Alan's Politics

The freedom to do only that which others approve of is
no freedom at all.

Corollary: you're not exercising your freedom unless someone disapproves.

Philosophically, my views could probably be described best as Objectivist. This means the closest political party is Libertarian, though most of the actual candidates in this party I consider Anarchist rather that true Libertarian, and thus rarely vote that way. I've listed some of the key issues that concern me below:

Current Issues

We Need A Better Voting System

My preference is for Approval Voting but the Science News article above explains why we need to change at all, and discusses some acceptable alternatives.

We Must Not Let Terrorists Take Away Our Freedoms

Why "One Nation Under God" Matters

Granted it's a small thing that in the larger scheme of things doesn't matter much, and that's why there's not been much controversy over it. But now that someone has challenged it, let's be perfectly clear: it is unconstitutional! For that matter, "In God We Trust" should not be on our money either: the whole point of "make no law respecting an establishment of religion" is that the government should not do anything that implies one religion is favored over another, or even that there is a preference between religious and non-religious, and having religious quotes violates that. In itself, it is a minor matter and easily overlooked, but when all of Congress gets up to have a religious ceremony defending it, it's no longer a minor matter: it's an open defiance of the Constitution that panders to the goal of the religious right to impose their views on the rest of the country. When you look down that road, theocracy stares back at you. We had that in the Dark Ages, and we have it now in the Middle East. Neither are very appealing environments in which to live.

Sharing music online: Janis Ian says it best

Cell Phones

A lot of people seem to have a problem with cell phones these days; I don't know if they're jealous or luddites. The biggest problem I have is with the "Hang up and Drive" bumper sticker mentality that the media seems to have it as well. What a bunch of BS. The media likes to quote studies that say that people in accidents are more likely to be using a cell phone, but most of those studies are really asking more like "if you're in an accident, how likely are you to be using a cell phone?" Well duh. Cell phones are popular now. Consumer Reports actually has the most reasoned anti-cell phone study, though it had a couple flaws as well, but what they found was that it was the fact of having a conversation was the problem; it doesn't matter if you're on the phone or not. AAA did a study of what actually caused accidents, and while cell phones might have been somewhat under reported for the reasons mentioned in the Consumer Reports article, they were still near the bottom of the distraction list, and distractions of any sort were only a factor in about 15% of the accidents.

So, since I've never been in any significant accident, and no accident at all in almost 20 years, including the 11+ years I've been using a cell phone and driving, I'll stop talking on my cell phone when radios, cd players, passengers and drive-through fast food are outlawed as well.

Civil Rights and Responsibilities

The government's primary role is to protect people from each other and arbitrate disputes. A secondary function is for people to form cooperative associations for common services, such as police and fire (though police actually fit in both categories).

Gay Rights

Being gay, this aspect of civil rights is at the forefront of my attention. I have no idea why it's such an issue with homophobes, but it is. Being of a Libertarian bent, I have to say that I'm not especially in favor of anti-discrimination laws that apply to the private sector. Frankly, if an employer is homophobic, gay people shouldn't work there --- it's bad for them and helps the enemy. On the other hand, public sector rules should very clearly prohibit discrimination on any basis other than job performance.

A current issue is Gay Marriage. In my view, marriage as it is currently defined legally is an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state, especially with the recent anti-gay insertions specifically restricting it to a man and a woman. Legal marriage should be a civil union that delineates rights and responsibilities of 2 or more people who choose to form a household. This could include "automatic" choices, such as a straight couple who have children, but should not exclude any arrangement which consenting adults choose to set up. It may require contractual arrangements dealing with a specific list of issues for non-standard households, but the government does not have the right to dictate who may or may not setup a household. Its role is merely to give a name and simple legal procedure to a common arrangement of rights and responsibilities.

