Flip-flopping on Federalism

Pigs are flying and I’m pretty sure hell is in the process of freezing over. Last November, Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana for adults, in defiance of federal law and an administration hostile to loosening marijuana laws at the state level. Reading and listening to the ensuing arguments was, as a libertarian, simultaneously one of the most amusing and frustrating things I have ever done. It was amusing because I got to hear democrats and self-described leftists make arguments for states’ right (something I’d recommend for everyone’s bucket list) and frustrating because neither side would recognize the inconsistency of their arguments from the marijuana issue to other issues. While democrats are typically no friends to marijuana legalization efforts, the backing for these state measures seemed to be largely from “the left”, with republicans tending to be more likely to oppose the measures. These republicans spouted the usual nonsense about how marijuana is highly addictive gateway drug and found themselves in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with President Obama on marijuana policy, which is to use federal tax dollars to find, arrest, and incarcerate non-violent drug offenders at the state level.
It's happening.

It’s happening.

The next month, a mentally deranged boy stole his mother’s firearms, shot her in the face with said firearms, then proceeded to take those firearms to an elementary school and kill 27 children before finally killing himself. Democrats promptly forgot the states’ rights arguments that they just made the previous month and immediately began to call for nationwide restrictions on ownership of semi-automatic weapons and the nationalization of records pertaining to firearm sales and mental health. Apparently, many of the same people who think that it’s wrong to incarcerate someone for non-violently possessing an inanimate plant don’t apply that same argument to… someone non-violently possessing an inanimate tool. Republicans then (correctly) responded that inanimate objects aren’t the issue, but that criminal behavior is the issue — the same logic they enjoy evading in the marijuana debate. For the time being, it seemed, everything was back to normal.

Last week, however, the Supreme court heard arguments on cases pertaining to gay marriage, specifically whether or not the ill-named “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) was constitutional and whether or not the the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment would invalidate state laws prohibiting marriage between same-sex couples. Again, we had leftists arguing in favor of states’ rights and incorporation via the 14th amendment). The republicans re-iterated their tired nonsense about how smoking marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to legalizing inter-species marriage (or something) and how stoned, inter-married goats destroy the family (or something). Here again, we have the parties flipping and flopping as usual — not on the issue as people tend to focus on, but on the underlying principle behind the issue. But wait — something was a bit different this time around: the arguments now coming from the left arewholly different because you have leftists making arguments based on principle. Namely, the principle of individual rights, and that people should be free to do as they choose without government intervention.

This is astonishing because leftists typically make arguments based on “what works” or “policy outcomes”. While it is mind-blowingly naive, arrogant, and reckless to believe that government can or should use violence – that is, create laws – on the basis of “policy outcomes”, that is nevertheless how democrats and the left typically making their arguments. When gun laws are the issue, they say more restrictions would reduce gun violence and don’t really care about an individual’s right to protect his life from violence. When drug laws are the issue, they rarely argue that drugs should be legalized because individuals have the right to choose what they put in their own body. Rather, they argue that we should approach drugs as a “public health issue” (ie: defer to treatment) because that does less harm than incarceration. When mandatory healthcare is the issue, they argue that a government run health system would be more cost-effective — without regard to the morality of taking from one person to give to another. They are certainly not alone in ignoring principle and making specious arguments based on the outcome, but it’s very rare to hear a democrat argue because of principle, especially the principle of individual rights. Republicans, at least rhetorically, are more likely to make arguments on the basis of principle, but will discard principle quite readily when it suits them.

Yesterday’s Daily Show (around the 8:20 mark) provided a great example of this. Jon Stewart played a clip of Justice Alito (a “conservative” justice), during the Gay Marriage arguments, saying “same-sex marriage is very new. I think it was first adopted in the Netherlands in 2000. So there isn’t a lot of data about its effect. You want us to step in and a render a decision based on a decision of the effects of this institution that is newer than cell phones or the internet?” Jon Stewart, rightly, became indignant and added “No, we want you to step in and render a decision on whether it’s right or fair or just under the constitution, having nothing to do with its ‘newness’ and what you think might happen… You don’t have to beta test rights”. I agree with Jon Stewart 100% on this. The trouble question is: why doesn’t Jon Stewart agree with Jon Stewart on this? He clearly doesn’t agree that someone has the right to keep what they earn or the right to defend their life with a weapon of their choosing, so why would he base his argument for gay marriage on individual rights? This is not limited to Jon Stewart by any means — I saw much of the same on many news sites and my facebook feed throughout the week — but the segment provides a well-known example of the type of doublethink exhibited by democrats and republicans alike.

