Monday, October 10, 2011

Can the President order assassinations?

While I am displeased by the spinelessness of the Judicial branch when faced with a matter of "national security" these days, ironically enough I do believe it is possible for the President to indirectly authorize the assassination of any person he pleases... without any violation of the Constitution. I'm not saying he SHOULD do this... merely that he can. The political fallout would be what it would be, and Congress could use it's constitutional power to impeach every bit as arbitrarily if they chose to do so... but while it may be politically unsafe for the President, it can be safe for the trigger man.

Here's how it works:

1. The President secretly confers with the trigger man. At this point, the President steps out of matters entirely for the time being.

2. The trigger man does the deed, committing an act that, legally speaking, is murder.

3. Someone charges the man with murder, and he is tried, convicted, and sentenced.

4. The President issues a pardon.

Now, I'm not complaining that Anwar Al-Aulaqi is dead; the fact is, the man most likely needed killing. I'm also not necessarily complaining that the President is getting away with it. However, I am very disappointed with the courts for refusing even to hear the case, basically saying that it is legal for the President to have anybody killed that he wants. They ought to have convicted the people involved in what should be interpreted as an illegal order, forcing the President to use his power to pardon for the exact purpose Alexander Hamilton suggested it should be used years ago. Congress can then sort out whether they think it was appropriately immediately, or the electorate can do so next year.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Silver and Gold

I keep reading "silver is the sleeping commodity!". "Silver has the potential to rise x percent!" "Buy silver, you won't regret it!" Always this is predicated on the fact that the ratio of prices of silver to gold are at a historic low. And this is true. But does it necessarily matter?

I'm thinking "no." The problem is that gold and silver are used differently than they were historically. Prior to the twentieth century both were money: silver for the average person, gold for people moving larger quantities of value. During the early twentieth century, silver was not money per se, but coins were still made from silver, though they were valued at a considerably higher rate relative to the dollar (in gold) than they were worth on the open market. Once the dollar was decoupled from gold, of course the silver price had to rise relative to the ever expanding dollar, and ultimately had to be abandoned as the material of choice for coinage.

Today, silver is not money. People still use gold as a store of value. Central banks still use gold as a store of value. In the face of a changing world monetary system, in which the U.S. Dollar can no longer be relied upon as a reserve currency, central banks and individuals are using gold as a store of value more than in the recent past, and this trend will probably continue. But silver? In an era when even paper money is giving way to electronically transmitted credits, I sincerely doubt silver will return to a monetary role, not to any appreciable degree, anyway. I believe the prior advantage of silver was that it could be used for smaller transactions than gold, and had many of the advantages of gold to a lesser degree. Paper and electronic credits have completely replaced silver in the "small transactions" world, even in places that completely lack a government, like Somalia. Of course, this could easily change were the world's political system to collapse in a violent and lasting fashion and paper and credits became unreliable in the chaos that followed... but if this happens I sincerely doubt the lack of silver would be the greatest of one's problems.

That isn't to say I don't believe people that don't own any silver shouldn't buy any. It's probably a good idea to keep some small amount around "just in case". But while gold retains a monetary function and will likely continue to do so, I don't see silver doing so. I believe the historic lows in the silver-to-gold ratio is not the result of sleeping investors. I believe it is the result of fundamental changes in demand for the two metals. Gold retains a monetary demand in addition to its industrial and luxury demand. Silver does not.