Anti-gay sorts will argue that one can do that anyway, and yes, you can setup a household, but it has none of the legal rights and responsibilities that a religiously defined marriage have, including healthcare decision making and even visitation, and setting up contracts for those items which can be set up is a major burden. The fact that homophobic parents can and have prevented loved ones from visiting their sick partner, as well stealing the surviving partner's home and property out from under them after a death, is disgusting and absolutely intolerable.

That the current situation is an unconstitutional legal arrangement can't be made any clearer than that of Utah and the Mormons. They were basically forced to ban polygamy to become a state, as I understand it. Such a ban is clearly imposing the beliefs of one set of Christians on that of a minority sect. That's so clearly what the First Amendment was trying to prevent that it makes a joke of the whole thing.


I'm sorry, but a microscopic clump of cells does not a human being make. At the very least, "day after" pills do not constitute anything I would call abortion or the taking of a life. Likewise, when it comes to a choice between the health of a living, breathing, woman with an established life, and that of a fetus who's not yet born, anyone who choosed to throw away the established life, sometimes risking both, for the sake of a potential life, is highly misguided.

There are grayer areas certainly. The division line of Birth is relatively arbitrary, and it seems clear that a fetus is relatively viable in the third trimester, and the choice to abort at that point should not be made lightly. Never the less, nature defined that arbitrary line, and the decision should be up to the woman and her medical and ethical advisors, not a group of religious zealots.


You may have picked up on a theme here, and I will state it explicitly: I think that organized religions have done far more harm than good over the course of human history. I realize that there are a lot of really nice people who are religious, in fact some of the nicest people I know are religious. But when someone says "believe what these other people say because they know what God wants, but you have to take it on faith because He won't give any direct indication...", well, I'm sorry, but many humans are power hungry and this is just begging to be taken advantage of. And they have. Over and over and over. The Inquisition, the Crusades, Muslim vs Jew, Muslim vs Hindu, Christian vs Protestant. When you add in the tendency to "My way is right and the rest of you will burn in hell for being different", well, it's no wonder so many wars have been fought over religious differences.

In biblical terms, we ate from the tree of knowledge and what's done is done. We've been cast of of the Garden of Eden, and pretending we're still there only serves evil. We're expected to think for ourselves now, and letting someone else do the thinking for you only makes you an accessory to whatever evil they do on your behalf. And boy have they done a lot of it.

BUT... you are more than welcome to follow whatever religious beliefs you choose as long as you don't try to impose them on anyone else, and that includes trying to pass anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-drug, anti-prostitution and any other anti-whatever-consenting-adults-wish-to-do laws.


One of the biggest wars on civil rights going on right now (well, until 9/11) is the "war on drugs". Yes, doing drugs is bad for you, but it's not the government's job to protect you from yourself. And this nonsense of property confiscation before conviction is insane. It is really frightening that people aren't majorly up in arms over this extreme abuse of due process. Pastor Martin Niemoller said it best in 1945:

	    First they came for the Communists,
	      and I didn't speak up,
		because I wasn't a Communist.
	    Then they came for the Jews,
	      and I didn't speak up,
		because I wasn't a Jew.
	    Then they came for the Catholics,
	      and I didn't speak up,
		because I was a Protestant.
	    Then they came for me,
	      and by that time there was no one
		left to speak up for me.

		by Rev. Martin Niemoller, 1945

For a democracy to succeed, voting is not a right, it's a responsibility. Voters must inform themselves about the issues and make their positions known on the ballots, if not at public hearings and by contacting their representatives regularly.

One of the reasons I believe people are opting out is because of the lack of choices. The Democrats are both socially and fiscally liberal, the Republicans have been taken over by social conservatives, with fiscal conservatism taking a back seat to imposing theocratic values on everyone else. While the Libertarians have a message that I think would carry well, most of the actual candidates seem to be anarchists with little experience or reason to trust them not to destroy too much (though I'm pleased to see that that seems to be changing). And third parties don't really have a chance anyhow.