Amazingly, many people think that the problem we have nowadays is too much ideology and lack of compromise. If people think ideology is driving debates in this country, they aren’t paying attention. Rather than too much ideology, our political landscape is hodgepodge of disparate desires about how people think the world should be coupled with a complete lack of morality and decency about how to achieve that, with just about everyone using government as a truncheon to force their fellow man to conform to their worldview. Democrats try to use government to make sure that your hard earned money is distributed around the country (to fund social programs) and around the globe (to fight wars) while republicans try to use government to prevent gays from getting married while claiming to steal slightly less of your money than the democrats but still doing all the same things.

Occasionally, someone drops a nugget of truth, such when stand-up comedian Chris rock says “no decent person is just one thing. republicans are idiots and democrats are idiots. conservatives are idiots and liberals are idiots. any person who makes up their mind before they hear the issue is a Fuckin’ fool”. He started that off right and then botched the landing. If I started a question with “is it acceptable to steal…” do I really need to finish that sentence? Must I really elaborate on the conditions surrounding this hypothetical theft? Is it worth hearing me out to see if I make a good moral case for theft? No, because theft is wrong, period. You absolutely can — and in many cases should — make up your mind before you hear the political issue, when that involves calling for more violence to be inflicted on your fellow man. If you’re advocating expansion of government, you are, by definition, promoting theft of property (in the form of taxes) and violence (the introduction of force) against ostensibly free individuals. See, what this boils down to is that you either believe that individuals have natural rights or you don’t. If you believe that individuals have natural, inalienable rights by virtue of owning their own bodies and you have the guts to take that belief to its logical conclusion, than you should reject any government encroachment on the individual, no matter the issue.

Here is a handy stick figure video to explain things if you’re straddling the fence of morality on this:

Election 2012: Right about Romney (and Ryan) and Gridlock 2012!

Romney
In 2008, when John McCain somehow won the Republican primary*, I took solace in the fact that “at least he’s not Mitt Romney.” Mitt Romney struck me, in 2008, as nothing but a republican John Kerry: a very rich, unprincipled, political collectivist from Massachusetts who will do and say anything to get elected. Both had the remarkable ability to take 3 sides of one issue — and not for any legitimate reason or new information as Kerry tried to claim towards the end of the ’08 election. Both were hopelessly “out of touch” with most Americans, and the sole appeal of both seemed to be that they simply were not the incumbent president. Hell, they even look somewhat alike! Stephen Colbert mocked some of the similarities, quipping that “Kerry and Romney hail from completely different pages of a thesaurus.

*I have yet to talk to a single person that voted for McCain, and to this day have no idea how he won.

Apparently I was not the only person to make this observation, as I found this image while searching for pictures of the two

At any rate, I believe I was correct in dismissing Romney in ’08 as being sleazy — even by a politician’s standards. At best, he has made vague, lukewarm statements about reducing deficits and lowering taxes, but nothing substantial or meaningful. Worse, he has hinted that he would increase our foreign aggression and he’s said he will not dismantle the budgetary behemoths that are social security and medicare. Considering that, together, our foreign military empire, social security, and medicare account for roughly 80% of our spending, talking about cutting deficits without addressing those three items is completely insane. We currently have a 40% deficit, maiming that even if we entirely and immediately stopped social security and cut our military to 25% of its current size, we would barely balance our books. It is mathematically impossible to balance our budgets without addressing at least two out of those three items in a significant way. I do not mean “tweaking”, I do not mean “overhauling”, I mean fully reducing or eliminating. Trying to balance the budget without such action would be akin to a person with 3 Porsches in the driveway cutting coupons to try to balance his checkbook — it’s simply not effective. Mitt Romney seems like he’s smart enough to know this, which leads me to the conclusion that he is pandering to the recipients of these programs to win votes. All this brings me to his VP candidate, Paul Ryan, who is guilty of the same (and worse).

Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan achieved national prominence during the budget crisis when he proposed an “extreme, radical” budget that neither balanced the budget nor meaningfully cut spending. His budget technically balanced in something like 26 years and only under the most fairweather conditions and optimistic projections imaginable — since we all know that it’s reasonable to plan for only sunny-day scenarios for two and a half decades. Amazingly, Republicans touted him as some innovative, fiscally responsible leader and democrats similarly dismissed his budget that made “radical” cuts, despite the plan barely touching medicare or any other government programs. Like Romney, Ryan claims to be serious about closing the budget gap but again without touching the “big 3″. He is, therefore, not serious or not paying attention to the numbers — neither of which is encouraging.

