Rand Paul: Get the government out of marriage

Senator Rand Paul gave an interview to National Review about his libertarian approach to Republican policy, with an emphasis on national defense, given his spectacular filibuster of CIA nominee John Brennan over domestic drone strikes.  But he also had some interesting comments on the subject of gay marriage, where he said he wanted to “shake up the Republican position.”

“I’m an old-fashioned traditionalist. I believe in the historic and religious definition of marriage,” said Paul. “That being said, I’m not for eliminating contracts between adults. I think there are ways to make the tax code more neutral, so it doesn’t mention marriage. Then we don’t have to redefine what marriage is; we just don’t have marriage in the tax code.”

The notion of extricating the government from the marriage business altogether has long been advocated by libertarians, and gains new currency among the general Republican population as perception grows that defending traditional marriage is an electorally thankless task.  Social conservatives generally insist upon it, but a good number of otherwise approachable voters, especially young people, favor gay marriage.  It might fairly be said that the culturally-influenced “default” position, for people who don’t really count marriage as a top concern, now favors gay marriage, where 10 or 15 years ago it was almost certainly opposed.  That’s a significant tipping point for any issue: the moment of casual acceptance.  It makes this an issue some Republicans would prefer to quietly table.

On the specific Paul proposals: I’ve always thought it was silly to block simple legal contracts between consenting adults, but I think that can be accomplished without re-defining marriage.  The issue of tax-code treatment is more complex.  I think society has positive reasons to provide incentives for traditional marriage – to put it bluntly, a healthy, independent society needs a lot of long-lasting marriages between men and women, with a sizable percentage of them raising multiple children in stable households.  There just isn’t any substitute for that.  It’s a practical consideration, not a moral or religious judgment.

But I’m also receptive to the argument that the State subsidizes and punishes far too much private behavior.  Not enough people understand that subsidies are penalties for the people who don’t receive them.  If gay couples feel that way about preferential tax treatment granted to married men and women, it could be taken as an encouraging sign of progress.  We should make the tax code “neutral” in countless ways.  I don’t see why marriage should go first, but it definitely shouldn’t be the last.

Beyond these matters, the notion of extracting government from marriage runs into a couple of big problems.  Child custody is an obvious example.  Such matters are already difficult.  They would grow even more so, if the government played no role in certifying legitimate marriages.  The separation of law from marriage, until it becomes entirely a matter between private individuals, is more difficult to accomplish than the lovely libertarian simplicity of the idea implies.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but I don’t think same-sex marriage advocates really want the State to butt out.  Can private individuals be allowed to refuse recognition of a same-sex marriage?  Criticism of the “federalist” approach to marriage, in which each state makes its own laws – the position President Obama supposedly favors, although he currently trembles with the first signs of another “evolution” – holds that it’s not enough to allow gay marriage in one state but not another, because people who get married in states which allow it will inevitably migrate to those which don’t.

There are people on both sides of the gay marriage issue who level this criticism, obviously for opposite reasons.  People who enter the strong, sacred commitment of marriage wish that commitment to be recognized by others, and are dismayed when others deny the validity of their marital bond.  A strong driving force behind the institution of marriage is public acknowledgement.  That’s one reason the vows are celebrated with great ceremony, and consecrated with religious authority.

I’m a supporter of traditional marriage, but I have no doubt the majority of same-sex marriage advocates sincerely desire this recognition, for the same reasons married men and women do.  I find it hard to imagine that the marriage wars will end with a cease-fire in which everyone agrees to keep government power completely out of the picture, allowing individuals to define, declare, and deny the sanctity of marriage in any way they see fit.  To be honest, given the general nature of modern culture, I doubt this would ultimately end with traditionalists retaining the right to verbally deny the validity of gay marriage without being accused of hate crimes, never mind refusing to acknowledge such marriages in any practical sense.  It doesn’t seem like the sort of question any society is likely to settle without some recourse to law and government.

