Tag: liberty

 It’s All Coming Apart

Earlier this year I wrote about the nascent Arab Spring and how I was hopeful that this movement, and this desire for freedom, would continue to spread. Stories like this one today continue to fuel my hope that this is true. The tangled web of government (in every country) has become so heavy, so onerous, that it has become impossible for people to continue ignoring it in the normal conduct of their daily lives. A ever-growing number are emerging from this miasma and asking (I hope), “Does it really need to be this way? Can we not find a better way of living on this planet?”

I refuse to believe this tsunami of anti-government rage is a simple coincidence of overindulgent editors around the globe looking for flashy stories because it has been a slow news year. This is the news. This is what is happening right now. This is a worldwide movement. Only a fool could deny it at this point. Further, it seems virtually no country on earth has been left untouched by it, and there are also no signs of it slowing down. Certainly, it has been exacerbated by the global economic troubles of the past few years, but that should not be allowed to overshadow the deeper philosophical meaning.

The people who are rioting in the streets, who are toppling their current regimes, are not motivated by unemployment, or the depreciation of their property values. This is not about money. It is about recognizing the basic human rights to life and liberty. It is about living one’s life with a sense of dignity, without being told how by an oppressive government. Surely, this is something to which we can all relate.

 Can We Please Stop Now?

Three thousand people died on 9/11 as a result of the worst terrorist attacks in US history. But ten times that many people die every year in traffic accidents, and I don’t hear anyone calling for an outright ban on automobiles. So this has clearly never been just a public safety issue. Maybe a 9/11-style attack once a generation is simply the price we must pay to live in a free society? There I said it.

I know the victims and their friends and family don’t want to hear that — they have no doubt found some solace in avenging the deaths of their loved ones by engaging in the sisyphean task of ridding the world of terrorists. But honestly, for the other 300 million of us in this country, who have had to endure the DHS, the TSA, and all of the other bullshit we’ve been enduring for the last ten years, we’ve had about enough of it, and we’re ready to try something different.

The stories about TSA agents groping our children, and asking our 95-year-old grandmothers to take off their adult diapers, is enough. Enough. But then, today, we are told that the next round in the arms race with al Qaeda is allegedly terrorists who are willing to have bombs surgically implanted in their bodies in order to thwart airport security. Really? If you thought cavity searches were bad before, wait until they start doing them arthroscopically.

At this point, it should be obvious to any thinking person that the government is impotent to respond to this. There are a number of quotes that come to mind. First from Frederick Douglass: “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they suppress.” I think we have just defined that limit. It is my sincerest hope that no American is going to submit to surgical inspections at security checkpoints. If you are reading this, and think this is at all a reasonable approach, do us all a favor and take your own life. The second quote is from H.L. Mencken: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed — and thus clamorous to be led to safety — by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” Please allow me to introduce you to the newest TSA hobgoblin: belly bombs. One with an impressive pedigree that includes nail clippers, hairspray, three-ounce bottles of liquid, shoe bombs and underwear bombs.

How much farther are we willing to travel on this bus to Crazytown, America? I don’t know about you, but this is my stop.

 Chicago Holds Its Breath

After last year’s McDonald v Chicago decision by the Supreme Court, I wrote about how the tide seemed to be turning with respect to recognition of our basic human right to self-defense. I guess I should have known that just because the Supreme Court decides in your favor does not mean your opponent will acquiesce. Much like a child that holds its breath and stamps its feet in a fit of defiance, the City of Chicago has been throwing a tantrum for the last year over the outcome of this case. While they did repeal the handgun ban, they replaced it with another ordinance that appears to be equally oppressive. They refused to pay the winning side’s attorney fees, claiming that the Supreme Court decision did not represent a clear victory. That dispute made its way to the US Court of Appeals, and Chicago was once again defeated. The city also appears to be denying the suburb of Oak Park, a fellow defendant, any protection from the expenses associated with the case.