The biggest problem with the current voting system is that if you want to vote for a third party or independent candidate, the most likely result is that you are helping the person you least want to support. The 2000 presidential election is a classic case: people who voted for Nader handed the presidency to Bush.

As a result, I really think we need to switch to an Approval Voting system, where you vote for all the candidates you find acceptable, and the one with the most votes wins. That allows people to vote both their conscience and practicality, and I think there would be a number of surprises.


The environment is an important issue to me, but I consider myself a moderate nevertheless. There are too many environmental radicals that consider man a blight on the planet, which would be better off if we never existed. While a case can be made for that ;-), the fact is that we are here, we are part of the environment, and if we weren't here, something else would be taking over and having this argument instead of us. On the other hand, it's clear that there are also too many people who have the attitude that "as long as we shit in someone else's backyard, what do I care?" And frankly, there are even a number of people who simply don't care about their own backyard as long as it's not too toxic to them.

My view is simple: you can do whatever you want with your own land, as long as nothing noxious (which includes more than just toxic) escapes, and as long as you clean it up before you try to pass it on. Obviously, in practice such a stance would be ignored, so regulation is necessary. In particular, if you're going to do something toxic, you should have to post a bond for cleanup in the event you fail to do so yourself. If you want to claim that something's not toxic, then you and your family should have to live in the affected area yourself.

Public Lands

Public lands are a trickier issue, as uses are supposed to be balanced. I do think that James Watt's gold rush giveaway of timber in the 80's led to a lot of the problems later when all of a sudden unsustainable levels of harvesting ran out of steam, causing a collapse in the industry. We have set aside Parks whose primary use is recreation and preservation, and we have National Forests for a balance between recreation and commerical use. In the latter, we need to define the desired amount of designated Old Growth forest, which at minimum should include all that's left. In Old Growth areas, up to 0.1% can be harvested annually, and a given spot can only be logged once every 1000 years. That means there will always be some old growth to study and enjoy. In the rest of the National Forests, a certain subset, surrounding campgrounds and established recreation areas, should be limited to recreational use. Of the rest, up to 0.5% can be harvested annually, and a logged spot cannot be reharvested for 100 years. That way, one generation cannot rob another generation of its due, sustainability is guaranteed, and those who want to get away from established recreation areas have a place to go.

A current issue is the Artic Wildlife Refuge. While in principle, if proper oversight is maintained to see that it is done without damage, I wouldn't necessarily have a problem with it. I would require the drillers and pipeline companies to post a suitable bond though, and they should pay market rates on the leases. On the other hand, I recall seeing some numbers somewhere that indicated that the amount of oil up there is barely worth the effort of drilling for it. Seems to me it's a waste of time, and on that basis, I'm opposed to it.


When I moved to the Portland area in 1984, rush hour really was about an hour long, or even less, and meant that traffic slowed down to the speed limit and was thick enough you couldn't get around slowpokes. Now, the only time traffic isn't congested is from 1am-6am, and traffic comes to a stop frequently from 4pm-7pm and there's likely to be a slow spot just about anytime. There's a running battle over "don't expand the urban growth boundary and eat up valuable farmland!" vs "where will we put everyone?". School budgets are overrun with capital costs from building new schools, we're expanding water supplies and don't have the money to maintain overused roads. Meanwhile, our elected officials have been subsidizing businesses and development in the name of "growth" on the assumption that a growing economy is a good economy. As a result, one of the most livable areas in the country is being Californicated into LA. I'm sorry, but to me, that is not good.

I don't want us to sprawl into an LA megopolis, but on the other hand, I don't want Portland to become another San Francisco, with everyone crowded into outrageously priced tiny apartments and condos with no privacy and no greenspace to speak of. In short, I want Portland to stop growing, if not shrink.

