“Separation of church and state” doesn’t appear in the Constitution!

Recently this tired argument got trotted out in /r/libertarian, by someone who is supposedly a libertarian and a proclaimed Constitutionalist.  At one point he stated that it didn’t matter what we thought, all that matter was what was in the Constitution.  So here’s my reply, can we lay this tripe to rest now, please?

Yes, it is the Constitution that matters. And the Constitution is clear in regards to those matters. And while the phrase “separation of church and state” does not exist in the Constitution, the intent is there. The phrase is merely a shorthand for the intent that is in the document.

Want to know what other phrases aren’t in the Constitution yet we don’t have bullshit semantic arguments over the intent being in the Constitution?

State’s Rights.

Inalienable rights.

Separation of powers.

Checks and balances.

Each of those phrases have come to describe the intent laid down in the Constitution but appear nowhere in the Constitution. Yet you’d be a damn fool to argue that the Constitution doesn’t have any of those things simply because the phrase doesn’t appear within it.

So, yes, there is a separation of church and state. It is right there in the First Amendment. The problem is most people remember the whole “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” part but utterly forget what comes before between.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.

That is church/state separation. Just as state’s rights refers to the 10th, inalienable rights refers to pretty much most of the Bill of Rights. Separation of powers and checks and balances refers to Articles I, II and III and how they interact respectively.

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The Sky is Falling, The Sky is Falling!!!

“The sky is falling,” should be familiar to every person older than elementary school aged.  The tale of Chicken Little, crying about calamity when there is none so often than when it finally comes to pass, nobody listens.

It has been over a day now since the sky has fallen, yet again.  I refer to the shutdown of the US Government.  A calamity of epic proportions that should have been avoided at all costs.  Except it wasn’t.  And you know what?  Just like many of Chicken Little’s yelps the reason it wasn’t avoided, and should be of no concern, is that this isn’t a calamity.

First off, the US Government is not shut down.  In fact, 70-80% of it is still operating just fine.  What has been chosen to be shut down, or have employees furloughed, are what have been deemed as “non-essential”.

Think about that paragraph for a second.  When was the last time you heard of a business that was shut down yet continued to operate with 70-80% of its staff and most of its duties?  Around these parts, and I dare say around your parts too, that would be called “Open for Business!”  So the US Government has not been shut down.

Also, if government is there to provide essential services that would otherwise not be provided otherwise, why is it that 20-30% is deemed non-essential at this time?  If it is non-essential now, it is non-essential at any other time, too.

On top of that, notice that there are choices that were made here.  If anyone thinks the choices made aren’t designed to sell a certain narrative, well, then those people need to pay a tad more attention.  For example, The Atlantic tweeted the following, “The Saddest Paragraph You’ll Read About the Government Shutdown Today.  With NIH furloughs, children with cancer are being turned away from clinical trials.”  But here is a simple question to ask, why not the NSA instead of the NIH?  Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago we were still all supposedly enraged at the notion that the US Government, the very same government that is open for business during this catastrophic shutdown, was spying on us?  Wouldn’t it make more sense that a government for, of, and by the people, in such trying times, would attempt to lessen the impact to its citizens by cutting first the programs which are almost universally reviled?  Instead the executive has decided to cut what is popular and in the public eye.  Just as they did when Sequestration came about.

Speaking of Sequestration, remember how that was a huge looming cliff that we dare not go over?  Remember we did go over it?  I mean, you do remember, right?  What with all of the catastrophic warnings we were given on how essential government functions would suffer.  Except I can’t think of one way that my day-to-day life has been impacted by such a miniscule cut to the Federal budget.  Little wonder as under Bush II and Obama the Federal Government had grown over 100% since 2001.  What’s a slight decrease in spending increases compared to that?

