated with marriage is so nonexistent, it's laughable. Married couples, when was the last time someone who didn't work for the government asked to see your marriage license? Hell, when was the last time ANYONE asked to see it?

Guys and gals, wouldn't you like to just have your priest, pastor, rabbi, imam, guru, or whatever say the necessary magic words and leave the government alone to worry about paying off its massive debt? Heck, the women can still even change their names if they want. Ladies, in a world where Chad Johnson can change his last name to something that isn't even the Spanish word for "85" just because he feels like it, you can sure change yours to match your hubby's without a marriage license.

The only thing standing in the way of religious folk everywhere completely circumventing civil marriage is that many churches, pastors, etc. require marriage licenses in order to perform a religious ceremony (again, shout out to Alte for letting me know about this). We need to lobby our churches to let us start taking marriage underground St. Valentine style again. I bet some of them would even be enthusiastic about it. After all, until the biggest waves of the JPII generation of seminarians start showing up "at a parish near you," Catholics like me will be saying our vows mostly in front of baby boomer priests. I'm sure they wouldn't mind sticking it to the man. By voting for Ron Paul, though, we can get even the man on our side.

In a Presidential primary fight where Republicans have been senselessly tearing each other apart over this seemingly controversial issue, Ron Paul sidestepped their fracas by framing the matter in a way that doesn't make it seem controversial at all. For more instances of him making other politicians look small and childish, just search him on Youtube.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

On Judgment

Right now, I'm going to do something that may turn out to be really stupid. I'm going to rant against myself and those who agree with me. Why am I doing this while I still have plenty of different flavors of liberal to rhetorically dismantle? Well, I believe that we'd best not get ahead of ourselves, and that's exactly what we're going to do if we don't keep what I'm about to say at the front of our minds.

We need to be very careful about how we use judgement. I have been slinging it around like a rhesus monkey throwing poo at zookeepers just like everyone else in the blogosphere has. Unlike everyone else, though, I am a Catholic (and so are some of my readers). Therefore, I believe those of us who are in some way affiliated with the Catholic/Christian tradition should see what this tradition has to say about judgment before we reach for another handful of metaphorical poo.

Anyone who investigates Christian judgment will immediately realize two things: 1. God judges very differently than humans judge, and 2. We must judge as God judges, not as man judges. How do humans judge? At our best, we make impartial decisions based on a thorough, rational consideration of all the facts available to us. At our worst, we make reckless and undeserved condemnations based on our own selfish desires. God, however, is even better than an impartial judge. "Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:8, NRSV). Here and elsewhere in the New Testament, "love" is a translation of the Greek word "agape," which means a complete, unconditional, and selfless willing of the good of another (as I'm sure all of you serious, Classical, traditional Catholics know).

How, then, does such Love judge? It's a trick question: Love doesn't judge, it loves.

"This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come into the light so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come into the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God" (John 3:19-21).

God doesn't condemn us. He merely loves us with all His being, and those of us who fear His love out of our own perversion condemn ourselves by fleeing from Him and banishing ourselves from his life-giving grace. How, then, do we prepare ourselves to experience His light? Let us look to Matthew 25: 31-40, the only account of the Last Judgment in all of the Gospels, to see what criteria Jesus gives. The elect are those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, and visited the prisoner. The damned are those who did none of these things. I repeat, these are the ONLY criteria for salvation given in the ONLY account of the Last Judgment in the Gospels.

Love as God loves, and you will be saved. Fail to do so, and you will be condemned. It's that simple. Notice that, in Matthew, those who helped/did not help Jesus did not recognize him as such or give any religious motive for their service. They simply did it because they wanted to help someone in need. By helping the vulnerable from whom they could expect no aid in return, the righteous exhibited the unconditional and self-disinterested love that is God Himself. Thus, when God called, they were able to embrace him. Those who did not love, regardless of their beliefs or religious affiliations, did not know God, as my earlier quote from First John makes clear. They fled from His presence as darkness flees from light.

The main sin Jesus battles throughout his public ministry is not greed or lust but Pharisaism. He criticizes the Pharisees thirteen times in the Gospels and throws additional jabs at the Sadducees and the Scribes for good measure. Most of the people he associates with are either fishermen or stone-cold sinners like prostitutes, adulterers/adulteresses, and tax collectors. If Jesus came today, he would probably spend most of his time with construction workers, cohabiting couples, flamboyant homosexuals, and investment bankers and write angry tweets about people like you and me.