The most frustrating thing about Ryan, however, is his supposed love affair with Ayn Rand. One thing people always misunderstand about Ayn Rand is that the basis of her ideas is rationality. She held reason up as the single greatest human faculty and all of her philosophical and political endpoints originate from reason. As such, Ayn Rand was openly hostile to religion and faith in general (in addition to her hatred of overbearing government), making her an interesting role model for a self-labeled devout Christian such as Paul Ryan. When it comes to political beliefs, he similarly breaks with Rand in an extreme manner. His support of large government programs, of the income tax, and of myriad forms of government interference in people’s lives are hardly rational or individualistic stances. Some may argue that he tries to reduce some of these, but his effort is far too little. Like Romney, I believe he makes token attempts at free market reforms to appease voters and not for any true philosophical reasons — this in stark contrast to Rand, who only drew free market conclusions based on philosophy. Of course, Democrats who view his timid budget as “extreme” have now equated Paul Ryan with Ayn Rand, further muddying the waters about someone they already misunderstood. Like the corporatists and rent-seekers that give actual capitalists a bad name by their bad behavior and manipulation of free markets, Paul Ryan is making people think he actually supports free markets and small government based on a consistent moral philosophy, when in fact he is doing nothing of the sort. Update: Krista sent me this article on Ryan’s recent recanting of his support for Ayn Rand.

The final nail in the coffin is Paul Ryan’s actions, in 2008. Here is a video of Ryan blatantly telling congress that he is abandoning his “principles” in the name of political expediency and urging them to vote for TARP along with him. Abandoning principles for political expediency means they were never principles to begin with. Here is sniveling in front of congress and showing that he is, at best, a fairweather friend of free markets and, at worse, a dangerous collectivist:

Election 2012

As usual, the choice in this election (at least for president) is largely meaningless. Both candidates support the income tax, both support foreign wars, both support welfare and entitlement programs, both support the war on drugs, both support intrusions on state’s rights, and both generally support a large, powerful federal government with a few minor disagreements about what spheres said government will control. As usual, the best choice instead comes from a third party, this time in the form of Libertarian Gary Johnson. This election is different, however, as Johnson is consistently polling above 5%. If he can achieve 5% of the vote in the general election, the next election cycle will be the friendliest yet to freedom as ballot and debate access rules for the Libertarian party will be greatly loosened. The current two party duopoly blocks third parties by requiring very high thresholds for ballot access and excluding third parties from debates. If Johnson can get 5%, he will significantly diminish their stranglehold on the country and people will be forced to recognize that the two parties are simply two flavors of the same collectivist philosophy.

So, what to do for the presidential vote? I have always — and will always — vote my conscience, political expediency be damned. I voted for Badnark in 2004, Voted for Ron Paul in the 2008 primary, and then abstained from voting in the 2008 general election because Bob Barr struck me as an extremely sleazy politician dabbling with libertarianism because he thought it was up and coming. I’ve only ever voted for Libertarians or libertarians running as Republicans. I will, therefore, be voting for Johnson.

However, I know many people voting for Romney based on that tired argument that he is the lesser of two evils. First, I think that’s highly debatable: Romney’s foreign and domestic policy would likely be worse than Obama’s in terms of expense (wars aren’t free) and social issues like gay rights. The argument is often made that Romney will disable Obamacare, but that is extremely unlikely as the democrats will narrowly maintain control of the senate and will block any such action. The real best-case scenario of this election is actually gridlock and the prospect of only four more years of Obama compared to eight of Romney. The republicans are set to maintain control of the house and close the gap in the senate, meaning that very little will get done in congress, which is fantastic for us (remember the 90s?!). An Obama presidency therefore sets us up for four years of sweet, sweet gridlock. Additionally, an Obama win sets the stage for someone like Rand Paul to run in 2016, which will not happen if Romney wins.