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“Climate change” cools off

These are not happy times for the Church of Global Warming, which has been trying to repackage its manufactured hysteria as “climate change” for several years.  But according to the New York Times on Thursday, we’ve actually come full circle to where we began in the Seventies: global cooling.

After some flapdoodle about global temperature spikes (in fact, not only is there no evidence connecting human activity to any such spike, most recent data says there wasn’t much of a “spike,” and what heating occurred mostly leveled out a decade ago) and quoting the ridiculous Michael Mann of “hockey stick graph hoax” fame as an “expert,” the Times casually drops the same narrative that global-warming cultists have decried as heresy for the past thirty years:

Though the paper is the most complete reconstruction of global temperature, it is roughly consistent with previous work on a regional scale. It suggests that changes in the amount and distribution of incoming sunlight, caused by wobbles in the earth’s orbit, contributed to a sharp temperature rise in the early Holocene.

The climate then stabilized at relatively warm temperatures about 10,000 years ago, hitting a plateau that lasted for roughly 5,000 years, the paper shows. After that, shifts of incoming sunshine prompted a long, slow cooling trend.

The cooling was interrupted, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, by a fairly brief spike during the Middle Ages, known as the Medieval Warm Period. (It was then that the Vikings settled Greenland, dying out there when the climate cooled again.)

Scientists say that if natural factors were still governing the climate, the Northern Hemisphere would probably be destined to freeze over again in several thousand years. “We were on this downward slope, presumably going back toward another ice age,” Dr. Marcott said.

Instead, scientists believe the enormous increase in greenhouse gases caused by industrialization will almost certainly prevent that.

Wait, what?  Sunlight affects global temperatures?  Who could have seen that coming?

For the moment, leave aside those sensationalist claims about “enormous increases in greenhouse gases caused by industrialization” – a simple enough observation given that pre-industrial societies produce very little greenhouse gas, outside of human and animal flatulence, but not logically connected to any measurable shift in global climate.  Aren’t these scientists conceding that man-made global warming might be… good?  Wouldn’t that mean the people who have been trying to bankrupt Western industry with madcap environmental laws have also been ignorantly shoving us into the frozen hell of a new Ice Age?

The same thought occurred to a student encountered by British eco-gadfly James Delingpole, writing at the UK Telegraph:

I’ve been at my old school Malvern College all week, poisoning the minds of the young with my dangerous views on sustainability, climate change, “biodiversity” and other sacred green cows. But a lot of the time, it has to be said, my work wasn’t necessary. In one geography class specifically dedicated to climate change, the first kid to stick up his hand said: “What’s wrong with the world getting warmer anyway? It will mean we get nicer summers!”

Which is what the kids would no doubt refer to as an epic fail for all the official propaganda we’ve been fed these last few decades. The boys and girls in that particular class would have been precisely the target audience at which the Labour government aimed its infamous Bedtime Stories advert, the £6 million effort in 2009 commissioned by the Department of Energy and Climate Change to scare impressionable kids witless with tales of a hideous carbon monster which was going to drown their puppies. If the enviro loons can’t even manage to brainwash the young with their lies, spin junk science, what chance do they have with grown ups?

Delingpole goes on to review polling data that shows most of the public doesn’t care about “climate change” and never really did, even back when Western nations weren’t grinding their way through endless recessions and limp “recoveries.”

And yet, the Church of Global Warming rose to incredible power across the West, even as their demands were blithely ignored by authoritarian states.  Countless billions in compulsory tithe has been extracted from taxpayers in America and Europe for this mandatory State religion.  It doesn’t matter that most of the public never really bought into the hype, because they didn’t oppose it strongly enough, and the Left saw it as the perfect vehicle for a profoundly moralistic crusade in favor of Big Government. You planet-ravaging vermin can’t be trusted, with all your dirty machines and consumerist greed!  You must be controlled, and those who resist are enemies of the planet itself, which speaks through a self-appointed environmentalist priesthood.  No debate can be permitted, because we haven’t got a single moment to lose!  And can you really blame us for erring on the side of caution, when the fate of the Earth is at stake?  How can you doubt that industry is killing the world – can’t you see those billowing clouds of smoke, hear the ominous rumble of the machines, and smell the carbon?