No one likes to be told they are wrong, much less being proven wrong in court, but come on Chicago, man up. Stop behaving like an insolent six-year-old that just lost a game of Chutes and Ladders. Can we all be adults about this? Meanwhile, the path to gun ownership in Chicago has apparently not gotten easier, in any practical sense. So you are risking another round of lawsuits, the outcome of which is a foregone conclusion at this point. To use the legal term, the Second Amendment has now been “incorporated” into the equal protection clause, thus it applies to all Americans at the state and local levels. Any further infringement upon the rights of your residents should necessarily be a painful and costly endeavor for you. Isn’t it time to cut your losses? Or are you still hoping you can take your ball and go home?

 An Active Crime Scene

A group of about a dozen gunmen surround a car stopped at a Miami Beach intersection and open fire, the muzzle flashes from their weapons lighting up the night. After brutally murdering the driver, and injuring four innocent bystanders, some of the gunmen start going after witnesses, assaulting them, stealing or breaking their cell phones in an attempt to cover up their actions. Detective Juan Sanchez described it as “an active crime scene.”

It was indeed. But perhaps not the type of crime scene we’ve all been conditioned to expect, since the gunmen described above were themselves Miami Beach cops. Their attempts to confiscate any incriminating video evidence of their deed is being portrayed as standard procedure in their search for suspects. Suspects? What suspects? I think all of the suspects in this case are captured in the cell phone video standing in a circle shooting (which may explain why three cops were injured as well).

One witness, Ericka Davis, whose mother is also a cop, stated that she could hear guns clicking as they continued pulling the trigger long after they had fired all of their bullets. “I think that’s excessive,” she said. Well, that’s an understatement.

The video was recorded by Narces Benoit, who was sitting in his truck with Davis when the shooting began. The video clearly shows a bicycle cop approach him with his gun drawn while another cop orders him to stop recording. Benoit was clever enough to remove the SIM card and hide it before they confiscated his phone (and allegedly broke it).

This incident just happened on Memorial Day, and obviously the investigation is ongoing, but one thing is clear from what has been reported so far. Benoit’s behavior is not that of a suspect, and the actions of the cops who assaulted him seem to go far beyond simply looking for documentary evidence. Regardless of what the driver might have done to provoke this gangland style slaying, there are certainly a few more guilty parties involved — or at least parties who are acting like they have something to hide.

 Maybe I’ll Just Leave Instead

I’ve written before about the Law of Unintended Consequences, and I never have to go far to find another example of it in action. With a scenario that is right out of Atlas Shrugged, Oregon lawmakers are scratching their heads wondering where all of the state’s millionaires are disappearing to after they targeted the rich with one of the highest income taxes in North America. The state treasury has admitted that despite the higher rates, revenues are down because some 10,000 rich residents have voted with their feet and waved goodbye to Oregon in their rear-view mirrors. The story goes on to say:

All of this is an instant replay of what happened in Maryland in 2008 when the legislature in Annapolis instituted a millionaire tax. There roughly one-third of the state’s millionaire households vanished from the tax rolls after rates went up.

I would ask if anyone is really surprised by this news, but clearly some are, or at least they like to pretend they are. Oregon Democrat Phil Barnhart, one of the architects of the tax increase, said that this was only temporary and instead blamed the decline on the state’s economy. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he’s aware of the real cause, but just can’t bring himself to admit it. Or maybe he really is that dumb.

 The Principled Dr. Seuss

I did not read much Dr. Seuss as a child, so it has only been since I’ve had children of my own that I’ve really been exposed to his stories. I am both pleased and surprised to see that, concealed within the fanciful illustrations and anapestic tetrameter, he covers some pretty heady subject matter. Beyond the playful mischief of The Cat in the Hat, Seuss delves into topics such as equality, racism, and the environment. And I appreciate that these are powerful tools for teaching these concepts to children.

But for me, Yertle the Turtle carries the most powerful message of them all — that sometimes those in positions of authority go too far, and the importance of the individual in overthrowing a government. Some may disagree and say that I’m reading too much into the story of a megalomaniacal King Yertle who forces his subjects to use their own bodies to elevate his throne and the lowly turtle named Mack at the bottom of the stack who has the courage to question the king’s authority to do so. Whether Yertle’s action are supposed to symbolize absolute despotism, or simply the evils of taxation, the result is the same: his government is oppressive and unjust. Whether Mack’s actions are supposed to symbolize civil disobedience, or inciting a full-blown revolution, the outcome is the same: his government is toppled and his fellow turtles are set free to live their lives as they see fit. The moral of this story is clear to the kid reading it (or having it read to them): Yertle bad, Mack good.

