Religious Freedom and the Law

The big news this week is that the state of Indiana just passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The passage of this act caused an avalanche of bad press for Indiana, complete with boycott’s, outraged Hollywood actors and CEO’s who vow to never visit the state again. Apparently, they are in an uproar because letting people have religious freedom opens the door for religious nuts to openly discriminate against gay people. There are a few things surrounding this media circus that I have a problem with. My opinion on the matter may make both sides mad, but I’m going to risk it.

First, when it comes to private business, the freedom of association is more important than anti-discrimination laws. Period. If you have a religious belief that gay people are immoral, white people are the devil, black people are inferior or whatever other horrific thing you claim that your religion teaches you, more power to you. You should be able to sell your products to just the people you want to sell them to and refuse to sell to anyone else. The market place will sort you out. I certainly would not patronize any place that thinks that way and I doubt the vast majority of people would either.

Second, let’s be clear, the law in Indiana is very similar to what 19 other states and the federal government has. The law is not designed to allow the open discrimination of gay people. This is almost identical to the federal law that was passed by Bill Clinton. This was also essentially similar to the RFRA passed in Illinois that then state senator Barak Obama voted in favor of. The difference that the talking heads keep referring to is that the Indiana law puts corporations and businesses into the category of “people”. The problem with placing outrage in this particular basket is that all the other laws basically do the same thing. If they didn’t before, the Hobby Lobby decision means that they are that way now. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. After reading many points of view on this, I get the feeling that the opposition the Indiana’s particular RFRA is completely based in fear, and the perception that republicans are just bigots. Had this come from a democrat governor, I doubt there would be nearly as much outrage.

Let’s move on to the public reaction and my problem with the democrats. There was a boycott called for by large corporate CEO’s, musical acts, actors and others who are jumping on the bandwagon. In theory I don’t have a problem with private call for a boycott, but I wonder how trying to hurt private business people in Indiana for decisions made by the state government makes any sense. I don’t know how boycotting, “Indiana”, can possibly make any difference. Are these people boycotting the other 19 states also? No? No good press in that I guess. Are these people outraged at the federal government and president Obama who voted for a RFRA? No? I guess when democrats do it, it’s cool. Apparently the fact that these laws have been around for the last 20 years or so and there have not been any documented cases of businesses turning away gay people just because they can makes no difference to these boycotters. I might point out that being gay 20 years ago was not nearly as cool as it is today. Here’s an idea, why don’t you wait for something to happen at a local establishment and then boycott that particular business? Crazy right!

Republicans, don’t think you’re off the hook. I applaud the attempt at restoring the right of association. I applaud the attempt to transfer a bit of the power back to the people. What I can’t understand is that with one hand you want to reduce the size of government when it comes to religious freedom, but with the other hand you try to make laws against same sex marriage. Therefore, making government bigger for gay people. Small government is small government. Freedom is freedom. You need to be consistent, even if you don’t like it. Is there any wonder why people might be suspicious of your motivation when you have a history of treating people differently? How about if there are no victims, don’t get involved? Gay marriage does not affect anyone but the two people getting married. I get that gay marriage goes against your religion, but the government is not there to enforce your religious beliefs.

The other thing I have a problem with is that the republicans absolutely will not admit that the possibility exists that a business can use this freedom to discriminate against someone, anyone. The truth is a business would be able to do that. Instead of dancing around it, the republicans could use the opportunity to explain freedom of association and why it’s not a bad thing, even if discrimination actually occurred. Which it doesn’t. How can discrimination not be a bad thing? The short answer is that it would redirect money into the correct pockets. What I mean is, if a baker refused to cater a gay wedding, for no other reason than he hates gay people, that couple would simply go to a baker that would cater the wedding. Instead of forcing the first baker to take their money, they would be giving business to someone who actually wanted it. On the flip side, if someone found a niche’ in the gay wedding market, they could refuse to cater straight weddings if they chose, strictly because they were straight. Association, people, it’s a good thing.