Some have made the argument that we should choose Romney because he will be appointing a significant number of federal judges and possibly a supreme court justice or two. Is this really relevant? Have we already forgotten who appointed John Roberts, who led the majority in the Obamacare decision? The truth is that Romney has no understanding (or, at least, no care) about the meaning of the constitution and we cannot therefore expect that he will be any better in appointing judges than Obama. While it’s tempting to give in to the fear-mongering and vote for the lesser of two evils, there is no evidence that Romney is actual the lesser in this case — nevermind that the lesser of two evils is still evil.

Overall, it looks like Obama will probably win and that’s not the worst thing based on how the other branches of government will shake out. Additionally, there are some very awesome ballot measures going on all over the country: three states are set to fully legalize marijuana and California is voting to abolish the death penalty and to start dismantling the medieval three-strikes rules. Here in Florida we’ll be voting to set caps on government spending AND property taxes to avoid another situation like 2008 when the housing market collapsed, people lost money, and government still held out its grubby paws for more money. All in all, this should be a pretty exciting election night outside of the typical “douche vs. turd” presidential politics.

Garage Gym

Lifting weights is arguably one of the greatest activities a human can engage in: it makes you stronger, healthier, and makes you feel better. It’s fun, it’s empowering, and it elicits a raw, primal feeling of power that cardio-type exercising just… doesn’t. For such an amazing activity, it seems that commercial gyms go out of their way to ruin it whenever possible, and do an amazingly good job at making lifting a horrible experience. They focus almost entirely on machines and creating a “cognitively sterile” (read: mindless) environment full of bad music and low expectations and seem to discourage exactly that powerful, raw feeling that makes lifting weights so immediately gratifying. Of course, they make money when people sign up but don’t come back for the remainder of their contract term, so this shouldn’t surprise anyone — but it is still frustrating.

These commercial gyms have entirely too many rules, too many distractions, and typically aren’t conducive to lifting heavy, lifting loud, and doing the sorts of occasionally unconventional lifting that I enjoy. I have been kicked out of several gyms for lifting in my Vibram five finger shoes, infuriating experiences made worse by the extremely illogical arguments that ensued on my way out the door. I’ve been told not to perform “rapid barbell movements” such as complexes or a power cleans and presses, despite not dropping the weights or making any noise at all. I’ve been bitched at for being loud when deadlifting ~500lbs or DB rowing 150lbs — as though there is a way to quietly way to lower that much weight or as though lifting weights is supposed to be a quiet activity. I find the noise complaints the most ironic as most gyms regular blast the world’s shittiest 80′s music and pop (a redundant description, I know), to the point that my earbuds blasting metal aren’t enough to drown it out — you almost need the sound of crashing plates to fully cover up the demotivational garbage they play. And science help you if you bring chalk into a typical commercial gym; they’ll practically try to have you put to death for that.

In 2009, to avoid all of this nonsense, I started putting together a gym in the garage of the house I was living in at the time. I put down some sheets of OSB and rubber mats for flooring, bought a cheap power rack, and bought used bars and weights off of craigslist. Over the next couple of years I would watch craigslist and some fitness websites for deals on equipment and ended up amassing a pretty sweet setup for relatively cheap (<$1,000 including flooring and all). Here's what my garage gym looked like at my old house:

The garage gym at my old house

Another shot of the garage gym at my old house

When Cavewoman and I moved in July, though, we had to break down all of this gym stuff and move it to our new house in St Pete. The house is old (built in the 30′s) but very, very awesome. A downside of a house 80 years old, however, is that the garage is a complete wreck. It was largely unfinished and the cement floor was badly poured and was extremely uneven, cracked, and pitted — I guess back then they were just happy to not have dirt floors. To make things worse, the previous owners used it as a long-term storage area for several years, so the garage was filthy and needed a bunch of large items removed from it. When we first moved in, the garage door didn’t even work because they hadn’t used it in so long. We had to basically break it open, scrub off a bunch of rust, and lube up the track to get it to work. Here’s what it looked like after we got most the garbage out of there and had already started cleaning (it was much, much worse when we first moved in:

This is what the garage and garage floor looked like when we moved in — basically a mess.