How often have we acted like the Pharisees? How many sinners have we cast from within our midst or never allowed entrance? Here's a more concrete question for you: how many teenage girls have gotten abortions because they were afraid to walk into Church with a baby bump? Granted, some of these people would have been lost anyway. REAL love that wills the complete good of another also wills that person's freedom from sin, and many sinners will still flee from such love. We don't need to make the truth hurt any harder than it has to, though.

Where does that leave us? Just love people, even those you find distasteful. Straight dudes, help that guy in your class who wears pink running shorts with his homework. Married folks with 10 kids, fix your cohabiting Christmas-and-Easter-Catholic cousin's car. Don't give them any crap about their lifestyle choices while you're doing it, either. Chances are they know EXACTLY where you stand. If you help first, they just might ask questions later, but if they don't, that's okay too. Until next time, readers. I guess it's about time for me to give my vegan friend a ride to Whole Foods...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Unconventional Wisdom 3: Child Support Is Bad For Children

Since yesterday was Father's Day, I thought I'd write a post on fatherhood. Specifically, why the "deadbeat dads" that everyone loves to bash on Father's Day shouldn't be required to pay child support to the women they impregnated. Yes, you heard it right. I think men should be allowed to father children and then walk away without ever giving their baby mamas a cent. Why? Because maybe, if women know that they will be forced to raise any children they have out of wedlock completely on their own, they might make damn sure they have a ring on their finger before they let someone in their pants.

Here's the deal: young people don't need money to be raised right, they need fathers. Boys need to grow up with a man who can hold down a steady job, stay out of prison, and treat his wife with dignity so they can learn how to do the same thing. Girls need a father like that, too, so they know what to look for in a man. Everyone's seen the statistics that show how children from single-mother homes are more likely to drop out of high school, go to prison, be poor, and father children out of wedlock or become single parents themselves than those who grow up in two-parent households.

Child support does what it is supposed to do: it makes it easier to get by when raising a child on your own. This goal, while compassionate, is definitely harmful to society. 40% of babies are born out of wedlock these days, and the unemployment rate for young blacks, the hardest hit group with an OOW birth rate of 70%, is hovering around 30%, three times the national average. I humbly posit that if it were harder to be a single mother, fewer women would do it. They would be more careful about who they have sex with and whether or not they use birth control. Instead, even though it's for admittedly well-intentioned reasons, we're still basically paying people for single motherhood. Plus, it's not like 40% of babies in the United States are born as a result of rape. Those women chose to have sex, and future women can choose not to.

Why weren't prospective fathers deterred by the prospect of having their wages garnished for 18 years for the benefit of children they evidently cared little for? I don't know, but for some reason, they weren't. The overall out-of-wedlock birth rate has increased from 5% in the 1960s to 40% now, and the black OOW birth rate jumped from 25% in 1963 to a crippling 70% today. Child support, which was introduced in 1975, has not reversed this trend. It's time we gave women a chance to do what men have not by taking responsibility for their sexual actions.

I don't believe fathers should be required to pay child support in cases of no-fault divorce, either. Children of divorced parents, while not in as bad shape as those who grow up without ever having a father present, still suffer psychological harm that can impact their happiness and success later in life. According to Margaret Brinig of the University of Iowa and Douglas Allen of Simon Fraser University, more than 70% of all no-fault divorces are initiated by women. Perhaps wives wouldn't be so quick to pull the trigger if they didn't think they could take their husbands' incomes with them along with his kids, or perhaps they might think twice about who they marry.

I'm not saying we end child support payments tomorrow. That would be reckless and cruel. Rather, if I were made dictator, I would announce that any child born a year from now will not merit the mother any child support regardless of her marital or economic status. There might be a "baby boom" in nine months, but after that, I bet things would settle down REAL fast.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Moral Vegans Are Illogical

In addition to promoting sound and reasonable thought, I'm going to use this blog as a platform to expose and discredit ideologies that I think are harmful. You may have already seen me take swipes at feminism and various forms of socialism. In this post, I'm going to knock evangelical vegans off of their moral high horse.

