Sunday, May 22, 2016

Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion was something the Founding Fathers understood, but which was lost on second generation populists like Andrew Jackson. Jackson was a teenager during the revolution and even saw some action in the revolutionary war, but he did not have a good classical education like most of the founders, and so he was weak in his understanding of first amendment rights. Many Americans today also lack a classical education, and like Jackson, they think the government should push religion or require religious leaders to follow the government's agenda.

Andrew Jackson during the Revolutionary War
Brave Enough to Stand Up to the British,but Not Sure What He  Was Fighting For
Credit: Wikipedia

During the Martial Law imposed by General Jackson prior to the Battle of New Orleans, Jackson violated many of the provisions of the Bill of Rights, including freedom of religion. According to the Journal of Jean Laffite, Jackson ordered an unwilling priest, Antonio de Sedella, to instruct his congregation to pray for an American victory. I retell this story in Theodosia and the Pirates.

Excerpt from Theodosia and the Pirates

Jackson's heart was in the right place, but his mind did not grasp how violating the first amendment would destroy the freedom that he had sworn to fight for. Jean Laffite, on the other hand, understood all too well. His grandparents had suffered at the hands of the Inquisition in Spain. His grandfather was killed under torture. His grandmother survived to tell the tale.

A dedication by Jean Laffite to his grandmother
"I owe all my ingenuity to the great intuition of my Spanish Jewish grandmother, who was a witness in the time of the Inquisition"

Jean Laffite knew that de Sedella was a Spanish spy who had once been appointed as Grand Inquisitor for New Orleans when Spain still ruled over Louisiana. But Laffite understood that in order for America to come out of the war unscathed with its constitution intact, it was important to allow de Sedella and his parishioners the freedom to pray whichever way they wanted. The United States did not need forced prayers in order to win the Battle of New Orleans. It needed gunpowder and trained artillerymen, which Laffite freely supplied on his own initiative and at his own expense. He supported the United States, because he wanted to live in a country free from religious oppression. A country that would not oppress people like his grandmother.

Today, possibly because of our current public education system, very few people understand that the first amendment guarantees of religious freedom mean that we can't tell other people what to believe, what to pray for. or what ceremonies their clergy must perform. Hillary Clinton does not support freedom of religion and Donald Trump will not defend it. Among the Libertarian presidential candidates, Gary Johnson, whose heart might be in the right place, seems very confused about the first amendment right to freedom of religion.

Of all the candidates, only Austin Petersen has demonstrated the intellectual ability to articulate and stand up for the freedom of religion guaranteed in the first amendment. And that's one of the many reasons that I support his candidacy for President of the United States.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

When Not Voting is More Important than Voting: Election of 1800

In most elections, it is more important to vote for the candidate you want than against the one you do not want. But there was one point in American history, when abstaining from voting for your choice of Vice President was the only way to elect a President of the United States that you wanted. That was the election of 1800, when Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson were tied for President -- and all because the party leaders forgot to tell one of the electors not to vote for Vice President.

The way the constitution was originally set up, the person getting the most votes for president in the electoral college was to be the president, and the one with the second highest number of votes  -- like the first runner up in a beauty pageant -- was to be the Vice President. This made sense to a group of founding fathers who were hoping there would be no political parties, and people would just vote for the man they liked best. Under such a system, for instance, John Adams, if he were not re-elected as president, might still end up being the Vice President of the United States, if he won the second highest number of electoral votes for president.

However, the Federalist Adams was very unpopular in 1800, and both the candidates from the opposing Democratic-Republican Party beat him handily --  and that's how Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson ended up tied for President of the United States.

People who dislike Aaron Burr, including Jefferson and his historical apologists, have accused Burr of campaigning against Jefferson, but in fact, that's not how it happened. It happened because somebody at Party Headquarters forgot to instruct one of the electors to abstain from voting for Burr, the party's choice for Vice President.

In order for Burr to get the VP job, he had to beat Adams, but not have an equal or greater number of votes than Jefferson. Those were the constitutionally ordained facts that held at that time. Though this was set up for individuals voting their conscience, the well accepted way for groups to get around this system was by knowing in advance which of their numbers was to cast one vote less for the VP. And if the Democratic-Republican Party acting in concert wanted to achieve this goal, they had to keep from having every elector who supported the party vote for both men on their ticket.