After scrubbing the walls down, putting on a fresh coat of paint, pressure cleaning the floors, and letting the place air out a bit, it was starting to come along. But one problem remained: the floor was incredibly uneven. We first thought that putting down the OSB we had at the previous house would be enough to smooth out unlevel and pitted areas, but we were wrong. Once we had the gym set up, it became rapidly apparently that this would not work. Barbells placed down on the ground would immediately roll around the floor, which is both annoying and dangerous. Worse, lifting on uneven surfaces presents problems of causing muscle imbalances and injuries at very heavy weights. We measured the peaks and valleys of the floor and there was a deviation of 1-3 inches across the garage, and at various points throughout. Note that it’s not as though one side was higher than the other – I’m talking about a garage that resembles a contour map with highs and lows scattered about randomly. We had several cement contractors come out to inspect the floor and offer us quotes on fixing the issue. All of them said the issue was a bad cement pour, but that the slab was very structurally sound and was just shitty. Most of them wanted to tear up the old slab and pour a new one, charging us anywhere between $3,000-$5,000, which was of course out of the question. One said he would be able to cap the existing slab, but that would still cost about $2,000.

We looked for alternatives and eventually stumbled across this article that talks about leveling an uneven floor using asphalt shingles. This was perfect for our situation as we didn’t care at all what the floor looked like (as it would be covered by OSB and mats) — we just needed a safe, level surface on which to lift. We went to Lowe’s and picked up several packs of asphalt shingles, a large level, and went to work. The goal was to level out the peaks and valleys in the garage floor, layering the asphalt shingles in the depressions of the garage floor and leaving the high points of the garage floor exposed. Once that was even, we placed one layer of OSB on top and then another layer of OSB on top of that and perpinduclar to the first layer. Finally, rubber and foam lifting mats went on top. Here’s what it looked like:

Our seriously unlevel, chipped, and pitted garage floor

Putting town the first round of tiles. There was about a 2″ valley on that side I had to fill in.

The garage leveling project coming along nicely. No more rolling barbells!

Another shot of the first area being level

Another massive valley in the middle of the garage that had to be filled in.

The final product — asphalt shingles leveling OSB stacked two sheets high

Once this was all done, we put down rubber mats and foam tiles, and setup our equipment. Here’s what it looks like today:

Conditioning equipment — Farmer’s walk handles and a sled

There is plenty of equipment and room here for a couple of people to lift, stretch, do mobility work, conditioning work, and almost anything else. The only other thing I think I’ll add will be a cable stack, a GHD, and some more Dumbbells and Kettlebells, which I can fit by getting a more space-efficient dumbbell rack.

Just outside the garage, we went for a little more construction and setup some dip bars:

The homemade dip stand. The cinder block is there to use as a step.

Doing all of this saved us several thousand dollars and the whole leveling project only took one weekend. Even building the dip stand saved a bunch of money, as solid dip stands suitable for weighted dips run $300 and up while we built this one for about $60 worth of materials. The next project will be to build a large chin/ring/gymnastic station by the dip stand that is of a similar design (4x4s and steel pipe) but much taller. In the meantime, we have 400 square feet of awesome lifting space and no arbitrary rules about how loud we can be or what clothing we can wear. Rock on.

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The Red (meat) Menace

I haven’t updated Keentopia in forever, and with the flurry of activity related to the recent “study” that jumped to the conclusion that red meat is bad for you, it’s probably time for some quick thoughts.

First, both Mark Sisson and Robb Wolf have done a good job dissecting the most recent study and showing how silly it is.

For more general inquiries related to the harm of “animal proteins”, the short answer is that there is nothing particularly problematic about them. Far more harmful proteins exist in plants, as dangerous proteins are part of the evolutionary strategy of plants to prevent from being eaten. With animals, their defense against being eaten occurs while they are alive, leaving a safe product once those defenses are overwhelemed. In practical terms, however, eaters of red meat tend to eat things WITH their red meat that cause problems or eat red meat in a form that is unhealthy.

The new Red Scare: 'Are you now or have you ever been an eater of steaks in the United States?'

Now as far as red meat or meat in general causing health problems, there really is no evidence indicating that to be the case and plenty of evidence — and logical deduction — indicating that it should be healthy. There are lots of studies that came to that conclusion, but they are so poorly done as to be worse than worthless. The particular study currently being bandied about was based off of surveys that participants filled out to get data and determine patterns in various food consumption and behaviors. I pay a LOT of attention to what I eat, but I cannot tell you what I ate a week ago, or two weeks ago. Yet the participants in this study were asked to recall, over periods of YEARS, how much meat they had eaten. It’s an incredibly inaccurate way of getting information. Any conclusion based on data that poorly obtained is no conclusion at all.