So, instead of panicking as Chicken Little claims that calamity will befall us once again, why not instead look, actually look at what is happening.  Look to see how little things are going to be affected.  And maybe, just maybe, come to the realization that the largest Federal Government the US has ever seen could stand for some actual reductions that we lay-people would call cuts.  I mean, if it can operate at 70-80% by culling “non-essential” personnel on short notice, certainly we can trim it by that much… or more.

Why Do Libertarians Criticize Liberals More Than Conservatives?

In a recent Reddit discussion an avowed liberal posed the following question, “Why do libertarians criticize liberals more than conservatives?”  As a libertarian I have noticed this trend myself but from a different angle.  Why did I have to argue with liberals more than conservatives?  It comes down to a difference in equivocation on both sides.

In general a conservative sees the government as a tool to advance an agenda which tries to keep the status quo.  The policies generally trend towards things which are perceived as negatively impacting individuals.  For example, many conservatives are opposed to gay marriage.  As libertarians when we argue against these policies we are making the case that the idea itself is wrong, therefore government should not be engaging in that behavior.  It is pretty straightforward and clear, government should not do bad things.

Contrast that with the general perception of liberal policies.  Liberals tend to see government as a tool with which to progress society, to benefit people.  For example, public education for all.  As libertarians when we argue against those policies we are making the case that the idea is laudable, but not one which government should engage.  Compared to when we’re arguing against conservatives this is a far trickier argument to make.  This is because many liberals will conflate the notion of good with the notion that government must therefore do it.  Conversely when libertarians attack the notion that government should do it we’re being seen as attacking the base idea as also being bad.  As a result we have to expend far more effort first pointing out that we agree it is a good idea, just disagree in the implementation.

That is why I often have to take much more effort in arguing against liberals.  I can’t just leave it as, “That’s a bad idea therefore government shouldn’t do it.”  No, I have to go through the hoops of saying, “Government shouldn’t do that.  No, it’s a good idea.  No, I agree with it.  I’m a fan of that idea.  But, no, it does not follow that government should do it.  No, really, that’s a great idea.  Seriously, I agree with you that it’s a great idea.  I’d love to see more people gain benefit from that idea.  No, not through government.  No, really.”

Debate? What Debate?

My take on the debate a day later? A talking match between a lair and a hypocrite. You pick which is which, works both ways.

A challenge to the Romney supporters, without using the words “Obama”, “Republican” or “Democrat” describe in detail why you’re voting for him.

For the Obama supporters explain what he has to do to lose your vote. He’s a peace prize winner who’s engaged in several illegal wars and continues to terrorize people daily. The feds raid legal MJ dispensaries in Cali at an increasing rate. Either of those should be deal breakers to the left.

The largest group of voters are independent yet we have candidates from parties that ignores their own members at both national conventions. Can you name one of the several other candidates for President? If so, why aren’t you upset they aren’t included? If not, why aren’t you really upset they have been ignored?

My take on the debate? I saw no difference of great matter. I saw a farce and a scam and far too little recognition of it as people cheered for their favorite team. That’s the “wake the fuck up” Samual J. should be speaking about.

National Atheist Party – No Thanks

Recently I have been catching up on my commute-time podcasts.  Both The Thinking Atheist and The Non-Prophets talked with representatives of the National Atheist Party.

The NAP was founded last year as a reaction to the increasing theocratic rhetoric that is infesting American politics.  In all honesty I can understand the sentiment.  However while the goal is laudable I think the approach is flawed.  The problem is that atheism offers no insight into how one approaches anything else in the political sphere.  Both podcasts nailed this point but The Thinking Atheist really brought it to a head by asking what the NAP would say to a libertarian atheist look in on the NAP from the outside.

The NAP’s platform can be essentially boiled down to “Democrats without God.”  It is not surprising given that they arrived at that platform by a majority consensus of current members.  Meanwhile they claim to say that they would approach policy from a scientific stance.  IE, instead of doing what feels right, doing what is proven to give the desired results.  The problem is that the method of obtaining the platform and the stated method of creating policy are at odds.  The platform is created by a plurality of what the members feel is right vs. what is actually right.