The bottom line is that there is nothing wrong with this law. I get why gay people would be suspicious, but the good thing about this is that they would have the exact same freedom to associate that the religious people would. I would not doubt in the least that this is a poorly written law, almost all of them are. Laws are written by people in government after all. Even if those evil, bigoted, homophobic republicans wrote this law specifically to allow the discrimination against gay people and their weddings, it still helps gay people. When power is transferred from the government to the people, even for nefarious reasons, it is good for the people. All of them. A government cannot say that some people have the freedom to associate and others don’t. Anti-discrimination laws are there so the government doesn’t treat people differently, not to force one group of private citizens to associate with another.


Libertarians Are Not Socially Liberal

In a previous blog, I outlined the differences between republicans and democrats. I touched briefly in that blog on how they are both different from libertarianism. This time, I want to explain to people who think libertarians are conservatives who are just socially liberal why they are wrong. In fact, those people could not be more wrong. Let’s get to it.

I’m going to expand on the analogy I used in my previous blog. That analogy has to do with home insurance and how you are covered in the event of a loss. In my real life I have to answer questions about that all day long, so that’s probably why this analogy seems so fitting to me. If someone can use this to learn about freedom and insurance, so much the better. Anyone with a home and a mortgage knows that they have coverage for both the structure of their home and their personal property. What they might not know is that the coverage for each of those things is different. The physical structure of your home is generally covered on an “all-peril” basis. This means that everything is covered unless it is specifically excluded. Things that are generally excluded are things like flood and a few state specific things like sinkholes or collapse of underground mines for example. Personal property, on the other hand, is covered on a “named-peril” basis. This means that there is a list of specific things that your home policy would replace your personal property for. Most policies have a list of 16 perils that personal property would be covered for such as fire, theft, etc… If your loss was not a result of one of these 16 things, you have no coverage. It would seem obvious that the “all-peril” coverage is much better than the “named-peril”.

So how does this translate into the area of politics and its ideologies? Liberal’s believe in a powerful central government and less powerful state governments where everyone is treated exactly the same way. Historically, this ideology has been violently enforced through many laws, regulation and the military. It is a necessity with this philosophy to have a “named-peril” view of freedom. In this way, our elected officials can explain to us exactly what we can do, making everything else illegal. It has been supposed that each day, every adult American breaks an average of 3 laws without knowing it. What separates American liberalism from communist China or the old Soviet Union is that in general American liberals are anti-war/pacifists. They, at the same time, want a police state of rules, but no police. What I mean by that is that they want to make sure that everyone is equal, has equal stuff, equal rights, equal pay, equal healthcare, and has no problem using force through the government to achieve that supposed equality, but at the same time doesn’t want the state to interfere in their lives when it comes to social issues. This is “named-peril” because what you can do by law is named, everything else is illegal. This is an illusion of freedom, not freedom itself. Just because smoking weed and same sex marriage is on the approved list of things we are allowed to do does not make you free.

Liberals and libertarians both want to legalize weed and gay marriage, isn’t that the same? Libertarian’s believe in a very weak federal government, (or no government at all in some cases) where the majority of laws would be local/state in nature. Libertarianism is an “all-peril” philosophy where only the things that are illegal are named, like murder, theft, etc… In this way the government has no power to make laws pertaining to things like drug use or marriage. In other words, there is no list of what we can do, only a list of things we can’t. Since the libertarian political philosophy does not include a “social” aspect, only things that violate the non-aggression principle would be illegal. In short, things that would cause harm to others or their personal property would be illegal and things that have no effect on other people would not be named. That is a very brief description of the non-aggression principle, there is more detailed explanations online if you care to google it. Libertarianism, then, advocates for true freedom. It would be natural for some issues to overlap with differing philosophies, just like liberalism and conservatism overlap in a few areas. Both were against the bank bailouts for instance.

As you can see, there is a huge difference between the liberal position of “let me have another inch on my leash so I can smoke pot”, and the libertarian position of “you have no right to tell me I can’t smoke pot”. The truth is that in their never ending quest for sameness, the liberal must curtail freedom at every turn. Everything must be scored, not on the merit of an achievement, but on whether the achievement hurt anyone else’s feelings. They dice everyone up into groups. This is why you hear things like “the first woman to…”, “the first black man to…”, “the first Hispanic woman to…” If one group achieves something it’s only fair that every other group gets to achieve the same thing and it is a milestone when it happens and it’s some sort of ‘ism when it doesn’t. Libertarians view everyone the same.