In case you didn't know, vegans are people who eat absolutely no animal products whatsoever. Some do it because they believe that it is healthier than eating meat, fish, eggs, milk, etc. These people are wrong. People who eat a strictly plant-based diet must rely too heavily on carbohydrates to supply necessary calories, which puts them at greater risk for diabetes, obesity, and other health problems. Plus, there is no plant that can do as good a job of providing high-quality complete protein as meat. For more info on the nutritional misinformation underlying health-based veganism, click here or check out "Free the Animal" on the blog links to your right.

Other vegans, the ones I'm directly calling out as "illogical" in the title, eschew meat for moral reasons. They believe it is wrong to inflict suffering on animals by breeding them in cramped conditions and killing them for meat. They want all animals to live free, happy lives "from birth until natural death" in the wild. Where do they get the idea that animal suffering is an evil? It's usually not from any religion, since most moral vegans are modern secular liberals who don't subscribe to any restrictive religious beliefs. This is too bad for them, since religion would give them a convenient justification for their practice: "I believe in Religion X, and according to Religion X, God says killing animals is bad, so I shouldn't do it." (If you are vegan/vegetarian because you are Hindu or for other religious reasons, this post is not about you. Your ideology is logically consistent, at least on this level.)

Instead, these vegans usually argue from a biological basis. They say that, because the theory of evolution demonstrates that humans evolved from other animals, and because we share a vast amount of our genetic material with other life forms (even those that seem only distantly related to us), humans and animals really aren't that different. We're just like them, but with bigger brains. Therefore, all the things we shouldn't do to humans also shouldn't be done to animals. If harming some humans for the good of other humans is bad, so is harming animals. If killing and eating people is bad, so is killing and eating animals.

Can anyone guess where the problem occurs in this line of reasoning? Here's a hint: humans aren't the only meat-eaters on the planet. If humans and animals are so morally equivalent, then carnivorous animals are committing a grave moral evil every time they kill and eat just to survive. Vegans might say that carnivores aren't sentient and can't reflect on the moral implications of their actions, but this is just an admission that humans and animals really are fundamentally different.

Vegans who accept that humans and animals are fundamentally different would likely argue from this angle: because humans have a capacity for conscious reflection, we can recognize suffering in other creatures. In doing so, we incur a responsibility to prevent that suffering whenever we can. Again, vegans' animal friends catch them in a trap. Not only would humans have to refrain from killing and eating animals for meat, we would also have to stop carnivorous animals from doing the same. Why? Well, to an animal, being killed and eaten is no different no matter who's doing it. In fact, being torn apart alive by a pack of wolves is probably a great deal more painful than dying of a single clean blow from a human rifle, mallet, knife, or other instrument. Therefore, humans would have a moral obligation to prevent such suffering by incarcerating carnivorous animals and put them on vegan diets.

Anyone can see how absurd such a proposition is. Vegans object to zoos because they believe caging wild animals does them a great deal of harm. Would they be willing to violate their own principles in order to uphold them? Is such a thing even possible? Furthermore, I seriously doubt that sharks, crocodiles, snakes, and other exclusively carnivorous species could survive on a vegan diet. To put them on one would likely kill them.

This is the whole problem with veganism. Despite their enthusiasm for "living in harmony with nature," vegans ignore the fundamental realities of living beings. Some animals, including humans, eat other animals for food. There's nothing wrong with it; it's just the way we are. Perhaps we should do more to make sure that the animals we eat are treated more humanely and subjected to as little suffering as possible, but we have every right to eat them.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Why I Favor a Guaranteed Minimum Income

Ensuring that everyone receives a guaranteed minimum income from the government has been the left's pie-in-the-sky pipe dream for decades, just as flat taxes and "fair" (consumption-only) taxes have been the right's. As a humble blogger, I can take political risks far more cheaply than those who are trying to gain or hold political offices, editorships, professorships, and other positions of prominence. That's why I am going to propose a radical solution to America's social and fiscal problems. I think America should replace its entire taxing and spending apparatus with a flat tax, a fair tax, and a guaranteed minimum income.

Here's what I would do: first, eliminate Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, FICA taxes, personal income taxes, corporate income taxes, payroll taxes, tax cuts and deductions for individuals, corporate tax cuts and tax breaks, and all that other taxing, spending, tax-cutting, and tax-incentivizing bullshit. Then, institute a 10% personal income tax. No ifs, ands, or buts. Every American pays ten cents of every single dollar they earn to the federal government. Then, have the government take the total revenues from this tax (roughly $1.5 trillion based on May 2011 GNP figures), divide it by the adult population of the United States, and give every American citizen 18 and up a check for their share of the cash pile every month. This would replace all federal entitlement and other benefits. (Revenues from the consumption tax would pay for discretionary spending and defense, the "hows" of which I will get into later.)