I don’t know about you, but I definitely want to raise my children to be Macks instead of Yertles.

 Government By The People

There are those who would argue that we need government to act as a watchdog for no other reason than people need to be watched or they will do bad things. But the fact that people are imperfect is not an argument *for* government, it is an argument against it. For these same dishonest, greedy, untrustworthy folk that need to be watched occasionally find their way into positions of power. Why would we want to allow ourselves to be ruled by the same people we don’t trust?

Furthermore, people are often patently unqualified for the positions for which they are elected. Either because of mental deficiencies, a failure to understand basic principles of human nature, or simply a lack of common sense. A couple of examples of this have recently made themselves known, and they are too good not to share. First, is this video of Georgia congressman Hank Johnson demonstrating a profound misunderstanding of basic physics and geography. Who can watch this and not cringe in embarrassment for the man? And yet, his vote in the House of Representatives carries as much weight as any other. Why should the good people of Georgia be victims of this imbecile?

The second, and most recent, example is this segment from The Daily Show where they lampoon San Francisco’s misguided attempt to ban McDonald’s Happy Meals. Are you not as stunned as the correspondent at Councilman Eric Mar’s shocking display of cognitive dissonance? And yet, he has just as much power as his fellow council members. Why should the good people of San Francisco be subjected to this moron?

People are flawed. We all seem to know this, but still some of us insist on believing in the transfiguration of being elected to public office. That somehow our elected officials become imbued with superior knowledge and wisdom, infallible judgment, and moral character that is unimpeachable. Why do we continue to believe the myth that government by the inferior people is better than no government at all?

 Promoting the General Welfare

I just read Robert Parry’s essay regarding an anticipated showdown with the Tea Party over the Constitution. I share his suspicions about what motivates the Tea Party, and I applaud his contention that “reason and consistency have little place in the U.S. political/media system.” However, I have to take issue with a couple of points he makes.

First, I would like to lay to rest, once and for all, this notion that the general welfare clause in the Constitution is still subject to interpretation. Any debate over what this clause meant ended with James Madison’s explanation in Federalist 41:

For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power? Nothing is more natural nor common than first to use a general phrase, and then to explain and qualify it by a recital of particulars.

Mr. Parry tries to imply that there is a tension between the clause and Article I, Section 8, but it is clear from Madison’s words that the eighteen enumerated powers in Section 8 are comprehensive, and the general welfare clause cannot be construed otherwise.

Second, I don’t agree with Mr. Parry framing the proposed 28th Amendment as reckless and a precursor to another civil war (although if it causes such to happen, maybe it was necessary). Let us not ignore the fact that the Constitution granted the States a veto power originally, with each state having the final say in all acts of Congress by choosing not to pay their apportioned share of the bill. This provision was completely subverted by the implementation of the 13th Amendment and the personal income tax, allowing Congress to spend The People’s money directly without the approval of their state, and the 28th Amendment would simply restore this valuable power. I believe that our history records that the truly reckless approach is refusing to recognize and/or affirm states’ rights.

In the end, I agree with Mr. Parry’s assessment that “the country is in for a new round of crazy,” but I will leave identifying the sources of the crazy as an exercise for the reader.

 The Market Cannot Fail

I came across this article by author Henry A. Giroux recently, and I found myself drawn in by the first paragraph or so, strongly agreeing with his words, and then the cracks began to show. He rails against the invective of the talking heads on television, and the mindless jingoism of the current Tea Party movement, all of which is to be applauded, but then he concludes by claiming that in light of “the most painful evidence imaginable of the failure of laissez-faire economics and the destructive force of the alliance of big business and government against the interests of ordinary Americans … the Tea Party movement wants to abolish government and expand even more the deregulated capitalism that has unsettled the lives of so many of its members.” I’m not sure how he got here from there, but I am not willing to make that leap with him. The failure of the free market is not a foregone conclusion, no matter how much the pro-regulation movement would like to believe it to be true.