In my opinion, the liberal view is a form of benign racism and demeaning to these “special” groups. They basically take each of these special groups, women, minorities, fat, old, gay and countless others and make them victims. Only the government can save them from not getting their fair share, what they deserve, what they are entitled to. The underlying premise is that without the help of these kind, white liberals, none of the people in any of these groups would survive. Of course, any opposition to these ideas are deemed racist, bigoted, sexist, ageist, weightist, homophobic and whatever else they can think of.

In short, do not call a libertarian socially liberal. It’s an insult.

Department of Transportation…Muh Roads!

images (6)This is the fifth installment dealing with the federal departments of the executive branch. In this piece, I will be looking at the Department of Transportation. I will continue to try to answer the questions posed in the previous blogs. What was it designed to do? What does it actually do? Would the average person be affected if it were not there? Is it a necessary department? I would imagine from the title of the blog that you could guess where I stand, so let’s get right to it.

The Department of Transportation (DOT), was established in 1966. The mission statement of the DOT is:

Serve the United States by ensuring a fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people, today and into the future.

The DOT has a budget of about $95 billion an employ’s about 60,000 people. It presides over the land, air and sea regarding anything remotely having to do with transportation. It has 12 agencies that make the rules and regulations for things like highways, railroads, air travel and water safety. The DOT is responsible for maintaining the roads, bridges and tunnels. Considering that more than 1 in 10 bridges in the US is structurally deficient and 5 in 10 bridges over the age of 65 are deficient, I’d say that they are doing a great job! Hope you caught the sarcasm, because I was laying it on pretty thick. The state of our highway system, where most of the budget goes, may be even worse. About 25% of all highway systems are in need of repair. When you exclude rural areas with less traffic that number jumps to about 35%.

Let’s talk about public transportation for a second. As I am typing this, there are no publicly funded modes of transportation that are profitable, or self-sustaining in the United States. Whether you are talking about the subway systems, train systems, bus systems or any other publicly funded transportation systems that you can think of, they all spend more than they make. Why do you think that is? Could it be that the people in charge of running these systems are not using their own money to do it? Maybe innovation is slow because there is no threat that the business will fail? Is it possible that it is public transportation because it can’t be profitable? Even in a city like New York with millions of users there is no profit. The subway system that is in part responsible for the city of New York’s growth and wealth creation over the last century should be able to pay for itself. If they were able to charge people what it would cost to be profitable, (and they’re not), it would cost prohibitive to use the subway. When was the last time you saw a city bus that was full of people? Never? I’ve never seen that either. So why can’t they rethink the size of the busses? What would happen if they were forced to be private tomorrow and the CEO was using his own money to run the bus system? You would have half-filled minivan’s driving around the city.

How about safety? If not for DOT regulations the trucking industry would be wild and unsafe right? I would just ask why? What’s in it for any industry that makes a profit driving on the highways, sailing on the seas, flying in the air to be unsafe? In the absence of DOT safety regulations there is still insurance to pay for. There is still fault that would be determined in the event of an accident. There would still be claims payouts for at fault accidents. There would still be lost contracts if unreliable trucks missed delivery deadlines. The thought that the only thing keeping trucks, ships and planes reliable and safe are government regulations is absurd. There is already a motivator in place for that. Profit.

The DOT is there to ensure fast, safe, efficient transportation. They are failing miserably, even by governmental standards. If the DOT went away, what would happen to muh roads! Muh roads! Muh roads! Well, if the responsibility was shifted to local and state level, communities who actually use and pay for the roads would be in a better place to demand better, more cost effective maintenance. You would still have your roads. What about federal highways! How about each state maintains the roads on its own side of the fence. You would still have your roads. What the DOT actually does is waste a lot of other people’s money, in the form of hundreds of millions of dollars for safety research, and general bureaucratic red tape. They try as hard as anyone using other people’s money feel like trying to be as efficient as possible, which is probably not very hard at all. All in all, the world would not look a lot different if the DOT went away tomorrow. Except maybe a few less potholes.