The annual value of these checks would be between $6600 and $7200, depending on how many legal and illegal non-citizen residents of the U.S. can fraudulently register for these benefits. The federal poverty line for an individual living in the contiguous 48 states is $10,890 for 2011, so even at the low end of my annual per person GMI estimate, a person working a minimum-wage job part time (about the lowest form of "employment" that exists) would have a total annual income of $13,125 a year and would be well above the poverty line. If you don't earn a dime of your own money, though, you'll still be poor, and I'm okay with that. The government shouldn't be responsible for keeping adults of sound mind and body afloat if they aren't willing to lift a finger for themselves.

Also note that the federal poverty line for a family of 2 is slightly over $14k a year, so if a woman pops out a kid and doesn't marry her baby daddy, she's in trouble. This, also, is an acceptable and even appropriate outcome. The current system, in which one who has more dependents gets more benefits, basically subsidizes unwed motherhood, which is often the number one factor that keeps both parent and child(ren) in poverty.

This system pays out cash instead of food stamps, housing vouchers, or whatever else other government programs used to disperse their conditional benefits. Folks may criticize me for coming up with a form of welfare that allows people to spend their entire allotment on booze if they so desire. My answer: if people are going to make life decisions that stupid, it's not the government's responsibility to protect them from themselves. As I stated before, it's relatively easy to use even food stamps and other conditional benefits to augment your capacity to purchase things like drugs and alcohol by reducing the amount of money you have to spend on necessities. Our current system is plagued by the same problem, only now, people live a lot longer and eat up a lot more taxpayer dollars before they drink themselves to death.

My proposed welfare state is WAY better for hardworking, productive citizens than what we have now. The fact that EVERY adult gets a $6600 annual payout would mean that anyone with an income of $66,000 or less has a negative net income tax rate, meaning that they get more money than they pay in. It's good to be lower-middle class. Those making above $66,000 a year would still have some of their taxes offset by the payout, with the highest earners only being taxed at a 10% marginal rate. That take the U.S. from having the 37th-highest top marginal tax rate (0r 20th, depending on whether or not you count payroll taxes and other "stealth" witholdings) to being tied for 86th with Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Paraguay, and the Ivory Coast. That's a FANTASTIC incentive for a smart, enterprising person to start a new business in America.

Why have a social assistance program funded by income taxes at all? Well, contrary to what some folks may believe, I'm not a heartless bastard. I think everyone, no matter how "set," has a chance of falling on hard times and might need a little help to get by. Income taxes are harder to avoid and provide more stable revenues than consumption taxes, so they're the ideal choice for funding such a plan. We can, however, structure our "welfare" so that it doesn't reinforce the very poverty it's trying to alleviate. This brings me to my next point for consideration...

One question you may be askings is "why would EVERYONE, regardless of income or employment status, receive this payment?" The answer is simple: welfare that only poor people qualify for keeps them in poverty. If you pay people who are poor and then stop paying them when they reach a certain income level, and you will find that people who are already below that income level want to stay the hell down there or they might make $1 too many and be disqualified from receiving thousands of dollars of benefits. If you keep getting the checks no matter how much money you make, the incentive not to make money goes away. I'll give a more detailed explanation of how this works in later posts. Until then, this has been The Deal.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Inaccuracy of Feminist Theology

As part of the theological study in which I have taken up alongside my summer service program, I came across Elizabeth Johnson's book She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. Those who recommended this book to me probably hoped it would make me more inclusive and "gender-fair" in both my public service and my private prayer. I recommend it to all my readers instead as a catalog of the errors of feminist theology.

All three modern Abrahamic religions have described God in exclusively masculine terms throughout their histories. In She Who Is, Johnson wishes to develop a feminist language about God from within the Roman Catholic theological tradition. Whether or not you practice Catholicism or any other monotheistic religion, you will find Johnson's ideas an excellent lens by which to examine and discuss modern feminism.

In her book, Johnson wishes to "test the capacity of female images to bear and disclose what Christian truth testifies to as the blessed action of God in the world and call upon the language of classical theology to give these images density" (page 13). I commend Johnson's dedication to using the works of classical thinkers to give her arguments legitimacy in the eyes of traditional Catholics, but I fear that her "female images" would fail an objective test of their "capacity."

