Friday, February 13, 2009

Just a Thought

I was thinking about the Stimulus bill today as I was coming into work and thinking that it's proposals are probably so far out of touch with economic necessity that it will not only fail, but fail miserably. The package, from what I have seen and read, consists primarily of tasks for manual labor, much like the jobs programs under the auspices of FDR during the Depression.

The problem being, the people I know who have lost their jobs because of the economic crunch are all white-collar workers. I'm sure this is reflective of my social circles and networks, but nevertheless these are real people who lost real jobs: college-educated 20- and 30-somethings (and some older too) who work in journalism, IT, finance, or other cubicle-type environments. They are not exactly your "salt-of-the-earth" types who can make an easy transition to ditch-digging or construction.

Now while it may sound like I'm making excuses here, think about it. The people of the fattest, laziest country on Earth suddenly expected to perform heavy and difficult labor with no experience, training, or muscle memory capabilities to do so. This isn't the days of the early 20th century where most of the jobs lost were labor-intensive manufacturing, shipping, or any other number of services now obsolete from technological improvements. Many of today's factory workers are simply plug-in, put-on, stamp it jobs. The heavy lifting is often done mechanically and the major job obstacle is tedium.

Sure, it might do a lot of younger people good to get in shape from outdoor work (although, its not like tough labor jobs disappeared--we just gave them to immigrants). But what about the 50 year old father of 4 trying to get his kids through college and still have enough to retire? He's got a bad back--digging a ditch is not in his future. The 45 year old mother who used to be a clerk? Are we just going to give her a shovel and say "have at it"? This bill seems to be targeted on ideas of nearly a century ago, taking little account into how much has changed since then--not least of which is mass employment of women. It does little good for us to create a bunch of heavy labor jobs with a limited supply of heavy laborers.

Again, this is basically me thinking out loud--or on screen, rather--and I have no data to support any grand hypothesis. But this is a troubling notion and, since it appears we're going to do this, I would be interested to see data that shows the supply and demand ratio for the jobs "created."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Libertarian Defense of Lincoln

In libertarian circles, Abraham Lincoln isn't a president that gets a whole lot of respect. There are a few reasons for this, including:

1. Lincoln illegally suspended habeas corpus, barricaded cities and stretched the limits of executive power well-beyond any measure, even with generous interpretation, that could be granted by the Constitution

2. The Union that emerged from the Civil War was one of much more centralized power and, in many respects, anathema to the vision of the Founders

3. The South had a right to secession and thus it was wrong for Lincoln to attempt to keep them in the Union

4. A hefty Southern strand of libertarian thought that either mythologizes the Old South or, at least, tends to apologize for it by insisting that the "War of Northern Aggression" was not in fact fought over slavery. Not surprisingly, this is bolstered by a number of Southern adherents to libertarianism who refuse to face the awful history that was the antebellum American South

This first point is, by far, the strongest critique of Lincoln. In the most extraordinary time in U.S. history, and with Congress out of session, Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and in doing so effectively ordered martial law wherever the U.S. military happened to be. Several of his subsequent actions, including incarceration of seditious journalists, were thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court after the war. As a strict adherent to the Constitution, I feel more than a little compunction saying "The Constitution is not a suicide pact" and letting it go at that, but if the country was falling apart all around me, with spies all over the capital city and the rest of the North, I'd have a hard time condemning him for most of what he did.

The second point is quite true, but fails to grip the severity with which the individual states abused their relative freedom from central control. This severity was played out again after Reconstruction, as they crippled the black communities with economic, educational, social and legal segregation up to and including intimidation, fraud, beatings and murder. It is no exaggeration that the Rule of Law--that is, the protection of (and consequently FROM) the law--simply did not apply to blacks in the South. There was--and human nature as it is, remains--a valid reason the central government was a necessary trump over the "States Rights." Inalienable human rights are not dependent on jurisdiction. Without a uniting and overseeing eye, those rights outlined in our Founding documents, would stand for nothing. The rights of the states to govern themselves should be respected only up to the point they abuse the fundamental rights of their citizens. If those so foolish as to proclaim States' Rights as absolute--when the right to free speech is clearly not (e.g., assault, fraud, etc.)--wish to place blame on the growth of the federal government, they need look no further than the abuses of the antebellum and Jim Crow Souths.

Thirdly, to hold up the Declaration of Independence as a document of liberty, one must recognize it is, indeed, a declaration of secession. Thus, if the Declaration is legitimate, then secession must be legitimate under some circumstances. What many libertarians fail to grasp is the "under some circumstances" part. Seceeding from a nation in order to keep other members of that nation in chains does NOT rise above the level of "light and transient" cause, to use Jefferson's words--not to mention being wholly unjust.