The Portland metro area governments should stop giving businesses tax incentives for locating here and new developments should pay for the infrastructure loads they'll be placing on the system. Not only utilities, but roads and schools as well. Avoiding the problem of having an area too desirable for its own good, where service industry employees can't afford to live where they work is a tough issue and I don't have an answer for that yet, but stopping encouragement of growth is a start. Otherwise, we won't have an area that's desirable in any way. And maybe if "service industry" people refused to work in regions they couldn't afford to live in, maybe they'd get wages that would let them live there.


I believe that education is the most important thing parents can give their children. It's not only their responsibility as a parent to a child, but also as a parent to society. Unfortunately, this includes paying for it. I tolerate public education because it is in society's best interests to see that children are educated, but let's be clear about it: it is the parent's responsibility. If a parent cannot afford a child (and children are expensive), then they should not have them. I can hear the bleeding hearts crying foul: "Wealth has no bearing on parental quality", "How can you say that and claim to support civil rights?"

"How can you say that and claim to support civil rights?"

Unfortunately, there is no way to enforce this belief in such a way that the cure isn't worse than the disease. So I do not advocate any enforcement of this. At present, in the US. There are places in the world with such chronic overpopulation problems that it is not at all unreasonable for society to restrict births to one child. I don't know what that point is, but I'm sorry: there is a point beyond which it is absolutely irresponsible to bring another human into being.

On a level closer to home, I ask "whose civil rights?" I didn't choose to bring that child into being, why should I be coerced into supporting it? Yes, it's to society's benefit that it be educated, but even in the US today, it would be to society's benefit even more if the child had never been born. We have too many people as it is (though fortunately, we're a lot better off than some places). You have all the rights in the world to have the child, as long as you can support it, but you don't have the right to force me to support it for you.

"Wealth has no bearing on parental quality"

You're quite right. Well, partially. You can have good parents that are poor, and bad parents that are rich. But I think it's undeniable that parents with more money have access to more resources for giving a child a well rounded upbringing. If a couple without the resources to raise a child want to do so, then they should find the resources. This used to be called "extended family". I have no way of determining who would make a good parent, and the last thing I want is some government bureaucrat making the decision. The next to last thing I want is my tax dollars going to support a bad parent. The best people to make such a decision are the friends and family of the prospective parents. If they think the parents would be good ones, let them support the "good parents" in the effort.


Taxes are for two fundamental purposes:

  1. To pay for services that society has determined it wants to provide everyone, whether they can afford those services or not. Police and fire are good examples of these.
  2. To pay for services which cover everyone equally, and thus one cannot opt in or out of using the service. National defense, the judicial system and government administration are examples of this category. Police and fire fit here also.

In either case, it's not really fair to low income people to force them to pay for things they don't necessarily prioritize over their basic necessities (and I include a certain amount of discretionary spending in that). As a result, a "progressive" tax system is desirable. For the most part, we all agree, and this is what we have. It's simply not fair to tax people on money they don't have. But this means that property taxes in particular are grossly unfair at their very core. If a property is producing income, then tax that income. If it's not, all you're doing is forcing the owner off the property if they don't have sufficient income from other sources, and that's simply not fair.

Another place this breaks down, however, is that society tries to impose too many services on people who don't want them. I'm a big fan of space exploration, and think it's a crime we haven't done more. But NASA should not be a government agency. At the very least, it should not be involved in operations. A case could be made for basic research, but I still think that should be run by non-profits so that those who want to support the research can and those that don't want to, don't have to. Actually, a pretty good case can be made that NASA, since Apollo, has been more of a hinderance than a help, but that's another issue.

In any case, I don't think that the total tax burden should be more than 25% of anyone's income. There is something wrong with a society that places a bigger burden than that on anyone, no matter how wealthy they are. If you have a legitimate source of income, then you should get to keep most of it. Period. If there are those that think the source or means of income is damaging to others in some way, then put restrictions on those sources and means, but if it's legit, then they should get to keep it --- they've earned it. One of the my biggest hot buttons is getting a bonus, only to find that I barely get half of it, and the rest goes to the government. And that was true even when I was working at a gas station and got a small raise.