Now, to their credit, when asked what they would say to an atheist libertarian they said they wanted inclusion into the process.  That such a person should join the NAP to have their voice be heard.  That if their ideas differ from the party’s platform they should lobby to get the platform changed but be willing to accept the consensus of the party members.  Well, being such an atheist libertarian I see two problems with this.

First, a scientific approach would not be formed on consensus.  Science doesn’t give a damn about consensus, all that matters are whether the results are repeatable.  If the consensus is that a certain action is correct and it is proven wrong, then the consensus is wrong and should be discarded, period.

Second, why would I want to make my voice heard in the NAP versus the Libertarian Party?  As a member of the Libertarian Party the sole major point of contention I might have is my atheism.  Even then it is fairly trivial as we have a basis of resolution in the form of the first amendment to the constitution.  However, as a member of the NAP the only point of unity is my atheism.  I would be striving to alter every plank of their platform.

It is this second point which is why I think the NAP is the wrong approach to the problem of under representation of atheists in American politics.  It cannot, nor ever will, address all atheists.  Our views outside of the god issue are diverse.  Our concerns in government, as a group, begin and end pretty much on church/state separation issues.  By creating a political party they are diluting their potential clout by alienating a good portion of people who do not agree with all of the non-religious rhetoric.

What should be put forth is a political organization which solely concerns itself with church/state separation issues.  Not a party as a party has to concern itself with everything which falls under the purview of politics.  Something which would lobby on church./state issues, provide information on candidates which are strong on church/state separation.

Of course we already have organizations like that.  Organizations like American Atheists and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I have no doubt that members of these organizations are politically in line with the current membership base of the NAP.  Even so I can support them because when it comes to other policy matters they are largely non-committal.

 

2011 – L.A.G.

Another quasi-revolution around the sun down, another started.  This blog is named for 3 main topics but actually has for.  Libertarian, Atheist, Gamer/Geek, Ferrets.  What did 2011 bring for each of those to my door?  Let’s just say it hasn’t been kind.

Libertarian – Ron Paul.  This past year has seen his star ascend like no other year before.  He’s one of the few politicians who I don’t only not hold in contempt, but actually respect.  So much so that the first time in my life I have contributed directly to a political candidate.  Not only that, but the media focus on him shows how biased and contemptible every major media outlet is.  He is the only voice of dissent on many major policy issues with any voice at the national level.  That it not something to be dismissed, laughed at, or treated with scorn.

Atheist – This one has been low-key.  As much as fellow Atheists may grouse about transgressions by the government, local to national, most of it has been small potatoes.  I can respect the work that several Atheist organizations have engaged in over the past year, but I can’t really get interested in it when I see otherwise rational Atheists become irrational ideologues over the small shit when we have much bigger issues facing us.  Refer to the paragraph above to get my meaning.

Gamer – Many great games were purchased and played this year.  My Steam account is closing in on 300 titles and I’ve recently become a fan of Gamer’s Gate.  But the year goes to TOR.  It was released the 13th of last month.  In the 20 days since Raptr has me at just shy of 200 hours.  I haven’t clocked that much time in any other game since such a short time since Aion.  Difference is, I’m not utterly pissed off at TOR as I was with Aion.

Geek – I still work in the tech sector.  It still sucks balls.  Linux still doesn’t get it’s just due.  I have become Google’s bitch.  My tablet computer now has a detachable keyboard which adds 8 hours of battery life.  So, win some, lose some.

Ferret – Worst year ever.  Ever.

Samson left us back in May.  He was quite old for a ferret.  Even though we knew he wouldn’t be with us long his passing was quite sudden.  But I could deal with it after a few days time.

Aesa followed her friend for life in August.  She too was old and I think she was tired of taking the medication that was helping her live day-by-day.  We fought to keep her going for two weeks but in the end did what was best for her.  Even though I held her as she passed away I think having faced up to the fact it was her time over those weeks helped ease the weight in my heart.