Here's the deal: believers of all stripes have historically described God with masculine imagery because God has a masculine relationship with humanity. This is not to say God is "male." God transcends all physical and biological categories, so any description of him as male or female is a gross mischaracterization. However, male anthropomorphisations of God are perhaps the least inaccurate ways we can describe Him given our limited capacity for knowledge and understanding.

The most evident differences between the biological male and female show themselves in the reproductive process. In humans, the man initiates the process by proposing his intentions to the woman. The woman then either accepts or rejects his advances. The man then supplies the sperm which activates the egg cell and then causes it to begin dividing, while the female then nourishes and sustains this new life, first within her own body, and then by nursing with substances from within her body.
In all the Abrahamic religions, God reveals himself to humanity, thereby initiating the relationship. God creates, but not out of his own substance as a mother does with a child. God gives humanity power over the creation that he supplies, just as the husband in a "patriarchal" family provides the income and the wife does the shopping, cooking, sewing, etc. The Abrahamic religions teach that all creation is good, so feminine things and concepts are good. Since all goodness comes from God, femininity is from God and contained within God, so God does have a feminine side. Regarding the things that differentiate Him from us, though, He is masculine. That is not to praise the male above the female in humanity, since all human men are as much feminine in relation to God as women are.
Also, within the Christian tradition, the most important and respected human being of all time (who was not also God) was a woman, Mary. Since all humans are feminine in relation to God, they must look to a woman as their example of how to respond to Him. Men, in dealing with God, must go against their nature and suppress their urges to dominate and control. This places the female at an advantage when it comes to piety, a noteworthy characteristic that too many modern feminists disregard when they try to turn women into uterus-bearing men.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Unconventional Wisdom 2: Why Food Stamps Pay for Air Jordans

This summer, I am working at a summer school program for poor kids in public housing projects. It's a nice thing to do, and Americorps is giving me a decent amount of money for doing it. While watching the parents drop their children off, I noticed something interesting about both the parents and the kids.

I have heard advocates for the poor talk at length about how people in poverty suffer truly crushing amounts of hardship and deprivation, so when I started working with "the poor" on a daily basis, I expected to see them walk in looking like homeless people. Instead, the parents and kids I saw looked well-groomed and well-dressed. A few more of them were overweight than would be in a more affluent population, and there was only one white kid in the entire group, but other than that, I would have a hard time identifying them as "poor" based on appearance alone. In fact, I thought they looked a good deal more normal than the white suburban "emo" types who come from much wealthier families.

I wondered why this was the case. Lots of people I know complain about how poor people "spend all their money on cell phones, TVs, and basketball shoes because they're just plain stupid," or something like that, but I wondered if there was more to it. Interestingly, there is. Here's the deal: government welfare programs like Medicaid, food stamps, and public housing are designed to help people with low incomes afford the necessities of life. The thing is that the poor, while they have low incomes, don't often have no income, so they do have some cash on hand. When given benefits with strings attached, they use the benefits to obtain the "necessities" and spend the cash on things the benefits don't cover.

In most cases, poor people can only use their government benefits on the lowest-end and least expensive version of whatever necessity the benefits are designed to help them purchase. Food stamps don't buy organic, free-range chicken breast, and local housing administrations won't subsidize the rent on a penthouse apartment. To most people, this makes sense. If state, federal and local governments paid for anything but the bare minimum necessary to survive, they would be wasting taxpayers' money on frivolities.

The problem with this idea, though, is that it locks people into buying patterns that keep them in poverty and prevent them from investing in themselves. To get an idea of what I mean, look at the WIC-approved foods guide, the third entry on this page. It's full of American cheese, sugary cereals, peanut butter, and "juice" that has the nutritional profile of soda pop. Starting kids off on this diet sets them on the road towards type-2 diabetes. Similarly, since public and subsidized housing is designed to provide the minimum humane amount of living space and amenities at the lowest possible cost to the taxpayer, most of it is areas with low property values and therefore bad schools and shady neighbors.