This is the nature of collective action: as each man voted for the candidates of his choice, each believed he was being loyal to his party. Each one may have thought someone else would abstain from voting for Burr. And then all hell broke loose, because guess what? The Federalists decided they liked the second choice of the Democratic-Republicans better than their first choice. So when the tie breaking votes had to be cast, they set about trying to sway the electors to vote for Burr!

Because of what happened during that election, the constitution was changed, and the vice president, instead of being the second runner-up -- is just a stooge for the president. The amendment in question was a capitulation to the political reality of a two party system.

 Can we break through this year and elect a third party candidate? I support Austin Petersen and hope he will be elected President. But I am not sure, if that happens, whether we may not just end up changing the two major parties to be the Democrats and Libertarians, rather than the Republicans and the Democrats.  Is there any way we can also opt out of having only two parties? Or even having any parties? Could we ever get to the point where each of us just votes for the best person for the job?

Related Articles

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Austin Petersen, the Death Penalty and Me

One of the amazing things about Austin Petersen as a presidential candidate is that he reaches out to the people who support him, not just with personal appearances, but through livestreams that even reach out to people who are shut in at home or in enclosures with chimpanzees. So it happened that yesterday, while sitting here with Bow, I was able to catch one of Austin Petersen's livestreams while it was ongoing -- and he even said hi to me, personally!
 Being acknowledged by name made me very happy. However, I didn't necessarily agree with everything he said, and yet I'm still a supporter!

So let me explain what the problem is and how as a rational supporter of a limited government I resolved it without dropping my support for Austin Petersen. He is Pro-Life. I am not. Up till now, that was something that came up when abortion was discussed. But now it appears that his principled stance on this issue extends to the death penalty. You've got to give him this: he is consistent. However, I, too, have a consistent set of beliefs that go the other way.

If you have read my novels, you will know that Jean Laffite was in favor of the death penalty, so much so that he executed people himself, at his own expense, after trying them in his private courts. His friend and lawyer, Ed Livingston began speaking out against the death penalty after he saw innocent men executed for standing up to corrupt customs inspectors. He ended up drafting a model penal code that removed the death penalty from the list of possible punishments. He wanted his penal code to be adopted by Louisiana, but instead people in France embraced it. It's more of a European idea, I think.

An excerpt on the Death Penalty and Unjust Conviction by a Corrupt Government
from Theodosia and the Pirates The War Against Spain
One of the less principled arguments against the death penalty is that many an innocent man has been executed, due to the inherent fallibility of our system of justice. But Jean Laffite rightly understood that life imprisonment is an even more cruel punishment, when it is unwarranted. And for those people who have the mistaken idea that life imprisonment can be more easily reversed than an execution: even if released after a lifetime of unjust imprisonment, the accused will never be the same and his life will still have been stolen from him. Better to have just laws and a system that really believes we are not guilty until proven to be so beyond any reasonable doubt. I support a strong burden of proof.

Some people argue that life incarceration is fiscally responsible, because it costs less than an execution. But that is only true under a government that mismanages things. Executing someone is possible on a shoestring budget and depends entirely on the method used. Here below is a discussion of the various ways used by different cultures throughout the ages to execute people, taken from Our Lady of Kaifeng.

Excerpt from Our Lady of Kaifeng, Volume 1

Austin Petersen's argument against the death penalty is much simpler than fiscal issues or inadequate proof of guilt: he does not believe the government has the right to take a citizen's life even if guilty of murder. But while I disagree, this does not bother me, because Petersen is a constitutionalist, and a strict constructionist, and he knows that murder is not a Federal crime. It is up to the states. This is why I can wholeheartedly endorse Austin Petersen as a presidential candidate. I might not vote for him as governor of Missouri, but he has my complete support as President of the United States! And besides that, I like him. He does not hide his positions, even when they might turn away many potential supporters. I like a presidential candidate who does not pander!