Come September Fex, our first ferret and youngest of our business, suddenly took ill.  He was gone less than 48 hours later.  It was completely unexpected.  For some reason it just hit me hard.  He wasn’t, isn’t, supposed to be gone yet I still find myself missing him, even now, far more than I missed Samson or Aesa.  I loved them no less.  I can only think it was that he was still appeared quite healthy for a ferret.  I never thought for an instant that he would be gone this year, or the next, or even the one after that.  Certainly not without us seeing it coming like we did with Aesa and to a lesser extent Samson.

We now have two cute-as-a-button girls, Xena and Xara.  At least they had some time with Aesa and Fex.  They never fail to put a grin on my face when I need it most.

Finally, one last event from 2012.  My wife’s mother, Ruthann, passed away back in October.  We lived in different states and my work schedule rarely gave me time to visit as often as my wife did.  But she accepted me into her home and her life.  She accepted my marriage to her daughter.  In a world where I hear of far too much strife between parents and their children’s spouse I was lucky to have had her as my mother-in-law.  She was taken from us too soon.

I know Ruthann would not approve of my words but I think she’d understand the sentiment.  Fuck you, 2011, you took more than your due.  I’m glad you’re gone.

Thoughts on Home Owner Associations

Another Reddit reply, this time to the question about what the Libertarian take was on HOAs.

The Libertarian position? Best to review some of the major players to see what they have written on the topic. Here we can pretty much offer up what some libertarians feel.

Personally, I have a neutral/hate relationship with them. Having recently purchased a house (my first) virtually all the properties my wife and I reviewed were associated with some sort of HoA. I’d say of the 30 or so homes we reviewed maybe 2 weren’t in HoAs. So the notion that one can opt out of an HoA by not buying into a neighborhood in an HoA is a tad iffy. Their ubiquity is startling.

The concept is ok, but in my experience the execution is horrible. HoAs today amount to little more than mandates for homogeneity in aesthetics often at the expense in progress in other areas. For example where I live has no lack of sunshine (Vegas). I’d love to look in to practical options for solar power. However any decision I make has to be approved by the HoA. The criterion? How much the proposed solution impacts the profile of my house.

I put up with it because, really, the house was a steal in this market and the chances of me getting into a neighborhood without an HoA are pretty much nil.

Addressing the second point I think there is a matter of scale. One of the problems with HoAs is that it takes time to investigate what, exactly, each HoA’s terms are prior to purchasing the home. On top of that the pace of real estate purchases means taking the time for a thorough review of HoA policies could mean missing the sale on the house. As such I am willing to wager that most people purchase the house first, then familiarize themselves with the rules and regs of the local HoA.

While there is an argument for local control I think HoAs are too local, the granularity too narrow. Especially since there is no clear marking of where any individual HoA’s jurisdiction begins and ends. What I mean by this is that when I was looking for a house to buy I could make a reasonable choice on local policies based on established and recognized geographical boundaries. If I have a problem with Las Vegas I could move to Henderson, Summerlin or N. Las Vegas and know exactly where one ends and the other begins. Similarly if I’m upset with county policies I can leave Clark county. State policies, leave Nevada. Each has clear lines marking where their policies end.

HoAs have no such clear indication. So while it may be easier to switch HoAs by moving the next subdivision over it is not as clearcut what HoA is control of which properties and what their policies are. You’ll often not know until you get there. Note, I am well aware of some exceptions, like the above mentioned Summerlin. But they are just that, exceptions.

Finally I think the policies that the local government concerns itself over and what HoAs concern themselves over differ radically. Or rather, the perception of such does. If the city of Las Vegas were to concern itself over the aesthetics of individual rooflines many people would object to the overbearing nature of government. Yet the same happens in HoAs all the time, in an unrepresentative structure, and it somehow becomes viable.

IE, my impression and feelings are that there’s something amiss with HoAs. I cannot clearly define it, but much like porn, I know it when I see it. I just don’t enjoy it nearly as much.