Why don't poor people spend more money on healthy food and housing in better school districts? Simply put, the way their benefits are structured often precludes them from doing so. Food stamps, if not spent on the specific foods they pay for, simply go to waste. If a renter's choice is between public housing and unsubsidized housing, he will choose public housing every time. Similarly, even if someone eligible for Medicaid could buy some form of health insurance with his own money, he will usually take the benefits available to him and spend the money on something else. The result? Since the poor have the option to let the government take care of most of their needs at low cost, a greater fraction of what income they do earn is available for discretionary spending. Their cash either goes to buy clothes, cell phones, and TVs, or it sits in the bank, unused.

Some newer programs like Section 8 housing vouchers allow people to use government money to pay some of their rent at a place of their own choosing, which is a notable improvement over public housing, but there are still restrictions on which kinds of landlords can accept housing vouchers or rent subsidies that limit people's housing choices. I personally favor replacing all conditional benefits with straight cash payments to give the people receiving them the opportunity to allocate every single dollar in the way that's best for them. Sure, they could take that money and use it to buy drugs, but $50 of food stamps means that some hypothetical druggie can spend $50 less on food and $50 more on drugs. The government cannot protect people from themselves no matter how hard it tries, so it should instead focus on giving people the opportunity to succeed on their own terms.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Unconventional Wisdom: Why America's High Drinking Age Gets College Girls Drunk and Raped

This is my first post in the Unconventional Wisdom series, in which I will explore ways in which ideas, when put in to practice, have had effects opposite the ones their creators intended. In doing so, I will demonstrate how frustratingly often the Law of Unintended Consequences rears its ugly head to disrupt our puny human plans. Hopefully, everyone who reads this series will begin to understand that the farthest-reaching consequences of our ideas are often the unforeseen ones, and that we must all do a better job of anticipating and counteracting the harmful side effects of even our best-intentioned schemes. In this spirit, I encourage anyone who reads any post on my blog to point out the possible unintended consequences (positive or negative) of measures I propose.

As the title of this post suggests, I am going to point out an unintended consequence of setting the U.S. legal drinking age at 21. Here's the deal: young people like to drink with their friends. They want to go out, get wasted, do crazy things, and try to hook up with members of the opposite sex. Those that are over 21 do most of this in bars. Why? Simple-at a bar, someone else mixes and serves your drinks, plays the music, cleans up the piss and vomit, throws out the belligerent folks causing trouble, and handles all of the other hard work involved with managing and supporting drunken revelry. Bars are specially designed drinking establishments, so it only makes sense that they are better places to go out drinking than someone's house or apartment. Legal drinkers often "pregame" the bars by drinking beforehand to avoid paying as much for alcohol served at the bar, but they still end up at the bars later for the social scene.

Underage drinkers, however, drink mostly in private residences. The reason for this is also simple: it is easier for the police to enforce drinking laws at a relatively small number of bars and clubs than it is for them to keep tabs on the huge number of residences where people may be drinking. Therefore, bars that let in underage customers are more likely to get caught and slapped with huge fines than private party hosts, so most bars take fairly strong measures to keep out those who are under 21. (Cops know where the college frat houses that host parties are, too, but colleges usually only allow their own police forces, which are notoriously lax on alcohol enforcement, to patrol their campuses.)

Most private parties are held at men's residences, namely apartments, houses, and the aforementioned college fraternities. Girls like to party, too, but since one of the main goals of partying is meeting new people to "date" (read: screw), women who host parties would be letting a whole lot of strange dudes who probably want to have sex with them come drink at their houses, which introduces a rather high risk of rape. Therefore, a lot of girls in late high school and early college either don't go to many parties or party where the boys live. You see, dudes love having parties because it means inviting a whole lot of strange women that might want to have sex with them over for drinks. Biological realities mean that the men's risk of being raped by their guests is next to nothing. The underage girls, though, are now getting hammered at the house/apartment/frat of some guys that they may or may not know and who are also drunk, probably older than them because one has to be 21 to buy the alcohol for a party, and definitely hoping to get laid. This puts these girls at EXTREME risk for rape. Sure, they usually arrive in packs, but as the night goes on, they pair off with men and disperse throughout the party. A drunk and horny guy just has to maneuver his girl into a nearby room and lock the door to be able to do whatever he wants. Often, girls who are raped at or around parties report not being able to resist, say no, or make a scene because they were too drunk.