My first question is, how does laissez-faire economics fail? By what criteria is the author judging it? I contend that the market cannot fail. It does exactly what it is desgined to do. You can go into Wal-Mart and not find what you’re looking for, and call that a failure of the market. But in reality, the market has provided exactly what customers want, with the constraint that those things can be provided at a profit. When you do not find what you’re shopping for, it simply means that there is not enough profit in providing that good or service.

I see two problems with this author’s assessment. First, our economy is not laissez-faire. Quite the contrary, government regulation of markets has never been more burdensome, and it gets worse on a daily basis. Here is a definition of laissez-faire:

1 : a doctrine opposing governmental interference in economic affairs beyond the minimum necessary for the maintenance of peace and property rights

2 : a philosophy or practice characterized by a usually deliberate abstention from direction or interference especially with individual freedom of choice and action

Can anyone claim that this is an accurate description of the marketplace in the United States? Hardly. Second, even if it was laissez-faire, a market that rewards only those entrepreneurs who satisfy their customers is, by definition, a success.

I completely agree with the evil collusion of corporations and government, and it is interesting to me that we can agree on something like this, and yet be so far apart on the other aspect of his statement.

How about the recent example of Apple’s tribulations with the iPhone 4 and its poor reception? Consumer Reports came down hard on Apple, claiming the problem seriously hampered the abililty of the device to function as a phone. Within days of this poor review, Apple responded with a fix (or at least a work around), to mollify its angry and disappointed customers. No government intervention was necessary. No regulatory agency stepped in. Just a well-respected free market watchdog organization, whose opinions are valued by millions of consumers. That was enough to cause many to question Apple’s reputation in the marketplace, and that potential damage to their reputation was enough to motivate them to address the issue. This incident is a perfect illustration of how the free market is self-regulating. Many might argue that this regulation is not strong enough or does not go far enough. But anything more than this places an undue burden on the market (which consumers experience as higher prices) and serves only to distort the market signals that would otherwise cause self-correction (which consumers experience as problem resolution taking longer than it should).

I am wary of anyone who looks at the major problems our economy has experienced in recent years and wants to affix blame to the market itself. How can anyone look at the sub-prime mortgage market and claim that it is laissez-faire? The mortgage industry is one of the most highly regulated areas of our economy, so you cannot blame the free market and call it a failure. The market as it is currently configured is not free, so the source of failure must be elsewhere.

 Plenty Of Blame To Go Around

You’ve no doubt seen the story by now of this Seattle police officer caught on videotape. The headline reads “Seattle officer punches girl in face during jaywalking stop,” which is a bit sensationalist, but does sum up the salient points. Watch the entire clip on YouTube, however, and you’re provided with some context for the events that transpired. I find myself having sympathy for all parties involved.

The cop is easily the bad guy in this story. Considering the entire incident stemmed from his attempt to enforce a law against jaywalking, it is especially sad. Jaywalking is not a crime, and there should be no laws against it. Choosing to cross a street at an unsafe point is foolish, but people have a right to be stupid. Just like they have a right to drive without seatbelts or motorcycle helmets. Why do we, as a society, continue to allow pointless laws such as these to be passed, and then, more importantly, why do we continue to task cops with enforcing the stupid things?

Given all of that, resisting arrest in this particular case was warranted, in my opinion. No crime occurred, no one was harmed, so no one — including the cop — has any reason to involve themselves in the lives of innocent people just trying to cross a street. Now, do I believe that these individuals were taking a principled stand against what they viewed to be tyrannical behavior on the part of the local legislature and constabulary? Hardly. I could be wrong, but I’m going to guess that their resistance was based on other factors. Nevertheless, objecting to unwarranted searches and seizures is justified, and they have my full support.

There is also the larger matter of the cop’s use of excessive force. There should be no question in anyone’s mind that punching an unarmed woman in the face, even under those circumstances, is completely reprehensible. This officer should be required to publicly apologize to all parties involved, and then promptly be fired from his job. Having said that, I can certainly recognize that he found himself in a very difficult and stressful situation. His training seems to have kept the situation from escalating any more than it did. But just like the folks who chose to cross the street, he made a choice too — when he decided to enforce an unjust law. So the situation was largely his own making. Maybe next time he will think twice about attempting to enforce a stupid law, and maybe they will think twice about their own safety.

[Update: pretty good discussion on this one going on in the forum]

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