That being said, there are associative issues with meat consumption that people miss. First, hamburgers. While ground beef is not necessarily problematic, most beef (65%) is sold via retail stores and of that, most of that (60%) is consumed in hamburger form[1]. So you have people eating “meat”, yes, but it’s wrapped in two pieces of wheat, providing a shot of allergernic gluten and 45g of carbs. Then, of course, the patty is slathered in who-knows-what sauce, and consumed with a soda or a side of fries dipped in who-knows-what ketchup. Add in the further problems of most cows being fed corn (which is high in omega-6 fatty acids) and you have altered the natural fat content of beef from one high in omega-3 (anti-inflammatory) to one that is high in omega-6 (pro-inflammatory). And of course when people eat something that SHOULD be healthy, like a steak, you have the same problem: they eat it with a potato on the side, covered in who-knows-what, dip the steak in sugary steak sauce, and start the meal with a roll and end it with dessert.

All of these “problems” can be avoided by 1) not eating garbage alongside meat, 2) eating grass-fed and free range meat when possible, or 3) barring that, get lean cuts of meat so the diet of the animal doesn’t impact you so much.

And, finally, keep in mind that if red meat were unhealthy, you would not be here today and neither would the rest of us. The megafauna on the north american continent didn’t drop dead of their own accord; they were hunted and eaten into tasty, tasty extinction.

As for further reading on what foods you actually should avoid, check out Kurt Harris’ Paleo Diet 2.0, where he talks about the triple threat of 1) gluten, 2) excess omega-6 fatty acids, specifically lineoleic acid, and 3) excess fructose.

Anything by Robb Wolf, including his book, The Paleo Diet Solution is also a good choice. I’ll leave this here for now, but might very come back and add to it. Then again, the people promoting this nonsense aren’t putting up a very good fight. You think they would try harder. Perhaps lack of protein has made them weak.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. USDA beef consumption data: http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/ldp/Oct05/ldpm13502/ldpm13502.pdf

Every time you get groped, the terrorists win

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster”

-Friedrich Nietzsche

It’s been a decade since religious fanatics murdered 3,000 Americans by attacking the world trade center towers and the pentagon with hijacked airplanes. Since that time, we’ve witnessed a rapid erosion of our freedoms, ostensibly in the name of fighting “terror”. While it’s obvious to most that you can neither declare war on — nor fight — a tactic, our government does not see it that way. And why should they? The government has infringed on our rights with new “anti-terror” policies at every opportunity by playing on public fears of another terrorist attack. They’ve presented the public with a false dichotomy of choosing between the tyrannical policy de jure or facing death at the hands of terrorists. In short: the government has used the public’s fear to further control our lives. I hear you asking “but isn’t that, like, Terrorism?” To quote SouthPark, that’s “not like terrorism — it is terrorism!”[1]

Patriot acts contrast
The irony of government policies that capitalize on public fear to expand power is compounded by the notion that the terrorists supposedly hate us (and attack us) because we are “free”. Most thinking people recognize that this is nonsense, of course, but the government is hardly revered for its intellectual prowess. I suppose the government strategy is to simply remove those freedoms that the terrorists supposedly hate us for, thereby reducing the chance for an attack; to launch a pre-emptive strike on liberty! As anyone who has read or heard anything published or stated by Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups knows, however, the terrorists “hate” us because we are occupying their lands with our military bases, meddling in their affairs, and supporting their religious enemies.[2] Ten years later, we can add drone strikes, the killing of civilians during war operations (i.e. collateral damage), and new sanctions imposed on countries like Iran to their list of arguably legitimate grievances.

So what freedoms have we given up in the name of fighting these enemies that want to destroy our… freedoms? The most visible loss of freedoms is apparent at the airport, where travelers are herded like cattle through security checkpoints and are then subjected to a humiliating, sexually suggestive search process. Travelers are treated like criminals merely because they wish to travel for business or see their families. At the airport, they must choose between being seen naked or sexually assaulted before boarding a plane. And, of course, the screening process is ineffective anyway. Stories of people getting on board with fake boarding passes, bags full of sharp knives, and even firearms appear on an almost monthly basis. Of the prohibited items, many of these were accidentally left in luggage by everyday travelers — imagine what a determined group of criminals could accomplish. Compounding the stupidity of this process, the security checkpoint creates a bottleneck in human traffic, forcing hundreds of people to congregate in one small area waiting to enter the security checkpoint. A terrorist doesn’t even have to go through the trouble of trying to bypass security to kill hundreds of people. He could just walk in the middle of this crowd with a couple of bombs in his luggage and kill at least as many as he could on a plane.