What Is Our Nature?

images (5)I found myself in an interesting discussion a couple weeks back with a likeminded person at the tail end of a Facebook discussion. I can’t remember what the Facebook post was about, but as the post was coming to a close the subject came up regarding the nature of people. Are we born good or bad? It turned into a “Hobbes vs. Locke” type of discussion. I thought it would be worth blogging about because how someone answers that question can shape their entire worldview regarding politics, thoughts on laws, crime and punishment, etc…

I would imagine at this point it would be a good idea to somehow define what about human nature I would consider “good” and “bad”. I believe that at the heart of all living animals, self-preservation is what drives us. We do what is necessary to be able to take that next breath. Some would describe this as selfish, and that characterization is true, but misunderstood. The trait of self-preservation in neither good, nor bad. It just is. It is present even in the most basic of life forms. Let’s keep that in the back of our minds when we decide what is good and bad. Characteristics that would be “good”, in my opinion would be peaceful, cooperative, charitable and honest. Characteristics that would be by nature “bad”, would include violent, combative, thieving and compulsive lying. This is a short list, but it gives you the gist. The characteristics of basic human nature are designed to propel the deeper nature of self-preservation. Logically speaking, the set of characteristics that would best support self-preservation would probably be the nature we are born with.

This is a subject that I never really had to think about growing up. Long before I ever heard of Thomas Hobbes or John Locke, I read “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding. It was a class assignment, where the topic, “what is human nature” was discussed. The book asserts that the basic human nature is a state of savagery. At the very base of us is something that must be contained, denied, resisted, in order to live peacefully among other humans. We need a heavy handed government to do the containing, denying, resisting for us, since our nature would prevent us from doing it ourselves. Now, this is my impression of this book close to 30 years after my one and only reading of it, so if I missed some nuanced meaning, forgive me, it was my impression at the time. I can tell you that something about that did not sit right with me, even at my young age.

It seems fairly obvious to me that human beings are social animals. We thrive when we are part of a community. We are herd animals. Of course we can survive alone, but very few people try to live that way. Living in a community is built in to our DNA, from early humans to now. Communal living is safer and satisfies our need to be social. So if self-preservation is the goal and we have evolved to learn that living in communities are the best way to achieve it, which set of basic human characteristics would best complement our dealings with each other? Would having a nature that is peaceful be better than having a violent nature within a community? Would being perceived as honest or a liar be more beneficial to self-preservation within a community? I submit that we are born “good” because that is the best way to achieve self-preservation.

But what about all the people who lie, cheat and steal in the world? What about all the perpetual wars for the last several thousand years? What about all the murderers, rapists, pedophiles and bicyclists in the world? How can the nature of man be good when these people exist? The answer may be too complicated for this simpleton’s blog. I would imagine that nothing is ever absolute. People can be born sociopaths and psychopaths. Good people can make bad life choices. Bad people can choose to live decent lives because they understand self-preservation, and good people can choose to be bad for the same reason. When you look at the nature of man, you have to look at it as a whole. The vast majority of people do not steal, murder, touch children or perpetrate genocide. The vast majority of people live peacefully among each other. They trade with each other, they play with each other and they help one another. The vast majority of the people do not have to resist an urge to lie, cheat or steal because this is not a natural gut reaction. A small percentage of people who do those things have made us a little more paranoid. Even as the camera’s watch the shoppers at a grocery store, the vast majority of people are not caught stealing. This is not because they are afraid of getting caught, but because the thought never crosses their minds.

As I became a teenager and more interested in politics, I found that most self-described democrats also called themselves pessimists. They believed people were by nature bad, so laws and structure needed to be made to keep people from becoming savages. This is why the thought of a large government appeals to liberals. They just want to keep the sheep safe from the wolves. The people I knew that self-described as republicans were also optimists. They believed that left to their own devices, people would peacefully interact and therefore needed less government. I wouldn’t meet Hobbes and Locke for a couple more decades, but the theories that they so eloquently proffer are in a more simplistic way ingrained in each of us. Subconsciously, this may have played a part in my becoming a republican early on, and a libertarian later. Why would humans be the only animal on earth that has to fight its very nature to survive? It simply doesn’t make sense, therefore liberalism doesn’t make sense.

If you are a person who thinks that the nature of people is bad and we need a large government to keep the peace, let me ask you this: If the nature of man is bad, wouldn’t the large governmental structure also be created by bad people? If the bottom line is self-preservation, is that not the goal of the people who create this benevolent government? A government that is against the very nature of man, yet created by men? I will leave you to ponder…