Contrast this with a bar. Bartenders are not trying to hook up with their customers at the bar because they are being paid to do a job for a set amount of time. They can't just clock out early to go take some chick into a back room and bang her. Also, their managers instruct them to monitor patrons' levels of intoxication because people puking on the bar, pissing on the bathroom floor, and starting fights with other patrons is bad for business. Groups of men at bars are more fragmented and off-balance than they are at a house party, where there is usually a large contingent of roommates or frat bros looking to score easily on their home turf. Finally, bars have security on hand keeping an eye on things in case some guy gets a little too friendly on the dance floor or tries to follow a girl into the bathroom.

The bottom line? Bars are safer places for girls to drink than frats, but keeping the drinking age high drives younger, less party-savvy college freshmen and sophomores out of the bars and into the arms of guys who want to get some. To make things worse for all concerned, some girls end up getting so drunk in these unmonitored situations that men who do not intend to rape anyone mistake their lack of response for consent and have what they think is consensual sex only to be arrested for sexual assault a few days later. When girls get hammered in strange places, EVERYONE gets screwed.

How do we fix this? Try lowering the drinking age to 18. That may have unintended consequences of its own, though. Comment on this with anything that you come up with.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Starving the Beast

For my first meat-and-potatoes blog post, I will draw inspiration from ... someone else's blog. Pretty original, huh? ;) In all seriousness, though, I believe that you all need to read this post, consider it on its own merits, and THEN examine the issue from a different perspective: mine.

"Foseti" writes here that Paul Ryan is a "retard" for trying to restore Medicare to solvency by gradually reducing the fraction of patients' health care costs it pays for. He believes that Americans are so addicted to their "Great Society" government largesse (courtesy of LBJ) that they will throw out any politician who tries to cut their benefits.

Foseti could have developed his gloom-and-doom outlook after reading about this poll, in which the American public supposedly rejects cutting Medicare to balance the budget. Notice, however, the careful wording of the poll's main question. Pollsters asked whether or not Medicare has to be cut to balance the budget, and people said it does not. They're absolutely right! We could cut spending by roughly 30% and balance the budget without touching Medicare-just don't spend another penny on defense, ever. Likewise, Republicans could say that we can balance the budget without cutting a single defense dollar-just get rid of Medicare. Both of these approaches are possible, but neither is politically feasible. This question yields answers that misrepresent people's actual opinions.

What's more telling is that, if you read all the way to the bottom of the article, you will see that of the respondents in this poll, only thirty-three percent believe that Medicare will be around throughout their retirement, and only 35% believe they will collect Social Security throughout retirement as well, even though Social Security is a much more fiscally sound program. On the contrary, Mr. Foseti and Mr. and "Ms." John Q. Liberal, I believe that most of the American people understand the gravity of our country's financial situation. They recognize that their precious entitlement programs will go bankrupt and flat out cease to exist if something isn't done, and that they will sooner or later have to accept smaller payments or else get no payments at all.

... See Above

Hello, and welcome to Here's the Deal, my blog where I write about politics, economics, morality, religion, and everything else one isn't supposed to discuss in polite conversation (and ESPECIALLY not at the same time). I'm Elliott; a white male heterosexual upper-middle class libertarian-leaning conservative Catholic. I am exactly the kind of person that modern secular liberals think is responsible for the millennia of human suffering that occurred before the Enlightenment came along. As I'm sure you've come to suspect, I disagree with their assessment. I believe a lot of strange things, namely that multiculturalism incites racial discord, that (radical) feminism sexually victimizes women, that socialism reinforces class divisions, and that pacifism kills people.

All of my counter-intuitive opinions are the result of a lifetime of devoting an unhealthy amount of time, energy, and intelligence to considering life's Big Questions, so if you disagree with me, be prepared for me to disagree back at great length. That isn't to say that I'm immune to persuasion, though. If a position opposed to mine can withstand all my arguments and all those of others that I summon in my defense, I will be forced to accept it because I consider reason my master and will yield when it bids me so. Still, be warned that reason often has a mind of its own.

In respect for the law of reason, therefore, I will lay down some ground rules for communicating with me and with others via this blog. Take care to thoroughly read and comprehend everything you see here so that, agree or disagree, you may judge the thought posted on this blog for what it truly is. Treat all others with respect and they will respect you. If not, I will delete their, your, and maybe even my posts. Finally, argue vigorously in favor of what you believe is the truth. Either you are correct and will benefit everyone by your best efforts, or you are mistaken, and seeing your strongest arguments refuted may help you find the right path. Nothing could be more important, for as my old English teacher once said, ideas have consequences.