Osama was no doubt amused by the TSA

It's hard to conceive of a terrorist plot more sinister than ensuring that every American man, woman, and child is sexually assaulted, humiliated, and treated like a criminal before getting on an airplane

In addition to the absurdities we deal with at an airport, we’ve also lost far more important freedoms in far more sinister ways. Certainly, the PATRIOT Act is the most well known of these abuses. The PATRIOT Act gives the government permission to violate the 4th amendment rights of American citizens in a number of ways: sneak-and-peak warrants, roving wiretaps, and access to business and banking records without a warrant. Even more alarming then the PATRIOT act was the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and accompanying legislation, court battles, and executive orders. The premise behind this power grab is that the government can designate someone an enemy combatant and then hold him indefinitely without a trial, without access to a lawyer, or without even informing him of the charges he faces. While this suspect is held at Guantanamo Bay or some secret overseas prison, he will likely be deprived of the most basic human rights, let alone his ability to petition for a writ of habeas corpus or have any recourse against a potentially illegal detainment. Given the US government’s track record of heavy-handed ineptitude[3] , it’s hard to believe that terrorists present a greater threat to your life or liberty than governments and law enforcement agents.

Government vs. Terrorism

Yeah, pretty much.

All these manifestations of eroded freedoms, of course, stem from sacrificing the very principles that define the United States. Key components of a free society are protection of private property rights and personal liberties, rule of law, and due process, among others. If our country is defined by a set of principles, and we abandon those principles in the name of defending our country, have we not abandoned our country? The United States is not the “greatest, freest country in the world” just because we say it is; it is great and free only so long as we value and live by the principles of a free society. The extent that we depart from those principles is the extent to which we have surrendered our country. What is the point of fighting to save a country if our methods of fighting destroy its philosophical foundation? By abandoning our ideals, we are doing far more damage to our country than violent criminals ever could.

To really make things worse, does anyone really believe we are safer now than we were prior to the attacks? We’ve not only continued, but furthered, many of the same policies given as reasons for the violence. We’ve put tens of thousands of our troops in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan, losing 6,000 in the process — more than double the number of civilian lives lost in the attacks themselves. No doubt our enhanced presence in Arab states and the high civilian death toll as a result of our operations is raising a new generation of people that will seek to avenge what they perceive as injustice. Law enforcement abuses of powers granted in the name of fighting terrorism are commonplace, as are complaints against the TSA. By all accounts, you’re more likely to suffer abuse at the hands of terror-fighting law enforcement than you are to be a victim of terrorism. If the choice was between getting groped by the TSA or getting attacked by terrorists — and I assure you that it isn’t — I’ll take my chances with the terrorists.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Episode: Carton Wars Part II, from http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/South_Park/Season_10
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motives_for_the_September_11_attacks
  3. The Waco seige, The Ruby Ridge incident, and every botched paramilitary drug raid

America’s War on Peace — the costs of our foreign policy

My last post covered a paper I wrote on the economics of the American Revolution during my last semester at Tech. Continuing in the same vein this week, I also wanted to post my Senior Economics Thesis. My paper addresses the astronomical costs and long-term implications of our aggressive foreign policy.

Friends and readers will note that I argued my point from the Keynesian point of view despite the fact that I reject Keynesian economics entirely. I did this because I wanted to argue the point on their terms — and there is nothing more Keynesian than the myth that war is good for the economy. A third-grader can see the flaw in this myth, via the parable of the broken window, but most Keynesians are so deluded that they refuse to accept any argument that isn’t framed in the context of a “government multiplier”. So I argued on those terms and still believe I made my point.

Here’s a link to the paper, called The Costs of America’s War on Peace and I have embedded it below. Enjoy:

The Economic American Revolution

During my last semester in college, when I had to take 3 unexpected classes to graduate, I wrote a paper on the economic background of the American Revolutionary War and the Constitution. Most people consider the American Revolution to be a purely philosophical or political revolution, but economic considerations were significant. Perhaps even lesser known is the role post-war economics played in the drafting of the Constitution. The Articles of Confederation were not scrapped and replaced by the Constitution because the federal government didn’t have “enough power” in the sense of authoritarian control, but because of state-level economic issues that threatened the economic stability of the country.

Here’s a link to the paper, called The Economic American Revolution: Economic motivators and conditions in Revolutionary America and I have embedded it below. Enjoy: