Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Uninequality: 10th Circuit Ruling on Same Sex Marriage

The 10th Circuit has sustained the Federal District Court's overturning of Utah's same-sex marriage ban.  Here is the court's written opinion.

In the Court's words:

We hold that the Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right to marry, establish a family, raise children, and enjoy the full protection of a state’s marital laws. A state may not deny the issuance of a marriage license to two persons, or refuse to recognize their marriage, based solely upon the sex of the persons in the marriage union.

Why are we here?   According to the plaintiffs:

Being excluded from the institution of marriage has caused Kitchen and Sbeity to undertake a burdensome process of drawing up wills and other legal documents to enable them to make important decisions for each other. Even with these protections, however, the couple cannot access various benefits of marriage, including the ability to file joint state tax returns and hold marital property. Sbeity also states that the legal documents the couple have obtained “do not and cannot provide the dignity, respect, and esteem” of marriage. The inability to “dignify [his] relationship” though marriage, Kitchen explains, communicates to him that his relationship with Sbeity is unworthy of “respect, equal treatment, and social recognition.”

I support Utah's appeal of this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.  The law cannot compel or conjure "dignity, respect, and esteem" in an individual.  These are earned attributes that transcend legal constructs.  I am afraid the plaintiffs will be disappointed in their expectations and unfulfilled by the results if the ban is ultimately overturned at the Supreme Court.

Since a society founded on the freedom of conscience cannot guarantee these earned characteristics to individuals, will the suppression of that freedom be next?  Will the honest voices of disapproval be silenced and marginalized?  Will an inquisition attempt to purge a dissenting ethos from our culture?

We shall see.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Peak Prosperity Video: Next 20 Years Like Nothing We've Ever Seen

Chris Martenson, the author of this video, came to our legislative interim meetings last year to discuss his research findings.  His vision of the future is not as bright and rosy as we would like, but the research he has done is sound.  With our economy dependent on cheap natural resources and energy, we are about to see fundamental changes in how things function.  This video is a must see for policy makers and anyone interested in financial health and wealth.  

Very good information.  I hope you found this video illuminating.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Living Through Tyranny and The Reformer's Burden

As we watch our nation's influence in the world ebb, our citizens' dependency on government programs escalate, and our economic engine become mired in crony capitalism, it would not be out of the question for us to hear calls for reform.  In fact, it seems the voices calling for a 'reset' in Washington have only grown louder over the past decade as these unmistakable markers of decline become more obvious and prevalent by the month.  Yet, despite the rhetoric and the fervor, we have not seen a man rise to wield the power necessary to implement the much desired reforms.  

To shed light on this conspicuous absence, it may be helpful to look to a historical example. For that, let us turn to Edward Gibbon's account of ancient Rome. On March 17, 180A.D. Marcus Aurelius, the great benevolent philosopher emperor died.  In his stead, he conveyed the throne to his son Commodus who came to power at a time when Rome had vanquished all its foreign enemies and enjoyed peace and prosperity throughout the empire.

Bust of Commodus, son of Marcus Aurelius
Neverthless, Commodus was not fortunate enough to inherit his fathers virtues.  He established a harem of 300 concubines in his palace.  He taxed the people to support a large palace staff and regular entertainments.  His paranoia and jealousy lead to the senseless slaughter of hundreds of senators and thousands of their kin.  His ministers enriched themselves by selling justice to the highest bidder.  In short, his reign brought sorrow to the people and disgrace to the throne.

After Commodus executed several iterations of his ministers to appease the riotous rebellion of the public, his lastly appointed ministers realized that their lives would soon to be next.  So, in an act of palace intrigue, Commodus was poisoned by one of his servants and subsequently strangled to death.  This act of self preservation ended the miserable tyranny of his 15-year reign.

Without an heir apparent, who would replace Commodus?  The Praetorian Guard which quartered in the city would have to support or even make the the choice of Emperor.  Emperors for generations had secured the loyalty of the military by making lavish donations to the troops.  Such donations and urban living had slowly softened the military's preparation and discipline.  Nevertheless, their support was absolutely necessary if an Emperor was to rule with authority.

"The vigor of the soldiers instead of being confirmed by the severe discipline of camps, melted away in the luxury of cities.  The excessive increase of their pay and donatives exhausted the state to enrich the military order, whose modesty in peace, and service in war, is best secured by an honorable poverty."