The purpose of the Declaration was to explain to the world the rightness of the Founders' actions and to list the reasons why prudence dictated they sever their ties to Great Britain. Four southern states--South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, and Mississippi--did the same when they decided they were to secede. Simply glancing over these four documents, unquestionably modeled on the 1776 Declaration, gives the reader a rather clear sense of the cause for separation: chattel slavery. The following are excerpted from the four declarations of secession.

The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.

In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth.
South Carolina:
The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.

The ends for which the Constitution was framed are declared by itself to be "to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."

These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a Federal Government, in which each State was recognized as an equal, and had separate control over its own institutions. The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States.
Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated Union to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery-- the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits-- a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association. But what has been the course of the government of the United States, and of the people and authorities of the non-slave-holding States, since our connection with them?
For all the world to see, to justify their actions, and with no less than 82 direct references to slavery or servitude contained in just those four documents, the seceding states proudly asserted that slavery--and its perceived abolition--was the primary and compelling motive for their secession and, consequently, the singular cause for the war. While it would be disingenuous to say that the North began the war with the intent to end slavery, it would be nothing short of delusion to say the South did not fight to preserve it. After all, giving deference to their legendary honor, one would think we could take them at their word...

For all his faults, missteps, and, on several occasions, blatant abuses of his power, Lincoln is a president to be respected, and whom I personally revere. While he was no libertarian himself, in toto, he did more for American freedom as president than any man before or since. He fought against an illegitimate government bent on and created for the perpetuation of human bondage--and he won. It is an accomplishment, I think, too often lost on contemporary Americans.

Today is the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth, and it should be celebrated. Happy birthday, Mr. Lincoln.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Homosexual Love=Abuse

A friend's facebook status reads:
Amy... was just informed that my link to the "Don't Divorce Us" video was "has been reported as abusive by Facebook users." Reposting out of spite.
For those of you unfamiliar with the video:

"Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

I'm a little too angry to post much of anything in response to the "abuse" report, but suffice it to say I hold whomever took the time to report the video as "abuse" in utter contempt. It is one thing to be for Prop 8/against gay marriage--or even against homosexuality, if that's your thing--but to actively be such an ass about it is simply infuriating.

Just once, I want to hear a rational explanation for why legal rights should not be expanded to include long-term, committed, homosexual partners that has nothing to do with religion. But, more often, I see absurd instances like this--or worse. I cannot take an argument seriously if it is entirely divorced from reason and simply based upon "because it says so in Leviticus"--lest we revert back to its barbaric punishments and other proclamations. The law (the greater sense of Law, not this law) is not in place to enforce religious morality--it is there to protect individual rights. Two people entering into a mutual and legally enforceable contract is a fundamental right and tenet of our society should not be subject to majority whim because someone's interpretation of Christianity disapproves.

My more measured comments on gay marriage here and here.

Monday, February 9, 2009

"I'm very sorry and deeply regretful"

Yep, Alex Rodriguez just admitted to steroid use:

"I did take a banned substance. For that I'm very sorry and deeply regretful"

I make absolutely no secret about my love for the Yankees--but my problems with this whole mess are entirely separate from that. There was a problem, it is no longer a problem, let it go. Now Congress is just dragging baseball through the mud to make examples of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens--and taking down every person they can in the process.

What's next, shall we start dragging in college football programs--unless, of course, you really think that many 20 year old men are naturally that big, fast and strong? I'm fine with policing the sports, drug testing and all that, but tearing apart a man's reputation 6 years after his last positive--and might I add "ANONYMOUS"--test, is ridiculous, wrong, and probably illegal.

The government has better things to do than pursue these ridiculous perjury charges which led to the outing of A-Rod. The witch hunts are causing nothing but pain for baseball players and fans--all in the name of cleaning up a game that has, now, the strictest anti-steroid policy among major American sports. American politicians holding athletes' feet to the fire for lying is akin to them lecturing the American consumer for spending beyond their means and then...

Oh yeah.

I Mean, Really

Caught this over at Volokh Conspiracy--point very well made, and funny to boot.

If I have time, I'll be blogging later about A-Rod's steroids allegation.

Celebrity Photos

I'm not into celebrity. Generally, I think it is overblown and if there has ever been a greater waste of paper than gossip rags and celebrity magazines, I have yet to encounter it. I'd sooner peel my own skin off than be a paparazzo because I think they are the most despicable form of "journalist"--or so says the blogger, anyway.

That said, I was doing my morning perusal of the newspapers and blogs for work and came upon these photos from the NYT Magazine. I like photography a lot, but I've never been patient enough to take it up as a hobby, although I might someday. I thought these pictures were striking, in spite of the fact that I care to know very little about most of these people other than what they put up on the screen. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.