But the “consensus” in favor of climate change continues to slip away, with a “shock poll” last year showing that only 30 percent of meteorologists think global warming is worth worrying about.  The radical Greens are reduced to squabbling over slices of a shrinking panic pie, with the wind and solar crowds at each others’ throats, and cultists scrambling to come up with reasons why greenhouse-gas-friendly “fracking” is really the Devil’s work.  This week, Bloomberg News reported that “almost 90 percent of insurance companies lack a comprehensive plan to address climate change, and fewer than half of them view it as a likely source of financial losses.”  The demon lords of global warming are no longer fearsome enough to command billions of dollars, and thousands of jobs, in sacrifice – not when voters worry that something has gone deeply, badly wrong with their economy.

The heck of it all is that global cooling always was the more plausible, scientifically sound threat.  Those solar energy variations really might presage a significant drop in planetary temperature.  But global cooling wasn’t politically useful – it was too difficult to pin on human activity, and too hard to hype with voodoo fearmongering about wild weather patterns.  The people could not easily be convinced that their machines were making the world colder.  When they noticed it wasn’t getting consistently warmer, “global warming” became “climate change.”  Then they noticed that the “climate change” elite wasn’t wasting any time acting as if their extravagant lifestyles were killing the Earth, descending upon million-dollar eco-conferences in mighty fleets of carbon-spewing jets.  Now that Al Gore, the Pope of Global Warming, has lined his pockets with oil money, the game is pretty much over… and we’re left hoping that maybe his propaganda was just a little bit right, because Winter Is Coming, and man-made greenhouse-gas warming might be our best hope against it.

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Yogi Berra and Wind Energy

Who doesn’t love wind energy, in theory? The idea of harnessing nature’s gentle zephyrs to replace nasty tankers bringing crude from foreign shores appeals to everyone.*

As Yogi Berra said, “In theory there’s no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is.”

In other words, sometimes theory has a brutal collision with reality. And reality usually wins.

The town of Falmouth, MA is learning the difference between theory and practice the hard way. Several years back, voters approved the installation of a pair of giant wind turbines at the town’s water treatment plant. Now that the turbines are installed and operating, many residents regret that decision.

“It gets to be jet-engine loud,” said Falmouth resident Neil Andersen. He and his wife Betsy live just a quarter mile from one of the turbines. They say the impact on their health has been devastating. They’re suffering headaches, dizziness and sleep deprivation and often seek to escape the property where they’ve lived for more than 20 years. …

The first turbine went up in 2010 and by the time both were in place on the industrial site of the town’s water treatment facility, the price was $10 million. Town officials say taking them down will cost an estimated $5 million to $15 million, but that is just what Falmouth’s five selectmen have decided to move toward doing.

If approved at an April town meeting, Falmouth residents will decide at the polls in May whether to levy a new tax to finance the removal of the turbines. Until then, the turbines are shut down from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. Twelve hours of operating a day is not sufficient to cover the operating costs.

Most alternative energy sources work quite well on a small scale. Difficulties arise when we attempt to scale them up. Our country uses huge quantities of energy – almost 100 quadrillion BTU per year. Most of that comes from fuels that are dense in energy content: oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear. Energy from wind and solar is not dense, so the installations must be extensive, often intruding on the human environment.

When you have a giant turbine whoosh-whoosh-whooshing a quarter-mile from your bedroom window, you’re at Yogi’s interface between theory and practice. And a good night’s sleep is going to trump saving the planet nine times out of ten.

* In practice, oil is mainly a transportation fuel. Wind and solar exclusively generate electricity. Wind turbines don’t reduce the need for imported oil.

Cross-posted at my energy blog.

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