Living in a Federal system, we can agree to disagree on important issues, while supporting the constitution which allows for this disagreement. To me, that's the most important thing.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

International Exchanges and Reviews

Yesterday I received a book from China. It was 崔书田 Cui Shutien's Chinese language translation of Chinese Escapade, a book originally written in English by Laurance Tipton. Laurance Tipton is a character in Our Lady of Kaifeng: Courtyard of the Happy Way. But he was also a real person, who lived through those difficult times, escaped from the camp, and joined the Nationalist resistance.

《中国逃亡记》 is a handsomely typeset book with an elegant, understated cover design. Published for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camp near Weihsien, it seems to have the local government's seal of approval.

an illustration appearing on the cover of  《中国逃亡记》

The illustration on the cover of the internees standing in line with buckets in their hands is very detailed, but in miniature, as if to emphasize the importance of words and to minimize the impact of images. I am enchanted by this style of cover.

The author/translator even autographed this copy for me. I am very touched and will treasure this book. I have also sent Cui Shutian autographed copies of both volumes of Our Lady of Kaifeng.

In the meanwhile, here are some of the recent reviews I have had for Our Lady of Kaifeng: Courtyard of the Happy Way.

Pam Keyes' Review

J. Hanna's Review

Sheila Tombe's Review

My book was also featured here:

Order it on Amazon

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Freedom to Say No is the Only Freedom

My choice for president, Austin Petersen, understands freedom of association and how it is at the base of every other freedom that we have. None of the other candidates do.

Freedom of contract, which is the bedrock of free enterprise, is just free association in business transactions. Freedom of speech is the freedom to agree or disagree with any other person. It is the freedom to formulate an opinion of your own and to share it with others, if you wish. It is also the freedom to stay silent, when others want to force an agreement. There is no other kind of freedom besides the right to say no or yes -- as we choose.

The people who say that freedom from hunger is a kind of freedom are actually advocating slavery. They think by existing we have a right to force others to feed us. The people who advocate freedom  from disease want to enslave others to heal us. They are too scared to conscript doctors, the way they are currently conscripting bakers, but they want to force healthy people to pay the doctors to heal the sick. The people who say every person has the right to live in a house are in favor of slavery to force people to build other people houses. Or to pay for houses that are already built. Even those who say we have a right to be free of fear or terror want to enslave others to protect them. Everything has a price and everything requires people to agree in order for it to get done. There is no problem that can't be solved in the free market. But in order for the market to work, every participant has to have the right to say "No!"

It's that simple. And in theory, the Objectivists agree. But you have to wonder sometimes when they are talking about how capitalism is behind industrialization and how industrialization has brought us a higher standard of living, whether they really don't understand the difference between free enterprise and capitalism.

A natural state of poverty? I just don't understand what that means. There were rich people in the Bible. There were rich people in the United States of America right after the revolution -- as well as right before. Why does Yaron Brook think our natural state is poverty? And isn't poverty a relative term -- which would have no meaning without a comparison with contemporaries?

There is something about city people that makes them think land ownership as a measure of wealth does not count.

Sometimes I think there are people who use "capitalism" and "free enterprise" interchangeably -- and I give them the benefit of the doubt and agree with them. But here Yaron Brook, Ayn Rand's successor, shows that he does know the difference, and he thinks that until incorporation of collective business entities with limited liability that allowed industrialization to go full throttle occurred, everyone was poor. Really, everyone? What about George Washington? Was he poor? How about John Hancock? Poor? Thomas Jefferson? A poor man?

But maybe Yaron Brook does not care about the major founding fathers. Maybe he is talking about the little guy. Maybe he means the great multitudes.

This is a guy who has just published a book titled Equal is Unfair. So I am confused. Does it matter there were more poor people than rich? And what about the middle class? Until the end of the nineteenth century, most middle class households had servants. They were not rich,  but certainly not poor. Very, very few rich people. Is that what bothers the author of Equal is Unfair?

Austin Petersen, on the other hand, understands that freedom is the ability to embrace technology and capitalism -- or to stay aloof from it. He champions the rights of the Amish to their segregated lifestyle as well as the rights of New York businessmen. And by the way, I understand some Amish can be quite wealthy -- while practicing free enterprise, but not capitalism. Imagine that!