Fortunately, a man of virtue was sought to fill the vacancy on the throne.  Pertinax, a noble Senator and a man respected for his temperance and wisdom, was solicited to ascend to that great station.  He hesitated at first, believing the news of Commodus death to be a ploy to accuse him of treason.  But, when his death was confirmed, he agreed to assume the royal garments and the Senate celebrated and the Preatorian's ratified the ascension.  

Bust of Pertinax
Thus, with an intelligent and principled man acting as sovereign of the civilized world, he began to reverse the corruption that had infused itself into the body of government and that had been a burden to so much of the Empire during the reign of Commodus.  His first acts were to reduce the palace expenses by half.  The ostentatious living of his predecessor was undone for a simple and austere approach.  He auctioned off the imperial chariots, silks, and attendant luxuries. Pertinax is described as saying to the Senate:

"That he was better satisfied to administer a poor republic with innocence, than to acquire riches by the ways of tyranny and dishonor."  

Further, he forced the resignation of Commodus' imperial ministers and confiscated a portion of their wealth which they had accumulated through graft.  He reduced the taxes on the people and he engaged in economic development by deferring taxes on those willing to cultivate agriculture on vacant land.  These reforms were immediate and effective.  The people began to increase in industry and prosperity.

Yet, there was one more reform which Pertinax pursued, and that was to invigorate the military spirit and discipline of the Praetorian Guard.  He reduced their pay, and increased their military rigor.  Unfortunately, these changes agitated the sentiments of the soldiers who had become accustomed to luxury.  One day, 300 soldiers rallied in nearby barracks and marched toward the Imperial Palace.  With the conspiracy of old domestic servants and the palace guards, the gates were thrown open to them.  Gibbon gives us an account of the encounter:

"On the news of their approach, Pertinax, disdaining either flight or concealment, advanced to meet his assassins; and recalled to their minds his own innocence, and the sanctity of their recent oath. For a few moments they stood in silent suspense, ashamed of their atrocious design, and awed by the venerable aspect and majestic firmness of their sovereign, till at length, the despair of pardon reviving their fury, a barbarian of the country of Tongress leveled the first blow against Pertinax, who was instantly dispatched with a multitude of wounds. His head, separated from his body, and placed on a lance, was carried in triumph to the Praetorian camp, in the sight of a mournful and indignant people."
Thus, just 86 days into his reign, Pertinax's life came to an abrupt end. Gibbon gives us some insight into the discontent his reforms conjured in the body of government:

"A hasty zeal to reform the corrupted state, accompanied with less prudence than might have been expected from the years and experience of Pertinax, proved fatal to himself and to his country. His honest indiscretion united against him the servile crowd, who found their private benefit in the public disorders, and who preferred the favor of a tyrant to the inexorable equality of the laws."
So, we see the challenge that any reformer faces when a class of people are enriched by the 'disorders' of the public.  The root of the problem lies in man's honest desire to promote his own self interest.  And thus, when man is placed in a station that his self-interest is gratified by the abuse or subversion of the self-interest of the public, a dangerous and difficult situation arises.  Such circumstances are difficult to correct:

"But if we attentively reflect  how much swifter is the progress of corruption than its cure, and if we remember that the years abandoned to public disorders exceeded the months allotted to the martial reign of Aurilian, we must confess that a few short intervals of peace were insufficient for the arduous work of reformation."  

Any government that has deviated from its founding principles requires an infusion of vigor and discipline to be restored to former greatness.  These reforms must be applied methodically, consistently, and for an extended period of time if they are to be successful.  Importantly, in a democratic society, the people must also sustain their support of such efforts.

The danger that America finds itself in today is that, like the Praetorian Guard who ratified the selected Emperor, the electorate is increasingly benefited by 'donatives' (e.g. transfer payments) from the government they elect.  As that number grows, and as each voter casts their ballot with honest self-interest in mind, at some point the political choice will be dictated by which candidate promises the largest 'donatives' or the least interference with them.

As if a perverse caricature of this phenomena, when we follow the story after Pertinax's death, we discover that the Praetorian Guard brazenly seized the Imperial Throne and auctioned it off to the highest bidder.

This is a poignant and important lesson for us to learn.  So, as the clouds grow and the lights threaten to dim on the era of American Greatness, may we rediscover our former selves and find the vigor, the courage, and the tenacity to endure the reforms that are so desperately needed in our day.